TEA BY THE SEA

We left campsite and the soulless beach bar of Aughris Head behind. Ahead of us was a long stretch of coast exposed to the swells. Yeah, if there wasn’t swell on the north west side of the Donegal Bay, it definitely found us here. And is we were following cliffs coastline there wasn’t respite until we came into a sheltered bay close to Easky. The forecast looked ok, so we decided to continue, maybe cross the Killala Bay before the winds pick up. We left and once we rounded a corner and paddled a fair distance from the last possible get out, the winds picked up, and so did the sea.

There’s not much to say but that it was a committing paddle in swell from the side then breaking on the shallows along the cliffs. We continued until the Lenadoon Point, and that became our destination for today. Deciding we need to be off the water ASAP, we landed on a tidal pavement of flat lying limestone, and made a decision to worry about low water launching when it will be happening.

The camping spot was a bit of Wuthering Heights, but apart from that, we were safe, and had a whole afternoon off.

The stoney platform was amazing, lots of fossils. And Zoe informed us it wasn’t just an ordinary windy hill, it was a drumlin. Now drumlin is apparently an elongated hill I. A shape of half-buried egg, it’s created by the glacier. Now she was excited as she never camped on a drumlin before, I still prefer ismuths more. Nevertheless the numerous fossils found in the limestone around us did make it quite exciting and entertaining place.

The forecast calmed for the following day, and we went through a time consuming routine of carrying several bags down to the low water mark, than wheeling the boats there, packing them, then leaving. Still at least we could use the wheels navigating then around limpets and across seaweed.

Our target today was crossing of he Killala Bay but as we went, the conditions didn’t worsen, and so we decided to continue. It led past impressive cliffs, however, we had to look more towards the sea rather than land as the waves were still impressive.

We rounded Downpatrick Head and surfed downwind past the stack. Now, the stack, Dun Briste, which means Broken Fort, was quite interesting, and apparently in the 14th century people lived on the stack, when it collapsed. We were hoping to get shelter and landing behind it all.

Then it happened. On the road on the land a spotted a white van pulling IT. I now recognise IT quite well. And it is my proof that there’s indeed coffee and tea available when one lands for a break from kayaking in Ireland.

This one was called TEA BY THE SEA. The owner was very friendly man and not only I managed to get my order through while he was still setting everything up, we were given the drinks for free. I didn’t have much time to hang around as our boats were slowly pushed up stoney ledges on the incoming tide. But the drinks were very appreciated by the rest of the team.

We discussed whether to look for landing for the day or continue, the conditions we seemed to be constant, not increasing, so we chose the next possible landing, and set off. The paddle was great, past many interesting cliffs, only downside was that we missed our landing place. However, I wasn’t disappointed much hoping that since the conditions are so great, a bit of swell, but wind pushing us along, we could make a bit of progress.

We have, and eventually landed in a small fishing village of Portulin. The camping was a little squashed on a tiny patch of grass right above the slipway, but it came with our own terrace. The evening was sunny, so the wasn’t much more that was missing from happiness.

There’s no swell on the west coast

Before we left to come to Ireland I kept saying there wasn’t swell on the west coast. And the past two days it seemed to be truth. We left the Gweedore coast and it’s many island and the journey took us past some amazing cliffs.

And because there wasn’t swell on the west coast we got to go close to shore, into caves, and through tunnels.

Our plan was to go to Glen Head but then decided to finish in small harbour of An Port. No photos but the landing was on a impressive steep slip and we had to pull the kayak up on a little wooden rail track.

From here we paddled past many more caves, tunnels, and lots and lots of elephants. I did think about this as the land of elephants, as many of the rocks looked as big, small or baby elephants, elephants with trunks up and trunks down, and drinking. Why they were drinking sea water ai don’t know, but that’s what I saw.

We decided against crossing from Malin Beg straight across the Donegal Bay and decided to go further in into Teelin at the north west corner of Donegal Bay. What a wonderful place this was.

According to information on local sign Teelin was one of the first settlements to appear on maps of Ireland, as it was an important port. And we could see why. It is a beautiful estuary, with river flowing through a very green valley. We followed it all the way to the village of Cerrick on our way to go shopping. We were very lucky we didn’t need to walk the road to Cerrick we actually acquired a vehicle for an hour or so. And if you ask Lindsey what was her favourite time in Ireland so far, she would say that driving the van.

We didn’t come to Teelin just to admire the peacefulness of the estuary. We chose it as our starting point on our way across the bay. It started this morning, half way through we decided for a stop at Inishmurry Island. One inhabited so much that a school has bee;set up there. Apparently the island was infamous for its poitin production and since landing has never been easy, it thrived as government inspectors could never just turn up on a surprise visit.

270°

Two hundreds and seventy degrees. Two hundred, according to definition is ten more than one hundred ninety while seventy is a number equivalent to the product of seven and ten, or ten less than eighty. For us it was simply the direction that my compass was showing over the past few paddling days.

It was 270 when I was towing Lindsey across the Lough Swilly into headwind and swell, so her boat keeps only twenty metres behind mine. The wind was pushing us more and more into the bay while we were trying to reach the Fanad Headland.

It was 270 when we were paddling again few days later towards Horn Head, and impressive headland with cliffs as high as 180 metres above the sea. The direction was pointing straight at the small incline in the cliff, which I chosen as my wee stop. It didn’t disappoint, it was there, and even sheltered enough from swell. Here Head was spectacular, birds, cliffs, waves, but fortunately now tideraces running. True is, we enjoyed two hours lunch while waiting for tide and swell to die down a little bit. On top of the cliff we can see a look out tower, and ai must say these towers are piece of art, built in napoleonic era.

It was 270 when we continued to island of Inishbofin (Innis Bo Finne) a small island once inhabited. It was very hot as we were approaching the island. Hot to the point that we had to take off the tops of our dry suit (don’t try this at home) in order to reach it and not to explode in the heath. That was fine for me, but a real first for Zoe.

People left here by the 1970’s and now only few come back for the summer. However here we got a nice flat grass for our tents, the church was open and had toilets!. We met the islands only artist, some fishermen and one former resident. He invited us into the village hall to show us pictures of himself as a very young man, then some of his neighbours.

Next our journey was towards a distant headland stretching far and long in the distance. It’s name was Bloody Foreland. It was 270 degrees to go to Bloody Foreland. When I looked at amp of Ireland and saw how far this point is, I thought, yeah, what a name. As we started to paddle to it, it seemed endless, so the name bloody seemed appropriate even more. Of course the name was here before us, and apparently the name but after that our direction slightly changed. Bloody Foreland gained it’s name from its rock colour which in evening sun is illuminated in red shades. That’s not what we saw.

For us this headland was significant in other way, too, as after rounding it our compass started to show other directions than west only. Bloody Foreland was our gateway to the west coast.

We paddled past the Gweedore coast and it’s many islands, Inishmeane, Gola, Owey until we ended on Cruit in close distance to golf club bar, open to non-golfers.

WILD ATLANTIC WAY – FANAD HEAD

If week one saw us paddling every day, week two seems to be a week of being weather bound. It might slow our progress but gives us opportunity to explore the unknown. First we stayed a day at Tullah Bay on Inishowen Peninsula and walked over to the village of Clonmany, known as the Cross as it is built on cross roads and in the past being a centre of the illegal poitín distillation industry. To us is known as the village of many pubs, we counted about six within one short street, as well as Tag of War club. Which apparently has been quite successful in its history of existence and won six world medals and many All Ireland titles. Lovely place with historic churches and waterfalls.

We left Tullah Bay the following afternoon when the weather forecast suggested break in the wind. Still the headwind was quite strong and made our crossing from Dunaff Head over to Fanad Head across Lough Swilly entertaining by swell and wind. Lough Swilly, glacial fjord, and our gateway to county Donegal. We crossed and wanted to finish on the beach we watched every minute of the crossing. The beach was beautiful as beaches go, yellow sand, green grass high on the hill, whitewashed boulders, little stream going into the sea. However there wasn’t any chance to fit even one tent on anywhere. Still, we got our trolley and moved the boats above high water mark, looked around, but soon we were facing a decision. To stay and make it somewhere work, or to move on, as we could be here for few nights than just one.

Even the impressive view of the Fanad Lighthouse didn’t persuade us to stay. After quick snack, trolley dismantled back in the boat, luckily water was coming in, we got the boats back on the water in search of better place. Which could mean another 10 – 15 kilometres. The swell was playful, there and now a wave would wash over one of us and give us salty bath, surf was breaking heavily on the shallows along the shore.

Finally we spotted a sheltered corner of a large bay. Dunes, car park, we decided to stay.

Fanad Lighthouse stood on the cliff in its white glory. Built in 1815 and first lit in 1817, it was occupied by lighthouse keepers until automated in 1983. Fanad Head a strategic place at Lough Swilly, the lighthouse was originally built as a sea light rather than one indicating save passage into the lough’s natural harbour. And since the weather decided we would have few non paddling days, I went to see it. Two accidental events took place here today, first I was sold a tour of the lighthouse which I haven’t intend d to do first, but why not. It’s not very often one can visit working lighthouses, the last one I saw was on Flatey in North Iceland. It was interesting to see the difference in the size of bulbs used to light the lighthouse in the past and nowadays.

The lighthouse tower is 22 metres high from its foundation to the top not including the lantern. The light is 39 metres above sea level and there are 79 steps in the tower.

Second accident was bumping into Geoff from London, whom I last saw in Jersey three weeks ago. Which was great because I could get a picture taken.

THE CAUSEWAY COAST

We spent great day in Glenarm making the most of the facilities, sights, and hospitality, but with the weather improving, it was time to make a move. As Lindsey summarised it, everyone talks about the West coast as the coast to paddle, but the North coast was definitely impressive. The coastline was formed in a range of environments from arid desert, warm tropical seas, explosive volcanic eruptions, to cold glacial conditions providing interesting structures, variety of colours and material. The tides are quite noticeable here, we no longer could paddle when we pleased, and definitely had to get onto the conveyor belt, since getting it wrong would result in no progress at all. As it was we completely missed Cushendun on our way up, and the last chance of filling our cameras with pictures of one of The Doors from Game of Thrones.

But rounding the Torr Head was as spectacular as any old wood carving, I am sure. The first evening we finished at Ballycastle and spent a surprisingly warm if wet night on the concrete of the harbour.

We were even allowed to use the marina, which was great.

The following day was the day of paddling past the causeway itself. A great rainy day with impressive sights. First that came into view was Dunseverick Castle, then the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, first erected in 1755 leading to a cliff with fisherman cottage. Must say nowadays I would rather paddle underneath it than walking over it.

The coast leading to the causeway was impressive, eventually the basalt columns came into view as well the colourful ants of tourist clambering over the basalt columns.

Of course we had to join them. Not sure if they had to pay or not, we haven’t as we came from sea. There and now a whistle could be heard reprimanding unruly tourists trying to go where they shouldn’t. We had a lovely walk and photograph, only when we turned off the path to return to the boats, did we attract attention of a warden trying to stop us going back to the sea, but eventually we made it back to our boats and continued. We still had the the Lough Foyle to cross.

The following day we wanted to go past Malin Head, and around the whole of Inishowen peninsula. We started early, hugged the coast against the tide until about lunchtime.

Finally the tide turned, and not only us were excited about it, we were soon met by a pod of dolphins swimming past, then coming to join us for a bit. But we were probably a bit slow for their liking, and so when we reached a mini tiderace at one of the corners they performed a triple loop to say bye and sped off.

Malin Head gives name to one of the forecast area, Malin, spectacular headland, and also the most northerly point of Ireland. On its tip called Banba’s Crown stands a tower. We watched it for a while so it was important for find some information about it. It was built by the British Admiralty in 1805 as part of a string of buildings right around the Irish coast to guard against a possible French invasion, it also had radio stations during both world wars.

I did promise Lindsey a cup of tea in the village before the headland, then changed it for after the headland. Sadly both villages with amenities were either away from the conveyor belt, or too much inland, and so no tea until we crossed to Tullah Bay.

I felt responsible that poor Lindsey now spent the whole day not having a cup of proper tea that she now so rarely gets on this trip. Then, as we were landing on the beach, after the last ten kilometres crossing, some of it with quite a strong head wind, an opportunity arises. A camper van just arrived to the same spot we planned to camp on. Two people got out, looked around and went to open the van’s door. I thought, great, the arrived and were going to boil water for their cup of tea. So I asked them whether they could get us some for a very tired paddler. I mistook them for English, who would definitely had a cup of tea on arrival to their camping destination.

They were German, but in the end have risen to the challenge, and when one of them came out with a kettle of boiled water, to put into our cups, which we had to quickly found in our boats, they even produced some milk. Milk with one sugar, was all what was needed to renew energy and pitch tents in rain and wind.

Journey of the Solo Expedition Paddler

So here we were first few miles into our trip around Ireland. We already established that we were heading anti-clockwise, all in the team came to terms with that and the miles started to tick. Our team is formed by three women, an university lecturer, a nurse and a teacher. Similar in age but different in kayaking ability. Zoe and I have been kayaking longer than Lindsey. And so over the first few day Lindsey became our solo expedition paddler. The was helped by the fact that she is the only one of the team, who hasn’t ordered drysuit in mantis colour. That makes her to stand out, and unifies Zoe and myself in our roles.

From the beginning we knew that Lindsey will have to build the stamina and strength to be able to paddle for long hours and at reasonable speed. What we also discovered was that some help with forward stroke was needed. Luckily Lindsey took two coaches with her on the trip, and we were only happy to help.

To be honest, the first few days Lindsey’s journey must have been quite lonely, but she powered through rain or shine. Eventually we could change our roles from coaches to being simply staff.

At some point it almost seemed that we have acquired more members of support crew, we were looking forward to setting up a film crew recruiting a rib, but these were very short lived.

To help the Solo Expedition paddler we called in extra support, which delivered bacon butty and tea to the beach at Portavogee (thank you Barry and Craig).

To help Lindsey further after paddling sessions in camp followed with the coaches summarising the days’ achievements, and discuss strategies for the following day.

The strength of the solo expedition paddler grew day by day, and after powering into the headwind between three Stena ferries across Belfast loch, she has become a full time member of the team. The arrival to Whitehead was heroic, and we were rewarded by the stay in an old Coastguard shed for all.

Together we paddled past the Gobbins and admired the modernisation of the old cliff path. The solo paddler was rewarded for her effort by going outside the Muck Island and bird watching.

This is it, the team is now complete and together again.

A Sense of Déjà Vu

We reached Ballygally, and it’s great we did. Originally we thought we would stop just a village before, at the end of the north corner of Larne bay, it had a beach, take away van with coffee and apparently a campsite, too. However eventually we decided to give it one last push around the corner. Ballygally, little did we know it played its part in Game of Thrones, as none of us had ever seen a single episode. Ballygally had slipway, car park with very flat patch of grass, castle hotel with coffee, and later we discovered a great pub called Mattie’s a mile up the road. What’s more in the hotel they had the door. The door, which apparently were shown in the Game of Thrones. Something we didn’t know, so we didn’t take any pictures of it to show. We only learnt about its importance the following day.

The following day we got up early to catch the tide assistance to help us with progress against the strong headwind. We managed ten kilometres, and that was good distance considering Lindsey is still quite new to long sea kayak journeys in various conditions. But eventually it became clear we had to land and finish for the day. We did so in another harbour around another corner. And when we walked up the slipway I had a sense of being here before. Yes, I recognised the old marina building in front of which, seven years ago, Michal and I set up our tent on a concrete. We were on our trip round Britain, got to Northern Ireland, and without map didn’t really know about the coast. We stayed a night in this grey, fairly derelict town with one weird pub (https://homeseahome.com/2012/05/29/islands-hopping/).

Surprise surprise here I was again. Yet, this time things were to be different. Firstly, we found public bathrooms next to an information centre. And as we stood in front of them contemplating what to do next, a lady came out and invited us in for cups of tea and coffee. We now know her name was Christine, she set table and chairs in the middle if the small centre, and got to preparing our drinks while filling us and anyone else, who came in, on information about the place. For example we found out about The doors, about ten of them. We now missed most, but one is still attainable, it’s in Cushendun, which will be on our way up.

When two other ladies came in wondering where they could get coffee, Christine holding just boiled kettle over our cups said “not here, there’s a posh coffee shop in the castle”. We stayed for few hours as time passes quickly once one is back on land. Eventually we walked away with the following: information about the village, arranged storage place for Zoe’s kayak, arranged lift for Zoe to Belfast in the morning, and a rental house for the next 2 nights.

So, we decided to stay in Glenarm until Friday, when the weather should become friendlier. The village shows signs of being a very busy prosperous town back at the turn of 19/20 century with grand houses. It also has a castle, lovely woodland, two pubs, and newly opened little shop. Somehow it also has planters made from old kayaks, this definitely wasn’t here seven years ago.

On top of that the place around the harbour is now covered in grass and flowers rather than concrete like before.

Tiger Who Came to Tea

We left Howght and slowly started to make our way up the east coast. The first few kilometres until Skerries seemed to be the land of Martello Towers. Unfortunately they finished before any picture could have been taken.

The first days were pleasantly uneventful, we spent most time on the water working out how to paddle together, and most time at landings and launching how to join our efforts to get boats on and off as easily as possible.

There and now Zoe and Lindsey still tried to go or at least to have an idea what it would look like if we went clockwise, but it was more and more obvious that land on the left is just fine.

Eventually we came to a place called Kilkeel. It was time for lunch and we picked out a landing place at the end of the bay. As we were coming closer to land a man, later known as Mike, came to shore asking us whether we wanted tea. Lindsey had not had a proper tea since the ferry, and her eyes just lit up. Soon we were sitting on chairs in front of his friend Adrian’s house, having coffee, biscuits and lunch.

Our next target was Newcastle. We didn’t get there the same day, but the following one after a night on a very bouldery patch of beach squeezed between high tide mark and fence. I have a feeling there would be more of that later.

In Newcastle we planned to do a quick refill of some lunch stuff, maybe get the first coffee of this trip for me, and Lindsey had her eyes set on chips. Little did we know how exciting the stop in Newcastle would be. First we stopped on the beach on the left side of town, at incoming tide, it wasn’t the best, so Zoe stayed by the kayaks while we went to quickly fulfil our tasks. Sadly this part of town had no chips and no food stores, just cafes. We returned to kayaks and decided to paddle to the right side of the town to get closer to the less touristy and more locals’ part of it. This time we decided to approach the high street by landing in the river and again leaving Zoe on shore. Again it proved to be not so easy, as the supermarket was even more out on the edge of town, but we shopped in the first very posh butcher, then bakery. Lindsey got the chips, so all was good. However the tide was coming in quite fast by then. And so Zoe became the poster girl of Peak UK eating her chips while holding her kayak on the tow line to stop it disappearing to the sea.

After Newcastle the big Dundrum Bay awaited us. We had headwind in the morning, and were dreading the long crawl along it. However we were in luck, while we were being entertained by Newcastle the wind died down, and eventually turned in our favour. It carried us all the way to St John’s point.

What an exciting place that is. The lighthouse shone at us the previous night, and during the crossing changed its colours from red and white, green and yellow to black and yellow. What’s more the stop we had to have had some local occupants on, who became very curious of us, yet made it very clear that we shall not step a foot further.

Lindsey even got in the water holding her paddle in her newly acquired wide grip shouting that she was a strong swimmer. Luckily we were allowed to do what we needed to do and proceeded further along the coast towards Gun Island. Tonight we are sleeping on a ismuth, and I am very fond of ismuths.

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe – Which way shall we go?

So here we were, after a long drive to Holyhead, lots of kit faff, dinner, and exciting boarding of the ferry, we were sitting on the boat looking at tidal planning for our first day on the water.

Obviously we had met prior to the trip and discussed planning, paddling and everything, but that was a while ago, when all of us were still distracted by our usual everyday lives. Finally we all had time to focus on the one thing, the same thing, our trip.

When we agreed to go to Ireland, I always thought of the circumnavigation as being started anti-clockwise. Zoe and Lindsey decided that clockwise was the right direction as most people do it that way, and moreover it apparently makes more sense. Finally we were on the ferry looking at the tides and working out if it would be better for us to start north of Dublin harbour and spent the few hours we would have left for paddling that afternoon to cross it to have it done and dusted, or should we start south of Dublin harbour and paddle for short distance south. As the data and information emerged, it became clear that if we go south that afternoon, the tides would be against us. I saw that as a sign and opportunity.

We arrived to Dublin, where we were met by Dave and Michael, who kindly agreed to come and pick us up to give us and our kayaks lift from the port to the water. They were interested which way we were starting, and were only slightly surprised when we said we did not know yet. So coffee followed. Michael then dropped the bombshell, he had circumnavigated Ireland anti clockwise, and had some good arguments why.

At one thirty on Tuesday afternoon we decided to go anti-clockwise. The next challenge was to leave Howth in the right or rather left direction.

DROPSEAT ADVENTURE 2019 – The story has begun

The long awaited day has finally come. It’s Monday 03.06.2019 and our team is travelling to Holyhead on Anglesey to take a ferry tomorrow to cross over to Ireland. After few months of scattered preparation we seem to be ready to go. 

We are aiming to circumnavigate Ireland by sea kayaks over the two months in June and July 2019. We called our journey Dropseat Adventure in recognition of the very specific nature of the drysuits we use as women. 

The hardest part of the preparations are done. All of us, Zoe Robinson – university professor in sustainability, Lindsey Harris – a nurse, Natalie Maderova – teacher of students with special needs, managed to get a leave from our works for 8 weeks. 

All of us have been kayaking for a while, so getting the kit together wasn’t such mission. However we are delighted that as a team we received support from Kokatat providing us with our drysuits, and Peak UK. We have all chosen boats that we are comfortable to paddle in. 

We decided to go to Ireland for few reasons: to keep our carbon footprint low, the coast is of reasonable length to be doable in the time scale we have, and it’s meant to be pretty.

Natalie’s now excited to go to Ireland as for her it is the third European island by size around which she will paddle. 

It terms of experience, it can be said that Lindsey it the least experienced of us when it comes to multi day paddling, long crossings, and expeditioning. She is involved with the King George and Queens Hospital Charity, which supports people undergoing major lower limb amputations. Following the procedure patients engage in long periods of rehabilitation and are often wheelchair dependent up until the time that they are ready for prosthetic limb fitting. Through our paddling we would like to raise money towards an upper limb bike – ergometer for our amputee patients. The upper limb bike will allow individuals to keep as active as possible on the ward and to help build their upper limb strength for the use of self propelled wheelchairs.

Lindsey’s fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/lindsey-harris10

Natalie continues to support young people at Shadwell Basin and their access to adventure sports within the city. So if you liked any article and want to let me know, please, do it here: