Category: England east coast

Favourite people and places

If ever I were asked for a list of my favourite places then Newton Bay is one that would be very close to the top. It is part of Northumberland’s North Sea coastline and is a place given natural shelter by a rocky reef, where the sand is soft, the sea is invariably cold and the light has a special quality about it.Dunstanburgh Castle

Some years ago, with our young children on board and just as the daylight was fading (so rather later in the day than we might have liked) we can recall piloting our sailing boat into Newton Bay, following closely behind a friend in his shallow draft cruiser. Although we bumped our keel on the rocks which give the bay such fine protection from the North Sea swell, no harm was done and we were soon anchored safely. In those days there was rarely a sailing trip we made that was without some incident, some excitement, which raised the blood pressure for a short while. This being the early days of our family sailing we were learning steeply, each trip taught us a new lesson, this one being “Never assume it is safe to follow another boat”. Our keel was made of iron and suffered little from its encounter and the wound we made in the weed-covered rock no doubt also healed over quickly. Maybe we inadvertently dislodged a crab or two, for which I belatedly apologise, but the day was one of many memorable ones on board our tiny boat, ‘Noggin the Nog’.

Today the beach at Newton is just as it was then; there are the dunes which hide a small haven for wildlife, there is the same small collection of houses and there is the pub, closed to us then with our small children in tow and closed again as we revisit the place, it being mid morning. The ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle also still stand on their rock overlooking the sea, little changed in the thirty years since our last visit nor indeed since being abandoned back in the 16th Century, by which time the Scottish border was considered to be stable enough, England no longer feeling under threat from those north of the border. Today the position is reversed, of course.

We visit this familiar place not specifically on a jaunt down memory lane, however. It is simply that having travelled so widely around the coast of Britain we inevitably find ourselves revisiting old haunts, our exploring genes ensuring that we rarely pass by without broadening our experience inventory.

Mal&Kate at StAbbsSo it is that we find ourselves taking a selfie on the  very highest point of St Abbs Head, which also juts out into the North Sea and overlooks the mouth of the Forth of Firth a place past which we sailed on more than a few occasions. We have crossed the border into Scotland now but the wind that we lean into blows mild air from the south giving the impression it has crossed a much warmer sea than the one stretched out before us. We are perched up here on the edge of Winter but the season itself has yet to arrive. There is, however, a battle going on in the sky above us, one that followed us south a week ago and which still rages as we make our way homewards. Back then we would be driving through torrential rain with the sun in our eyes then five minutes later on the dry road would be overshadowed by black rainbow-spewing clouds.wild skies

As we head west the rain lashes horizontally across the road, our campervan staggers to the gusts, while I pull at the steering wheel to keep us moving in a straight line. We are en route home now heading for our nearest branch of B&Q where we have a mission to accomplish. It is  a little over one hundred miles by road from where we live to this, our closest DIY superstore, so I have saved up a little list of things I need for my latest project, adding some wooden decking around Ducky’s carport (something we now affectionately call the ‘Bus Shelter’). Our mobile home now becomes a builder’s van as we load up with large pieces of wood, bags of cement and a few other bits that were not on the list. Once loaded, the extra weight on board means the gusty wind can barely affect us but the rain falls in great floods as we negotiate the final turns in the long and winding road back to Carradale.

In a little over a week we have completed a 1700 mile trip around Britain, visiting a sample of our scattered family and friends along the way. In Bristol we bumped into a rare coloured gorilla and met up with our youngest, Ben, just back from an American tour with hgorilla in Bristolis band, Frogbelly and Symphony, and still somewhat jet-lagged. Having recently moved into this city, Ben has set himself the challenge of creating a new music scene there where  none currently exists, so watch out Bristolians! Down in Cornwall we dropped in on my sole surviving aunt, Jessie, who we would love to take back home with us but fear this might not sit well with the rest of her family. Instead, we gave her a gift of some Edinburgh rock and as much of our company as she could stand. In Worthing our eldest, Tony, took us for a walk along the shore to his favourite beach, a place where the flint pebbles look like old dinosaur bones, then in Yeovil, Kate’s brother, Peter, offered us a comfy bed for a few nights while his wife, Liz, fed us in style.

Back home now the season has definitely changed as brown leaves are stripped from the trees by the wind. Our stove is alight, ready for its first full winter trial, and if we run out of logs then we’ll just start on the furniture.

Rambling around Kent

It occurs to us that we are once again travelling around Britain in an anti-clockwise direction. Having done this around the coast by boat, turning left at every corner, we wonder whether the fact that we are now describing the same motion on land might mean that we are, like the water in the plughole, programmed against rotating clockwise, forever constrained by gravity and the motion of the earth. Whatever the reason, we travel onward in an easterly direction until we nearly run out of land, which neatly brings us into Kent.Ducky at Dungate

Ducky fits tidily into the drive of Rich and Gerry’s house at Dungate where we are accommodated during this part of our travels. Our friends, in training for future trekking holidays, take us with them on one of their jaunts around the Kentish countryside, in company with a few others, and we revel in the sudden warm spell that conveniently arrives for us. This part of the country is familiar to us but after so long away the vegetation appears dried out compared to what we might find in Scotland. We walk all day without once getting water inside our boots, an experience unheard of on any Scottish hillside, but despite this we enjoy ourselves and find the company engaging and enjoyable. TheMondayRamblersThis group regularly go walking together, usually on a Monday for some strange reason, taking pains to ensure the chosen route has interest and sufficient length to satisfy without exhausting anyone. Our day out as incomers to the group happened to be planned by Rich himself, so we just knew it would be entertaining somewhere along the way, and we were not to be disappointed. Although mostly walking on vaguely marked paths across farm land, on arriving at the edge of one largish village (or maybe it would be a small town) we are directed straight through a fully operational industrial estate where large lorries are being loaded, fork-lift trucks careering about everywhere. The signposted footpath, clearly of much greater vintage than the industrial park, is marked on the ground here with yellow paint and beset with safety barriers and warnings so that meandering walkers do not impede the important business operations or vehicle movements. We follow, although not without some trepidation, until safely back on more familiar ground again. Surely only in the garden of little England could so much effort be dedicated to preserving the historic route of a footpath across a piece of land regardless of what is subsequently built there.

Swale walkers

Several days later we are on another ramble, this time along the north Kent shore of The Swale, that stretch of water separating the inhabitants of the Isle of Sheppey from the rest of us. With all this exercise we feel that total fitness ought to strike us at any moment… but somehow it eludes us still and we are left with the same aching limbs and wonky knees.

The Swale fails to achieve the status of a river largely because it has an exit to the sea at each end, but this does not prevent it having currents, strong ones too, that ebb and flow simultaneously towards or away from a watershed at the centre. During each tide the precise spot at which both tides meet migrates along the Swale due to an imbalance in the flows from each end so that calculating direction of the current and the depth of water at any single point along the way is a complex, almost mystical, business. It is, however, wisdom that is deeply ingrained in many of the sailors who use these waters and at least some of that knowledge still remains within Kate and me from the days when we used  to sail here regularly. Memories from our earliest sailing days, with young children on board our small boat, come back to us as we dawdle along the Kent shore, past the crumbling remains of the explosives factory and beside the low-tide mud of the Swale itself.Ducky and caonpy

After our walk we all climb into Ducky for a brew of tea whilst I enthuse about her virtues as a mobile home. The latest addition to our caravanning armoury, I point out to those still awake, is the canopy which fits over our side door. This was very much a trial and error thing but we are pleased to be able to report, to all those along our journey who have helped with ladders, advice and electric drills, that it now works precisely as intended, as this picture shows. A big thanks to everyone on the canopy committee.

This is the point in our journey around Britain where we turn left towards home. We still have a few friends to visit (and some to make, we hope), some relations to drop in on, but heading north has a different feel now as we can taste the mountains of Scotland over the horizon.

Cornwall to Scotland days 26 to 28

Day 26 – If there is one thing we are learning about on our travels around Britain it is the relative merits and demerits of marinas and harbours. You could almost call us expert, in fact, since inevitably we do compare facilities between one and another. We have a scale of merit, for example, for showers. To score ten points they must be hot, spacious, clean and of course free. We accept that it is unlikely we are ever going to find a ten-pointer but this is nevertheless something all showers should aspire to.

When is comes to the cost of berthing there is very much a north-south divide, the south coast of England being almost guaranteed to be the most costly. One might perhaps expect there to be some correlation between the price being charged and the quality of the facilities, whether these be showers or something as simple as the state of repair of the pontoons but this is not so at all. Many ports seem to base their charges more on the basis of what they can get away with and when you are coming in from a turbulent sea naturally the last thing on your mind is the price of a safe haven.

It is the practice of charging multihulls (catamarans and trimarans) more than other boats that we really take issue with. The justification always given is that these boats are wider than others and therefore they take up the space of one and a half or two other vessels. Very often this may be true but Cirrus Cat, whilst being a catamaran, is not a wide boat. At a little under four and a half metres she is less wide than many modern monohull sailing boats and certainly narrower than most large powerboats. Yet she is a multihull and many marinas will impose the additional charge regardless of this fact.

ScarboroughThe most glaring example of this practice we find today in Scarborough Harbour where the list of charges makes it clear that any multihull wider than three metres must be charged at a higher rate. I look around the marina now and can see that most of the yachts are wider than this but having only one hull means they are paying less than we are. My attempts at arguing this point to the berthing master fall on deaf ears, however. We feel unwelcome in Scarborough, pariahs even. It is the most expensive harbour we have stayed at so far this year (charging more than anywhere on the south coast) and the shower and toilet facilities are the worst, by a significant margin. Even after finding a shower that delivered hot water I could only give it one point at best. I would recommend this harbour to no-one In fact I would advise yachtsman to stay away from this port if at all possible. Or maybe they already are – the visitor pontoon is after all nearly empty.

Day 27 – And so, at an early hour, and after pleasant dreams inspired by the delicious sweet potato pie Kate made for dinner the night before, Sweet potato piewe bid farewell to Scarborough and its hoards of holidaymakers with their needy children and their scruffy little dogs. We turn left out of the port and head straight into some horrible steep waves which toss us around like a cork but the fierce current generating them carries us through quickly, though not before a few splashes of sea had found their way into one of our open hatches. Chastened, we plod on towards Hartlepool in rather more benign conditions. An early start always means a cool start, the day never really seems to get going before ten in the morning, but our arrival at Hartlepool around one in the afternoon was greeted by powerful sunshine making up for what we missed earlier. Motoring along in company with Paul Hardaker, who had a date to keep with the press covering his trip, made a pleasant change for us and gave us someone to chat with on the radio along the way. The wind was not unkind, being just another northerly, but we have had rather too much motoring than suits us. Our ever-reliable weather-forecasters promise that tomorrow will bring a big change, a wind from the south to blow us to Scotland.

Day 28 – Sooner or later this practice of getting up early in the morning to go sailing will seem like normal behaviour. On balance, though, I suspect it will be later.

Having locked out of Hartlepool we are determined to get our sails up and get along without the engine if we can. Car carrier off TyneThe swelly sea does not make this easy, however, as it shakes the light southerly wind from the sails and at first we are making little progress. We persevere and after an hour or so there are some ripples on the water which tell us this will be a spinnaker day, and up it goes. By the time we pass Tynemouth, Cirrus is beginning to blast along and we coast through the ship anchorage, dodging left and right so as not to bump into anything big. These are car carriers, which bring new cars into the country by the deck-load, large floating steel boxes with few concessions to beauty.

We sail on with the wind increasing and the sea rising until just before Coquet Island when it is time to snuffle our brightly coloured sail, to control it before it tries to control us. These are like home waters to us, bringing back memories of our first sailing boat, Noggin The Nog, which we used to moor in the river at Amble. Many’s the time we sailed out with our three young children on board to face the enormous waves, maybe the same ones that we rolled through today. We were novices then, knowing no better than to go out when the mist hung over the island and there were breakers across the bar at the entrance to Amble Harbour. In many ways the place hasn’t changed at all – the puffins still wheel around us at sea, little wings flapping madly and feet paddling the sea frantically as they try to get out of our way -although now there is a fine marina at Amble where there was none before.

Zuma at sea off TynemouthPaul arrives in port soon after us, tired out after enduring the wind and waves. His is a massive challenge to undertake, to sail alone around Britain, and we have great admiration for what he is doing. He has been great company for us too and Finley’s singing and whistling has been a delight.

Cornwall to Scotland days 24 and 25

Day 24 – There are no permanent staff in the Humber Cruising Association clubhouse bar so its opening hours depend on a member being around with time to spare and a key to open up. When it does open, as you would expect, the bar acts like a magnet to sailors whose boats are scattered around the No.2 Fish Dock on the long pontoons which make up the marina complex. These are connected to the shore at only one point, however, making it a long walk if you are berthed farthest away. But there is a collection of bikes on a rack near the shore ramp which can be used by anyone and can save a lot of walking. Some caution is clearly advised after a few drinks at the bar because if one wheel were to swerve off the pontoon edge in the dark then the water would swallow both the rider and the bike and nobody would be any the wiser.

It is here in Grimsby that we bump into two other round Britain sailors. Paul Hardaker started from Liverpool in May and like us is turning left at every corner. He and his pet parrot, ‘Finley’, are on a sponsored sail for Crohn’s and Colitis Charity and have experienced all sorts of adventures on their passage – they are only half way round! A week ago, Finley, who is quite talkative, bluffed his way out of his cage and flew off to explore Grimsby but his navigation (or his loyalty) did not equip him for finding his way home again. Paul is very attached to the bird and eventually had to offer a reward for Finley’s safe return so that they can continue their journey together. Paul keeps his own blog at www.paulhardakersailing.co.uk which has video clips he makes as he sails along.

We also meet Jean-Pierre, once a harbour-master at La Rochelle in France, who has sailed his yacht ‘St Kilda’ an incredible distance this year to Morocco, Madeira, the Azores, Ireland, Scotland, finally touching the East Coast of England. He has different crew join him along the way and is now in Grimsby waiting for parts to repair the gooseneck on his boom (technical language, but English) before sailing off to Ostend and eventually home again. Chatting with Jean-Pierre and the current crew on board, speaking French as best we can over drinks in the club bar, we are treated to the holiday snaps of André, whose family live on the Isle of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and the feisty politics of Maryse who has a few sailing adventures of her own behind her.

Our own movements are, as ever, controlled by the weather and we spot a window of opportunity appearing tomorrow which should enable us to sail north again to Scarborough.

Day 25 – Bull buoy in the HumberThe River Humber has these cute little yellow ships which are forever chugging along…. but going nowhere. Or so it seems. They are in fact buoys which mark the edges of the shipping lane but when you pass them by it looks just as if they are motoring upstream on their own. In reality we know they are anchored to the bottom of the river and it is the water that passes them by but somehow they have a sad and lonely look about them, forever on a voyage to nowhere.

It is a relief to be out of the river and away from any possibility of meeting a super-tanker or a massive car-carrier coming towards us and we turn north past Spurn Head towards another headland, Flamborough. Today, by contrast to previous days, there is almost no wind at all at six in the morning and the sea is a shining plate of silver jelly that wobbles only to a faint swell. It is hazy, however, and this thickens into a sea level mist which swallows us up and forces us to strain our eyes forward to pick up the randomly scattered floats of lobster pots which lie in our path. The one we miss is the one that will tangle in our propeller so we are constantly vigilant.Approaching Flamborough

By midday the sun has burnt its way through to sea level and we can see Flamborough ahead but our favourable tide has now turned against us, the water now rushing back southwards past us. Progress becomes slow, like swimming through glue, and the hours tick by. We languish around the deck in the sunshine, a light cooling breeze making life pleasant on Cirrus’s foredeck while the cockpit becomes an oven. Gradually the miles pass by as Flamborough’s eroded white cliffs disappear behind us and at last Scarborough emerges from the haze ahead. Paul cuddling FinleyQuite quickly, however, a dark line of cloud rises from the northern horizon and just as we are closing the harbour entrance the wind arrives, as if from nowhere, and we quickly pull on our jackets for protection. We struggle the last few yards into harbour and tie up alongside the visitor pontoon, greatly relieved to be in port and out of the icy blast.

Berthed just ahead of us here is Paul Hardaker’s yacht which left Grimsby the day before us. He spends the evening with us on board bringing Finley with him so we can get to know this lovely bird. FinleyAt first Finley is a little shy but by the end of the night he shows us his best side as he poses for his own photograph.

The northerly wind howls in the rigging all night. This really was a small window which we have grabbed to move ourselves a few miles along our way.

Cornwall to Scotland days 22 and 23

Day 22/23 – The alarm goes off at 0530hrs and we both struggle towards consciousness and the realisation that we have to get up, to get ourselves out of our cosy warm bed to go out into that cold world outside. It is quiet, thank goodness, which means that there is little or no wind blowing. In an ideal world we would want wind, of course, but only so long as it is going our way. For the past four days it has blown steadfastly from a northerly direction so having no wind at all is a welcome relief from this, perfectly acceptable for us. We are about to embark on a passage around a long stretch of coastline which has no safe havens for us to pop into, no ports offering a guarantee of safety should we have need. We must cover a distance of ninety three nautical miles (these are slightly longer than the land ones) around the north-eastern shoulder of East Anglia then head off across the Wash to a landfall in the River Humber, the welcoming arms of Grimsby in fact. With no wind at all this will mean motoring the whole way, not ideal, but the trade off for this is often a flat sea. We know, however, it is unlikely that no wind at all will blow – it is rarely still at sea for long – so we have to hope that whatever does come our way treats us gently.

Once underway we realise that there is some wind, a light westerly blowing off the land but outside the harbour there is also a heavy swell coming from the north-east still lingering from the depression that has been driving our weather for the last week. This is now centred over Denmark. So off we go along the coast to Great Yarmouth, which looks like a supply centre for the wind farms – towers and blades are stacked up just inside the harbour like giant Lego pieces, then staying close inshore past Caister and on past the long and uninteresting line of dunes that protect the Norfolk Broads from the sea, always keeping our eyes peeled for the naturist beach which is along here somewhere. We see a man walking his dog, the dog being naked, but perhaps this doesn’t qualify, and the day was turning out to be a dull one anyway, the wind sneaking in from the north-west now, just where we want to go.

From Cromer (lighthouse flashing once every five seconds, even in daylight) we slant away from the coast, plugging on into the waves using sails and engine, everything we’ve got. The Wash is a shallow expanse of sea dotted with wind farms and gas rigs, shoals occurring at random across our path and the deep swell soon being overlaid with short waves that Cirrus really doesn’t like. Like all catamarans she is quite light and cannot drive through the waves like many yachts do and soon we are being tossed up and down till our knees start to ache and our necks are sore. Ten or twelve knots of wind is not a lot (the forecasters call this ‘light and variable’), force three or four if you know your Beaufort, but after nineteen hours of it full in our faces we have both had enough.

Kate: By the grace of strong tides we made it in at about 2 a.m. this morning and I for one am not a pretty sight. Our bones are still humming with the vibration of the engine through the soles of our feet and the waves were dumping bucket-fulls over the boat right up until we entered Grimsby Fish Dock. I dreaded entering the Humber at night – it’s very difficult to see how far off the lights are, ships and buoys. Cirrus in GrimsbyThe chart tells you which lights flash which colour and the sequence but when that is complicated by other lights and vessels and you are in the recommended yacht passage, you don’t get the same view as the big boys. Speaking of which – we were entering the fish dock channel when a large monster ship started heading our way. We were near the large ship channel but he came incredibly close, nudged by a tug. The depth under us was less than six metres so we couldn’t believe there was enough water where he was. Malcolm steered bravely on, unable to steer too far away from the ship because of a shoal to port. Believe me, everything is surreal after such a long trip and the magic of the dark monsters. When you go in you call up ‘Fish Dock Island’ on VHF channel 74. The man said, “Come in sir, it’s all clear”. There was a gap, to the left of the gap was a beacon flashing red, to the right of the beacon the large monster ship could be seen wriggling through like a very large lady attempting to pass through a turnstile. To me it seemed like an act of faith to go through the gap to the left of the beacon but Malcolm steered through and the lock keeper could see us and guided us over the radio.

This is the second time in a few days that we have seen tugs steering impossibly ungainly floating lumps around, very skilfully. Kate’s brother Jamie sent us this story from where he lives in Australia:
’Your description of the tug boat skilfully handling a large boat in small space reminded me of the recent Brisbane floods. A very large, and heavy (weighing several tonnes), portion of the floating walk/cycleway at Newfarm, an inner Brisbane suburb, broke away at the height of the floods. It rambled on downstream heading for the bay and freedom. The only thing in its path were the twin bridges at the Gateway motorway. As it continued on its merry way engineers feared the worst. Such a large structure striking the bridge pylons could bring down the bridge. As the saga continued on live television a small, old, tug suddenly appeared and started gently nudging the serpent like structure. It darted backward and forward until it managed to swing the walkway into something remotely resembling a 100 metre long canoe. Having completed this they skilfully guided this through between the pylons and out of harms way. All this in raging flood waters littered with debris including boat pontoons and boats drifting along.
The two tug boat Captains have recently received an Australian award for services rendered. They still didn’t grasp what all the fuss was about. They saw the thing on TV and decided they’d better take the tug out, end of story!’

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