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What a great day!

Today Geoff and I had seven visitors who all popped down to say hello and wish us well for the final few days. It was lovely to see them all and there was much hilarity.

Geoff’s sister, Jane and Mum, Audrey had driven down from Avoncliffe

My brother Mike, his daughter, Hannah and her friend Frankie had dropped in on their way back from a holiday down in Cornwall.

And what a surprise. A friend of Tanya’s from South Africa, Helen, who now lives in Dorset and her friend Bruce, dropped by to say hi and wish us well. Tanya and Helen haven’t seen each other since Tanya was 13 (and that was some time ago!)

Thank you all so much guys it was a lovely day and now that we’re on our way again tomorrow you’ve set us up nicely for the final few days!!

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No doubt you’ll have notice the rather unseasonable winds that the South West is experiencing at the moment. That and the fact that we have to negotiate Portland Bill races next have meant we’re off the water till probably Saturday morning. We had hoped to be home by Sunday but it is now looking like our arrival will be delayed till Wednesday or Thursday next week.

In the meantime guess what we’re up to….

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Six days since we rounded the corner at Dover and only 160 miles left to do. We had been making cracking progress knocking out more than 30 miles a day and then our old friend, the wind, decided to put in another unseasonable appearance.

We navigated along the coast from Dover to Bexhill in thick fog banks, Force 5 and 6 easterlies blew us round Selsey Bill and up the beach at Hayling Island.

We picked our way through literally 1000s of sailing boats, kite and wind surfers and the odd ferry and tanker in the Solent whilst slogging against a Force 4 gusting 5. Indeed at one point we had to hold station by a channel marker buoy whilst ferries passed either side of us.

We were stunned by how beautiful Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters are from the sea.

We pushed into Bournemouth still with stiff headwinds. The sun was out so we thought it would be a good opportunity to dry kit out in the sunshine and shop for provisions. Of course when we got into town the heavens opened and soaked all our kit. We felt sorry for ourselves, and I questioned what Geoff must have done in a previous life to bring this luck upon us!

Pulling on wet kit we paddled to Swanage past the amazing Old Harry Rocks. We had a chat with the Sailing Club there who kindly let us sleep in their boat yard. We rigged up the most sophisticated tarp system yet to keep the rain off.

It was a tough few days but at least the miles kept tumbling.

Yesterday morning we arrived in Lulworth Cove (along with about a million other people). We could see HMS Bullmark patrolling the Olympic sailing area. A reminder that we need to plot our course carefully over to Portland Bill, around a 12 mile crossing, or we could find ourselves in a spot of bother.

Because of the serious tidal conditions around Portland Bill we have to get the timings right – around a two hour window during the ebb tide. Unfortunately the winds are not playing fair and have pinned us down in Lulworth.

So for only the fourth time on this expedition we have given in to the elements and booked into a B&B. We have both had showers for the first time since north of Newcastle (whether we needed them or not!) and I’m sure the residents of this pretty Dorset Village are grateful.

Slightly disappointed to be held up yet again, but excited by the prospect of paddling into Portscatho Harbour next Tuesday (hopefully!)

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Bit of a slow day today. Only 16 miles. I picked up a tummy bug the day before the Thames Crossing and think it has finally caught up with me. I’ll spare you the gruesome details of the last two days paddling, some of you may be having your tea. But this afternoon I ran out of energy and so I slept on the beach whilst Geoff wondered around the cafes and galleries of Folkstone. We pushed on this evening to Hythe which is where we are spending our 100th night.

Getting round Dover was a key milestone for us so It was great to tick that one off today. Last night we slept in St Margaret’s Bay and were up at a reasonable 6.30 to get on the water for 8am. From there we could see France only 16 miles or so away. (Odd to think that that wouldn’t count as a long crossing in our books anymore). Indeed neither of us could get a UK carrier on our phones but we could get France Telecom!!

As we rounded the corner towards Dover we popped the cameras on and did our best Veera Lynn impersonations. It wasn’t pretty.

As we approached the massive harbour walls a bank of fog started to descend. Fortunately visibility stayed good enough for us to edge up to the edge of the entrance, look left and right and left again and paddle across. A few minutes later a cross channel ferry entered the harbour. Not close but close enough to give you a sense of how large they are and how small we are.

The stream around the harbour wall accelerates and forms an exciting race which we bounced around on for five minutes or so before we were across the second entrance and away towards Folkstone and reflecting on the fact that we have turned the final corner!

Not long now.

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After an eventful couple of days crossing the Thames Estuary we’re in Deal. Tomorrow morning we’ll be turning right for the last time and start the home straight. Just 350 miles to go!

These photos show what the south coast is all about for us. Relaxed paddling, cafe stops and more cafe stops. For some strange reason we feel more comfortable sitting outside. We have gotten used to people looking at us funny.

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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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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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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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Helen and David Corrigan, who we met in the Harbour at Portsoy on Friday night, very kindly put us up at their home last night. Fantastic to spend a night out of the high winds and rain, lovely home cooked food and company!

But what’s happened to our hairy faces? We woke this morning and it ha all gone. I think Angus and Bruce may have had something to do with it.

Thank you so much guys for looking after us so well!

In the photo from L-R Angus, Geoff, Bruce, Andy

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A long one this. But strong winds have kept us off the water again and so I have some time to waffle on!

Having exhausted the cafe facilities in Scourie for 48 hours whilst the big winds kept us off the water again, it was finally time to make a break for it.

We were up at 6am, gear and tent packed away just as the rain started. That’s the worst. Packing away your stuff wet knowing it’ll be making everything else wet inside the kayak.

We had a quick breakfast in the laundry room of the campsite – at least it was warm and dry – 5 Weetabix and some Alpen, cup of tea and a banana. It was just a light breakfast as we hoped to stop after 3 hours paddling for a snack!

We chatted to a lovely 70 year old Canadian who was cycling around Ireland and Scotland (wow!) whilst we climbed into our wet paddling gear. We said our goodbyes and launched by 7.45am.

No matter how wet or unpleasant the day seems when you wake up, as soon as you are in the kayak, all seems well with the world. It’s just the transitions that are uncomfortable – either getting kitted up in the morning or changed again in the evening.

We headed north out of the relative shelter of Scourie Bay and headed towards the mist covered, slightly intimidating, cliffs of Cape Wrath.

The sea felt different. A northerly swell was rolling in, typically between 2 and 3 metres, something we haven’t had for a while as we enjoyed the protection of the Isles along the west coast. We actually enjoyed the sensation of being lifted up high and then dropped low into the troughs. The wind rush over our ears picked up noticeably on the way down whilst it was almost silent at the top.

We chatted about what it would feel like to finally get round Cape Wrath. Only one more turn before we head south again.

Before we headed for Cape Wrath itself, time for a break on the stunning Sandwood Bay beach. We had to choose our landing spot carefully as the swell converted into quite a large surf. We cleared our decks of maps, camera, GPS and anything else that could be lost if we rolled. We didn’t pop the helmets on but we did deploy the straps on our Tilley hats! After a couple of cheeky surfs we landed and jumped out as quick as we could to avoid getting sucked back out into the surf.

A stunning beach and totally deserted. Or so I thought. In the space of the 45 mins we stopped to eat our rolls and heat up our potato cakes, we met 6 people and saw several others who had braved the 9 mile round walk to get to the beach.

The sun was out and the wind had dropped – it is times like this that can tempt us to stay off the water for longer than we should! Anyway, Cape Wrath was waiting for us and so we pushed off.

The launch was exciting to say the least. Geoff said he was going to wait till the sets died down before he launched. So imagine my surprise we he appeared to launch at the start of a set. He cut a dramatic figure as his 18ft boat soared almost vertical on each wave and slammed down the other side. I counted at least 6 of those. Poor bugger. Meanwhile, learning from his minor timing error I had sat in the shelter of a rock and pushed out once the set had come in. A couple of wet slaps in the face was all I got.

Mind you, later I discovered I had forgotten to do up my relief zip on the dry suit (must be my age) and so was uncomfortably damp for the rest of the day. Fate has a way of evening things up!

Cape Wrath was only 6 miles away. Strangely we felt a little apprehensive about this one. To add to our mood, the cloud cover increased and the water took on an inky black complexion.

As we rounded the Cape itself, we could just see the top of the lighthouse some 210ft above us.

The name Cape Wrath comes from the Norse meaning turning point. Mind you it’s English meaning is perhaps more appropriate now.

The north going flood tide and the east going ebb, which was just starting, was mixing and fighting with each other for control. The northerly swell and now and easterly swell combined to create quite a turbulent mix. Add to that the severe clapotis (reflected waves off the cliffs) and we found ourselves in easily the biggest and most confused conditions we have experienced so far. At times the sets were coming in up to 5m.

Geoff was keen to get a picture with his SLR. So we rafted up for stability once we got past the worst stuff and he got some shots of the lighthouse. Can’t imagine we would have contemplated that a few weeks ago.

We pushed on, but were caught in the west going tide as it accelerated towards Cape Wrath. Our paddle speed was down to 1.5kts. Ouch, less than half of what we would normally want. At this rate it was going to take another 4 hours to get to Durness. And of course what had been northerly head winds were now easterlies, but we have come to expect nothing less.

After an hour and a half of making slow progress and defending ourselves from incoming waves we seemed to break free from the pull of the stream and our speed picked up to a more reasonable 3kts. The tension began to ease, we began to talk more and admire the incredible scenery and wildlife around us.

As we finally rounded Fairaid Head towards Durness we were rewarded with the sound of whale blow hole behind us. Geoff ‘Oddie’ Cater spotted the dark fin of an Orca. We spent a few minutes watching it surface in the evening sunshine, but when we heard a couple more blows behind us and closer, we decided not to risk spoiling the day and paddled on.

When we arrived at the campsite, the lighthouse keeper from Cape Wrath was there and asked if we were the kayakers he saw earlier rounding the corner. When we said we were, he passed on a message from Tanya to say she loved me and well done! Oh my word! Tanya had called the Ozone Cafe at the lighthouse, as she thought we might stop there (we didn’t). The owner had told the lighthouse keeper who was staying at the same campsite so he passed on the message and made us a cuppa. What a wonderful end to an amazing day.

Today and tomorrow we’ll be in Bettyhill, mostly in the cafe eating, as gale force winds are building. But as Harry, one of Geoff’s daughters says, we must not worry about where we think we should be, we must just be where we are.

The photos are of the Curvy Bikers (West Coast) – a fun bunch we met at Scourie and the view from our campsite in Bettyhill.

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