Chapter 13 – East Coast of England
Even the most urban shoreline can look attractive from a mile offshore. It is only when you get closer that you begin to see the shabbiness of civilisation.
Upon leaving St Abb’s Harbour the conditions were still challenging and I opted to wear my life jacket. But I was now heading south for the border with England and the strong tail wind meant that I had a good run past Eyemouth and down to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. The ebb tide combined with the swollen river Tweed to produce a really fast flow out of the large and impressive harbour – too fast for me to paddle against so I negotiated a surf landing on the beach on the south side. I was on English soil again at last!
The next day the wind had all but gone but it had left a powerful northerly swell running down the North Sea coast. I used the power of the river’s ebb to carry me out through several lines of surf and let it carry me south towards Holy Island and the ancient religious settlement of Lindisfarne. Linda visited the Priory sacked by the Vikings but the tidal causeway that links the island to the mainland was soon to be covered which prevented her from spending longer on this fascinating and very beautiful place. We met briefly and then I too headed off to catch the tide south to the FarneIslands which I had heard people rave about. These low rocky islands stretch offshore for some four miles and provide an interesting day paddle from somewhere like Seahouses, although landing on the islands is difficult on some and prohibited on others. There is plenty of tide running through them although the biggest hazard is probably being run down by one of a horde of tour and dive boats that buzz about the islands like wasps to a pot of jam. Again I am not sure if they are classed as inhabited but there is certainly a well kept house for the warden of the bird reserve on one of the islands and as I left the island to starboard, I saw a chap with binoculars who gave me a friendly wave.
I had hoped to make it to Amble by the end of the day this was clearly unrealistic. I stopped briefly on a very busy beach at Beadnell, the weekend sunshine having brought everyone onto the water in all manner of craft including sailing dinghies, sit-on-top kayaks and the dreaded jet skis. What a pain they are! I took my life in my hands and risked being run down by one of these adrenalin junkies, making my way to Embleton Bay which after much debate by text, Linda and I had selected as our stopping point for the day. I made a nice job of a landing through some fairly meaty surf only to find Linda had taken one look at it and gone to find another beach with more shelter. I was reluctant to risk going back out through the surf and we wasted over an hour of our precious evening trying to locate each other until we finally met up. We the found it impossible to find a campsite that would take us – all the pitches were waterlogged and we were turned away again and again. In the end we had to settle for dinner in a pub and an illegal camp in a nearby car park. My hay fever was really starting to kick in with the farmers trying to harvest their precious crops before it rained again. My snuffling, sneezing and snoring was beginning to annoy me so how on earth Linda put up with it I will never know!
We were fast approaching the north east conurbation of Tyneside but fortunately we had received an offer of accommodation from a member of Tynemouth Canoe Club, Ray Baxter. I had to reach Tynemouth first though and set off early for a big day heading south over mile after mile of shallow kelp beds, past the attractive harbour of Amble, out around Coquet Island (one day I must do the race around the island) and along the wide sweep of Druridge Bay. After lunch on a rather dreary looking beach backed by crumbling cliffs and broken concrete where desperate holiday makers watched TV in their uniform caravans I paddled into an alien world of power stations, chemical plants and industrial harbours with water so insipid that even seaweeds struggled to grow. I held my breath as I paddled past one chimney stack belching out black smoke that drifted out to sea adding significantly to the greenhouse effect. Yet even in this manmade panorama there was some beauty to be found if you looked closely enough. A flock of lapwing lifted as one from the derelict jetty of a disused harbour as I passed by, their calls reminding me of the wild machair of the Western Isles. An Arctic skua flew by searching for its next victim – most likely the ubiquitous tern that seem to be able to find food even in these seemingly lifeless brown waters.
As I passed the wind turbines at Blyth I watched a large coaster being pulled and nudged into the narrow entrance to the port by two attendant tugs. There was a bang like a small explosion and a puff of smoke from the foredeck – the cable attaching the ship to the leading tug boat had snapped and the ship started drifting backwards in the tide. By some miracle no-one had been hurt and I watched as men in orange boiler suits and hard hats ran about frantically trying to sort out the problem. A thread-like rope was passed between the two vessels and incredibly did not snap as the tug boat took up the slack and began to drag the huge vessel which had drifted well outside the buoyed channel, into the safety of the harbour. This little drama provided a welcome distraction from the continuous effort of paddling. I was nearly there now though and as I passed the lighthouse on St Mary’s Island I began searching for our car among the ranks of vehicles parked on the cliff top as I knew Linda was waiting for me somewhere. I saw two canoeists hurriedly carry their boats down to the water and start heading towards me. I guessed it must be Ray and his friend Richard who had asked to join me for the short paddle across WhitleyBay. Ray is a well built chap and his large frame was squeezed into an Ottersport touring kayak that he had modified to protect a dodgy back. He had recently paddled this craft the length of the Caledonian Canal during the club’s annual tour. Even more commendable is the fact that his wife Paula did the same journey in a Dagger RPM, a short playboat not designed for long expeditions. Members of Tynemouth Canoe Club were there to greet us as we landed through the small surf on the fine sandy beach. I made a hash of the landing but fortunately the chairman of the club was quick enough to save my embarrassment of being dragged backwards by the undertow into the next wave by grabbing the toggle on the bow of my kayak and hauling me ashore. It was a lovely welcome the club gave me and they were considerate enough not to bombard me with questions and gave me a chance to eat some of the food Linda had prepared on the barbeque. A family based club they have a great setup with a hut right on Tynemouth’s best beach which gets some good surf. I was pleasantly surprised at how attractive a place Whitley Bay is and Linda and I are extremely grateful to the hospitality shown by Ray and Paula.
After a comfortable night I was back to it and another long day past more sandy beaches juxtaposed with coalmines and chemical plants. The lack of wildlife was now quite noticeable and I yearned for the wilderness of the west coast. Looking inland as I crossed the mouth of the River Tees was like staring into the bowels of industrial Britain, dreadfully ugly but I knew that the country could not function without it. The magnitude of it all was actually quite impressive; this was the country’s engine room, the driving force behind our modern comfortable lives and I suppose I am just grateful that I do not have to live anywhere near it! I finished the day at Redcar, on the North Yorkshire coast and I knew that the landscape would change once more as I headed south.
A beautiful morning saw Linda head off down the beach for a run with Handel as I paddled along the long promenade that extends all the way to Marske-by-the Sea. During my journey around the British Isles I have been fascinated by the various designs of the fishing boats and their construction and how this is affected by the type of fishing and method of launch and recovery. From the featherweight currachs of the west coast of Ireland that can be dragged or even carried by a man on his own, to the slightly heavier but still relatively lightweight yoals of Orkney and Shetland. Now I was admiring the much heavier duty clinker built yawls with elegant swept back sterns and oversized arched tillers that complimented the graceful lines of these working boats. Each brightly painted boat, waiting patiently on the beach had its own ancient tractor used for launching from the gently shelving beach. The fine Edwardian architecture of the beach front hotels and apartments gave Marske-by-the-Sea and its neighbour; Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a sense of timelessness and was in stark contrast to the amusement arcades and fast food outlets of Redcar.
The Cleveland Hills end abruptly in high, crumbling, almost sheer cliffs, the first I had seen since St Abb’s Head. Extensive wave-cut rock platforms produced some small, nicely formed barrels and two dedicated east coast surfers were making the most of the dying swell on the reefs outside the quaint harbour of Staithes. After stopping for a comfort break and getting some very curious looks from the hordes of visitors I headed back out exchanging pleasantries with the surfers who advised me to be wary of the unusual sexual habits of ‘the boys from Whitby’!
The line of cliffs continued until I reached the wide sandy bay of Sandsend where I had arranged to meet Linda. I could see her driving up and down the seafront looking desperately for a parking place. It was alright for me, I just pootled along in my kayak, rocked up on some beach and expected to get fed. Linda had to run with the dog, get a shower, break up camp, navigate single-handed (Handel is not much use with a road map), drive to the selected location remembering to purchase some fresh food including something naughty like a custard slice to keep her man happy! At least the sun was shining for a change and I would even say it was hot! Of course it didn’t last long. No sooner had I passed Whitby, giving it a suitably wide berth just in case ‘the boys’ did take a fancy to me, than the weather changed for the worse, the sun went in and a fresh wind blew from the south. I am not sure why Robin Hood’s Bay is considered to be so beautiful. Linda and I both agreed that from the land and the sea it was nothing special (sorry!) and not worthy of stopping for. Linda went ahead to find a campsite near Scarborough and I kept plugging away, grinding out the miles. I was finding the east coast mentally and physically demanding and my motivation was waning just a little.
I landed through dumping surf at high tide on the first beach I came to which generated a few stares from holidaymakers who had most probably never seen the likes of me before. The passengers of an open top bus waiting to be shown the delights of Scarborough got more than they’d bargained for when I accidentally dropped my towel as I hurriedly got changed once Linda had arrived. We couldn’t quite understand what makes the resort so popular but it clearly is – the place was heaving with tourists. The demand for the traditional British seaside holiday still seems to be there and Scarborough was thriving.
It poured down with rain again during the night and into the morning ensuring a slow and reluctant start to my paddling day. The wind was supposed to be from the south but as I negotiated the wind-whipped waves of the opposing tide race off the point at Filey and began the long drag towards the huge chalk spur of Flamborough Head it seemed to have more than a little east in it. I overtook a chap sailing a Laser dinghy through the tide race and into the bay. It had to be the same guy that I had first heard about at Scrabster and then again at Berwick-Upon-Tweed where he reportedly capsized off the end of the pier. He had apparently had a lifeboat called out to him three times so far during is circumnavigation of mainland Britain. I left him beating into the headwind and I can only assume he turned and headed into Filey because I never saw him again. Conditions on the north side of Flamborough Head were really difficult – not dangerous – just really slow and painful. The bow of my kayak lifted and slammed into each wave throwing bucketfuls of brown sea water at me that tasted as bad as it looked. I had arranged to meet Linda for lunch at Hornsea but soon realised that I would not make it that far and that I would do well to get past the headland. I texted her asking her to return to Bridlington – I was determined to make it that far. The unusual sight of gannets nesting on chalk cliffs distracted me for a while and I tried to remain positive but I couldn’t help thinking that the east coast was supposed to be easier than this. I was being made to work hard for every mile of it and I could see the days I had gained sliding from my grasp and there was nothing I could do about it. A close friend had told me to not allow the paddling to become a chore but that is exactly what this was. There is nothing enjoyable about head-banging into a force five I can tell you! I inched my way ever so slowly around the headland and had it not been for the fact that the tide had turned in my favour I am not sure I would have managed it. I found an ideal egress point on the south side of the headland, by the lifeboat station. I rang Linda, begging her to come and get me and take me away from the sea.
We headed into Bridlington to do some shopping but very quickly wished we hadn’t. Let’s just say the best bit of Bridlington is the road out! The over-priced caravan and camping site nearest to the lifeboat station on Flamborough Head was like a huge sprawling council estate with noise to match. Linda resorted to her earplugs and me to my radio headphones to enable us to get some sleep.
The next morning Keith Henson, a freelance photographer was waiting for me at what is known locally as South Landing on Flamborough Head. Apparently he had been following my progress on the website but how he knew I was going to be at that specific location I have no idea.
Anyway he took some photos which he subsequently sent to Dominic for the website which were of excellent quality. The sun was shining but the wind stubbornly remained, though perhaps not quite as strong as the previous day. I had a long hard slog along the rapidly eroding clay cliffs of the East Riding. Linda met me at Hornsea for lunch and that was the best bit of the day, the rest was a monotonous trudge through glutinous brown water with the only point of interest the line of world war two defences that is now in places several hundred yards out to sea. The rate of erosion is understandably of great concern to the residents. Linda saw a road painted with double yellow lines that stopped where it literally fell into the sea. I passed caravan sites whose land was fast being devoured despite makeshift sea defences and several houses abandoned and left to collapse into the hungry North Sea. Where serious effort has been put into protecting the coastline from the sea’s advance one can only imagine that in time these will become islands or at best peninsulas as the land on either side gets washed away. Impressive coastal armour defends Withernsea from attack by winter storms but it has not always been so and a plaque on the wall next to where Linda had parked at the day’s end described how two of the town’s churches including their graveyards had succumbed to the ocean’s advance.
It rained most of the night and it was still raining in the morning as I put to sea. The Marine Conservation Society was in the news warning bathers that the un-seasonal rainfall was likely to cause sewerage systems to fail causing raw sewage to be washed out to sea – marvellous! I paddled against the tide that was already high and causing waves to smash against the soft cliffs which were crumbling before my eyes. It is not often you actually get to see a geological process in action – normally erosion takes decades, even centuries to show some effect. Here it was happening at the equivalent of light speed and nothing but a miracle would stop it. Such a ‘miracle’ has taken place where a large chemical works had been built – I am sure for good reason almost at the very tip of Spurn Head. A huge wall of imported rock has been deposited on the seaward side of the plant presumably costing millions of pounds. Where there is a will there’s a way…How long will it last I wonder?
The wooden defences built to protect the road cresting the natural spit of Spurn Head had proved to be woefully inadequate and the tarmac lies in chunks on the sand. But the spit is still there as is the lighthouse and the control tower and pier for the world famous Humber Pilots. Just how difficult the entrance to the ports of Kingston-upon-Hull and Grimsby via the River Humber really is was apparent as I fought against the tide that ran out into the North Sea in a series of foaming races and huge swirling over-falls. Several large ships lay at anchor offshore waiting their turn to come in. As I sat having my lunch waiting for the tide to slacken a large ferry passed unbelievably close to the same shore around which I had just paddled. Its shallow draught and powerful engines meant it could enter even at low water and the size and speed of the huge vessel reminded me that I would need to have my wits about me when I did venture across the river mouth. It was my falling body temperature and not the speed of the tide that determined when I set out. Initially I pointed upstream, ferry gliding so that I crossed the shipping channel at right angles. I knew the Pilots would be watching and I did not want to give them cause for complaint. Once I reached Bull Sand Fort, a rusting relic of the second world war that could well have been the inspiration for some of the set designs in the Mad Max films, I was satisfied I was no longer in danger of being swept into the tide races and out into the North Sea. I turned south and let the northerly wind blow me past the waiting ships. Even though they were at anchor and going nowhere it was still intimidating passing in front of their huge bows. By chance I had timed my crossing perfectly and no sooner was I across than a procession of ships left the Humber and a thick veil of drizzle obscured everything from view.
From Cleethorpes a huge bank of sand extends for many miles to the south and east and it was almost impossible to establish how much progress I was making as I traversed this featureless seascape. What appeared at first to be a large crowd of people turned out to be a huge colony of seals – as far as I could tell a mix of both common and grey seals, numbering several hundred and the water churned as the more energetic and adventurous played chicken with me as I paddled past. I have never seen so many seals in one place before and they were a welcome sight, the first sea mammals I had seen since CoquetIsland. The wind was more of a hindrance than a help until I reached the corner of the sandbank where a small creek enters the sea off Saltfleet, then the wind was directly behind me and I had a thrilling half hour surfing some big ‘runners’ down to Mablethorpe. Linda had intimated on the phone that I had a bit of a reception waiting for me and as I drew closer to the smart new lifeboat station on the promenade I watched a Coastguard Landrover roar down the beach with its blue lights flashing. As I surfed onto the sand the Mablethorpe Coastguard Rescue Team leapt out of the Landrover and stood to attention briefly before gathering round and shaking me by the hand. Linda got out of the Landrover too with a broad grin on her face! What a great welcome! One of them said “You’re much bigger than we had imagined you would be”. I looked at Linda and she burst with laughter – she had clearly put them up to that one. Everywhere I had been up until now folk had made mention of my lack of stature. They had imagined some paddling Goliath with arms like tree trunks and seemed quite disappointed when I appeared to be very average.
Now that I had stopped paddling I realised it was chucking it down but that didn’t deter these guys! As a team they carried my fully laden kayak up the beach and into the dry of the lifeboat station. Mick Hawes, the press officer for Mablethorpe Lifeboat had arranged this reception for me and was disappointed that not more people had turned up. As usual the media had expressed an interest but failed to show. I reassured him that this was one of the best welcomes I had received anywhere and especially considering I hadn’t even intended to stop at Mablethorpe. Mick had bumped into Linda earlier that afternoon and arranged it all within an hour. The Coastguard Rescue Team had turned up in full uniform and I felt deeply humbled and I just hope I showed my appreciation. Having made use of the hot shower in the lifeboat station I found Linda surrounded by men in uniform and looking very pleased with herself. We chatted for a while and then followed Mick to a campsite he’d recommended The rain held off long enough to get the tent up and take Handel for a short walk before it threw it down again.
The following day was a day of two halves; during the morning I caught the last bit of tide down the continuous beach for twelve miles past the huge Butlins Holiday complex to Skegness. I had a box of supplies and maps to collect at the lifeboat station and the coxswain, John Irvine had already been in touch to find out what time I would be arriving. He wanted to send the D-Class Inshore Lifeboat out to meet me but I didn’t want to cause a fuss, nor did I want it to appear like I had just been rescued! As it turned out they were out practising in the surf anyway and I was certainly grateful of the help of the shore crew who grabbed the front of my kayak as I surfed the considerable beach break onto the steeply shelving shingle beach.
Skegness was heaving with holidaymakers enjoying a rare warm sunny day and there was a buzz about the lifeboat station. I had my photo taken with some of the crew and John talked me through the crossing of the Wash, recommending that I leave a couple of hours before low water and stay well out from the complex of sandbanks that began at Gibraltar Point just south of Skegness. By using three of the channel marker buoys as waypoints I would be able to safely cross this notorious basin formed by the Great Ouse, Nene, Welland and Witham river estuaries. The timing gave me a couple of hours to stow my supplies, much of which would go in the car once Linda had fought her way through the holiday traffic.
It was a lovely afternoon for a crossing, light winds, superb visibility and not too hot as cloud bubbled up over the land. As John had predicted a sea breeze set in during the afternoon which slowed my progress as did the tide which began flooding from the south. I could clearly see the shoreline of Hunstanton but stayed out making landfall on the beautiful sand dune island of Scolt Head. This wild shore was in complete contrast to the heavily engineered coastline I had just left and is definitely worthy of a second visit. A subtle sunset of pastel pinks and greys provided a stunning backdrop as I finally negotiated the sand bars and spit at the entrance to Wells-next-the-Sea. Linda had already pitched the tent in a quagmire of a campsite so we headed into town to find something to eat. We resisted the temptation to eat at one of the posh restaurants and opted instead for another chip supper – I sure know how to treat a lady! Despite the obligatory amusement arcades, fast food outlets and tacky gift shops, Wells retains a lot of character and I would imagine is a lovely place to visit out of season.
The Paul Naylor PR machine had done its stuff and I was being inundated with requests for radio interviews and before I left Wells I did a quick bit of filming for Anglian TV – it was good of the reporter/cameraman to turn out on a Sunday morning. It was a gorgeous sunny morning but the shelter in the harbour gave a false impression of the day I was about to have. To be honest, when I had written my route plan for this stretch of coast I had been wildly optimistic about the amount of mileage I could expect to achieve. I had imagined warm summer days with light winds and favourable tides that would allow me to clock up successive 50mile days. You should never base a plan on perfect conditions and the East Coast was once again to prove more difficult than I had bargained for. As soon as I had left the river mouth I was into a headwind that increased to a F4 or 5 by the time I reached Sheringham. I was dispirited and lethargic and felt I owed myself a break. Surf dumped on the steep pebble beach and under the expectant gaze of a throng of holiday makers I made a fairly respectable landing on the only patch of sand available next to the wooden slip way. Even so there were enough stones underneath the sand to make me winse as gelcoat hit rock and lost the fight. Ashore in the shelter of the promenade the wind was absent and I felt really guilty calling it a day but I think Linda was secretly pleased as she had spent much of the last few days in the car despite the good weather. We found a cliff top campsite and went for a run – a pleasant change to be working my legs after day after day sat in the boat. The Olympics in Athens was in full swing and several people made the obvious comments like “Come on Paula [Radcliffe]!” as Linda and I ran past. We were missing all the TV coverage and becoming increasingly frustrated by the poor quality of the blanket coverage by Radio 5 Live. The hosts seemed so quick to criticise our athletes and mock those participating in the less popular sports I became increasingly annoyed with their obsession with sporting celebrities – surely the Olympics is one time when the media should be giving the listening public a chance to find out a bit more about sports such as archery and dare I say canoeing? It came to a head for me when Nikki Cambell, who should have stuck with Wheel of Fortune, referred to canoeing as rowing. It’s just a good job our athletes were more professional in their preparation for the event than the media!
Linda cooked a veritable feast for dinner despite the fact that it had begun to rain once more.
Torrential rain throughout the night – some of the most intense I had ever experienced under canvas continued into the morning and I needed no more excuse to declare a rest day. It was a chance to spend the day with Linda before she was due to head home in two days time. We went to the lovely city of Norwich and bought a three piece suite! Well you do don’t you? (I am glad to say it subsequently arrived in one piece and looks great).
No excuses the next day, big mileage to be done. Having passed Cromer, a quintessential English seaside town, I seemed to have the tide with me for most of the day from there on. Paul and Teresa Naylor are friends that we had met through the Marine Conservation Society and with whom I shared a mutual love of diving. Dr Paul Naylor is marine biologist and one of the U.K.’s leading underwater photographers and has published a beautiful and informative book, “Great British Marine Animals” (see www.marinephoto.org.uk). He was eager to bring their son Sam to meet me on a beach somewhere on the east coast. In the end we met up at Caister-on-Sea and Paul’s enthusiasm for my challenge re-invigorated my own determination to see it through.
South past Great Yarmouth – a rather disappointingly drab place when viewed from the sea, I finally arrived after an eleven hour day at Lowestoft where Linda had found a beachside campsite. I was exhausted but pleased with my progress. The campsite was more like a gypsy traveller’s site than a holiday resort but it served our purposes well and our makeshift tarpaulin over the tailgate of the car came in useful once more as yet again it started to rain. Linda was having a pretty grim time of it and I was feeling increasingly guilty about the fact that her summer holiday had been spent in the pouring rain.
Paul and Sam arrived just before dusk and I spent a fascinating hour bombarding him with questions about the marine environment. As well as a leading authority on anything that lives in our waters he is a pollution inspector for the Environment Agency and I quizzed him about the safety records of the nuclear power stations he inspects. I was about to paddle past one (actually two) – Sizewell A & B and interestingly Paul, who has no reason to be defensive of nuclear power – far from it, stated that if I was looking to dish the dirt on environmental polluters then I would find far worse offenders than the nuclear industry who have a relatively ‘clean’ record.
The following day I made good progress with the tide following the sand and shingle beach past Southwold to Sizewell. Huge volumes of seawater are used to cool the nuclear reactors and I passed close to one of the outlets which is just a hundred metres or so offshore. The large hump of churning, frothing brown seawater was being picked over by a flock of gulls and terns and I can only guess that fish like it too because several anglers had cast into the boiling mass. The water temperature on my hands was significantly warmer for a mile or more as the heat slowly dissipated.
I met Linda for an early lunch at Aldeburgh, a very smart-looking, wealthy little town which has managed to retain much of its original charm with fishing boats lining the high shingle ridge that provides a natural defence to the North Sea. As I passed the lifeboat station two members of the crew made a point of walking down the shore and waving me on. Thank you, whoever you were, that is all the recognition I desire.
It was a big ask, but I wanted to make Felixstowe by the end of the day. It was a natural point for Linda and I to go our separate ways but it was still a good few hours away. The shingle spit of Orford Ness continued unbroken for over ten miles and I tried to use the wind and tide to good effect heading directly across HollesleyBay for the Martello tower near the small village of Shingle Street. Built to defend England from an expected invasion by Napoleon there is a chain of these towers along the east and south coast, some of which have been converted into unusual residences. The tide was rushing into the River Deben and I could tell I was paddling into the realm of the yellow bootie brigade as the number of yachts and other pleasure craft activity increased significantly. Fair play to them though because it looked to be a tricky entrance to navigate with a rush of tide between the sand banks.
There are some very nice seafront properties along the shore of Old Felixstowe and there is a nice feel to the ‘new’ town of Felixstowe, perhaps surprising since it is home to one of the U.K.’s largest container ports. I arrived in torrential rain and poor Linda got soaked for the hundredth time having already pitched the tent on a sodden campsite. We had decided to splash out (ha ha!) for our last evening together and went out for dinner and by chance found a very smart restaurant/wine bar called “The Alex” on the seafront which had a diverse menu and a pleasant ambience. I was suffering with fatigue and hay fever though and only just managed to stay awake through to the end of the meal. Great company I am!
I won’t labour the point; despite having seen very little of me and when she did I was mostly sneezing or snoring, for some reason Linda was sad to be leaving the expedition and heading home. I was sad too – although having her around had been a distraction and possibly slowed me down a little, I am not sure I would have been able to keep on going without her support and encouragement. I had found the east coast psychologically extremely tough going especially with the grim weather we had experienced. The thought of not seeing her fantastic smile and fit body for another five, or six weeks brought me close to tears as we hugged and said goodbye. I could see Linda was upset too so I quickly got in my kayak and paddled off, the sooner I got going, the sooner I would be home.
Whilst Linda enjoyed the pleasure of the M25 London Orbital motorway I crossed to Walton-on-the-Naze plagued by the incessant south westerly that allowed several yachts with full sails to overtake me on their way to a big air display at Clacton-on-Sea. I reeled them in again once I was able to tuck into the lee shore of the Naze and by doing so escaped the wind and tide. I clawed my way along the shore, overtaking the yachts to my left and passed the ‘bucket-and-spade’ resorts of Walton and Frinton. I began to hatch another cunning plan: I was due to reach Southend-on-Sea by the end of the day but to achieve this I would have to head far south, out into the Thames Estuary to avoid the sand banks off Foulness. If I had to go that far out then why not just keep on going, right across to Kent? It would mean a big, big day, perhaps 60miles but I had no-one to rendezvous with on the other side so what did it matter if I didn’t finish until after dark? I had a chartlet which in very basic terms described the layout of the sandbanks and buoys and I figured that if I went due south from Clacton I would be be bound to hit somewhere on the Kent coast!
As I headed out through the choppy waters I watched the first part of the air display off Clacton. For me the Harrier jump jet stole the show with some awesome displays of simulated vertical take-offs, hovers and some cranking turns and passes at full speed. I was well across by the time the Red Arrows with customary precision formed into their characteristic diamond-head formation and with nose lights glaring tore across the sea low and fast towards the flotilla of pleasure craft and crowds of tourists waiting expectantly on the seafront.
As I buoy-hopped my way southwards I tried to stay in the channels to make use of the flooding tide where I could but I will admit to scraping the sand with my paddles on one occasion – a good job I was not skippering a craft with a keel! I could see Shivering Sand Fort for many hours before I finally paddled beneath the bizarre-looking rusting metal structures, frozen like disabled Martians from the ‘War of the Worlds’ with the tide rushing between their concrete legs.
Another strange object had kept me guessing on my journey south. I kept looking at my map and chart but could find nothing that related to it. Initially I thought it was an oil rig but as it slowly came into focus as I drew closer it transpired it was a huge ship jacked up on stilts. The Resolution appeared to be driving what I took to be the foundations for massive wind turbines into the sea bed. I find the scale of such civil engineering projects quite staggering and it was certainly an awesome sight seeing a ship weighing many thousands of tons jacked up on huge stilts thirty or more feet above water level. The lights from this vessel provided a useful reference as I headed towards the neon strip that was Herne Bay and Whitstable. I was becoming concerned as I had been unable to raise the Coastguard on my VHF. I needed to advise them of my change of route and expected late arrival on the Kent shore. It was gone 8.30pm and definitely dark by the time I found the wooden slipway of Herne Bay Sailing Club and finally set foot on dry land. The Coastguard radio operator I eventually spoke to was cool and did not appear to have been the least bit worried by my whereabouts. I wondered how late I would have to be before the alarm was raised? It had been the biggest mileage day of the expedition and I was knackered!
Parking my kayak between dinghies I found the only slightly level spot on the steep grass bank and pitched my tent – only to find out later that this was the haunt for the local yobs who clearly had nothing better to do than skulk about in the dark on the seafront and hurl abuse at each other. They got a little more reaction than they had expected when one of them carelessly or deliberately cycled into the tent. They left me alone after that!