East Haven to Berwick on Tweed

East Haven to Berwick on Tweed-The Home Run

Sponsored by Rick Fletcher 

During the night my father Paul and cousin Joe had arrived. Under the yellow beam of the headlights we had portaged two kayaks to the beach and sprawled bags of equipment around my camp. Sat in the sand between a jumble of waterproofs, sleeping bags and bin bags filled with food I devoured a large newspaper full of chips. The sudden arrival and ensuing chaos seemed as if it were a dream, only in the first light of dawn did the concept that I wasn’t alone really sink in.

A small pot steamed beside my tent to fill the air with enticing wafts of coffee. Paul crammed kit divided between dry sacks and bin bags into the two empty kayaks. With almost four months repeating the same routine I had perfected an efficient order in packing my own boat, finishing long before Paul and Joe I enjoyed helping to reduce the piles of assorted kit by making their boats heavier. Paul’s camping rations were a comparable feast compared to the usual porridge, oatcakes and generic slop available only in resin flavour. There were fresh apples, onions, flavoured cereal, hams and salami, cheeses, olives. . . the list was growing as fast as my appetite.

By 9am we were set to go. Even with three boats the speed and ease of group portage was a welcome novelty over the usual tedious drag down the sand. Paul and Joe’s boats seemed wonderfully light, a deliberate consideration to make faster passage. Paul had taken over responsibility of navigation and held the map which marked in dotted lines our bearing against tide. Deciding to deviate from our original intention to paddle straight for St.Andrews we would instead take advantage of the still morning to push straight to Fife ness invisible across the horizon.

A full 26km of open sea stretched before us, a four to five hour committed paddle. I was eager to enjoy company over the usual crackled drone of radio 4, I would imagine however the Joe was perhaps a little daunted. Joe’s collective kayak experience was a few low grade river trips and inland lochs, his only prior experience at sea a 20 minute paddle around the Paul’s yacht which we had enjoyed in Applecross several months earlier. Nothing like going in at the deep end. Paul and I had decided it was probably best that Joe wore a wetsuit “Just in case.” 

With a squelch and a push we left the muddy inlet at East Haven, we were three in our boats, side by side we aimed south.

IMG_0695

Aiming toward a green mark bobbing far ahead we headed toward our only major navigational challenge for the day. Pin-pointing the end of a shallow sand bar which ran from the firth of tay it was important that we rounded the mark to the east. Although there was little motion in the sea with exception to the tide the low swell was likely to grow steep over the shallow sands, by avoiding it we could enjoy a smoother passage with only a small extra distance.

The tide was relatively powerful and helped to counter the slower pace brought through extra paddlers. We still travelled at a respectable 5km an hour as we headed out to sea. In the company of others I found myself comparing what had changed in my own ability over the recent months, a gradual increase in speed, endurance and comfort at sea had crept up slowly and without much notice. I could barely remember the aching arms, heaving breath and pressure sores incurred through just a single hour on the water when I had started, something I could see gradually showing in Joe’s paddling.

P1040043

The is something comforting about paddling together far from land. The ever present reassurance that should something go wrong or conditions become too much the group could simply raft together for safety. There is no voice left whispering doubt at the back of ones mind for it is drowned out to conversation and shared experience.

Leaving St.Andrews and the west sands far inland conversation turned to re-enactments of “Chariots of Fire” which had been filmed on the bay. We had been at sea for three and a half hours now and were well over half way, we were still an hour and a half from landing at the far shore which now seemed agonisingly close. It was impressive how well Joe was coping, his pace had slowed significantly but without complaint he continued to paddle strong with only occasional break for a snickers bar. Five hours at sea had left me in agony during the start of my trip, both Joe and Paul were seemingly unfazed. We had begun the morning paddling close by enjoying conversation ranging through everything from Religion and philosophy (Joe’s expertise) to Hydrology (Paul’s favourite), as we grew closer to land focus seemed to have moved toward the longing to stretch legs and eat. We now paddled more in silence in a strung out line.

We were nearly there and too much morning coffee was starting to give incentive to get out of the kayaks. To a round of giggles I gave an impromptu demonstration in the art of peeing from a kayak, a task which is all about pressure and angle. Joe and Paul decided to hold on and paddle harder instead.

Landing in the shelter of a rocky skerry we contorted out of the kayaks with a group sigh of exhausted relief. It was nearly 3pm, we had covered the distance for the day and just 4km remained to our intended landing at Crail. The final hour of the crossing had been punishing to all of us, the wind had slowly increased against us. It hadn’t been strong but was just enough to make reaching land that little bit harder.

Onshore and no longer moving we quickly grew cold. Paul set about preparing a spread of hams, cheeses and olives on the rocks for lunch which we ravenously devoured. A short walk along the shore to Fife ness lighthouse helped to stretch the stiff legs and loosen pressure sores before we returned to the sea.

Back on the coast the fun returned to the paddle. An interesting shoreline filled with craggy skerries and inlets delivered interest to the journey ahead. Rolling fetch ricocheted into the headland with a wonderful rumbling crash. Bouncing across a small tide race with exiting speed we rounded the corner, the wind was now more astern and helped to push us on toward camp.

Although fascinating to look at the downside of craggy coast is that it is tricky to land, especially with waves rolling into the shore. As we approached Crail the ground steepened offering little scope for a campsite within the harbour itself. Landing with a bounce onto a rocky wave cut platform we wandered up toward Sauchope links campsite to the east of the village. There was plenty of spare grass at the side of the camp ground to camp, we were cold and hopeful to pitch our tents. “The council won’t allow more than two tents”  we were promptly told, it was the first time i’d ever heard that one. Replying that it would be fine the camp warden replied Ok, that’ll be £20 per tent please. £40 quid for two tents! FORTY QUID! Stuff that!

Feeling a little insulted at their cheek to ask such an extortionate amount to sleep on some grass we left. I should thank the camp ground for their ridiculous demand meant that we instead found a much better and free wild campsite just across the bay. Thankfully a small inlet allowed just enough shelter to land onto the large rounded boulders at the edge of a small grassy lip below the steeper slopes.

Warm and dry we wandered together into town. Watching the local Skiff rowing team in the harbour we ambled to the harbour. The skiff community which was quietly growing stronger around Scotland had bonded superbly in the Ullapool Skiff Rowing Championships during the summer, we were warmly welcome by the rowers.

Meeting cousin Fiona who had driven over from Dundee we settled into a local pub for a celebratory pint followed by a wonderful steak pie dinner treated by Paul. We were met also by Paul’s friend Ian who a fellow paddler decided to join us early in the morning on our paddle to Anstruther.

A cold and early start begun the day. From the safe haven of our sheltered camp the sea looked rough. A significant build in swell height had drifted through the night, it now crashed impressively on the shoreline. The exiting combination of strong wind and low fetch (despite the swell) blowing at our stern promised a rapid push along the coast. Over porridge we looked at maps and discussed our options. Jokingly laughing with Joe that we were giving him one hell of a start, 1st day: Open passage, 2nd day: Storm paddling he smiled but looked rightly nervous.

The decision to move on was a balance between a rough day and the need to out paddle an impending low pressure which would deliver strong gales later in the week. The mood between the three of us was unanimously eager to get back on the water, even if we pushed just 5km further to Anstruther we would be in a better position for the final open crossing of the journey. Even with the three of us the portage across large slippery boulders to the edge of the inlet was tough, leaving Joe and Paul to get into their kayaks I scouted for a safe route out between the rolling swell.

Thankfully it was possible to escape the skerries between a narrow channel of sheltered water, to our sides the swell rolled and broke with delightful proximity. Rounding the calm into the full brunt of the swell I was met with Ian.

Joe and Paul arrived to raft with Ian and I before the four of us paddled south. I did not envy Ian who would have to paddle back north against the wind later in the day.

IMG_0921

Paddling closely side by side we were blown down the waves toward Antrusther. The exhilarating speed forced upon each craft by the rolling wave made for superb paddling. The waves were the perfect steepness to allow the chance to catch a small surf but remain gentle enough not to be daunting. Progress was not only fast but was great fun, we took little time but great enjoyment in reaching Anstruther.

Swell Spot Paul below the wave 

In the shelter of Anstruther we left the kayaks on a small slipway and wandered into town to warm up over a coffee. Ian decided to arrange a lift home to avoid paddling back against the increasing wind. Paul, Joe and I had to decide whether to land or to push on. We delayed by venturing across town to explore the Scottish Fisheries Museum where Paul wanted to pay homage to museum which was behind the revival of the Scottish coastal rowing in St. Ayles skiffs.  Ian phoned home to return to Crail by car!

By the time we returned to the kayak I had warmed up a little at last. Looking out of the harbour the wind was considerably stronger and with its new force the fetch had risen. It would be a rough passage by any standard, however there were few practical options to camp in Anstruther. With the intent to shelter at St.Monans before pushing onward toward Elie where a sheltered camp was guaranteed we set off into the wind.

The waves had grown substantially. Out on the water we would loose sight of each other as we rose and fell between peak and trough, we were barely 10m apart. Paul lead the way, I pulled up the rear to act as fast response incase Joe capsized. We were travelling fast in the wind but with every other stroke both Joe and Paul were bracing hard loosing much of their momentum. For the first time it started to dawn that Paul was no longer the most experienced person on this trip, It was a strange realisation. Unable to turn his kayak back against the wind he was constrained to the weather helm, paddling hard he soon left Joe and I far behind.

Hugging very close to Joe and hanging back a meter or two I shouted instructions to help keep stable in the swell. Joe was coping well, slow strong strokes pushed him forward before bracing into the rising face of the wave rearing behind. This stop and go tactic was slow but for now it was working.

I had completely lost sight of Paul and not knowing that he was unable to turn and at the edge of his comfort zone I became annoyed that he had left us behind. I counted several times where Joe wobbled precariously close to capsizing before quickly recovering, the conditions were fast becoming worse, it was only a matter of time before a flip.

Carefully timing between waves so as not to hit Joe in the head with my bow I rafted alongside. Deploying the same tactic that I had used with Tess on the west coast I clipped two carabiners fore and aft of the deck. We split the paddles and started to travel together as a raft. Taking it in turns to steer and paddle Joe and I made more comfortable progress. We were able to chat and focus on what lay ahead rather than the next wave. I scanned the horizon desperately looking for Paul, he had vanished into the waves.

Constantly fighting the boat to point for the headland at Elie I was rapidly growing concerned, it was frightening how fast we had lost Paul. There had been no sign of him at St.Monans which we had simply left to our stern without stopping, I couldn’t even make out the distant flick of paddles. The carabiners strained at the deck lines which whipped against the boat with a crack upon every wave. Still no sign of Paul.

We grew closer to the rocks east of the final corner at Sauchar Point. I had kept a keen eye on the headland to watch if Paul crossed past, there had been no sign. Surely he couldn’t have landed in the melee of rocks and surf? Pushing hard Joe back-pedalled and I pushed forward, our final turn to try and sprint beam to the wind for the point. As we turned with a chance glance inland I caught a tiny figure walking up the sand. Dressed in yellow trousers and a blue cag, just like Paul’s. Bewildered we watched as he dragged a kayak from the shore.

F**K! 

Paul had realised he was unable to make it around the point to Elie. In desperation he had found a narrow channel between the skerries leading to a sandy landing, a landing which was now rolling heavily with surf. By skill or chance luck he had landed safely but left behind a dilemma. Joe and I could make it to Elie, we could abandon Paul and land safely. But what then?

The landing was risky, even with experience the narrow channel required perfect timing, skilful command of the kayak  and a degree of luck to reach the sand safely. In the short time between Paul’s landing and our approach the tide had exposed the channel to a new branch of ricocheting swell. It was about to be crunch time.

I waved to Paul on the shore, trying to communicate by a rudimentary sign language to indicate the best apparent route from the shore. It was little more than an indecipherable flailing of arms in the wind.

Ok Joe! I started to explain what was going to happen. We were going to attempt a landing. Ensuring to carefully replace the word When with If I instructed Joe on what to do in the even of a capsize, Duck your head between your arms, take a deep breath. Pull your deck fast and watch for rocks! …..ok. . .We unclipped. From here on it was each man for himself.

It was clear that this was going to end in a capsize. A predictable sequence of events was about to unfold.

Joe would paddle for shore to be caught upon the incoming swell. The boat lurch forward fast, out of control. On the steep face of the wave Joe would find his kayak suddenly turned upon a pivot at its stern, the wave forces the kayak beam upon its face. Now Joe no longer thinks of the beach, he see’s the furious white spray of the breaking barrel, he braces. His paddle catches the wave sending the sideways boat up the barrel to dump hard upside down into the seabed. Joe is sent into the muted silence of green darkness, he is beneath the wave. He must act fast, cover his head, prepare for the imminent punch of rock. Pull the deck. Surface to an explosion of sound, it seems louder after the quiet below the sea. The next wave hits. 

I played the scenario over in my head. Weighted the likely outcomes. Pointing Joe in a direction that would maximise the chances of his surf bringing him to safe ground and not rock I waited for a break in the surf. OK! NOW! PADDLE!!! 

It was poor timing, just as Joe furiously raced for shore a tremendous set of breakers reared behind us. The sea seemed to suck from beneath the boat the walls were tall and steep. I hung back, waiting to recover what I could if things went wrong. For Joe it was too late, like it or not he was landing and he was landing now!

Disappearing behind the crest of the wave Joe was on the surf. A flick at the end of his blade followed by the tip of his stern rose high into the air. The wave broke and to my astonishment Joe appeared upright. PADDLE!!! He was sideways in the water, 10m from shore. He would not turn before the next equally tall breaker hit.

Paul who watching the whole even unfold started to sprint along the beach. Joe was paddling fast and strong when the next wave hit. In a tremendous burst of speed I watched as Joe’s head {the only visible part of him behind the wave} suddenly rocketed 10m across the bay. He had deployed a superb bracing stroke and caught the wave beautifully, he was surfing.

Enthralled in Joe’s superb display of skilful paddling I had forgotten where I was. Suddenly forced to focus on keeping my own boat upright as I was caught in a breaker I missed the third wave hit and capsize Joe. In a rush of water and hard high brace into the surf I rode a single wave to land with a whoosh onto the sand. Frantically pulling myself from the kayak and dragging it up the beach I ran over to Joe and Paul. 

Joe was both soaked and smiling from ear to ear. The last wave won! He laughed. Paul had managed to grab the kayak as the final wave pushed Joe over a rocky platform, Good advice on covering the head! Joe said rubbing his arm which had battered the seabed. What were you thinking! I was surprised to shout at Paul, it seemed strange to be telling off your father. At least we were all in one piece and safely ashore, all be it very cold.  Later Paul declared how close to the edge of his comfort zone he had been and the beach appeared a safer option than the breaking surf over Ellie point, also 4 months of kayaking for me was very different than 4 months in an office for him.

Wasting no time in recovering the paddles, boats and a lost mug from the surf we portaged beneath an old railway bridge to set camp in the sheltered grassy alcove behind. I’m not sure about the others but by the time I was extremely glad to get out of the wet clothes and finally stop shivering.

By dinner time the whole event had become rather amusing and spirits had lifted almost as much as the wind. “This is my second best kayaking day ever, yesterday was the best” Joe exclaimed leaving out the fact that he had only ever kayaked for two days. We were now faced with a dilemma, getting ashore had been hard, getting back out in the morning at low tide would be almost impossible. We were over a kilometre from Elie, too far to portage but unable to escape from where we had landed.

Paul set about creating a contingency plan. A quick phone call to Fiona in Dundee resulted in a small ‘rescue’ mission. Fiona would pick Paul up who would then collect the land-rover and return. We would load the kayaks onto the roof the following day and drive the kilometre to Elie. Of course I was reluctant to ‘cheat’ so Joe and I would extract the bicycles from the car and cycle around the headland instead. Problem solved.

IMG_0818Camp

The wind didn’t fall through the night. With the land-rover becoming another wall to the great shelter from the bridge the tents held fast. The morning was gloriously sunny despite the wind and we enjoyed spreading out to dry over breakfast. There was no urgency or frustration that we could not continue, even if we had landed in Elie it would have been very unwise to set out into the Firth of Forth in such stormy conditions.

With the boats on the roof and bikes unloaded Paul set off to Elie leaving Joe and I to cycle around the corner. It was a delightful prelude for things to come, the excitement of transport burst into smiles and laughter as we wound along the short narrow track by the shore. Stopping at “The Lady’s Tower” Joe and I looked out toward the far shore, for Joe it was another long crossing, to me it was my Last long crossing.

Winding the last few hundred metres around the corner we met Paul at a pristine council park. Bold “No Camping” signs were dotted here and there, we universally agreed we could blag an exception and set tents in the corner of the field to dry out.

Paul left to soon return with my mum Kate. All four of us piled into the land-rover and left camp to explore those towns we had missed along our way. Returning to Anstruther for a cup of tea the sea looked re-assuringly rough behind the harbour walls. A quick venture through St.Monans later we were back in Elie. Kate departed to meet us in two days further along the coast while Paul, Joe and I wandered into town to the shelter of a pub for dinner.

Ian arrived as we de-camped under a cloudless sky. The wind had entirely disappeared, we couldn’t have hoped for a better day to cross the Fourth. I was slowly growing used to the slower pace in every aspect of the camping life. The extra time to cook breakfast, the extra time to pack and relaxed pace was rewarded with help getting the boats to the shore. Ferrying each boat close to the water in teams of two we left Elie behind and set off into the open sea.

Circulating between different conversations the four of us could literally drift in and out of topics where we saw fit. The distance soon passed by with seemingly little effort. I was relieved to see few ships pass by, the illusion of safety in numbers seemed to make the idea of collision with tankers less of an issue.

The wind grew stronger as we approached the shore at North Berwick. A small flurry of stiff breeze pushed the final few kilometres to a slower crawl. Hopping between islands which offered shelter between the gusts which rose the waves steep and sharp on the tide we quickly ventured into the welcome shelter of the harbour. A nearby team of Skiff rowers were lowering their boat down the shore to the waters edge. The instant connection and readily welcome friendships brought by the recent Coastal rowing movement had brought a wonderful sense of community between many of the small towns along the journey, North Berwick was no different and we received a warm welcome from Robbie Whiteman, Convenor and founder member of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association who had worked with Paul as part of the Ullapool World Championships organising committee.

Sitting in a sheltered corner beside the sandy beach we spread out another feast of a lunch in the sun. Eating far more than normal we chuckled as some local fishermen struggled to tow their boat out of the water with a battered ford escort. Their reckless downing of the car into the sea well over the wheel arches, stalling, pushing and shouting was very amusing, the angry tantrum as one of the fishermen realised his dry boots were floating away on the tide was the icing on the cake.

Entertainment over we left the boats to wander into the harbour. Ian departed for a long and lonely paddle back to Elie. North Berwick is the only town I have ever seen that has a burger van on the harbour that only sells lobster, apparently the little town is used to a better class of fast food. A brief walk in the sun, a coffee and an ice-cream later we were back on the water.

With little previous travel to the east there were few familiar landscapes as I paddled past the coast. Whenever I met somewhere I knew it was a bizarre sensation, Had I really paddled here? Bass Rock was one of these rare landmarks. A defiant 2km² volcanic plug the dark igneous  structure of the Bass Rock is painted white with thousands of gannets. Downwind from the island the smell of guano was noticeable almost as soon as we left North Berwick harbour.

The temptation to paddle the extra few kilometres for a closer look was outweighed by the desire to reach Dunbar with the promise of meeting old university friends for the evening. We passed the lighthouse improbably perched against the cliffs on the rock and pushed south.

Inland the equally impressive silhouette of Tantallon castle was propped against the top of steep ivy coated cliffs. A small cross on St.Baldred’s point marked our way toward Belhaven. Hugging close to the shoreline in the buffer between breaker and tidal overfalls we snuck past the headland in a calmer tidal race.

I had been to Belhaven beach before. Just over an hours drive from Stirling it was a popular weekend escape during university. I had spent many hours laying in the sand, trying to surf, swimming a lot and enjoying the cold sea. We would camp in the dunes with a large fire and beer our music played from a small sandy speaker. Many a night of good memories were spent here. Looking into the bay from a fresh perspective meant much of the journey to Dunbar was spent reflecting on such times. Looking land at the surf which once we had wished to be tall and steep it was strange to now long for the complete opposite, instead we would land in Dunbar harbour itself and seek camp in the guaranteed safe landing.

Gliding under the old stone archway of Dunbar fort a scatter of rock pigeons burst from the walls in a flurry of feathers. It was close to dusk and we still didn’t know where we would camp. Pulling into the harbour and under a small bridge we were heckled by some young kids up above “Nice boat!”, “It looks like a banana.”

Landing beside the remains of the castle we wandered up onto the harbour. Paul went straight toward the local sailing club and introduced himself as the ex-commodore of Lochbroom sailing club, working his charm superbly he returned with the good news that we had been allowed to camp in the fort itself. The outcome couldn’t have been better. 

With camp set and tea brewed we waited for our visitors. Soon enough Maria, Gail and Kerry appeared with beaming smiles beneath laden rucksacks. A sure sign of strong friendship is just how quickly it felt that we had never really been apart. Within minutes we were hugging, laughing and chatting as if it were just another weekend away from University. Laughing at the state of my hair and joking that I smelled (probably not joking) the night was filled with buzzed excitement. What could be better than a trip to the pub in the company of old friends before returning to your own private castle, moat and all! What a way to spend my final camp with the kayak.

With the joy at seeing Gail, Maria and Kerry again the realisation that the night in the fort was my last night seemed to pass by un-noticed. It was only when the lights finally went out and silence drifted over the tents that the thought dwelled. I was surprised to find that behind the excitement and eagerness to start a new there was a hint of sadness and anxiety, the journey on the ocean was almost over.

Maria brewed coffee in a cafetiere  using the forts rampart as a table, Kerry and Gail hopped around still wrapped in their sleeping bags. Joe, Paul and I started to pack up kit into the kayak. One thing I wouldn’t miss was the daily peel into cold wet clothes, it was a wonderful feeling knowing that would be the last time.

Final hugs goodbye and a welcome push later we left the girls to the fort. It was to our great amusement that the bridge across had been raised, they were trapped on an island, lucky for Joe, Paul and I we had boats. The thought of being trapped in a Scottish castle with a healthy supply of breakfast and coffee seemed to be a bonus rather than an annoyance to the girls who cheerfully danced along the walls to wave a final goodbye.

Marias shot copyLeaving Dunbar (Photo: Maria Driver) 

The wind was light but at our stern as we paddled side by side along the shore toward a distant power plant at Torness. Another large white lighthouse at Barnsness marked our half way mark from Dunbar as we passed a fellow paddler who struggled against the wind toward town. There was an exited mood in the air we were nearly there!

As we arrived at the impressive breakwater beside Torness nuclear power plant a strange phenomenon occurred. We paddled across the coolant outflow which flowed straight into the sea, the water was calm and filled with bubbles but more importantly it was hot. The bizarre warmth of the water which would have made an excellent bath was a stark contrast to the usual cold nip against your fingers. The boats begun to warm up as if we had heated seats. Of course the water is perfectly safe, there were even fishermen casting lines into the current in search of the largest trout. Never the less we still joked about whether we would grow an extra finger or if our kayaks would now glow in the dark.

IMG_0395

As the coastline rose from shallow bays to steep embankments lined with cliffs the we passed into the shelter of the wind. It was the first day without storms or long open crossings, we could enjoy relatively regular stops along the way. Drifting into the sheltered inlet of Cove Bay harbour we set out to wander around the quiet haven. Cove bay was a perfect sanctuary of solitude, accessible only by sea or through a narrow tunnel dug through the cliff the singular occupied home “The Blue House” was a wonderful place to sit, read and relax. The remnants of past fishing actives were echoed in the skeleton shells of old boats and grass covered creels on the harbour walls.

We had arrived at low tide and had 2 and a half hours to reach St.Abs head if I were to finish in Berwick on Tweed in daylight. From Cove harbour the coast rose dramatically into a spectacular stretch of paddling. Tremendous warped rock bent through pressure and time rose in beautiful patterns in the rock. It was like a giant ball of plasticine left discarded from the hands of a child, the curls of different layers each rising from the sea.

The clapotis bouncing from the cliffs was a new phenomenon to Joe, now quite at ease with the random chops and dips in the waves I paddled alongside with Paul, we chatted together about the thirty minute confusion the sea often experienced at the turn of the tide. Ahead St.Abbs head loomed, my final headland.

Joe and Paul left the cliffs at the headland to their side. Keen to savour the final moments of the journey I dodged in and out of channels between stacks in the rock face. Timing the waves to ride into each slot before turning to ride back out of another, it was as exiting as the rock was interesting. Far above the lighthouse marked our way, nearly there!

Gannets sat in the water which was starting to regain its purpose and flow quite strongly south. We had decided to re-arrange plans so that I could continue to Berwick before dark. Recognising that as a group we would be pushing hard to reach the border in time Joe and Paul chose to land in St.Abbs where we were to be met by Noreen. I would paddle the final 20km alone and meet them at the harbour.

IMG_0402

Noreen had been a childhood babysitter to my sister and I and had become somewhat an adopted third granny. Ever caring she insisted I wolfed down a warm cup of tea and slice of cake before leaving Joe and Paul to dry out and pack their boats onto the car. As we ate Joe and I took delight in spotting a real life pirate, a fisherman tending to his nets with a large silver hook for a hand. We unloaded some of the bags from the kayak, I could paddle fast and light for the end.

IMG_1185

There was little time to waste, See you at the finish! I shouted and left the harbour alone.

Rounding the corner I could relish my own pace and ability in the rough waters. The tide was flowing at an incredible pace and with wind upon my  tail I paddled an average of 12km/h. Even on a solo standard the paddling felt fast, the conditions couldn’t be better, there was sun in the sky and everything to support me. The pace was so fast that I overshot the headland at Eyemouth half an hour faster than anticipated, the others had planned to wave as I passed but were nowhere to be seen.

Tide races and overfalls added a superb excitement at the edge of Eyemouth harbour. Despite the wonderful rock formations and interesting cliff line I was lost in the zone, the final push to get to the end. The border of England was nondescript but well guarded. Watching the GPS I paddled under the escort of over 20 seals beneath steep red cliffs lined in foliage. Reaching the border I stopped paddling and let out a little Whoop. This was it! I had done it! Paddled all the way around Scotland.

The whoop was greeted with a ripple of crashing heads as the seals took fright and dived into the depths. The waves were rolling high on the shore making landing unviable, instead I celebrated with a snickers bar and a brief rest. Even without paddling I was moving 5km/h on the wind and tide.

I had reached the border, but not the end. It was still 8km to reach Berwick. The cliff line was a fine way to end the journey, with wind sculpted sandy red rock and impressive spray crashing from the waves it was as exiting as the first cliffs I had passed way back in the Solway some four months earlier. The weeks of gradually building excitement at reaching the finish was reaching a climax but had a very different effect to what I had anticipated. I was scared to stop, I had longed for this moment but now it was here did I really want it? Gaining sight of the lighthouse at the mouth of Berwick on Tweed I started to wonder Should I just keep going? I could change plans, abandon the mountains and keep paddling until I made it back round.

A view I had been waiting to see for four months drifted into view. The unassuming little red and white lighthouse at the edge of the sea defence meant far more than a safe mark for ships, to me it was the end of a chapter, and perhaps the start of a new one. A final round of clapotis, a final glance back at the cliffs at my stern, I entered the bay.

Joe and Paul were standing at the edge of a small slipway beside an RNLI station. They were waving and cheering in congratulations, I floated in the calm water suddenly feeling very distant, it was time to land. With a triumphant final stroke I glided ashore with a crunch, Joe ran down to deliver a hearty pat on the back and Well Done! Paul arrived with a bottle of whisky which was poured over the bow before passed between us in celebration. The sunset over Berwick seemed twice as beautiful with the dawning realisation that after 1600km at sea I had landed safely ashore for the last time. A three man party was more than I could have ever asked for as reward, not to mention the superb fish and chips awaiting at Noreen’s house.

My wet clothes lay in a soggy puddle by the car, the kayak soon tied to the roof and the kit thrown inside. I was sad to say goodbye to the sea, but I left its shore with an indescribable feeling of satisfaction, I had done it, now…whats next! 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: