Saturday, 23 February 2013

Paddles for Pedals

For the past two weekends I have swapped my paddles for pedals to explore my local stretch of coastline.  I haven't ridden a bike since I was a teenager.  I have wanted to get a bike to use when the conditions aren't quite right for paddling, which often seems to be the case lately.
My dad offered me his Raleigh Yukon mountain bike, which I used to ride when I was in my teens.  Bikes have come a long way since this was made but it is in excellent condition, my dad has a knack for looking after things.  Browsing the internet it seems to be quite a sort after retro bike.  Adjusted the seat, pumped up the tyres and a few squirts of WD40 and I was on my way.  
I took it for it's first ride last weekend off road along a stretch of my local coast path at Gileston.
A prehistoric ammonite locked in a pebble.
I followed the rough path through muddy fields mainly until the path reaches the end of the beach.
New coast path signs since the opening of the Wales Coast Path.
I sat at the end of the beach to watch the sun go down on the far side of the channel before making my way back along the path.
A few bunny hops over the WWII anti tank defences?...maybe not quite yet.  A really enjoyable ride to get me started.  My leg ached, muscle unfamiliar with the cycling, for a few days after.


I have been a bit nervous about taking the bike out on the road, but a short trip into Llantwit Major in the week to pick up the van from the MOT garage gave me the bug to take it out for a longer trip this weekend...
I was up just before dawn around 6:30am.  The plan was to pedal into Llantwit Major, through the old town past the St Illtyd's Church.  After picking up some snacks from town I rode along the back coastal road with stunning views over the Glamorgan countryside and Bristol Channel into St Donnats, past the castle into Marcross following the road down to the coast.
Arriving at the gate leading to the light house there was a sign 'No Bikes', which I though was a bid odd as cars drive up and down this road.  I chose to ignore this and carry on to the high light.
An old post card when the low light was in operation and the high light was painted black and white.
I parked up at my destination.  Up until last year I was contracted to cut the grass here.  At the time the lighthouse cottages were let out by a cottage holiday company.  They are now let out long term as homes and the maintenance of the grounds is up to the tenants...not a bad place to live!!

The fog horn station.
I sat up on top of the cliff with a coffee looking out of the clam waters over Nash sand bank before making my way back taking a different route through the country lanes.  28 kilometres in total, not bad for my second ride.  Hopefully more rides to follow...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Memories of Flat Holm Island

You may have heard the news that Cardiff Council who manage Flat Holm Island have proposed sell the island as part of it's budget plan to save £150,000 per year.
It's hard to believe that three miles across the water in Cardiff some people hardly knows it exists, yet alone been there.  Most have stood on a beach or the barrage and looked out across the channel and imagined what life is like on that small little island with the lighthouse.  Here are a few of my experiences of the past few years...  
This picture was taken on my very first visit to the island in March 2010, six months after I started kayaking.  I was sat on the beach in the sun with a flask of coffee and a couple of sandwiches staring out across the water to the shores of Wales from where I had just come.  It was so peaceful and quite (apart from the gulls) away from the madness of modern life only three miles across the water..  I sat there feeling rather smug with my achievement.
I was eager to return so a month later I left the safety of the shoreline once again and returned with Mick, a paddler I met at a local kayak club in Cardiff.  I remember meeting Mick by Penarth slipway and asking him where his boat was.  He opened the boot of his car and pulled out what looked like a large duffel bag.  He then proceeded down the slipway and emptied out all the contents.  Half hour later he had built a collapsible kayak.
Another great memory from this trip involved this picture above.  We decided to go up and explore the island, something I didn't do last time.  We ventured down into the underground WWII bunkers armed with just the flash of the camera to find our way around.  A split second flash we found a corridor with rooms off either side.  Hairs on end, heart pounding, it was already freaky down here in the darkness.  I set off the flash into one of the rooms taking the picture above.  We both looked at the picture and ran out screaming like a pair of girls.
In August 2010 we returned to the island for a very different reason.  You may notice Taran's unusual attire in the above not the cheesy bandanna.  Taran's day job is a wedding photographer so for charity we joined him for a paddle to Flat Holm in a wedding dress.
Again in the same month I paddled out to Flat Holms neighbouring island Steep Holm stopping briefly on Flat Holm.  Unlike Flat Holm Steep Holm does not have any permanent residents managing the island.
I returned to the Holm islands again and again, teaming up with Taran.
With the onset of snow during December 2010 we were both eager to get out to Flat Holm to explore the island in its new white frozen state.  The winds dropped on Christmas Eve so we arranged to meet up that morning before sunrise.
It was an exceptionally cold morning paddling under moonlight as the sky grew increasing lighter in the east.
 We landed next to the jetty and climbed up on top of the island.  The moon was still high in the sky above the Vale of Glamorgan.
We reached the lighthouse just as the sun began to rise above the cloud on the horizon.  
Taran took this shot of me coming through the gap in Castle Rock next to the landing jetty   This is a particular feature for kayakers visiting the island.  As the tidal waters rush strongly through the narrow gap they cause a thrilling ride for paddlers know as a tide race.    
This picture above was taken on a sunny February morning on Flat Holm, that's Castle Rock in the background.  Flat Holm was only a stepping stone today and after a quick break I made my way upstream to Monkstone Lighthouse bellow.
The next month in March 2011 I made the very same trip out to Flat Holm on my own.  I had been paddling 18 months now and was feeling confident.  I landed next to the jetty and took a flask of coffee and sandwiches up on top of the island and enjoyed the warm weather for a change.  I bumped into Matt the head warden, who was conducting a bird count.   
I waited for the tide to turn for my return journey back to the mainland but that's when disaster struck.  Tide and a large swell were against a strong wind.  The above picture was the last I took just before leaving the island.
Mid channel and way off course I battled my pride to call for help but the time came when I realised I wasn't going to make it.  I put the mayday call over the radio, the lifeboat was on it's way from Penarth.  I turned on hearing an approaching engine only to find a big navy ship plowing through the wave to my rescue.  We can only learn from our mistakes and I have no shame in calling for help that day.  That maybe wasn't one of the better trips out to Flat Holm.
I got straight back in the boat and made a few trips along the local shoreline to try and regain some confidence.  But there was one trip in particular I had to make again to fully restore my unease and that was to return to the place where it all went wrong Flat Holm.
Thankfully the trip went smoothly in perfect settled conditions.  I teamed up agin with Taran and we managed to land on Cardiff sand bank, Monkstone Lighthouse rocks, Steep Holm and Flat Holm all in one trip.
Now this above picture was taken on a typical summers day, packed beaches, traffic jams, you name it.  Yet three miles of shore you can find peace on a little private island in the channel.  That's what I love about kayaking and of course Flat Holm.
Myself, Taran and Jules did our usually lap around the island.  This cave is another hot spot for kayakers at high water.
We landed on Coal Beach, I assume named from the days where tons of coal were dumped on the beach to fuel the original light built in 1737 before the current lighthouse was built in 1820.  As you can see I have been here many times and never once ever seen another visitor, but today is was packed.   
We met up with fellow paddlers Richard and Eurion on the island for the first time.  You may notice the people in the background are lacking any clothing, yes it was nude day on flat Holm. 
This picture was taken on that same trip from the top of Monkstone Lighthouse with Flat Holm to the left of the picture.
The great thing about Flat Holm is no matter how many times you have been there, there is always something new to explore.  During a trip on a spring tide low water I decided to circumnavigate the island on foot, but rather than go on top for the usual tour I walked along the shoreline.  Above is the cave normally paddled in at high water.
 The shores are Flat Holm are strewn with metal objects slowly rusting away with each passing year from vehicles to cannons.
Almost every pebble on the beaches of Flat Holm are decorated with these prehistoric ammonites.
Above is a picture of Flat Holm's prehistoric beach, back when the Bristol Channel had more in common with the Red Sea.
The dark line in the pictures above and bellow mark the high water mark.  The tides here are the second biggest in the world.

We decided to return to Flat Holm once again on Christmas Eve 2011 as a sort of yearly Christmas paddle.
No snow this time though.
Ok so we started to run out of different condition to return to Flat Holm so we did it in the dark, this time with Andy, Jules and Taran.
Rather than a sun rise we were greeted to the island with the rise of the moon.  That was a very special experience.
February 2012 and me and Eurion took two paddlers from West Wales, Mike and Steve, out to the Holm islands.  Erion took this great picture above of me with Flat Holm in the back.
 This above picture was taken on a particularly choppy day around the island.
A night paddle out to Steep Holm I took this picture of the light of Cardiff beyond Flat Holm.
Summer arrived at last in October 2012.  After setting up a rather successful 'Sea Kayak Cymru' Facebook page we were able meet up with other paddlers from around Wales.  On this occasion I was joined by James, Steve, Chris Rob and Hywel.
Rob and Hywel didn't originally paddle along with us.  That is another great thing about these islands.  You can paddle up and down the coast all day and not meet up with another paddler.  But because of the timing of the tides, the likely hood of meeting up with someone on Flat Holm is far more likely.

 Sunset across the channel on a failed attempt to reach Brean Down on the English side.
More recently in January this year myself and Eurion met up with several other paddlers who were setting off from the far side of the channel in Weston Super Mare.  Rather than wait from them at Steep Holm we decided on continuing to Brean Down then Weston before returning to Steep Holm.
After lunch and a tour of Steep Holm we made our way across to Flat Holm in the dark only to knock upon the farm house door to ask if we could sleep on their front lawn.  The wardens on the island were more than accommodating  letting us use the facilities and even let a couple of us stay up all night watching tv chatting and drinking wine on the warmth of the farm house sofa's.
My most recent paddle only a few weeks ago to Flat Holm in search of another snowy island, but unfortunately there was more snow on my boat.
Here are 'just a few'shots I've managed to capture of the animals and wildlife around Flat Holm...
 Shell ducks flying off the cliffs overhead as we near the island.
 Turnstone's scavenging along the shore.

Ah yes can't forget the gulls!!!
 Compass Jelly fish.
 Badger face sheep.
 More gulls...
 Soya sheep
More gulls...
We have seen the odd seal as far up the channel as the Holms before now.  The occasional Porpoise has been spotted also.
I have come to realise of all the time's visited Flat Holm I have very few picture of the sights up top, such as the WWII defences.  If you want to see them you will have to visit yourself.

So what is the future for this small island in the Bristol Channel?  Will there be new ownership? Will public access be restricted to this wildlife haven? Will it be left to dereliction, to overgrow and become a ghost island?  Don't leave it to chance, help save this island and sign the petition today HERE .