Lismore at Easter – never believe the weather forecast

I planned going up to Scotland at Easter to meet up with Sarah (working for a few weeks in Fort William) with a view to an overnight sea trip. I’d injured my shoulder skiing in February, and hadn’t paddled since New Year, so wasn’t sure how fit I’d be. We weren’t wanting to paddle the whole bank holiday weekend, which was just as well since the forecast was not very promising. By Thursday the weathermen seemed to think that Easter Sunday would be the worst day, so we were aiming to get off at a reasonable time on Good Friday, paddle as far as we saw fit down Lismore, and if that was far enough, round the southern tip and back on Saturday. To this end we got ourselves to the big layby opposite Shuna and fafffed about packing. Sarah hadn’t packed for an overnight trip before, so we weren’t expecting this to be quick and were not too disappointed to be on the water by eleven (or so…), though this did mean we were a bit later in the tide than ideal.

The Eilean Musdile Lismore lighthouse hoves into view as the headwind increases

At this stage we were expecting it to be windier today (supposedly from the northwest), getting better and being calmer tomorrow, so we headed on down the more sheltered eastern side of the island. We didn’t make bad progress for someone who has not paddled much on the sea and who had found her previous longest trip of 14 km (out to the Farnes) pretty tiring. We had a decent stop for lunch and continued on south into an increasing but not overwhelming headwind. We got far enough that we both ended with our determined heads on and could see that we should be able to make the end of the island. Conditions worsened, the rain set in and the headwind got stronger, but we were still making progress. As we got to the corner where we would turn right, we expected that the wind (which seemed to be much more from the south than forecast) would stop being directly in our faces, but we were wrong – there was now a really stiff breeze blowing right through the gap between Lismore and Eilean Musdile. The lighting over the Sound and Island of Mull was fantastic as we fought into the sunset pelted by rain and with a rainbow behind us, but that last half mile was a real battle and it started to feel as if the bay with the good camping spot would never materialise. Finally it opened up on our right and we could run the last 100m into the beach.

Coming in to the beach at the southern end of Lismore

We had cut it finer than ideal, but still had enough daylight to get the tent up and gear sorted (most especially head torches) before cooking a seriously blow-out meal which we both felt we merited. I found that my aft hatch had leaked and my toughest drybag, which I’d specifically chosen for my pit, was perhaps not as intact as I’d believed. Fortunately, I’d chosen to bring my five-season hollofill bag, which is still effective when damp, so a reasonable night was passed. However, we weren’t exactly crisp on Saturday morning, and by the time we’d breakfasted and packed up, the race had built up. It was also still blowing plenty. We both fought our way successfully against wind and tide through the gap, but one good look at the more exposed western side of the island convinced us that we were not going to have an enjoyable day if we did a full circumnavigation, so we backed off and dropped through the race back to the sheltered side. You’d kind of hope that with the wind still blowing the same way, it would now be helpfully behind us, but in fact it must have backed a little further and we were pretty much in shelter. The tide was not with us (thought it is pretty weak hereabouts anyway) until after lunch, when it started to pick up and push us along. We had a rather chilly lunch huddled in the group shelter cooking the pancakes we’d decided to skip at breakfast time, which certainly cheered us up. Back on the water, the tide really picked up as we passed the northern tip of the island and headed across the short sound towards the scattered islands to the north. We were now almost home, with just the short crossing to Shuna ahead. This was exposed to the west and quite windy, and the flood tide here runs on a diagonal, so was partly helping us, and partly kicking up in the wind. As the depth varied and the flow changed, it was quite interesting keeping our transit to arrive just east of the southern tip of Shuna. Now we could relax in almost flat water with just a tiny bit of tide on our side. With the Van in sight ahead, the day was rounded off by an Otter, who must have been fishing at some depth, since when he surfaced the second time he shot almost clear of the water !

Otter popping out of the water in Shuna Sound

With more tidal assistance and no headwind, we finished quite a bit earlier today, despite not getting a good start, so had time to find a nice restaurant with somewhere to sit (quite a feat on an Easter Saturday), just south of Balachulish. We’d clocked just about 21 km each day, so definitely a step up for Sarah, who despite the battle into the wind on Friday was still keen to do more trips. Typically, on Sunday, when we went for a photographic wander on foot round Arisaig, the predicted worst day turned out sunny and calm, with lots of sea kayakers out on the water. The wind and rain didn’t arrive until about five minutes into our bar meal sat outside the pub… Luckily, by this time, there were seats available inside so we hastily moved indoors to eat.

Looking across to Eigg and Rum on a much nicer paddling day

As the weather was once again fine on Monday, we found time for a jaunt up to the CIC Hut and back in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.

Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Autumn sea kayaking off Skye

The Black Cuillin is the heart of Skye, but it is surrounded by fabulous paddling – here heading to Elgol

Andy, Mary and Sarah Waddington, with Ann Jones and Kim Ball, spent up to five days sea kayaking off the coast of Skye in September. A week and less out, the forecast looked bleak and we were fully expecting to be doing training exercises cowering in sheltered spots with easy road escapes. In fact, the weather forecast improved, and the actual conditions were pretty consistently better than forecast. From practising contact tow rescues in the tide race under the Skye Bridge we progressed to a trip round the Strathaird peninsula, visiting a big sea cave with better formations than we normally see on Caving Section trips, then more underground exploration under Wiay in Loch Bracadale. Dodging the crowds of seals in the sun was the issue in Loch Dunvegan, and we finished the trip with more caves and tide races, going east to west round Skye’s most northerly headland, Rubha Hunish. Did I mention that the place is positively infested with Sea Eagles ? We saw seven, and that’s assuming every one we saw within a few minutes was the same one that had gone out of sight earlier… There were definitely three at once at one stage. Overall a very fine place for a week of day tripping.


Staying at the Skye Boat Centre at Strollamus (a few miles beyond Broadford as you come form the mainland), we started out fairly local with a bit of navigation in sheltered water with tide movement – under the Skye bridge (which runs up to 3 knots at springs, which this was, although we were after the peak flow). The interesting feature of the tide here is that it runs at very different times depending on how close to springs, and can change by large margins with low pressure, heavy rain, or S/SW winds. We found it running pretty much to the schedule given by the Pilot which is as we’d expected given the calm weather. We soon found that we could use eddies behind the bridge pillars to get upstream, and ferry across to the mainland side. As the slight breeze was with the tide, everything was fairly calm and we played at various techniques for breaking in and out before the flow started to drop off. Various low-lying islands towards Plockton then provided a visually confusing environment to navigate, but we soon established the speed at which the group were paddling and used this to keep track of where we were, so arrived at the Black Islands pretty much where we expected to find them. Unfortunately, the sandy lunch beach was still below the waves, so we found a more shingly beach right below the railway on the mainland. On the return, we had a bit more breeze, but still found time to look about and spot various starfish and crabs below the water.

We met quite a stiff headwind as we headed back to the bridge, and as this was now opposing the tide heading into Loch Alsh, there were waves to surf. The tide was running maybe two knots under the bridge, so this seemed like an interesting place to practice some rescue techniques. We were soon paddling into the middle of the channel, catching a wave and then throwing away the paddle to await assistance. Three of us all got a go at being paddle-retriever, rescuer, and rescued, using a contact tow technique which is very quick to set up and works very well for the short distance out of the tide race.

Ann Towing Mary towards the mainland shore

One thing that became apparent is that a rescuer in a long boat towing someone in a short boat has an easier job than vice versa, as less of the victim’s bow is in the way of the rescuer paddling. With boats of the same length, you need to be careful not to get the pointy end bumping in to your paddling arm or shoulder – not a problem as the breeze dropped off again, but more of an issue if the water was rougher.

With one hand on the deck line and one on the stern, the victim keeps the bow as close to the rescuer’s cockpit as possible.


Sarah has not done that much sea kayaking, so we were avoiding getting committed to any long distances – today we put in on the east side of the Strathaird peninsula to paddle round to Elgol on the west. On the way, we knew that there was a spectacular cave, but there are few landmarks and although buildings are marked on the map, these are hidden from below the cliffs, so we had to keep very careful track of where we were to be able to find it. I decided that as conditions were very benign, I would start out using a Greenland paddle. I’d struggled previously to get the angle of entry right and found the paddle would flutter under power, which is very disconcerting. However, Kim knew exactly how to grip the paddle to get the angle right without needing to watch it every stroke, and this proved to be the key to the paddle feeling quite natural and fairly efficient within just a few minutes. I was back to my usual rock-hopping within a short distance, though this did prove that the GP is perhaps not quite as robust as fibreglass – this would be why Inuits tipped the blades with bone to resist the rocks !

Paddling SSW from Kilmarie

The weather was glorious for September, and the low cliffs of eroded sandstone (with occasional dykes and sills) were continuously interesting in the sunshine, as well as providing boulders to paddle round and behind.

Mary rock-hopping
Mary rock-hopping along the Starthaird coast

We found just enough landmarks to keep ourselves pinpointed, and found a very deep geo at just the right place. We landed here, and followed it 100m inland to where, hidden behind fern-draped man-made walls, the cave headed off left under the hillside. This would be quite a difficult place to reach from above since sheer walls guard all sides.

Inside, the cave was high enough that those without helmets were at no risk of hitting the roof, and to my surprise we quickly came to a great ramp of flowstone with microgours. This was a steep climb to quite a height, and very well decorated towards the top, where the roof was still very high, and water dripping from that height had created cave pearls in the gour pools.

Spar Cave

A further climb went down to a deep clear pool, and more passage lay tantalisingly on the far side, receding beyond the range of even my photon cannon, which was, however, providing plenty of light for shooting UHD video. Having no rope for assistance, and mindful of the potential for embarrassment if unable to climb back up, we left the further reaches for a future visit. The climb down to return to the boats also looked more intimidating from the top, but, whilst flowstone can be slippery, microgours are actually pretty grippy, and much as for the improbable friction on Skye’s gabbro mountains, walking down was possible pretty much without needing handholds. Perhaps we should have gone for the continuing passage…

Climbing down the gours in Spar Cave
Climbing back down – this is a video frame, not a flash photo !

Back at the boats, sitting in the shade of the geo seemed a tad chilly on such a sunny day, so we headed a bit further to round the tip of the peninsula and find a warmer spot for lunch. Then round the island of Eilean na h-Airde it was just a short way to the slipway at Elgol where, by now, the tourist crowds had mostly dispersed, so we could get the cars down to the boats with relative ease.


A somewhat longer drive took us to Loch Bracadale and Harlosh, where we put in for what would prove to be the dullest weather of the week, with a bit of drizzle at times, but very little wind. We headed out SSW, soon crossing to Harlosh Island, where we hugged the SE coast, finding various caves on the way. The plan was now to cross to Wiay, but visibility wasn’t brilliant, so we carefully established the direction we needed to head, in case we should lose sight of the destination. We wanted a specific spot, to land for lunch, but aimed some way to the left, so if we hit the coast in a fog, we’d know to turn right to find our beach. As it worked out, the shower cleared away and visibility ahead got better rather than worse, and we were soon enough eating sandwiches on damp rocks at the back of Camas na Cille. From here, fortified, we set off anti-clockwise round the island, heading for the SW tip in a low swell. This can be quite an exposed bit of coast in typical southwesterlies, but today conditions proved almost ideal for poking into geos and caves. We explored both ends of what proved to be the same rift, which, in a few thousand years perhaps, will split off a new island at Rubha Garbh (rough headland). Further east the map had promising words like “Geodha nan Faochag” and “Natural Arch”. I soon found that in the narrow recesses of a long cave, the swell rose up to form breaking waves, and was glad to have entered into the dark zone backwards, so I could see these coming…

More caves and geos were scattered along the south and east coasts, though we were distracted from these by the sight of sea eagles soaring above the cliffs, coming and going from sight. Tearing our eyes back to the paddling in hand, we found a particularly fine arch soon before we started our crossing back north.

We next headed to the southern tip of Tarner Island, as this offered a break in the crossing back towards Harlosh, and a bit of rock hopping up its west coast. We landed again on Harlosh Island for a quick snack before retracing our route up the coast back to Harlosh and the cars at Camas Ban.


Sarah now left us to do some photography and to have a day to recover before heading for the Wet West Paddlefest where she would meet Michael, Peely and a cast of thousands… We, meanwhile headed back on the same road as yesterday, but a bit further, to Loch Dunvegan. Far fewer cliffs and caves today, but this was made up for by the huge numbers of seals, all of whom were quite used to people in the vicinity as a tourist boat was bringing visitors past at regular intervals. We headed SW, away from our eventual destination of Stein, to cruise round in the sun, watching the wildlife. When we eventually crossed to the east, looking for a lunch stop, I found that breakfast had run out and had to stop and wrestle with the day hatch to gain chocolate. I struggled a bit to catch up and after lunch I elected to dawdle round the south end of Iosaigh looking for the abandoned village and doing some fishing whilst the others padded round the north end and back down to meet me. By this point I had recovered my energy and we set off briskly to cross past Sgeir nam Biast (I was still towing my trolling line behind). About halfway across it became apparent that I had caught something, as my line went taut and the stern of the boat swung rapidly left. Whatever it was, it had a lot more pulling power than the Pollack we’d caught in Lofoten and I was looking forward to an impressive supper when the line went suddenly slack. Pulling it in, it became clear that my sea monster had the better of my monofilament, and had made off with my spinner, so that was the end of fishing for the day.


As there is now an embedded video, I’ve moved this last paddle to its own post.

Doon and out to the Nith

Just ten years ago this coming Thursday, we were in Dumfries and Galloway looking for water. We were not having much success, but took a look at the River Doon, which is supposed to run on the compensation flow from the dam. We walked away, and found water in Carsphairn Lane which was being released from the other end of the dammed loch. We’d wasted so much time driving around that we finished that run in the dark, with ice forming on our buoyancy aids.

This weekend was shaping up to be very similar, as despite huge levels on Friday, we found no water in the first two rivers we’d gone for. So once again we found ourselves at the top of the Doon, on its 2½ cumec compensation release, with only a couple of hours daylight left. A check had shown that Carrick Lane would also run, but the forest road was closed. No-one fancied either a 2km walk-in or the risk of benightment on the river, so this time, we decided to put on the Doon, which a quick inspection of the first few hundred metres showed to be a reasonable proposition.

Over the horizon line running blind in full confidence – guidebook grade 3…

Grade 3, the guidebook says, and with comments like “this guidebook tends to overgrade things” we set off expecting a technical but not too demanding run with the main hazard being odd bits of timber. It soon proved steeper than we’d expected, and quite narrow in places with plenty of rocks to get hung up on. With a group of seven and small eddies, we made quicker progress than might be expected, with a few odd pins and some drops not done entirely elegantly. A footpath followed the left bank, providing us with spectators who also thought it an entertaining day out… and did provide some scope for inspection or setting safety

Mary on the only actual drop on the Doon.

The gorge ended soon enough, and the river opened out, flattened out and became a little tediously shallow in places, with even more overhanging branches. The final part was deeper water but very encumbered with willows before we came out into a shallow loch with plenty of wildfowl and just about enough daylight to get the the take-out bridge at the far end.

Just like the trip ten years ago, we elected to head for the Nith on Sunday. This was just over two feet at the Drumlanrig bridge gauge (0.75m on the SEPA gauge) which is a fine level – enough water to keep moving well and provide a few boils, but quite technical in the gorge.

No-one seems to have told them it isn’t a Boater-X !

We met up with the other SOC group putting on just ahead of us, having done the same trip the previous day with a foot or so more water. We soon overtook them, intent on a mission to see if we would have time for the Border Esk as a second river.

Only brief stops for playboating tricks at the start of the gorge…

The gorge proved to be read-and-run all the way, with the tree that blocked the entry rapid last time we were here (in low water at Easter 2013) nowhere to be seen. Mary had a successful roll, and we were at the end well ahead of the other group. However, by the time we’d shuttled (still only 12:30), enthusiasm for a second river had waned somewhat and we got changed.

Midweek on the Greta

After such a dry start to the paddling season locally, it was great relief to get some rain. I’d been offered a chance to paddle the Upper Swale, but I thought it would probably drop off too soon, and I possibly hadn’t done enough paddling recently to be confident of paddling at that level, so I declined. Shortly afterwards, Sarah phoned to say that she was looking for a trip with friends from Leeds and the Tees Greta seemed to be coming up. It was to be a late start owing to lectures and travel time, and by the time we got on, the river was at 0.6m (top end of “low”) and starting to drop off. However, showers kept it up and possibly it rose a little towards the end.

Perhaps a bit far right running in to the slot drop

A lack of recent floods and a certain amount of riverside tree felling means there is quite a lot of small timber in the river (an ever-present hazard in such a wooded valley). Pretty much everything can be sneaked, and the big tree which was right across the river shortly before Hell Cauldron last year has been swept aside and is now easily passed. But one branch on the left of the first island caused us to stop and do a bit of clearance work.

This newish tree is just before the bend and island-crossing heading down to the footbridge at Brignall Banks

We made pretty rapid progress, as I’ve done the river thirteen times before, Sarah had done it before in bigger water and all were happy to read and run. At this level, visibility ahead and plenty of eddies mean that there were no surprises coming up at speed…

Lots of boulders to flare off at this level

Hell Cauldron itself, and the run in, seemed to have more water than we’d expected from the rest of the river experience, but the section down to Greta bridge seemed low again, so maybe this is just a fault of my memory for the levels.

The water seemed well up on the run in to Hell Cauldron

Mountain biking as a “sport”

Mountain biking has, to me, always been a form of transport – a way of getting to the end of a private road to start a walk or ski tour, a way to drag a trailer load of caving gear up to Gaping Gill, or simply a way to get somewhere. What I haven’t really done is ride a mountain bike as an end in itself. As an actual “sport”. So, apart from a bit of play-cum-training at Greenclose I’ve always gone the easiest route, rather than sought out difficulty or gratuitous excitement.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I and Sarah met up with Johnny, Dave and Ant at Hamsterley, with a view to doing “some red runs”. The day started well when I walked to the pay-and-display machine, expecting to part with a significant fraction of my (so far untouched in 2014) annual ten quid budget for parking, when a passing motorist leaving the carpark handed me his now surplus to requirements ticket. Annual budget still intact !

After some faff we were off, first to the “training loop”. Here I ignored the seesaw – no relation to a natural hazard and definitely not something I approve of. The rest of the loop seemed reasonable enough, and after a while I thought it a good idea to turn on the GoPro. Thirty seconds later we appeared to have reached the end, with nothing interesting actually recorded for posterity. Ho, hum. Off to the other end of the forest then.

Despite the twenty year old rigid framed bike, I had no trouble in keeping up, or even staying ahead of these “young, fit” folk. The fact that I use toe-clips was no doubt a great help on the uphills… These seemed to be regarded as a bit dubious by the others, but as I had no intention of doing anything that might cause me to fall off, I had no qualms whatsoever. The fact that there were a lot of knee and elbow pads in evidence was just an attempt to intimidate me, I’m sure. Sarah seemed to find that they made excellent sweat retainers !

So, once up the long hill, we set off down the first of several sections of red run, linking the main forest tracks via steeper and narrower little trails. These seem to feature lots of constructed obstacles with the sole purpose of making the run more enjoyable / scary / difficult. At “red” standard, few, if any, of these were serious problems, but I did note that cyclists in other groups seemed to be taking them at considerable speed. Having spent quite a while gaining height, I didn’t wish to find that the more fun part of the ride was over in no time flat, so I rode at a much more sedate pace – no more speed than required to remain upright and on-line. This did mostly mean that I got plenty of time to see the nature of the track ahead as it wound between trees and round bends. I guess most of those haring down at some speed had an idea of what to expect from doing the run before. Or in Ant’s case not …

At one point I came round a bend to find Sarah off her bike at the side of the track, having decided to portage this bit. It looked OK as I approached, so I headed on down without mishap. Further on came another rocky stretch, this time with a bit less warning, and it proved to be quite narrow. But, once committed, stopping and putting a foot down was always going to be a problem, so, toes in clips, off I went, staying pretty much on-line to the end, though I can see that a tiny bit more speed might have been an advantage here.

The only thing which caused any great grief was the boys’ tendency to stop to let everyone regroup. The trees always seemed just that bit too far off the edge of the trail to get a hand on, meaning that I was faced with getting a foot back into the toeclips each time we set off again. That’s not terribly easy on a narrow, non-straight, and somewhat bumpy trail and I think I’d prefer if we simply didn’t stop until on a forest track or equally easy bit. There was one bit where the only way to get my toe in was by leaning on a tree right above a steep rocky descent and I simply couldn’t get up to a safe speed from a standing start, so reluctantly portaged about ten metres here. However, we were soon at the end, and back to the carpark, with time to spare from Ant’s three hour hire period, so off we went for another lap of the training loop – this time with the GoPro running.

The Three Lakes Walk

Sarah and I drove up what proved to be a very entertaining single-track road from the back of Roche de Rame, unsurfaced from soon after leaving the village. There seemed to be a highish population of kids and dogs at the bottom end of the Plan de la Loubiere where we planned to start the walk, so drove a bit further to find a parking spot out of the way, then headed back to cross the bridge and onto a forestry track. This was pleasant enough, though steep, and mostly shaded by the trees. As we gained height, the track curved round and started to traverse into a valley. Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly (I hadn’t studied the map quite closely enough) it dropped rather steeply into the next valley to cross the stream. Hmm, that’s quite a bit of extra reascent, then…

We now plodded steadily up valley across a south-facing slope, still mostly shaded, but quite steep. This eventually broke out into pasture and rock scenery opposite a nice waterfall, traversed round past a rock face and up some more into a wider valley where the ascent was a bit more gentle, but we were in the sun. Grassy pasture with lots of flowers alternated with patches of bare limestone and the path wasn’t always distinct. Thus we missed the way to the largest of the lakes (which was hidden by the slope above us) and headed round more easterly towards the two smaller lakes. With no path now visible at all, it was very pretty, and we headed towards the outlet valley from the smallest lake, aiming to avoid too much up and down.

Sarah walking through flowery pasture below the three lakes cirque

We were now finding that the walk was proving a bit longer than we’d hoped and, seeing the steep ascent yet to come, curved round right, missing out the lakes and heading over more stretches of bare rock towards the col. Although this last bit was a little loose and rocky in places, it proved less strenuous than perhaps we had feared and we were soon rewarded by the view from the col.

The south side of the col was a little steeper with a lot less vegetation, and bits were loose enough to require a bit of care, but soon we were down onto a more gentle area (with Marmots) in a bowl draining into the valley where we had parked. However, the stream dropped into a deep V-shaped gully with much loose stuff and clearly wasn’t the way down. The path was very vague around the top of this, but once we’d skirted west, it became quite well-defined again and took us right back to our upward track where we turned sharp left and headed down. By now, the lowering skies had given rise to rumbles of thunder. Crossing the bridge, we upped the pace a little along the now-level track, and reached the car just as the first quite big spots of rain started to fall. Excellent timing ! The walk proved to be about 13.5km with 800m of ascent. We drove down fairly carefully, as the track was a little slick in one or two places over polished stones.

Rocks by sea kayak

A week in Mull, ostensibly for sea kayaking, but Sarah (and, I suppose, to a certain extent I) had an alternative agenda to look at the geology. This was a useful sideline, as conditions got progressively sunnier and calmer during the week until there wasn’t even a trace of swell to go rockhopping by the end. We found Mull easiest to reach with the dragging shed by using both the Corran ferry and the Lochaline-Fishnish ferry, as it’s cheaper (even counting extra mileage) and doesn’t need advanced booking. The Oban-Craignure ferry on a bank holiday week is a bit of a nightmare. Three of us went up, but Mary came back with some of the other paddlers on Tuesday, while Sarah and I stayed on even after all the others ran away on Thursday.

Poking into geos in the Ross of Mull granite – with Moine xenoliths!

Mediterranean scenery – on the Ross of Mull

Rockhopping the Cormorant at Erraid

Several paddles on Mull to document here – twice round Erraid and various skerries, once just skerries, and to Carsaig arches both from Uisken (24km) and from Carsaig (rather shorter). Quite a lot of photos to extract from a lot of video footage (some shot at 2704x1524p30 which seems to give very good quality stills). There were some geological walks, too, but I think they get a separate post.

Second trip to Carsaig arches, from the east, and in sunshine

Tees Creek Race

This was the inaugural Upper Tees Creek Race – organised by Rory Woods as a pilot for what is hoped to be an annual event. Low water perhaps deterred a number of people from traveling a significant distance but there were still over forty racing on the day and it attracted quite a lot of interest both from passing walkers and spectators who had come specifically to watch the event. It was also great fun!

The format was an initial time trial from just above Dog Leg down to the bottom of Low Force (it was originally intended to end under the Wynch bridge, but this clashed with other river users doing a WWSR course, so this bit was shortened slightly). The times from this provided seeding for a series of boater-cross heats from just below the island below Dog Leg, to the same end point.

Staying upright on Dogleg. Photo: Andy Waddington
It’s more critical to stay upright than fast on Dogleg in the time-trial

The first heats had five paddlers and subsequent ones (mostly) four. The main classification was for typical creek boats (maximum length nine feet) paddled as kayaks. There were a couple of long boats (although Andy took a foot off the back of his ancient Pirouette in practice on Low Force last week, it was still over nine feet), one playboat, and one boat paddled as a C1, but as these classes were too small to be useful, everyone just competed together. There was also a separate boater-X for ladies in addition to the main ones.

In the time trial, Michael came Joint 17th on 4’00” (the fastest time overall was 3’28”), Crayston was joint 19th on 4’01”, Sarah joint 25th at 4’12” (second fastest lady, just pipped by three seconds). Andy (veteran, longish boat), 32nd in 4’23”, Dave Peel 34th in 4’26” and four people didn’t get times recorded owing to swimming. Sarah also came 2nd in the ladies Boater-X, so ended up with two prizes!

Ladies Boater-X. Photo: Andy Waddington
Sarah (far side) on her way to 2nd in the ladies Boater-X

Of the SOC members, Andy was, remarkably, the only one to progress to the quarter finals in the Boater-X part of the race, mainly down to his traffic cycling experience giving him the ability to barge people onto rocks and shallow spots and cut them up without worrying about manners (this is how boater-X works, as well as city cycling). This (and perhaps a faster boat) got him over Horseshoe in second place. The paddler behind him took Jacuzzi chute, which was proving to be a much faster line, and seemed likely to get ahead, but he cocked it up and Andy was fast enough down Low Force to be able to cut him off and get to the banner first. He couldn’t quite get a hand on it, though, and was technically pipped by the fourth place paddler who sneaked in and got a hand to the banner while Andy was trying to make frantic draw strokes to get there… However, after he tried to concede 2nd to Andy, it ended with both taking part in the quarter-final (coming fourth and fifth, and thus eliminated).

For those not too knackered, there was then a Le Mans-style mass-start race over the same course. The people who led this by a large margin almost to the end were those who avoided the delay of putting spray decks on. However, understandably they chose not to take the line down Jacuzzi chute so the first three places were taken by those that had got a slower start by taking the time to put decks on. I was amazed at how many people successfully ran both Horseshoe and Low Force without spraydecks and stayed afloat!

Getting crowded at Low Force. Photo: Andy Waddington
“Remember to leave plenty of space between paddlers on the harder bits…” – this is not a photo-montage, they really were that close together. Mass start boater-X at Low Force – note lack of spraydecks on first three boats!

Although water levels were on the low side and there was a bit of a breeze, the sun shone a lot of the time, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves, even those who swam. We think Andy was the oldest contestant and very definitely had the oldest boat – older in fact than at least two of the paddlers!