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Archive for July, 2012

A few blogs ago, when we were somewhere at the top of Britain, I wrote about the West of England MS Therapy Centre, one of the charities we are supporting. In this little blog I say a little more about two of the others we are also supporting: Over The Wall and Help For Heroes.

Over The Wall

Over The Wall is a national children’s charity. It’s purpose is to provide life-changing experiences to children and young people aged 8-17 who are affected by serious and life limiting illnesses. They do this by offering free activity camps specifically developed to foster coping, resilience, self-esteem and confidence. Campers get a chance to take part in the sort of games and adventures that they are usually excluded from because their school can’t cope with their medical challenges or perhaps because they have been hospitalised for a long time.

Having volunteered for this charity for several years, Tanya and I have experienced first hand how life changing the camps can be for the families and for the volunteers too. But don’t take my word for it, here is what some of them have said:


“You all made me feel like a normal boy, and I loved that because at my school the kids don’t treat me like that. I’d love camp to last forever, if my Nan could come too.”
– Camper

“The camp was one of the best experiences that Matthew has had I have never seen him so enthused! He came home and said at school nobody wants him in their team but at camp he found a team that accepted people for who they are without prejudice. A fantastic time.” – Parent

“Once again a huge Thank You to all involved, especially the volunteers. My nephew is going to apply to volunteer as he was very much affected by Ellie’s chat. Ellie had a fantastic time she clearly felt respected for being ‘her’ which doesn’t always happen in school. She was full of chat too about all aspects of camp. The whole ethos clearly lends itself to making a life changing camp, volunteers are well chosen.” – Parent

“ The Over The Wall camp is the best thing that has ever happened to us as a family.”-Parent – Scotland Camp

Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes perhaps needs less introduction as to it’s purpose and motivation. But I think these quotes illustrate nicely the many ways in which it has made a very real difference to service men and women’s lives.

Thank you so much for the road bike that was funded for me via Battle Back. Physical activity and exercise has always played a huge role in my life and now, after 3 ½ years of hospital treatment and rehabilitation, I can look forward to keeping fit and taking on a few challenges. The bike will be central to those efforts. So, thank you to Help for Heroes for their generosity to me personally and also, with my ‘senior calamity’ hat on, for the quite tremendous practical support it provides every day for some very damaged but special young Servicemen and women and their families. They deserve nothing less and when H4H is involved, will receive nothing less. Thank you!

The support that has been given to me by Help for Heroes is very overwhelming from financing a picture framing course and examination to the building of my workshop.

Help for Heroes have helped me and others get back into an active lifestyle, whether it be things like RAAM or the BBBR. They have also helped me with funding for equipment etc.

I am truly grateful for the support I have received from Help for Heroes, it has enabled me to compete as an international athlete, which I would never have thought possible.

Support from little gestures to large scale projects that have helped me through rehab. An amazing support network for me and my family! A true ‘Band of Brothers.’

H4H has given me and other Service personnel the opportunities to try new things and to see other soldiers with serious injuries, both different and similar to my own, striving under adversity, has given me the confidence to move forward and remains a constant reminder of who we are. We are different! H4H has recognised that fact and given us all a chance to be the very best we can post injury! I hope that I can continue to be an inspiration and mentor to other soldiers who are coming to terms with life changing injuries.

To me, Help for Heroes means love, support and friendship.

If you can help us in any way to help these two charities continue to make a difference please click on our donate button on our blog menu.

THANK YOU!!

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Friday night we wild camped at Gibraltar Point (aka south Skegness). The sunset cast a deep orange glow across the sky and we could just make out the lights on the north Norfolk coast as it got darker. It was an eerily quiet evening. I guess most were glued to the TV watching the opening ceremony. I climbed into my tent, pulled out the iPhone and to my surprise I had a great signal and was able to join about 1 billion others who also watched opening ceremony. Thought it was brilliant. Pitched perfectly and made me feel very proud to be British.

Saturday morning was a short hop across the Wash – 17 miles. A key milestone as it means we have only one more significant crossing left – the Thames Estuary. We managed to get stream all the way and landed the other side in under 4 hours. The Wash is a tidal gate so north of it the flood tide flows south and ebb north, south of it and it’s the other way round. That means if you time it right you can cross with stream all the way. We did and it was glorious to average over 4.5knts!

We pushed on further to Wells Next to the Sea where my sister, Jane and her family together with my mum were waiting to meet us. It was so good to see them. And so good of them to make the journey to see us. Thanks guys! A visit like this at the start of the trip would have been hard emotionally I think to say goodbye again but now as we approach the final stages it is almost a welcome home visit. A good morale booster.

Sunday we made it as far as Bacton Gas Terminal and as I finish writing this blog update in my tent on the sea defences this Monday morning I can hear it hum in the background.

The paddle yesterday was great. 30 miles with mostly a tail wind and good stream in our favour most of the way. The only excitement for the day was getting caught in a massive thunder storm. We saw the dark cloud coming over. Geoff had spotted a nice cafe and some shelter. He suggested we stop but I thought it would miss us and we should paddle on. Got that one wrong.

We popped our video cameras on to record the torrential rain which flattened the sea and bounced back up a few Inches to create a mist like layer over the water. Just as we were marvelling in the scene the lightening and thunder started. We made our way to shore but no place to land because of the sea defences along this coast. So we carried on, hunkering down trying to stop the rain going down our necks. Didn’t work. Forked lighting now and hail stones. Painful on the hands so we rafted up for a few minutes. And then it was over. Can’t wait to see that footage when we get back!

Aiming for south of Gt Yarmouth today!

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Our last night in the north east. East Anglia tomorrow and we reckon only 21 days paddling to go!

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Last Friday, Geoff and I paddled into Cullercoats harbour. This was a very special milestone for me as just down the road live my brother in law, Roger and his partner, Salome and her amazing children, Cameron and Caitlin.

We made it a short paddling day so we could spend some time with them and also so that we could get a wash on too!

But what made this particular stopover even more special is that we had timed it perfectly to see Salome and Roger’s new baby boy, Noah. What a cutie! Noah that is not Roger.

Can’t believe how good Salome looked after only 48 hours after having given birth!

The guys looked after us so well and even organised with Frank and Ben at the local RNLI station to store our kayaks for us! Thanks Frank and Ben and was great chatting to you on Saturday morning.

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Had a lovely visit from a couple of friends, Jan and Tony, last night. So good to see them and get a little break from our little adventure. They left us with a yummy bag of treats too! Thanks guys!

We were up at a civilised time this morning 8am. First time in 3 nights we weren’t in a bivvy bag so we actually slept!

Paddled 7 miles this morning. The coastline is eroding badly along this stretch. Every so often you can see water and other service pipes exposed in the face of the small cliffs. A hint of what once stood on the ground above.

Have just stopped for breakfast number two in Hornsea. Great egg and bacon banjo! Might even have another. Oh and some cake. I love this expedition!

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Not today we’re not!

Left Whitby an managed 6 miles this morning. There we strong gusting headwinds but manageable until we got to Robin Hood Bay and paddled into a brick wall. Constant F6 and gusting F7.

Still another 12 miles to Scarborough and nowhere to stop in between.

30 mins later we are sitting in the shelter of a cliff top cafe overlooking the bay. Kind of surreal that you can be battling such strong winds one minute and then back in the normal world the next.

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This is where we stayed last night. Like to see Geoff try and pack this up in his kayak! Thanks to Hartlepool Marina for putting us up and storing the kayaks safely!

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…but not in the way you think!

The last couple of days have seen some big seas, lots of rain and some tense paddling moments.

Wednesday morning we both woke on Holy Island to the now familiar sound of rain on our tents (as well as a seal colony). Bugger! We’ll be packing the gear away wet again I thought.

I’m normally up first but often lie in the tent catching up on emails or writing a blog entry. It’s usually Geoff that kicks the official start to the day off by starting to pack. What then ensues is a silent but slightly competitive race to see who can pack first. Geoff always wins and I can’t figure out how. One area I am faster than him at though is eating breakfast. I have to take those small wins as they are few and far between.

However, that morning there was no noise from Geoff’s tent. I called out to him. I think we were both on the same wavelength. We’d paddled 40 miles the day before and arrived late, pitched tents in pouring rain and slept in damp sleeping bags. Not conducive to an early, energetic start. We both agreed to a late start and only after a coffee and Danish at the Pilgrim’s Cafe.

When we got back from the cafe the wind had turn 180 degrees and was now northerly, hooray! However it had also strengthened to a Force 7. Hmmm.

Whilst we mulled over whether to launch, we packed the tents away which had been nicely dried by the freshening breeze.

Class 3 from Henshaw CE School joined us as we packed the kayaks. What a bright bunch. We got some great questions from them about: navigation, how we slept at night, how the radios work etc but my favourite questions were:

1. “this might be a strange question, but how do you pee?” so I explained about the pee bottle in the cockpit. If it’s not rough we’ll do it solo but if it is, the other paddler will raft up and hold the boat solo”

2. “what do you if one of you capsizes?” I explained we would try to roll back up or perform an assisted rescue

3. “what do you do if you need a pee but the other paddler has capsized”. Well we have rehearsed a number of scenarios but I had to admit that I didn’t have an answer for that one.

Class 3 cheered us off as we carried the boats down to the water. Conscious that we had been so busy answering questions that we hadn’t actually taken the ‘go/no go’ decision given the worsening conditions, I asked Geoff what he thought. The sea state was fairly slight despite the wind and so we both agreed to go for it.

Once we had left the shelter of the harbour the full force of the wind hit us beam on. Leaning hard to the right, into the wind, hunching forward to keep our centre of gravity low and present less of a target for the gusts, we paddled hard to get across to Guile Point.

Adjusting the skegs to make sure we remained on track to head directly across the wind, we made our way across. The waves were picking up, not too big but cresting and breaking. If ever we are going capsize on this trip, it could well have been this morning and in front of Class 3. Sadly for them we remained up right.

We pulled alongside each other, Geoff offered me his hand to shake. We congratulated each other on surviving a 300 yard paddle!

We decided to follow the coast line as close as possible and see if we could get to Banburgh, around 4 miles down the coast. The wind was fierce, occasionally gusting F8, but mainly F7, it would try to rip the paddle from our hands. Fortunately the fetch was very short and the sea state remarkably slight considering. This allowed us to paddle carefully down the coast – frankly we could have sailed. Just holding the paddle up across our chests as a sail delivered 3kts! With light paddling we were doing 6 and 7kts.

At Banburgh we surfed up the beach and headed off in search of a coffee. This was going to be a low mileage day so might as well enjoy it!

We continued to eek our way down the coast, the winds had dropped to an F6 now, so still lively but less heart stopping moments. The sea state had picked up a little more now so we were struggling with keeping the kayaks straight. The odd wave would catch the back of the boats and turn them wildly left or right leaving us to fight to get them back on course. Every so often we would need to brace on the top of a wave for stability and prevent a capsize.

Next stop Seahouses, and then another short stint to Low Newton by the Sea. Geoff was keen to push on. Frankly I had had enough. The wind and conditions made for a stressful experience and being 6pm and the fact that this looked like a decent place to stay, we both agreed to call it a day. Only 15 miles but given the strong winds they were hard won.

After a very wet night I woke and peered out of the tent. It was still grey but at least it had stopped raining. The winds seemed to have dropped a notch too.

The usual morning ritual followed and we launched around 9.30. The sea state was bigger than the day before after the wind had whipped it up all night. Large swells were coming in from the north and crashing over the rocks in the bay with some considerable force.

We made good progress towards Craster. It was a roller coaster of a short journey as the swells would lift us up in turn. Peak to trough they ranged anywhere between 12ft and 25ft.

What was very apparent about this stretch of coastline and the swell, was that a landing in anything other than a harbour would be very risky.

After a short stop at Craster (and a lovely coffee with Angus, a retired GP) we pushed on. The plan was to stop at Newbiggin By The Sea, but we would start to look for safe landing spots a few miles before that as there were a series of headlands that might have afforded some shelter to tuck in behind.

As each headland approached we could see that the swells were rising up and breaking as the ground became shallower. Most of it was starting to break around half a mile out, so we tried to paddle just behind this line. Just occasionally a section of very large swell would break even earlier and so we risked being side swiped by the white water as it came in. On top of that, there were several areas off shore where reefs were causing the waves to break early too.

Both of us had a few ’emotional’ moments but we continued to carve a path through. The only downside was we found no safe places to stop and have a breather along the way and so it was 22 miles after Craster before we finally pulled round the last headland and were so relieved to see the wonderful breakwater at Newbiggin On The Sea. As soon as we were round it the water was like a mill pond and it was a stunning warm evening.

We pulled up by the RNLI station and hauled up the boats, changed and hung up the kit to dry over some railings. A local retired fisherman walking his dog came over to chat with Geoff and a short time later Tim Martin arrived too. Tim lives just by the RNLI boat house and has served as a volunteer for 53 years. What a lovely chap. He opened up the boat house and popped the kettle on. Meanwhile his wife had buttered a couple of buns for us to go with our supper. We sat and ate our food in the crew room whilst we chatted to Tim. Such an interesting life he has led. We nearly fell off our chairs when he told us he was nearly 80. This was the man we had seen up the ladder working on his house when we pulled in and who later was manhandling his boat into his front garden.

The Operations Manager, Les, popped in and chatted too. He kindly offered to store the kayaks for the night so we didn’t have to worry about them.

Next morning they were both there to see us off and wish us luck.

Thanks guys for being so friendly and hospitable!

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We pulled into Craster for a break and met a lovely chap, Angus, and his three grandchildren who live in Paris. They invited us in for coffee and a biscuit. How could we refuse!

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Yesterday afternoon, mid point between Lamberton and a static caravan park, we reckon we crossed the border back into England.

We sang (badly) a couple of verses of Flower of Scotland to say goodbye and a couple of Land of Hope and Glory (even worse) to say hello.

We had landed in Scotland on the 1st of June. So 47 days to get round the 900 miles of mainland Scotland, although we lost 14 of those to strong winds. That’s more days off than we thought we would get for the whole expedition. But hey ho, the summer can only get better, can’t it?

After landing at our original planned destination of Berwick On Tweed we decided to push on to Holy Island. We thought that was just be a 2.5 hour short paddle but in the end it took 4. But we were rewarded for our efforts with a drop in the wind and an almost mystical misty scene with glassy water as we glided into Holy Island harbour, followed by a handful of curious seals.

Tents pitched by some huts made out of the upturned hulls of the old herring fleet – only then did it start to rain. However, now dark and wet, still one more thing to do before climbing into bed – a ‘posh wash’ (the water is warmed first on the stove) and some fresh clothes. Bliss.

Body a bit sore after the 40 mile paddle so it took a while to get comfy and drift off to sleep. But the Lagavulin helped.

So 1500 miles down, around 850 to go we think. And all down hill!

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