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Sailing from the Shiant Isles to Loch Torridon, Knoydart peninsular walk, May 2017

We left the Shiant Isles in fog and rain.  The basalt cliffs felt even more mysterious and eerie than they had the previous day.  We had to return to Mallaig by the end of the week so sailed around the far side of Skye.  We had seen the island on and off for several days.  The skilful skipper goose winged the sails so they were on either side of the mast, the main sail on one side and the jib on another.  When the sails were no longer goose wing, and there were two reefs in the main sail, I was asked to take the helm.  There was a strong wind and a little turbulence from side to side and I was steering, rather badly, using a combination of a compass bearing and trying to find a dark grey shape on the horizon which was land instead of the lighter grey shapes on the horizon which were cloud formations.  Did I take the boat off course a little?  I think I might have done.  This was only my second time on the helm, soon after my first attempt, several days earlier, we had spotted dolphins swimming across the bow of the boat and someone had kindly taken the helm from me so I could kneel down near the bow and watch the dolphins.  The water was so clear that I could see them swimming under water.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me that day. Loch Torridon, village with a pub!

We had a long sail to Loch Torridon.  The skipper’s wife is a talented cook and made apple cake for everyone while we were sailing.  It was delicious.  On other days she had made bread and soup while we were sailing.  On one of those days the boat was heeling over a lot so the bread hadn’t fully risen, but it was still very delicious!  After a long sail in oil skins we saw a change of scenery.  Instead of the angular edges of the basalt cliffs of the Shiant Isles, the Torridonian rocks created a much gentler, more rounded landscape.  I was delighted to see that we were anchoring close to a village with a pub, but because of being sea sick on my first long sail, decided not to drink while I was on holiday.  We anchored near a small island, and there was a wonderful sound of birdsong.  I spent a lot of time on deck looking through my binoculars for sea eagles and otters as I was told that they lived near the island, but didn’t see any.  I went ashore in the dinghy to the pub instead!  On shore a tiny canon was pointing at the boat.  I tried to take a photo but the camera on my phone didn’t work.  After several days on the boat I was used to the rocking motion of the sea.  The land felt as if it was moving slightly.

The following morning was hot and sunny.

Loch Torridon, Island

Island in Loch Torridon

There was very little wind and we used the engine.  It was hot and we didn’t need to wear oilskins to protect ourselves from cold wind. We anchored near the Knoydart peninsular agreeing that in the sunshine Scotland is the most beautiful place in the world.  We went ashore by dinghy, up a vertical ladder on a small jetty, divided ourselves into groups of runners and walkers.  I joined the walking group.  I was surprised how much effort I seemed to need to walk up the road, but after a few minutes of walking turned behind to look around and realised how high we were.  My camera battery was flat.  We walked on the very quiet road for three hours, walking slowly because it was so hot, and the views were stunning.  A woman driving a post van passed us twice but we only saw a handful of other vehicles.  Around every corner were more stunning views.  What a gorgeous place the Knoydart peninsular is.  There were small streams which my companions drank from, the water looked clear.  We walked past white houses, passing a jetty to which the boat was moored, and to the busy pub.  The holiday was coming to an end, this was to be our last night on the boat and I had had a wonderful walk. DSCN0391

 

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Thursday 12th January 2017

I had two days off work and went to the closest coastline, Hunstanton in Norfolk.  I parked near the swimming pool on the sea front and, noticing wooden boards across the gaps in the wall closest to the sea realised that there was likely to be a very high tide.  I moved my car up a slope away from the sea, paid for a full day’s parking and set off.  It was very windy and cold and bracing, but lovely to be at the coast.  On the sea front sea shells and seaweed were strewn across the path.  I’d never noticed this before at Hunstanton and wondered if they’d been left by a high tide.  I walked onto the beach which looked a little different to how it usually does.  White stones were strewn around the beach and a man was throwing them into a pile at the foot of a cliff.  The large boulders which form a grid pattern and are usually covered in bright green seaweed in summer looked bare.

The sea was out and the metal outline of a shipwreck was showing.  This has been there for decades and is only visible at low tide but I always enjoy looking at it.  Further along the beach, past the cliffs with their dramatic horizontal stripes, was a line of sea weed and a red wellington boot.  There were pieces of wood and a rope with a recently frayed knot on one end and the other end wasn’t attached to anything.  It looked as if there had been a very high tide.  I had a cup of tea in a pub at Old Hunstanton, talking to a woman with a dog.  I returned past a golf course, along the top of the cliffs, past the warning signs if you feel lonely please ring this number, past the white light house and bought a cheap, oversized man’s waterproof coat from a charity shop.  There weren’t any women’s ones.  It was going to be a stormy week end and I’d left my waterproof coat at home.  I also bought a hat I could tie under my chin, perfect for walking on windy days.

When I returned to my car, my parking ticket had blown away.  Stuck to the windscreen was a parking fine.  It would be halved if I paid it promptly.  So much for spending £5 on 24 hours parking. I drove to Wells-next-the-sea to spend the night at a B & B.  Flood defences were being put up, a storm surge and a very high tide were expected.

 

 

 

 

Saturday 19th August 2017, Holkham Gap to Wells-next-the-sea through the pine forest, on towards Stiffkey and back to Holkham on the beach

Cattle, Holkham, August 2017

This was a short walk of 6 to 7 miles.  The storm from the previous day had passed, and early in the morning the sky was blue and cloudless.  I started walking from Lady Anne’s Drive car park near Holkham beach. The car park is about half a mile long and leads to the beach. Early in the morning there were not many cars parked there, and no one had arrived with a horse box early on. Lots of people enjoy riding on the beautiful wide sandy beach at Holkham, and I’ve often seen horses galloping over the sand and at the edge of the sea. A boardwalk leads on to the beach.
Holkham Gap boatd walk, August 2017
This is the widest stretch of sandy beach I know in Norfolk but a pine forest runs along the side of the beach. The shade of the forest is wonderful on a hot day, and the smell of the pine trees is lovely too.  I walked to the top of the boardwalk to look at the pale sandy beach and the sea in the distance, before turning back to walk along the side of the pine forest.

 

It is only 1 1/2 miles to walk to the edge of Wells-next-the-sea, and another mile to walk to my favourite street near the harbour.

The path is easy to follow and leads to a car park and a café near the lifeboat station.

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Then there’s a mile of walking along a straight sea defence towards the harbour.  At low tide the boats moored in the channel leading to the harbour lead on their keels in the sand and mud, but at high tide they all float in sea water.  I wanted to visit my favourite café again, the Albatross, the beautiful wooden tall ship in the harbour, but it doesn’t open till 12 o’clock.  My walking companion suggested continuing along the Norfolk Coastal path a little way and turning round so we could get back to the café when it opened.

We walked passed the yacht club and onto the footpath towards Stiffkey.  On an overcast winter’s day earlier this year, this part of the Norfolk Coastal Path had seemed bleak.  In the summer sunshine it was wonderful.   Near the boatyard a group of adults and children were taking alpacas for a walk.

Back at the Albatross in the harbour and I treated myself to an apple pancake.

The Albatross, Wells-next-the-sea August 2017

I walked back to the coastwatch station near the lifeboat house, onto the beach passing the beautiful beach huts, walking along the sand to Holkham Gap.

Norfolk Coastal path to Wells-next-the-sea beach August 2017Norfolk Coastal Path from Wells-next-the-sea harbour August 2017

 

Beach huts, Wells-next-the-sea August 2017

Beach huts, varied, Wells-next-the-sea August 2017

Holkham GapI turned round to have one final glance of this magnificent beach before walking back along the boardwalk to the car park.

 

 

 

 

18th August 2017 Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk, short walk to avoid storm, YHA to the beach and back

I arrived in Wells-next-the-sea on Friday afternoon, parking near the Youth Hostel and walking through the very quaint, narrow streets, passing rows of cottages made out the local flint.  The street slopes gently upwards and it wasn’t long before I reached the main narrow street with small shops and cafes, and bunting across it.  It slopes gently down towards the harbour and you can see the harbour wall and the mud flats beyond it.  I stopped to look at the Albatross tall ship in the harbour which is a café serving Dutch pancakes and has a bar below.  It is difficult to resist them!

Harbour Office, Wells-next-the-sea

I walked past the Harbour Master’s office, and place nearby where the depth of water was being constantly measured in January during the high tide and possible storm surge, when the shops had had flood defences across the doorways.

Wells-next-the-sea, harbour

The path to the beach is a mile long, and straight, on a sea defence.  Just across the road a small train takes families to the beach at a very slow speed.  From the top of the sea defence I could see a very dramatic cloud formation above the pine forest in the distance.

It was very hot and sunny on the beach but there was an anvil shaped cloud formation out at sea, and when I heard thunder I decided to shorten my walk and return to the town. Wells-next-the-sea lifeboat station

Beach huts, August 2017, Wells-next-the-sea

 

 

Storm out at sea, Wells-next-the-sea beach, August 2017

Storm clouds, Wells-next-the-sea beach 2017

Beach, Wells-next-the-sea

The storm clouds seemed to be following me and it gradually got much darker, but didn’t stop a woman from paddling a SUP.  I got back to my car 5 minutes after a hail storm started.

Thunder storm, seen from Wells-next-the-sea harbour, August 2017Wells-next-the-sea storm, flowers and bike August 2017

Storm behind yachts, Wells-next-the-sea August 2017

Storm view, Wells-next-the-sea August 2017

 

Back to Mersea Island, Essex 29/07/2017

I  met up with friends in one of the car parks, a grassy field close to beach huts in the morning at low tide.  The Strood, the road leading to Mersea Islands across the marshes is covered with sea water during high tide for about half an hour.  Markers at the side of the road mark the depth of the water.  A friend told me about the annual sailing regatta, a race around the island and sailors have to either carry their boats across the road and wade through mud, or put the boats on trailers to take them across the road.  We walked in the opposite direction to the way I’d walked several months ago, towards the boat houses on the mud flats and circling back when we realised we couldn’t cross the deep mud, back to a boardwalk leading to a path.  We saw an oyster bed, like a small swimming pool near wooden shacks, a seafood restaurant, past a row of beautiful wooden houses, and out of West Mersea, the large village where most of the inhabitants of the island live.  Away from the buildings we sat down near fields and mudflats to drink water and eat some fruit.  In the distance we could see cars driving across the Strood.

For a short distance we had to walk on the B1025, which felt unsafe, hopping on to the grass verge when cars came towards us.  This was the only unpleasant part of the walk, near The Strood.  We were soon able to turn off, safely in fields, and a black Labrador was swimming in a ditch.

We walked past Maydays Marsh, Reeves Marsh Looking towards the Pyefleet channel where yachts were racing and sat on the sandy beach to eat our packed lunches.

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Pyfleet Channel, Mersea Island

We were much closer to Brightlingsea on the mainland, and close to my favourite part of Mersea Island.  Just around the corner there was a sign warning about snakes.

Mersea Island, snake conservation sign

It started to pour with rain just before we reached the broken sea defences, which we skirted around.  After walking on the beach, looking at empty oyster shells, we had almost completed our walk and were near the beautiful, pastel coloured beach huts.

There was one final surprise, just before the carpark, beautiful agapanthus and red hot poker flowers growing near some beach huts.

Mersea Island, red hot pokers and beach hutsAgapanthus flower, Mersea Island

Back to Norfolk, Old Hunstanton to Burnham Deepdale walk and Blakney boat trip to seals, June 30th 2017

Happy seals, Blakney July 2017
Grey and common seals, Blakney Point

My plan to walk around the UK hasn’t gone quite to plan and distracted by the promise of good walks and the best cheesecake in the world, I went camping with my friends in Norfolk. We pitched our tents at Burnham Deepdale at the camp site we went to last year.  It seemed posher and much more popular this year, and instead of a well-ventilated shower block, where the wind blows through the door, there is a brand new shower block with wet rooms, hairdryers and insulation from the outside air.  I preferred it before, although the new showers are wonderful.  With a lot of help I assembled my tent and went to the Jolly Sailors pub, and watched my friends eat fish and chips, while I tried to stick to my diet.  We walked back to our tents before the heavy rain and wind started.  I had a short walk in the dark in the middle of the night to the shower block wearing jeggings, a dress over a nightie, a fleece, a waterproof jacket, shoes and a Cath Kidston umbrella.  My tent survived the wind and rain and the rain had stopped by morning so I could cook beans on my camping stove.

We caught a bus just before 9.30 am to Old Hunstanton, where I first started my walks in January.  We got off the bus at the post office and walked towards Le Strange Arms hotel, the lifeboat station and the café on the beach, passing the beach huts and walking onto the beach.  The weather was mild and I soon had my coat tied around my waist.  We walked along the sandy beach flanked by dunes and a golf course on the right hand side and a sandy beach leading to the sea on the other side.  I remembered the metal gabions on the beach full of flints and the time I visited the beach in January after the storm surge when I’d found a red wellington boot washed up on the beach.  It was much easier to walk in this milder weather.  I also remembered walking from Old Hunstanton with two other walkers and a dog in January.

Further along the beach the sand was replaced by mud and someone found samphire and sea lavender.  We missed the turning towards the golf course leading to Holme Dunes Nature Reserve.  I was looking for a tumbled down shed and a sign on the beach pointing inland.  Instead I saw the timber frame of a new shed and a slightly worn path, but there was no sign on the beach.  We walked on, the walk was very pleasant, but realised we couldn’t cross a creek and I noticed buildings inside and people near a footpath by them.  We spoke to a walker going the other way who suggested we could paddle across a shallow part of the creek with a sandy base, but we weren’t keen to do that and retraced our steps, back to the path leading to the nature reserve at the bottom of the golf course.

The walk across Holme Dunes Nature Reserve is wonderful in the summer and winter, but the winter view is less obscured by trees and brambles.  It is wonderful to be on slightly higher ground than usual, with a view of breaking surf beyond the marram grass.  There was a group of wild Konik ponies grazing together in the sunshine.  My friends found a circle of tree stumps under pine trees so we stopped for our picnic lunch. It was lovely to sit in the shade. My friend who’d organised the walk explained that we had only done 1/3 of the walk so we didn’t stop for long, but she had made a delicious tea bread which was lovely to eat. We walked on to Thornham , walking up a hill near the end of the village, looking for the footpath sign.  It was very hot walking up the road and there wasn’t much shade.  I was pleased I had brought 2 litres of water with me, but by this stage was trailing behind the others, and kept stopping to drink water.

When I’d done this walk in January with a handsome man and a woman with a lovely dog, we’d had problems finding the footpath, wondering if it was before or after the brow of a hill, then just when we were about to give up, the wooden Norfolk Coastal path sign appeared.  It was the same today, but in very different weather.  The cold in the winter had made the walk seem like a challenge but the heat of today was also challenging.  When we turned off the footpath we were under the shade of the trees, and the cold was delicious.  We sat down to rest and drink water.  Soon we were in the open again, walking next to fields, to a large agricultural building and then turning left towards the coast again, passing the vans that looked as if they were being lived in and a row of washing hung between trees.

We reached Blakney!  I remembered the sign pointing to a beach half a mile away when I had discovered a lovely sandy beach in January which I had never been to before.  I remembered my handsome friend eating chocolate buttons on a bench at the end of a walk before catching the Coasthopper bus back to Old Hunstanton.  However, today was different.  My friend who had organised the weekend was continuing the walk back to our campsite at Burnham Deepdale.  This is part of another walk I thought, last time I couldn’t have walked any further than this.  We didn’t go to the sandy beach but instead followed the footpath, partly on a boardwalk, passing reeds and the site where a Roman Fort had once stood, towards. Near a yacht club something strange happened.  In heat I saw an ice cream van, selling Italian ice cream.  My friends were all ahead of me on the opposite side of the path to the ice cream van.  I walked towards the ice cream.  “Come away from the van” they all shouted, ignoring what I was saying, “go on ahead of me, I’ll catch you up, I know where I am!”  They knew I was on a diet and were trying to help me!  What I didn’t know was that one of them had decided to stop for an ice cream if I had one too!

We walked on, back to the camp site, and after hot showers, had a wonderful barbecue with salads and garlic bread and wine.  It didn’t rain, although it was windy.  My little tent withstood the wind and felt cosy and comfortable.

The following day we went to Morston and walked a short way across the marshes to a jetty where two wooden boats were moored, each like a giant rowing boat.

Boats moored ready to visit seals, Blakney, July 2017
Morston

Each boat held almost 50 passengers.  We climbed from one boat to another and sat down. I enjoyed travelling up the creek, looking at the boats and the marshes.

Wooden boat, Blakney July 2017

It was lovely to be at sea again. View towards Blakney from sea, July 2017

We had the mainland on one side and Blakney Point on the other. Blakney Point, July 2017, location of nesting turns

The skipper explained that this is a site of Special Scientific Interest and that small birds called turns nest on the beach.

It is also home to grey seals and common seals.

The boat turned around so we could take more photographs of the seals.Happy snappers, Blakney seals, July 2017

Other boats also went past so other people could take photographs.  The skipper said that it is only possible to visit the seals for 5 hours a day because of the tides.  I wondered if the seals prefer it when they don’t have visitors.

Knoydart to Mallaig under the Skye road bridge, May 2017

It was hot and sunny, with very little wind, poor weather conditions for sailing, but perfect for the end of a wonderful holiday.  Someone used the windlass to pull up the anchor, and I was pleased not to be asked to stand in the dark room with a whiff of diesel, helping to coil the anchor chain so I didn’t get snagged.  Instead I sat on the boat with a cup of tea and some toast, looking at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery.  I have never been to Skye, just around it by boat.  I want to return sometime to walk there.

As we approached the Skye road bridge I wondered if the mast would fit underneath it.

Of course there was plenty of room!  Soon afterwards someone spotted a sea eagle flying from Skye towards the mainland.  It flew high in the sky and fast.  I wouldn’t have known it was a sea eagle, the wing span was huge, but it moved very quickly.  There are far worse things to do than to admire beautiful scenery from a boat on a hot sunny day.

When it was too soon, we were back in Mallaig.

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Mallaig harbour

I went for walks around Mallaig, waved goodbye to new friends who travelled on the Jacobite Express old steam train, and sat on a stony beach to watch the sun set over Eigg and Rhum.

North Uist to the Shiant Islands, to see puffins, May 2017 and to look for the imaginary blue men of the Minch

North Uist to the Shiant Islands, to see puffins, May 2017 and to look for the imaginary blue men of the MinchPuffins, Shiant Islands, Hebrides

We sailed from North Uist to the Shiant Islands.  At supper in the cabin the night before, while the wine and beer flowed, the skipper told us as story about the blue men of the Minch.  They lived on the stretch of sea we would be sailing on to the Shiant Islands.  Legend has it that men of the Minch speak in Gaelic and are mischievous and if you see them you have to speak to them in Gaelic in rhyming couplets.  I have problems speaking in English in rhyming couplets and I only know three words of Gaelic; one is “Uisge Beatha”, meaning water of life, another is good night or “Oidhche mhath” and the final is cheers or “Slainte”.  I couldn’t make up a rhyming couplet with three words, although I suppose that the men of the Minch would enjoy the word for whisky.  I asked the skipper if he knew how to swear in Gaelic but he said it was far too polite a language to swear in and the only bad phrase he could think of was to “go and chew on a broom”.

We had a good wind and a pleasant journey.  There’s a wonderful feeling when the sails are full and the boat heels over, but the landscape was very different from any we had seen before.  I kept a look out but could see no blue men in the sea!The cliffs of the islands gradually became visible; steep basalt, angular jutting rocks and more birds than I have ever seen before, nesting, flying and on the water.  There was a tremendous noise from the birds.

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

I was given the option of going ashore to sit for an hour near the birds or to walk up a cliff.  After a dramatic fail to walk up a steep slope in Derbyshire last year, I decided to sit on a beach.  Most of the others chose to walk up the cliff, and the dinghy was launched over the side of the boat to take us ashore.  I was left on a pebble beach while the dinghy returned to the boat.

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

It was amazing to be so close to the birds.  I didn’t move much and moved slowly and quietly. It started to rain heavily and I sheltered under a protruding rock, at the same height as the nesting birds.

The birdsong was very loud.

It was wonderful to be so close to the razorbills and puffins.

Shiant Islands, razor bills

Shiant Islands, puffin

Shiant Islands, Hebrides, puffin

The islands were very atmospheric, and it was sad to leave them the following day, in the mist and rain.  We safely sailed to and from the Shiant Islands without meeting any blue men of the Minch.