3 star sea kayaking around Puffin Island, Anglesey (Day 5 of 5)

On our last day it was back to having Phil as our instructor. Stuart had assured him that we had all already successfully covered all the parts of the 3* under continuous assessment so we were free to have a pleasant journey today.
We went to Puffin Island on the southeastern side of Anglesey.

There were puffins, shearwaters, razorbills,herons, cormorants, seals,tourist boats and a big lighthouse out in the middle of the water with ‘NO LANDWARD PASSAGE” written in huge letters on the side. The tide was not so low, so I took delight in escaping from my normal conformist life and breaking all the rules by doing circuits of the lighthouse, going between the strong current and flat water in front of the lighthouse, and into the current-free but rather choppy water in the eddy behind. Such a rebel, me. We then tried the same thing on a huge port channel marker.

The wind was getting up on our trip back – I don’t know if it really was a force 5 relative to the flow through water, or it just felt like it after 5 days of kayaking, but when we reached the end we all decided we didn’t feel like doing any final rolls, rescues, or whathaveyou. Although it may have come out of my mouth as, “There is nothing I would love to do more than some more self rescue practice, but it would be unfair on other members of the public if I took piles of dripping wet gear on the train.” Until next time, goodbye Anglesey, you were fantastic!

The intrepid duo, Zoe and Sylvia

3 star sea kayaking in Bull Bay, Anglesey (Day 4 of 5)

Thursday. Wednesday had been the most tiring day by far for most of us, so today we had a trip with less mileage and more coaching. We launched at Bull Bay, did some more rock hopping in a narrow inlet, and then got some coaching on going forward efficiently.
Put the paddle in close to the boat, push as well as pull the paddle, straighten the arms so that the hard work is being done with the core, and push with the feet as well. Some of this was already familiar to Zoe and me, as us ladies have less upper body strength so have to employ devious methods to keep up with the men generally. But I think that, like edging, torso rotation is one of those things that you think you’re doing a lot of until you see a photo of yourself and you see you aren’t doing as much as you think. We saw some choughs (apparently quite rare birds) and stopped for a long lunch break at an abandoned brickworks with lots of opportunity to potter round and explore.

After lunch (and yes I did do my drysuit up this time) we had a play with our towlines and between the four of us we managed to make all the usual mistakes of getting things caught up and disappearing off into the distance without looking around to see how the towee is getting on.

Relaxing while some poor sucker does all the work

There were some beautiful caves to explore and with Stuart’s tips we just-about-managed a complex rescue where Zoe the willing victim of the day was extracted from the cave by one of us, and a second rescuer towed both of us out. Then we had a display from three or four porpoises who were porpoisely fishing at the edge of a tidal stream.

Last thing, we returned yet again to the topic of the standard deep water rescue, and Stuart gave us a demo to show us how to get it really slick. There was a bit of confusion over terminology at first, that was resolved when we found out that all four of us students had learned our rescues by watching over and over again a single 5 minute video made by the very famous Gordon Brown (no, not that very famous Gordon Brown, another one, but they are both from Scotland) and our instructor did a few things very slightly differently from God, I mean Gordon. Some of us may even have left with the heresy that Gordon’s ways are not always best. Sorry Stuart, I hope that hasn’t dropped you in it with the Scottish contingent!
At the end I got to do it myself with Zoe as victim, being very bossy and yelling at her nonstop where to put her hands and feet, and was rewarded with the pronouncement that it was a good 3* rescue. So I won’t be drowning my girlfriend any time soon.


3 star sea kayaking in Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack, Anglesey (Day 3 of 5)

Wednesday. The forecast for today and the rest of the week was extremely kind – almost no wind, very little swell, and neap tides. Stuart decided to take us on Anglesey’s most famous paddling trip, a visit to South Stack via Penrhyn Mawr, which would be a far more difficult proposition if there was an Atlantic swell rolling in.

We launched from a pretty little bay just down the road from where we were staying, and while the others were sorting their boats out Zoe and I went out to see if Zoe could do a roll – she reckoned that trying it at the end of the day when she was tired was the reason it wasn’t working. After many false starts the magic finally happened and Stuart was around and watching to tick off the requirement. Yay! The ‘post-roll discombobulation’ then struck again as Zoe then managed to drop her hatch cover in the water while getting her sunglasses out. Turns out, these hatch covers sink. Oops. The water was fairly clear, but deep, and we couldn’t spot it. But we were only a few metres from the shore, so Stuart nipped back to the van for another one.

The geology on the way to South Stack was absolutely amazing – towering cliffs, complete with shrieking gulls and clattering climbers, caves, and rock folds in tight curves. We threaded our way between rocks and paddled below the bridge to South Stack island with its lighthouse,then out to the headland on the island and back battling the tide.

No, definitely can’t hold the camera still out here!

We learned the term “between a rock and a hard place” – if you go in too close to the coast you will hit the rocks, but if you paddle too far out from the rocks the opposing tide will be very hard work and could actually push you backwards. The bay to the south has a huge ‘back eddy’ – where the current goes in the opposite direction from the main tide – and we pulled in there to have our lunch in a secluded sun trap of beach only reachable by sea, to await the building of the Penrhyn Mawr tiderace. On the flood tide the water becomes “interesting”, in the “may you live in interesting times” curse kind of way. We paddled bravely out and enjoyed getting pushed hither and thither, with a handy eddy to rest in and watch the others surf up and down the waves. Nobody fell in. However, our coach thought it would be educational for us to do some rough water rescue, although there would only be time for each student to either jump in or be the rescuer, not both. Feeling uncharacteristically keen I volunteered to be the first to capsize in the middle of the rough water. It was a lovely warm day and I was wearing a buoyancy aid and drysuit, so what could possibly go wrong? I jumped in, fine, then a wave hit and I was suddenly very cold. And wet. My elbows were sloshing. I let go of the boat in surprise. I had unzipped my drysuit for lunch and omitted to fully close it again. I was drenched, and the force of the tiderace and wind was pushing the boat out of reach faster than I could swim, but it didn’t get more than a metre away before Zoe rescued it, and then me.

Lessons learned:
1. Check your dry suit is done up. Men have an extra hazard, the ‘pee zip’. Brr!
2. If something surprising like a cold water bath happens, the victim is likely to let go of their boat. The rescuer should be yelling ‘keep hold of your boat’ as they approach to try and prevent this. Zoe should have been bossier.
3. If the numpty still lets go of the boat, the rescuer should leave them behind and chase down the boat. Boats drift away faster than numpties. Come back for them afterwards.


3 star sea kayaking in Menai Strait, Anglesey (Day 2 of 5)

Tuesday. I was feeling brave so decided to go with the smaller boat. We had a different instructor today – Stuart – whom I’d not met before. The wind was the strongest of the week, force 5 or more, so we chose to go to the Menai Strait to get shelter. We talked about edging to make the boat more manoeuvrable on a turn, which for the non kayaker is using your hips to tip your boat hull at an angle, but obviously stopping before you actually tip it over. He decreed that 3 out of the 4 of us, including me, were not using enough edge, especially when it got choppy. I agreed with that, and had a very good reason, namely that I was paddling the narrowest sea kayak I had ever been in in my life and was unsure how far it would edge before there was a big embarrassing splash. We had a practice in a quiet bay on the Strait and I realised the Pilgrim would go over a lot further than I thought, especially as there were cute little knee bumps on the deck which let me move the boat from one edge to another by the tiniest wiggle of my lower body. The Menai Strait is known for its ferocious tide, but we had timed it to avoid the worst. It goes from lazy around the put-in point to hurtling at high speed when the flow is funneled between the bridges. We had fun in the area between the two bridges, known as the Swellies, where there are tiny islands and confused water swirling and boiling between. Stuart demonstrated an ‘eddyline spin’ where you station half the kayak in the tidal flow, and half of the kayak in calm water, and the total effect of the water is to spin you around. If you continue paddling to keep yourself in the right position you can do a 360 degree spin on the spot with the power of the flow. I managed about 270 degrees before the wind blew me back off the eddy line faster than I could paddle back. Enormous fun though!

Water doing funny things
There was also a spot near some small rocks where the front of my kayak was being pulled one way by the flow, the back was being pushed in a different direction by a little rivulet, and the middle of the boat was in completely calm water behind the rock. Now which way do I edge to avoid capsizing? I don’t know. When in doubt, keep paddling, and eventually things will settle down. Phew.
Stuart also has a ‘party trick’ demonstration of when to lean forward vs backward in wind and tide. He shows off by climbing out of the cockpit when the boat is floating sideways in the flow of the Strait, and sitting on the bow and then the stern of the boat. The weight shift makes the kayak start turning without any paddle strokes, and point upwind and downwind respectively. We were all secretly hoping he would fall in, but the man has some balance. Respect. The day ended with some rolling practice, and I managed to roll the smaller boat using the smaller paddle first time, but things still weren’t working for Zoe.


3 star sea kayaking in Rhoscolyn, Anglesey (Day 1 of 5)

Monday. First thing was meeting Phil Clegg of Sea Kayaking Anglesey for a little bit of admin and theory before going through kit and choosing boats. I had met him before as I had done a 2 day almost-beginner course (intromediate as he calls it) 2 or 3 years ago when I had sat in a sea kayak for the first time. I chose the Romany (2nd smallest of 4 sizes) as that was the one he had picked out for me then. Zoe picked a Romany too. This was promising, as it is nice for a paddling couple to be close enough in body size and shape to be able to swap boats when they fancy.

We went off to Rhoscolyn Bay which is absolutely gorgeous for paddling – a deep sandy bay surrounded by jagged rocks and little islands. The boats performed beautifully and felt about half the weight of our own cheap plastic Tempest and Skerray. We got used to the boats by ‘rockhopping’ and then went out to a rocky islet which was the home of some big fat grey seals. They are much less skittish than our East Coast common seals and one sat high on the rocks snoozing within 10 metres or so of our boats.

Seal has seen kayakers, and is going back to sleep.

Another was in the water, and curious. It swam around and underneath us and came up behind my boat and nibbled the rear carry toggle. When I turned around to look it took off at speed and then tried the same with Zoe’s boat.
Nom nom nom
There were also some puffins in the water. It is the first time I have ever seen them. Small but cute.

Time for the ‘wet work’ which is compulsory to qualify for the 3*. Three tasks, which I will try to explain to the non-paddlers:
1. roll – capsize, stay in the boat, and right yourself by going around the full 360 degrees. The ideal method of recovering from a capsize, if it works.
2. eskimo rescue -you hang underwater in the boat holding your breath until someone comes alongside your boat, and you then right yourself by grabbing them.
3. wet exit +deep water peer rescue – you have come out of your boat, and your partner comes alongside, drains your boat, and stabilises it while you jump back in it.
The second two skills, as you may guess, are oft practised when learning the first.

I had been practising the roll all winter and was dead chuffed when my first roll was successful, so I ticked off all three in about three minutes. Then it was Zoe’s turn. She unfortunately couldn’t get the roll working, and then I made a bit of a hash of rescuing her because I still had a bit of a buzz from the roll. I say ‘buzz’, but there is definitely an unsettling feeling from suddenly going upside down, sea up the nostrils and in the ears, looking around underwater and seeing the sun shining through the water in the direction of your feet, resisting the urge to pull away the elastic deck keeping you inside the boat and get the hell out of there because a bit of your brain is telling you that you are about to drown…. Ignore that, fight the urge to twist around to get your head above water, but instead twist the other way and sweep the paddle around while keeping your head underwater for as long as possible, rotating the boat back the right way around with pressure from the hips and knees. If it works, suddenly you are upright in the boat, above water again, and the salt water is streaming from your hair and nose while the rest of your body is still perfectly dry, apart from one or two distracting ice cold trickles of water down the back of your neck (if you are lucky, you don’t get the trickles, but in that case you may end the day with a hangman’s noose style red mark on your neck from the tight neck seal – life is compromise.) Hold your paddle up and shout ‘yee hah’. Everyone sees you upright and dripping water, and congratulates you on your roll.

So, that is a successful roll. Zoe’s weren’t working, but she was getting far enough out the water to get her head out, take a breath of air and roar in dismay before going back in again with a big splash while the rest of us, alerted by the noise, gathered round her in our boats ready to rescue her if she didn’t try again. Failed rolls are harder work than successful ones, so after a while she got tired and we switched to an optional wet skill, cowboy self rescue. This is where you climb back on the boat in deep water unaided. Very strenuous, and no use in rough water, but a lot of fun both to try and to watch (and for betting on whether someone will succeed or fall in). At this point I had an eye on the smaller boat, the Pilgrim, that one of the blokes was using. We swapped boats and although the Pilgrim was tippier and harder to scramble aboard, it was a beautiful fit for paddling and I felt much more in contact with the boat, more contact leading to more control.

Keep your head down… Splash!


The Vertical Kilometre Walk in the Peak District

This is my favourite strenuous walk in the Peak District. Its total ascent of about 1000m is fantastic prep for our walking and climbing holidays in the Alps, and it has the best views in the area too. Of course nowhere in England is high enough to have a continuous vertical kilometre of ascent, but this is convenient to access from the flatlands of East Anglia and steep enough that you can do it all in a mere 16 miles.

Elevation change

920m base walk
+20-80m small diversions on Kinder Scout
+120m extension to Mam Tor
These are averages measured over several trips via GPS and map elevations, although I don’t know if there is a standard sampling distance, as you could argue that elevation change is like a coastline and becomes infinite if you measure it often enough!


From the centre of the pretty little village of HOPE, go North, then turn right onto Bowden Lane, cross the railway line and then turn uphill onto a farm track towards WIN HILL. Beware, this walk gets steep quickly. A footpath leads up a grassy field where sheep stare blankly at the walkers and fell runners huffing and puffing as the gradient approaches a lung-busting 1 in 2.

Going up

The best way to attempt this is to slow down to a trudge slow enough to keep in the aerobic exercise zone – if you are able to recite a verse of Happy Birthday you are in the right zone and shouldn’t need to stop for a breather.
As you approach the ridgeline finally the gradient eases and you can turn right to reach WIN HILL SUMMIT, possibly the best view in the whole of the Peak District.
Panorama time

Stop for a smug selfie, then retrace your steps for a hundred metres and continue along the ridge line in a lovely easy descent path. After a mile it crosses a saddle and goes up towards CROOKSTONE KNOLL on KINDER SCOUT. The terrain now becomes a plateau with strange knobbly outcrops, and you turn left following the edge of the plateau and looking down at the Vale of Edale below you on your left side. There are a variety of paths here, and choosing the ones which hug the left hand side and go down and up a little will add to your total ascent for the day.

The rocky outcrops are also good spots for exploring, picnicking, and geocaching.

Eventually the path crosses a stream making a pretty copper-coloured tiny waterfall, and from there it is about a hundred metres to GRINDSBROOK HEAD. Turn left here, and start scrambling down on the right hand side of the stream. You will need to use your hands in a few places but it is not exposed. The route flattens out as it passes a fence, but there is a sting in its tail as it gets scrambly again, and potentially muddy in a few spots.

After half an hour scrambling in total there is a second fence and then the hard stuff is all done. Obligatory photo stop is on a tiny wooden bridge.

The pub is close by! Just walk through the trees and join a small lane to find yourself at the Nag’s Head in EDALE, the historic starting point of the now-relocated Pennine Way.
The pub is truly excellent – go in and have a pint to celebrate making it more than half way round – but don’t stay too long or you risk stiffening up. When you are refreshed, you have a choice. The short route turns left and up to HOLLINS CROSS (wimp option), but if you want to be sure you have done all 1000 metres and more, follow paths ahead and to the right leading towards the road to MAM TOR. Both options are steep, although not quite as steep as what you have done already. The Mam Tor path meets the steep road which zigzags up the valley, and you have to walk along the road for a few metres before turning left on a big well-paved path along the summit ridge to MAM TOR. If the weather isn’t awful, this path will be heaving with tourists. No wonder, with this scenery. Continue down to HOLLINS CROSS (the shorter route rejoins here) and then straight ahead to BACK TOR. From here, the last summit of the route, LOSE HILL, is visible. Enjoy looking around and spotting where you have been. From LOSE HILL one more steep descent puts you in HOPE, where you started. Well done!


7 hours at a steady walk, plus time spent at the Nags Head or at a picnic spot. Add 20-30 minutes for Mam Tor extension.


Start and finish at Hope, Derbyshire, where there is a large car park, costing £5 for all day. You could also start and finish at Edale where there is a railway station, but if you do this be aware that mobile phone coverage at Edale is patchy so don’t expect to be able to let people know you have finished. If you are starting at Edale late in the day, I would consider doing the route in reverse to avoid descending Grindsbrook in the dark.

Don’t do this walk if:

  • you don’t like steep slopes.
  • you aren’t comfortable doing a little bit of scrambling using the hands.
  • you prefer solitude on your walks – many of the summits are honeypot sites.
  • the temptation of a pub en route will cause you to stop too long and seize up!