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Roundstone

                

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I’d love to tell you that the Aran Islands  are every bit as beautiful as their reputation. Unfortunately we didn’t see them. We landed in thick fog and we left in thick fog.

We did however have a restful stay in the Pier House B&B, run by a man who had fished for herring in the area for 40 years. We made sure we picked up any advice he had to offer about the waters ahead. We also consumed a huge quantity of calories in our 15 hour stay including what has to be the best Irish stew we’ve ever had (washed down with a couple of pints of Guiness).

We left Kilronan in sunshine but as we left the harbour the fog came in. We were headed to the Connemara coastline – Golam Head – around a 9 mile open crossing. We set off on a northwest bearing and soon lost sight of all land. Surrounded in an earie shroud. Other than our compasses, the only clue to our direction was the westerly swell and wind chop. 

A couple of hours later and Golam Head started to emerge through the fog. As we rounded the headland the fog cleared and the sun out in an appearance which made navigating the last 15 miles to Roundstone a little easier. 

This stretch of water is littered with rocky outcrops over which any swell breaks violently. Fortunately for us the swell was slight today.

The wind, as ever, was in our faces and our progress slow but miles ticked by – probably the Guiness and Irish stew fuel.

The Connemara mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to our campsite (whenever the cloud base lifts) – today we are off the water as the winds have strengthened.  But we hope to get round Slyne Head tomorrow and up to Inishturk. 

In the meantime – exploring beautiful Roundstone…

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Our day weatherbound in Kilkee was spent washing and catching up with what’s going on in the world. We also found an amazing cafe and bar which benefited from our custom for several hours each (no surprises there then).

We had set up camp just below St George’s headland, in a public shelter out of the driving wind and rain. We watched the large Atlantic swell crashing in over the reef that extends halfway across Kilkee Bay. Think we made the right decision to stay off the water.

The next morning we broke camp and were on the water by 8.30am. It had stopped raining and the winds had reduced slightly and veered westerly now. So although the swell was smaller, there would be a lot of confused clapotis around any west facing cliffs.

We picked our route out of the bay to avoid the reef and turned right along the coast. The boats bounced around in the confused water but they (and we) felt comfortable. 

We rounded Donegal Point and headed into Mal Bay. We had thought we could stop off at Spanish Point mid way through the bay but seeing how far it in it was we decided to push on toward Mutton Island and then Hags Head. 

It was a low speed day. The wind chop and swell and stream conspired to keep us to an average of just over 3 miles an hour. Slow but not too painful.

The swell was still fairly big. Geoff and I would lose sight of each regular as we sat in the troughs between swells. 

As we approached Hags Head I could see on the chart a large area of submerged rock. That would likely cause the swell to break in impressive fashion. True enough, as we got closer we could see and hear the roar as the swell broke.  We turned into the wind and worked our way around.

As Hags Head slowly disappeared behind us, Ireland’s next coastal attraction emerged before us. The Cliffs of Moher.  For the next four miles we paddled in some exciting clapotis with an incredible back drop – the cliffs rise to over 700 ft. Tourists were dotted along the edge at the top – probably they wouldn’t be able to make us out at that distance. It also appeared that one of the Doolin sight seeing vessels couldn’t make us out either as they made course straight for us. Geoff and I adjusted course a couple of times and just as I was reaching for my radio, they finally seemed to spot us and gave us some room.

Doolin ferry port is something else. Protection from the swell is only afforded at the very last minute and although a nearby rock helps to shield the quays it also helps to cause some very confused water. Just as we approached, three ferries and two sight seeing boats were lining up to get in. We would have to wait in the confused water with swells breaking either side. Slowly we edged forward and as the last ferry dropped its cargo of passengers and headed back to sea we paddled for it and landed on the slip. 

Cold and tired from another slog of a day, we got some soup and rice on the boil to warm us up.

Today (Day 17) we crossed to the three Aran Islands. First thing, the sun had been out giving us hope for a warm days paddle – just a mile into the first crossing the fog and the rain descended. We spent the next four hours tracing our way up the north east coast of each of the Islands until we reached Kilronan. We had to rely on our chart reading skills and our ability to follow a bearing as the Islands had all but disappeared.

Our bodies weren’t into it today. We don’t know why. Perhaps the first 17 days are just catching up with us but we decided to stop on Inishmore and as the rain and the fog didn’t look like lifting, we checked in to a B&B and get some food in us and sleep. It wouldn’t have been a safe option to push on in fog around some of the small Islands that are coming up anyway. 

So our 4th shower in 18 days and our first night in a bed feeling positively spoilt.

Big thank you to Val for a very generous donation to our charities. Thanks so much!

 Inishmore Quay…  

Irish stew …

  

Something missing?    

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Well fancy that….

Apparently my branch of the Mullins family come from Kinsale but turns out that the Mullins from Derry make dam fine ice cream….

  

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Last night we pulled into Brandon Bay after a stunning 22 miles along the north side of the Dingle Peninsula. Mountains meet the sea and make for a breathtaking backdrop to our paddle. The size of the cliffs plays with your perspective and only a passing gull against them gives you a hint that what you are looking at is not a couple of hundred metres away but more like a couple of miles. Everything on this side of Ireland’s coast seems immense. 

The landscape even shapes the local weather. Despite the forecast being for F3/4, the hills and mountains funnel and accelerate the winds, particularly in the afternoons it seems, and we often experience sustained F6 gusts. 

It had not been a long day but it was a good day in that it set us up nicely for our most committed and open crossing yet – across Kerry Head and the mouth of the Shannon up to Loop Head.

We tucked the boats away by the side of the harbour wall and walked all of 20 yards to a great pub, ordered a pint and some grub. 

A little later that evening I popped down to the Harbour to check on the boats only to to see a shivering man getting changed. It was Mick O’Meara, who met us in Tramore. He had set off last Thursday and had already caught us. He’s been averaging 45 miles a day! 

We helped Mick with his kayak and returned to the bar for a beer and a catch up.

A couple of beers and a slug of Lagavulin later we climbed into our tents having agreed to do the crossing together the next day.

We were up and on the water by 07.45 and heading north east. To our right we could see Kerry Head about 12 miles away. That would be the only land we would see until about half way across the 23 mile open crossing. Loop Head is on fairly low lying cliffs and so we had to trust that our bearing (and our ability to stick to it) would deliver us on target.

Mick has access to some very detailed localised forecasts which suggested we should expect a south westerly wind all day F4/5. We knew that the wind would be stronger until we escaped the clutches of the mountains around Brandon point. 

And so we set off with a solid F6 behind us, pushing us along at around 5 or 6 miles and hour. From the off we told Mick that if he fancied pushing on he should, and not let us hold him back. But I think he and us welcomed the company on such a committed crossing.

The miles were soon ticking away and as we left the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula behind us, the wind did die down to a F5. But we were now exposed to Atlantic swell around four metres. Progress slowed a little to around 4.5 miles an hour which we felt was ok given the confused state of the sea. Geoff and I could tell Mick could easily have squeezed his speed up a few notches. We hoped he wasn’t too frustrated being held back by us.

The conditions were testing but comfortable. Every so often a swell would crest and break over the boat requiring a brace stroke to keep upright and to keep a straight course. 

One slightly comical moment was when Mick and I were chatting only to both turn round at the same time to see what must have been a seven metre swell behind us with a rather composed Geoff trying to surf down it. 

I think it was at that moment we thought that this was going to be a big day.

Ten miles in and now and again as we rose up on each swell we could see Loop Head appearing in the low mist. We were on course. 

Kerry Head now behind us after three hours, we were half way across and just entering the mouth of the Shannon. 

Another hour and a half later and after a precarious pee stop, our minds turned to what kind of sea awaited us around Loop Head. The south west swell would be reflecting back off the cliffs and causing all manner of mayhem – clapotis, pyramid shaped waves that appear without warning and thrust you and the boat in the air with no solid water around to brace your paddle on for support. 

The only sensible option was to give Loop Head a wide berth – a mile or so. 

It would be each paddler for himself for the next hour and a half as we made our way past the headland. Swells seemed to be hitting us from all directions now. Time to really concentrate. We could just make out tourists on the cliffs looking out. What must they have made of us three mad kayakers!

The clapotis died down and the tension eased. We’d made it without mishap and any time you test yourself in conditions you learn a little more. Geoff and I stopped on the water and had a sandwich. Mick had pushed on and landed in a bay for a stretch and food.  We figured he would catch us pretty quick – and he did.

Just 14 more miles to Kilkee, but the swell kept us focused. This coastline is littered with reefs which cause the swell to rise up and break and are to be avoided (to put it mildly)

Finally after around 9.5 hours and 39 miles we said goodbye to Mick as he pushed on up the coast and we negotiated the reef in Kilkee bay and sought safe landing.

We are now a third of the way round and hope to be on the Aran Islands by Friday. Today however the winds have kept us off the water. I think we are both relieved to have a day off after paddling ten days in a row.

Thank you Cynthia and Liz for your generous donations! Means a lot to us.

   
 

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We have been blessed with some amazing weather so far and not wanting to waste any of it we have paddled nine straight days in a row and have now accumulated 288 miles under our belts. Just over a quarter of the way.
Yesterday we had a fairly tough paddle into a F4/5 (mostly the latter it felt) to cross Dingle Bay from Portmagee. A seven hour slog in the end. 

Today however, perhaps inevitably, our bodies seem to be telling us to rest. I guess it’s not just the paddling but the broken sleep in harbour walls and in car parks too that takes it’s toll.

So we cut the day short a little after 21 miles and are in Brandon. From where we are camped we can see across the Shannon. We hope to be on the other side tomorrow.

Time then to say a little more about the charities we are raising money for whilst we paddle round enjoying the extraordinary scenary and friendly people.

We are hoping to raise money for two charities:

Samaritans – supporting anyone in distress, around the clock, through 201 branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Geoff and Andy will be raising money for the branch in Cornwall (Truro) which provides support to callers from all over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Registered Charity Number: 262105

The West Of England MS Therapy Centre – providing support and relief of symptoms to people with Multiple Sclerosis and their supporters. (Registered charity number 801155)

No doubt you all get asked regularly to sponsor people but if you would like to make a donation (split 50:50 between these two charities) please follow the link below:
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/midlifekayak

Anything you can give will be very welcome. Thank you!
Andy and Geoff

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Day 11 Portmagee

A slog of a day, 24 miles into a headwind but the Guiness is good (and so are the fish and chips). We’re in Portmagee, looking out across the sound to Valentia Island. Stunning!

   
   

        

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Day 10 Garinish Bay

We had climbed into our bivy bags besides the kayaks in Crookhaven fairly early last night, looking forward to getting some rest before the big day round Mizen Head and on to Carinish Bay. It would be a committed open water crossing and no opportunity to get out of the kayaks for some 24 miles.  It would be our first full day on the west coast and I guess both of us were feeling a little apprehensive.

It was a mild night and we were both asleep before too long.  I woke around 1am with Geoff telling it was raining. We decided to close up the bivy bags and hope they didn’t leak and that the rain would stop soon. 

At 3am, I swam out of my bivy bag and sought shelter outside a bar. 

Over porridge we surveyed our sodden kit and moaned about how unpleasant it would be to climb in to bed the following night. We were feeling right sorry for ourselves. 

Fortunately we had another can of HTFU juice and both drank a good mouthful, got kitted up and on the water.

From camp it was a 7 mile paddle to get fully round Mizen Head and it’s impressive cliffs. The forecast north easterly helped push us in our way for the first hour.

The rain had stopped by the time we started the open crossing. We could make out Sheeps Head but the other side of Bantry Bay was shrouded in mist and we assumed, rain.

We headed off north west on a bearing of 300 degrees. We figured that ought to take us slightly east of Dursley Sound, allowing for the effects of the  north east wind, through which we would paddle the last few miles to get to Carinish Bay.

As we left  Mizen behind us the wind settled down and a Minke whale broached maybe 40 metres in front of us. It was clearly a sign that it was going to be a good day.

And a good day it was. From a wildlife perspective it was easily the best day either of us have had in our kayaks. 

Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Shearwaters, Dolphins and Minke whales were feeding in the area. Gannets were putting on their incredible diving displays.  Every few minutes a Dolphin pod would appear and we had several close encounters with Minke. On three ocassions a Minke circled us several times, broaching within 10 metres of the kayaks. 

We felt incredibly privileged and blessed. 

With the wildlife display going on the miles ticked by and by 4pm we landed in a beautiful bay and pitched camp. 

The photo is of a lovely family we met when we arrived.  Also keen kayakers.

   
 

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