Any excuse for a paddle and a party… Phil and I joined others from NWSK this past weekend for a mid-Winter paddle and a pre-Burns Night party. The weather forecast for the weekend was pretty awful, just what you’d expect in the UK in the middle of January. Phil and I had committed to this trip back in October and paid our dues for accommodation but were having second thoughts; Winter storm lashed seas are not a forgiving place for middle grade kayakers.
We packed the hill walking gear ready for a change of plan.
Getting away from Birmingham on a Friday night can always be a frustrating business and it was 7pm before a car full of gear and loaded with two sea kayaks headed off North by North West. Getting away late has it’s advantages and we had a comfortable cruise along the A41/A55 arriving at Bangor YHA shortly after 10pm. Others from NWSK were already there and it was great to meet familiar faces and share laughs and a couple of beers.
The Menai Straights are starting to feel like familiar territory and was the obvious choice for Saturdays trip; being relatively sheltered from the force 7 Southwesterly winds. Those present split into two groups and 9 of us put in at Gallows Point near Beaumaris. As I write this I find myself thinking about the history of such a place and the poor (?) souls who I guess once met their fate there…
Stepping out of the car to prepare gear I was met with a hail storm and spirits dampened. Thankfully it was short lived and the rest of the day was one of brilliant sunshine and calm waters. As we paddled onwards towards the Menai Suspension Bridge, where tidal rates can be in excess of 8 knots, I found myself gazing at the flocks of oystercatchers perched on the shoreline. I really do love these birds and the familiar squawk they all cry when taking flight as one in the flock gets spooked.
The last time I was under the bridge, maybe 18 months ago, I remember "seat of my pants" paddling. This turned out to be a more sedate experience. We played in the tide under the bridge supports and practiced breaking in and out of the flowing current.
Eventually we headed over to one of the small island in "the swellies" and stopped for lunch. Maurice looked at me and said he’d never seen anyone eat so much !
The rest of the day was an easy paddle flowing with the current. The sun got lower in the sky and I found myself wishing desperately that I’d bought along a pair of shades. We pulled off the water at Caernarfon just as dusk was approaching.
Back to the YHA where Kev & Gill pulled out the plugs to provide us with the traditional Burns supper and it truly was a fantastic evening. Louise piped in the haggis and Jim said the Selkirk grace. Several beers, half a bottle of Shiraz, a couple of shots of Highland Park and for me the party spirit was in full flow. The food was wonderful and devoured quickly after the day paddling. The company was equally good and after the meal hilarity ensued as various people tried to make the pipes sing. Conversation revolved around paddling and plans were hatched for this years future trips…
Outside the clear skies gave way to another Atlantic depression. Force 10 winds were predicted overnight and the following morning I woke to see a tree waving violently in the wind.
Sunday saw some in the group head out to the lee-ward side of Anglesey where they eventually found good conditions. I guess the forecast, fatigue from the previous day and a liberal quantity of loopy juice dampened my enthusiasm for a second day on the water. Myself, Phil, Mark, Del and Maurice headed off for a walk to Aber Falls instead.
We’d hoped to go high with the Snowdonia hills covered in a dusting of snow and looking fantastic as we left Bangor. Unfortunately the heavens opened and we settled for a short walk to the falls and back, stopping often to chat and admire the views, despite the rain….