Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Big Paddle. Difficult days in the Solway

I'd always thought that the early days of my Big Paddle would be the hardest. The Solway is not an area I have visited much before, either on land or sea. I was also anxious about the whole undertaking- the paddling, the time away from home, family and work. I was having a lot of doubts as I left. The original plan had been to start at Southerness, that being where Brian Wilson began in "Blazing Paddles". From the outset, however, the weather had other ideas. On the day that Mrs CWW drove me south it was so windy that, for the first time ever, the boat shifted on the car roof. There was clearly going to be no paddling the following day, so I was dropped off, feeling rather lonely, at Sandyhills camping site. It's a pleasant spot, but without a lot of distractions for a nervous paddler waiting to get going.

The following day I went for a long walk. Buses in the area are very cheap, but proved not to be terribly reliable, so I ended up pounding out about 20 miles.
There is a beautiful coastal path close to the campsite. The views of the Solway sands are sweeping,

 and the vegetation shows some signs that it is often windy around here.

Not only had plans gone wrong for day 1 and 2, I now had the frustration of having to wait until 3 o'clock in the afternoon of day 3 before the rising tide finally covered the sandflats enough to launch. I set off briskly and paddled into the evening to find an island camp for the end of the first leg.
If I'd been feeling less hurried and more relaxed it would have been a good spot.

Things were not entirely happy, however. Firstly, it was very cold. I decided, rather stupidly, to sleep under a flysheet only and, despite wearing all my dry clothes in my sleeping bag, I was frozen.
Secondly, like many islands, there was a lot of noise from birds to disturb sleep.
Thirdly, I'd set my alarm for 5am. This was really an overreaction to worries about Solway tides. At 5am there was ice on my boat and packing was misery.
The misery was to get worse. I arrived in Wigtown Bay, with a crossing of about 10km to make. It was grey, wet and there was a brisk headwind. Initial reasonable progress became slower and slower, possibly due to the tide changing. The last couple of kilometers seemed to drag on for ever. I finally landed close to Garlieston, tied myself to my boat, and fell asleep lying on some boulders. I woke up with water lapping at my feet. Fortunately the afternoon improved immensely, and I found another good campsite as blue skies appeared.

The following morning I cruised gently round Burrow Head, listening to an awful weather forecast. Pretty dejected, I phoned home to see if some research into B+B's could be done. This was very fruitful- Mrs CWW managed to book me into Hawthorn House, in Port William, where Tim and Hilary gave me a wonderful shelter in the storm. Port William is a great spot with good food too. It is also home to this chap, possibly the only person around stiffer than I was at this point.

Unfortunately, despite the hospitality, I was losing my 3rd day of paddling in the first week. I had plans to meet my friend Kevin at Arran, and it was becoming very clear that I wasn't going to make the rendezvous.
I pressed on to make the long open crossing to the Mull of Galloway, fully expecting to have to retreat from there. With more bad weather coming in, this turned out to be necessary. I turned back to Sandhead to await rescue from CWW junior (2).
Sandhead has a big residential caravan park, and a beach about 3/4 of a mile wide at low tide. It takes me 4 return trips to get gear and boat off the water, so by the time I reached the reception area I was pretty tired. I then found that the camping area was at the opposite end of the site. Fortunately I managed to borrow a wheelbarrow to move my stuff along. The folk sitting in smart caravans and camper vans looked pretty shocked to see my bedraggled figure turning up with all my possessions in a barrow. Some good beer in the local pub helped to boost morale.
The following day I was on the ferry to Arran with Kevin. After the lack of progress I was really looking forward to having a companion for the next stage. I wasn't too disappointed about missing some of the coastline. Having an adventure was always more important to me than a strict circumnavigation. The Mull of Galloway looks a fun paddle, but I think I would prefer to go back and do it in company, when the tide is running, rather than cautiously and alone. There's always another day. I also faced the real possibility of being stormbound on the Ayrshire coast- not an attractive prospect.
Arran was lovely. We arrived on a sunny evening and sauntered up the coast to camp.

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