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Making the most of the stream on this side of the country as the tide is squeezed between Ireland and Scotland. That means paddling two shifts a day – early morning to lunchtime and again in the evening.. 735 miles down and 215 or so to go.

Yesterday at Malin Head we ate breakfast on the beach watching dolphins broach and summersault in the bay before jumping on the tide to Portstewart where we relaxed and took on calories before jumping back in the evening tide around the Giants Causeway. A stunning way to see this world heritage site. 

We ended the day pulling up to a cottage at the base of the cliffs around the corner from the Causeway. The only way to get to the cottage is by sea. It has it’s own natural harbour. Sadly we were camping on the outside but it was idyllic. We watched the sunset and drank the last of our malt whiskey, a 16 year old Lagavulin. From where we sat we could see the Scottish Island of Islay – which appropriately is home to the Lagavulin distillery.

We climbed into bed as the full moon rose, reminding us that we are on spring tides and so the stream is good!

Today was fun. The stream past Rathlin Island had us ticking along at 8 and 9 miles am hour. We turned south and then had to paddle in the eddies to avoid the north going flood tide which was running well over 3 miles an hour.

The morning sunshine gave way to a sudden fog bank that descended – just as well it was time to get off the water and wait for the next tide anyway. We spent the afternoon in Cushendun before pushing on this evening to Glenarm. 

The next few days are all about the miles. We’ve a pretty good idea which day we will finish now – but of course it is weather dependent. 

Hands are swollen, various body parts ache and we’re both sleep deprived but each day is an incredible experience that we don’t want to take for granted.

Massive thank you to ‘Sam’, Janet, Sylv and Martyn for your incredibly generous donations! The total is coming along very nicely now – thank you!

   
                

Geoff has been keeping a tally of the number of Guinesses we’ve had since we started this adventure. Apparently I  am one behind him – 25 to 24. 

He’s just gone to buy provisions so guess what ……it is all square now!

  

Brief post tonight but wanted to provide an update. Today we said goodbye to the west coast. It’s been exhilarating. We seen some amazing scenary and wildlife and met some wonderful people.

We’ve also experienced some incredible conditions. They’ve been testing but they’ve also been fun.

This morning as we were preparing to leave we met an ecologist who had been conducting a bird survey along the local cliffs around Horn Head. Fascinating guy who helped us identify some of the birds we had seen but didn’t know what they were.   Our list of birds now looks like:

Guillemots , Black Backed Gull, Razor Bill, Puffins, Storm Petrel, Black Guillemots, Fulmers, Terns, Skewers, Oyster Catchers, Chuffs, Gannets and a few more we still don’t know the name of.

We left Portnablagh in perfect conditions and made our way up to the most northern tip of Ireland, Malin Head where we are now. Eight hours in the kayak to cover the 30 miles.
We think we have less than 300 miles to go.

A massive thank you to Sara, Jan and Tony, and Suzanne, Richard and Family for your donations. Our total stands at over a thousand pounds now! Two thirds of the way to our target.

Tomorrow we are aiming for Port Rush.

  

A couple of shots from our camp site this morning in Portnablagh and looking out towards Horn Head.

   
 

It is 10.30pm and I’m in my tent. What’s that I hear? – Absolutely nothing. The winds have died down for what must be, the first time in a couple of weeks. Today out on the water Geoff and I noticed a marked increase in the warmth of the air that the southerly wind has brought in. Maybe summer has arrived.

The last few days we have had very strong tailwinds and we’ve managed to make some decent progress. Last night we spent on Aranmore and today we’re in Portnablagh. 

Tomorrow we’ll be round Malin Head and just beginning to make the slow right hand turn to head south again. It will mean the end of the west coast and the Atlantic swell. It has taken us three weeks to negotiate the west coast and it has been the most extraordinary experience that neither of us will forget, but we’re ready for the long push home now. 

We’ve covered 630 miles so far and think we have around 330 to go.

No dramatic sea stories today, sorry about that – although my Mum may be relieved!

Thank you Pauline for your very generous donation to our charities. We’ll be in touch when we get back.

Some photos from Glencolmcille where we stayed a couple of nights ago and where we met Margaret, Margaret and Kevin from the Folk Village Museum – such a fascinating place which will need another visit one day soon.

   
       

Yesterday morning we woke to the sound of rain on our tents. Never a great way to start the day. The dilemma is whether to crack on and pack everything away wet, knowing you’ll be climbing into a wet tent the following evening, or to wait for it to pass and then be late on the water. 

We compromised and cooked breakfast (porridge) in the rain but packed the tents up when it stopped. 

We were away for 7.45am, but not before we chatted to some of the local fishermen heading out in their currachs and got their take on the weather.

As we paddled out to Downpatrick Head the sun came out and warmed our cold hands. All was good with the world again. The transition, getting off the water and settled, or packing up again in the morning and climbing into wet gear, is the hardest part of the day we find. 

As if to reward us for getting up and away on time, we met two basking sharks in the bay. One must have been  5m long.  Just amazing. We said before this trip that it was one thing we would  love to see and now that’s our third.

We crossed Killala Bay and headed for Easky where we stopped for provisions and made some soup for lunch. 

The wind was picking up F5 gusting F6 but still in our favour so we made the call to push on and cross Sligo Bay and towards the Island of Inishmurray. That would mean we would finish the day having started the crossing of Donegal Bay.

Three miles into the fifteen mile crossing the wind gusts were now strengthening – F7 were now common. 

The swell was picking up but in the main it was wind chop.

We had set off on a bearing as Inishmurray is low lying and we couldn’t see it from the start. Indeed it wouldn’t appear for another three miles. 

As we approached the Island we could start to make out the ruins of the old settlement and monastery. The jetty we were aiming for was at the ‘sheltered’ east end of the Island.

 The wind was now a constant F7 gusting F8 and the sea getting a little lively. We could see the jetty, it looked short. We both hoped it would provide enough shelter from the southwesterly wind and waves. As we rounded the end of the jetty, we realised the water was also low exposing some enormous rocks. It was clearly only a useful landing spot at high water. 

This was going to be difficult. Controlling an 18 foot kayak that weighs 80kgs, fully loaded in swell, strong winds and around rocks, is pretty difficult. 

We decided to take a closer look and see if we could pull alongside the rocks and clamber out for a short swim and haul the boats out. 

It wasn’t going to happen. The initial haul out would have been too high and the risk of injury to us or the boats too great. 

We decided to paddle round to the leeward side of the Island and take a look there. The swell was now wrapping all the way round the Island but there was an area of calm water. Unfortunately the landing was to be on boulders the size of fridges. Perfect boat and ankle breaking territory. 

We had no choice. We climbed out of the kayaks and waded the last few feet up to our waists so we could control landing the kayaks on the rocks. We managed to get both out of the water balanced precariously. The plan was to empty the kit out and then come back for the kayaks. 

It was then we spotted the nesting sites above us. There were chicks moving around the top of the foreshore. We couldn’t risk disturbing them so there was nothing for it but to paddle the kayaks back against the wind and return to the jetty. We left some of the kit on the beach to make them lighter and easier to handle. 

Same as before we managed to get alongside the rocks by the jetty, get out and swim the kayaks in. All the time the wind and waves were buffeting us. A broken boat (or body) would have been the end of the expedition – as well as a difficult evacuation from an uninhabited island!

Fortunately, with a little less gel coat than they had that morning we landed the boats. Geoff and I suffered no more than bruises. It took us a further hour to retrieve our kit from the other side of the Island and then pitch our tents before the wind picked up even more. That night we were buffeted by gale force winds, but as ever, you always feel safe and cosy in your tent and very satisfied to have paddled 36 miles given the conditions.

Whether we could get off the Island in the morning given the conditions would be another matter……we had figured we could be ‘comfortable’ for three days before food started running out.

Day 26 – in the end, this morning the sun was shining on our little camp in the playground of the old school on Inishmurray, and the wind had dropped a notch.   We had a chance to see what a stunning place this is, and appreciate just how tough a life it must have been to live on this Island.

Given the previous day’s exploits it was a late start. It was a complicated, but safe launch in the end and it was good to be on our way again.

The 25 mile paddle today, north towards Malin Beg and the village of Glencollumkille, saw easily the biggest seas we have had on the trip so far. The early morning sunshine soon left us and we faced regular squally showers bringing a stiff F7 wind.  The westerlies over the last few days have built the Atlantic swell up too. Whilst officially only 2.8m, over shallower ground we were experiencing steep swell around  5m or 6m regularly. 

But we were making decent progress and we seem to be handling the conditions comfortably. Our C Trek boats seem to ooze confidence in this sort of sea.

We landed in Glencollumkille, Donegal, stored the kayaks above the high tide zone and managed to find a nearby B&B. We needed a shower and to be inside for a few hours. 

The next few day should see us round the top and heading south towards Rosslare.

Thank you Carol for your very generous donation for our charities!

   
              

Half way through our fourth week. We’ve now covered 508 miles – just over half way.

The last couple of days we have been heading east into the Bay of Donegal to position ourselves to make the crossing to Malin Beg. It is a spectacular coast but also very committed. There are few places to get out and the winds get compressed and accelerate over the mountains and hills and down through gulleys.

Yeterday we left Knocknalina with a southeasterly F5. We made good progress until we got into Donegal Bay proper.  We were facing F8 gusts frequently and for prolonged periods which attempted to rip the paddles from our hands. But we were still making headway, albeit only around 2.5 to 3 miles an hour. Then came the most torrential rain that was so hard it almost hurt the hands.

We had made 13 miles but progress was getting tougher. Porturlin was just a mile further on and offered an option to get off and reassess. If we pushed on we were committing to another 15 miles of potentially worsening conditions.

We opted for Porturlin. As we made our way to the back of the harbour and a beach landing we ate some food and discussed options. The wind seemed to be strengthening and so whilst we felt we could cope with the conditions we also felt why slog out 15 miles in 6 hours when we could probably so it in 3 tomorrow. 

We stayed in the kayaks and waited for the rain to stop. It was the best way to stay warm. In fact we both dosed off.  Finally the rain did stop and we landed and pitched the tents amongst the sheep and got some hot food on. 

It is strange how very quickly you become comfortable with a new camping site. What at first can look quite inhospitable becomes homely once you are warm and inside your tent. In fact I’m writing this inside my tent on a harbour wall while the world goes by outside.

Today the southeasterly turned into a southwesterly so although it was a similar strength as yesterday, at least it would give us a bit of a push.

For most of today, the rain stayed away and the sun lit up the extraordinary cliffs. We even had time to explore a couple of caves and gulleys – certainly the largest Geoff and I have ever seen. This is definitely an area to come back and explore more.

We have seen very few other craft up the west coast, those that we do see are lobster or line fishermen.  In some ways it adds to the sense of this being an extreme stretch of coastline. One thing that has struck both of us though is the greeting we get from fishermen as we paddle by. Not just a nod through a cabin window, most make a point of leaving their cabins walking to the stern and giving us a hearty wave.  

This afternoon we walked into Ballycastle to Mary’s Cottage Kitchen – soup, toasted sarnie, bread and butter pudding, cheese cake and around a gallon of tea. Perfect stop.

Thank you to Kim and David for your very generous donation! The total for our charities is climbing nicely.

The photos can’t do the scenary justice but do check for Geoff at the bottom of the cliffs – you’ll get a sense of scale. 

   
            

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