Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sunset Paddle

(**I've got a bit of catching up to do on these blog post subjects, this one's from early August**)

We hadn't intended to be paddling at sunset specifically, but we both really wanted to put our new toys to the test. It is my wife's fault really - in the best possible way - she started it at any rate. 

You see Emily brought me a canoe for Fathers day, a budget, inflatable one, but a canoe none the less, and it was, and still is, brilliant. (Proving the rule that 'You don't need to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun!'). We had christened it with style, at a canoe slalom course not far from home. The children had loved it and I was beyond enthusiastic to be able to add a new dimension to future adventures - I've wanted something like this for a while. 

I'm no expert paddler, but I've played around with canoes / kayaks a few times and my limited skill was sufficient to generate almost limitless fun (in the children's eyes, and mine). Obviously this needed to feature highly in the upcoming summer holiday plans. When visiting my parents in the Fen's of Cambridgeshire it made an extended outing on the river near St Ives. During this trip it carried various members of my family and only capsized once - the accolade for that achievement goes to my Dad - love you Dad! 

Les heading for Europe!

The photo's from this trip leave something to be desired - I didn't have the guts to take my 'proper' camera out on the canoe in case something happened so I just took my phone in a plastic bag. What I need is a proper water-proof rugged camera. If Olympus UK are reading this I will happily accept a TG-5 or a Tracker or both to review on my next watery adventure. Just saying...

We then made the short hop across to the Suffolk coast where Emily's family live. And so, naturally, we put it out to sea, although not very far out. There was a stiff off-shore breeze and as I didn't have my passport with me I didn't fancy a trip across to the Netherlands! We spent an enjoyable hour or two with Megan enjoying her very first attempt at paddling. This wasn't the end of our water-based holiday fun though - at least not mine.

Megan and I come back to terra firma after an enjoyable paddle. 

In the run up to the holiday Emily's brother (Les) had also acquired a couple of inflatable canoes, but not had a chance to try them out before we came down for our visit. We put our heads together at a friends wedding and planned an outing for later that evening to have a micro-adventure of sorts. After various versions of a plan we settled on something a little more realistic than initially suggested (I was a possibly a bit too keen...) and a few hours later we met, threw my canoe in his van and drove the 10 mins to the tiny coastal hamlet of Shingle Street, at the pointy end of Orford Ness. 

We quickly got suited and booted, (more like 'buoyancy-aided and de-booted') and out onto the water. The off-shore breeze of the day before was gone and with it my reluctance to leave the shelter of the shingle bank. So we glided out onto a mill-pond smooth North Sea beneath a stunningly clear, blue evening sky. We paddled out to a buoy marking the safe entrance to the River Alde, which flows parallel to the sea but protected behind the fascinating natural barrier of Orford Ness. We pushed up river for a bit, following a yacht which left us far behind as it smoothly headed for the distant Orford Castle just visible up river. The going was slow but easy, with little if any perceivable current at this point, but the tide was turning.

Exploring the side channel on our way back with an amazing water colour sky. 

It was beautifully warm and calm. We cruised past wading birds foraging on the muddy shore and were over-flown by groups of others on route to an evening roost. This didn't come as much of a surprise of course as we were only a short way, as the Avocet flies, from the RSPB's Havergate Island Reserve. Having both visited the island reserve on an official tour, and been around it on a fishing boat out from Orford I would recommend a visit for anyone who enjoys a peaceful spot of wildlife watching.

Before we tucked behind the shingle spit of Orford Ness we had an uninterrupted ocean view to the east with nothing but a few distant boats to suggest the civilised world extended in that direction. Back to the west, out of sight over the bank stretched acres of salt-marsh, patiently waiting for the next inundation, then the fields, heathland and quiet villages which makes up the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). On an evening like this it certainly lives up to its title! 

The sun was now getting properly low in the sky. Knowing that the tide would start coming in soon, and that we'd be paddling against it, we turned for home after a brief stop on 'the Ness' to re-inflate one of my canoes inflatable cells (it had decided to develop a slow leak). We hadn't gone far back towards our start point when the incoming tide really picked up the pace. I was very quickly reminded just how good canoeing can be as an arm workout! We weren't making much progress but with a stunning sky to watch it wasn't exactly a hardship. We weren't in any danger, apart from the embarrassment of a long walk!

In the hope of an easy escape we explored a side channel briefly, knowing that several of them took us back towards the car park, but quickly ran out of depth. Several Oyster Catchers watched us come, turn and go - having soft mud just beneath the surface of the water certainly wasn't an issue for them! In the end we dragged our canoes out and walked them back to the car along the shingle which gives Shingle Street its name (I assume). The combination of falling light and rising tide beat us fair and square, but what an evening. 

Beautiful weather + beautiful location + beautiful sunset + 
good company + good exercise = Excellent Adventure.  

Next time I think we'll plan to come down the river... with the tide!


P.S. - As it happens, there has already been a 'next time', albeit on a different river. That's the issue with being tardy at blog writing, that account will have to wait for another day.

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