We ( Duncan G , Ian H Ian Mc )left from the beach just north of the magnificent Bamburgh Castle into surf just about large enough to get down your neck if you forgot to do up your Velcro.
Thankfully the weather was glorious & the extra moisture actually turned out to be a bonus.
Beyond the surf zone the sea was almost flat calm with little sign of the swell that preceded the beach break. The tide had been running for an hour & despite being neaps we could feel the pull towards Inner Farne as we ferried out to Megstone.
Rounding the back of the rock we decided to continue the open water theme & head straight out to Longstone, the outmost island for lunch. This way we could have lunch over slack water, thread through the islands on the early ebb & make the most of the north going stream for our crossing back to the car. A quick stop to take in the coastguard’s Maritime Safety Info Broadcast on the VHF confirmed the forecast we were working with for the next 24hrs.
An interesting selection of skerries, reefs & lagoons is located along the north-eastern edge of Longstone which I was keen to get in amongst, although Ian H seemed a little more cautious.
“Ah, it looks fine”, I confidently exclaimed, & after a cursory glance over the shoulder to check for random tsunamis I paddled through a rocky gap on the back of a slight heave in the water. Just as I entered the gap however I spotted a reef dead ahead, which had been concealed by the reflecting sunlight. I turned the boat sharply to seek the deeper water to my left in the shelter of a skerry, where I could observe the passage of my companions & warn them of the looming shallows. In this calm sea there was little of concern.
I turned my boat just as Ian H, who had been watching several sets go through just to be extra extra sure, approach the reef. As I was pointing with my paddle towards the deeper water in case he hadn’t seen it, something blue, about 17ft long traveling sideways towards Ian H at about head height caught my eye. It was Ian M, gallantly low bracing on a wall of white water ahead of a random tsunami! There was no time to shout a warning: in a flash there were now two Ians bouncing over the reef amongst a pile of foam, giving it an appearance of alternating blue & white frothy stripes. There was a crunching sound as Ian H’s stern contacted the reef flipping him over, but immediately he rolled in the froth pile & continued his bongo-slide as if nothing un-routine had happened.
Luckily the wave carried both Ians over the top of the reef & deposited them in deeper sheltered water behind where we could re-group, retrieve nerves and hats, & give Ian’s hull a good feel for damage (after ensuring there was not to his head).
Some seals also came over to see what the commotion had been about. A large female poped up within a foot of Ian’s tail & snorted loudly, probably in response to the state of his gelcoat. She disappeared noisily, leaving several of last year’s juveniles to try to rope us in to a game of tag. Perhaps inspired by Ian’s rolling, they made no bones about highlighting the fact that they could do better: nibbling our toggles & attempting to high five our paddle blades without us noticing.
Reluctantly we were forced to extricate our selves from this fantastic company before we all fell in through hunger.
Just around the corner beneath the lighthouse was a tiny sandy beach, just the right size for 3 kayaks.
As stated earlier by the seal, Ian had lost several chunks of gelcoat from those vulnerable skeg box edges, but thankfully no apparent damage to the glass, so no field repairs required, & no adjustment needed to Ian H’s meticulously planned schedule.
The sea became calmer and calmer as we threaded our way through the archipelago. It also became thick with guillemots, razorbills & puffins, happily bobbing around within a few feet of us. The sky was similarly populated, & passing terns proved the abundance of sand eels in the vicinity as they carried them back to their chicks on the islands.
Paddling along the cliffs of Inner Farne we passed under the abodes of the same species plus kittiwakes & shags. Every time I’ve visited these islands I’ve been amazed at the tolerance of the birds here – more so than any other seabird colony I know, & during my RSPB career I’ve worked with quite a few. The Farnes are very special.
The National Trust know this too of course, & as we rounded The Kettle towards the jetty on Inner Farne, a 300m snake of paying customers could be seen. There didn’t appear to be any room for 3 additional people, especially when adorned with bouyacy aids, so we decided to keep with our wilderness illusion rather than taint our magical experience so far by joining a crowd reminiscent of a shopping mall in late December.
A small tide race set up just out from the landing as the water squeezes between intertidal rocks, & I paddled into the teeth of it hoping for a little fun in the standing waves. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite running fast enough to give much sport so I pulled back into the eddies to work our way around the corner giving us access to Inner Sound with its north going stream at full flood.
A flat calm crossing ferried us back to the beach, where the surf had actually picked up a notch. Timing the sets, we picked our way in one by one & without mishap arrived safely in front of Ian’s car.
Hands were shaken all round, & Ian H was duly thanked for his planning & organisation of a fantastic trip.
We took a short trip from Beadnell to Craster on the Sunday due to time constraints. A pleasant & uneventful coastal paddle involving some nice sections of beach with some small surf to play in en-route. There were some occasional nice waves too, but they were few & far between & I rarely have the patience to wait for them (which usually means I end up paddling back out through them!) We all enjoyed a few runs before taking a break to stay clear of a colony of little terns at the mouth of a stream.
A leisurely lunch followed at an old pub, which was orientated towards the sea; presumably this being where most of its traffic would have come from in its heyday, rather than any subsequently built roads to its landward side.
Another hour & we arrived at Craster & stocked up on local kippers & packed up for the journey home.
All in all, a great weekend & good company. Many thanks again to Ian Higginbottom for his excellent organisation and meticulous planning.