Category Archives: The Planning Stage

What we got up to before leaving – organisation, planning and local trips

Moving moments  

Finishing work last Friday was a bitter sweet moment for both of us; deeply emotional, the upcoming excitement of our long-planned adventure was tempered by the dawning realisation of how much we are choosing to leave behind.

Invoking change always brings difficult choices.  Leaving the current, comfortable pleasantries of our working life and social circles for as yet unknown possibilities is both wildly exciting and strangely worrying.  The day has arrived but it will take time for the realisation and appreciation of our decision to fully sink in.

We had effectively been camping in our house for a week, sleeping on the relocated mattress from Benny and sitting on camp chairs in an empty living room. This was the result of our earlier furniture removals on a previous weekend. This transitional phase helped us psychologically to begin cutting the bonds of property and excess possessions, allowing us to see a little clearer what is truly important to us and, perhaps more helpfully, to understand what we can live without.

Empty House Northampton
A last hectic, stressful and over-busy Bank Holiday weekend of constant packing, redecorating and deep cleaning was finally over.  Hopefully our efforts allowed us to present the property appropriately for our new incoming tenants.  After months of planning and long nights of efforts, it was quite a wrench to walk away, knowing it’s unlikely we’ll ever live in our home again.

Our planned timings for finishing everything in the house and getting away were vastly optimistic and proved impossible to meet.  Instead we drove off, not to return for at least a year, over four hours later than planned.  Grubby and emotional, we drove separately (in our remaining car and Benny) to deepest, darkest Lincolnshire, arriving late and utterly exhausted in the rural darkness.  Thus began our last few days with family before heading back south again to begin our journey in France.

Removals in Lincolnshire
Here we unpacked and stored the last straggling possessions from our house and began the process of deciding what will make the cut for going with us; no small matter with space in Benny at such a premium.  When our enthusiasm for the constant repacking and sorting began to wane, we had a welcome break and got ourselves out on our bikes for a few hours. Cycling the winding back roads near Withern, South Thoresby and Legbourne in the afternoon sun was definitely cathartic, and really set a mood for what we hope our days abroad will be like. Doodling on bumpy bridleways and quiet roads past fields of corn, beautiful mills and through tranquil hamlets was the ‘rest’ we definitely needed.  Many fields were still to be cut and the low drone of harvesters was often the only sound, and the sun showed off the low-rolling countryside at its glorious best.

Nicky cycling in Lincolnshire
The following day, when we felt satisfied that further progress had been made with our packing, we had a trip to Mablethorpe beach for a dog walk and a quick dip in the surf.  We watched kite-powered sand buggies race up and down the wide stretches of sand, whilst families picnicked with wind breaks, shade tents and cricket bats in that very British manner.  This pleasant beach walk held another useful purpose; it enabled our initial testing of Aaron’s parting gift from work – a Garmin handheld GPS – that will no doubt prove invaluable in the coming months.  A quick stop off in the rather seedy-looking town centre of Mablethorpe to sort some bank-related issues and pick up a few provisions, then back to the on-going task of selecting which clothes get to travel with us.

Aaron + Spice Mablethorpe beach

A few hours of further organisation (and a couple of sneaky afternoon beers to help oil the decision making) and we got mostly packed up, at least for now.  Our preparation is going pretty smoothly and we’re getting some good rest in between too, so we would have to admit it’s all coming together;  so far, so good.

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Greenland days

Moving on from our city break in Copenhagen, we flew from Kastrup to Narsarsuaq in Southern Greenland, to begin our much anticipated sea kayaking trip around the fjords and glaciers of the area.  This is our much shortened story of the time spent there.

Day 1
On approach to Narsarsuaq airport our plane endured a rough handling at the mercy of the local winds.  We suffered sudden stomach-churning drops and rag-doll twists as we descended over green oceans awash with icebergs. We were glad to be back on terra firma, not least for the eerie beauty of the misty mountains now surrounding us. With our stomachs just about settled, we faced a choppy one hour rib boat ride to the town of Narsaq.  Wild, rough and exhilarating, with occasional big hits on rogue waves, we passed quickly through Tunulliarfik fjord. My fingers gripped tight to the rib’s guide ropes as a slightly salty spray hit my smiling, joyous face as I struggled to take it in the landscape. Enormous granite crags appeared menacingly out of a cool low mist, slowly revealing the vast scale of the local geography.

Greenland Kayaking (2)

Greenland Kayaking (1)

Mooring up in Narsaq town was followed by a walking city tour and the interesting personal history of our young local guide. We learned of everyday life on the island, the old stone turf houses, local religious beliefs and shamans, saw the new school building, museum, shop and hospital.  Houses are all small detached, brightly coloured boxes, with no fencing as there is officially no private land ownership.  The paint colours chosen must resemble a colour found in nature and shown to be from a specific plant or berry. Modernisation under Danish instruction has been underway since the 1950s, with many locals now taking up sheep farming rather than the traditional fishing. We saw one aspect of this with the centrally placed abattoir near the local harbour.  All goods are for purely domestic use, there is no export economy.

Of the local legends we heard, a few are worth repeating. The northern lights dance in the sky as ancestor spirits rip the skull from a walrus to play soccer – but many children suggest that if you go outside and whistle during the Northern Lights display the spirits will come down and remove your head for their macabre game.  The infamous qivitoqs are people shunned by their villages and sent to exile, to live alone and separate in the wilderness. The exiles turn into powerful spirits in order to survive the harsh climate.  They are occasionally spotted by pilots out running on hilltops many miles from any settlement, dressed in robust seal skin clothes, so their myth still persists in modern folklore.

We organised our gear for leaving the following morning, then enjoyed a relaxing night walk on a local beach, overlooking the misty bay, through sculptured ice stranded by the receding tide. Our first day in Narsaq was certainly eye-opening.

Greenland Kayaking (14)

Day 2
We packed up all food and equipment for six days in the wild and moved to nearby Qingaarsuup island, twenty minutes by rib boat, then formed a human chain to unload it all near to our awaiting kayaks. We selected our kayaks and considered how they’d be packed.  A rather frustrating day due to persistent cloud, rain and wind, and we’re afforded no time on the water as planned.  We set up camp using large stones to pin down the tent edges. We climbed a nearby hillside and sat a while enjoying the vista of icebergs in the bay.  We followed this with a quick visit to an inland lake across soft mossy bogs, before a late dinner and an early night.  Sleep was slow to come as the high winds battered our flimsy tent and we heard the calving of ice from nearby glaciers, like distant thunder or gunshots.

Greenland Kayaking (3)

Day 3
We broke camp slowly after a night of intermittent sleep.  We had a picnic breakfast of dried cereal, banana and hard wasa bread, a multigrain crispbread not universally enjoyed, with butter and jam. This morning the weather was perfect; stillness and sunshine, although the calmness now allowed a plethora of mosquitos to gather. Everyone was animated and impatient to get into the kayaks for the first time now the previously rough sea was mirror flat.  We packed up and got mobile, and Nicky couldn’t stop smiling as we glided past floating icebergs under a cloudless sky.

Greenland Kayaking (4)

All was stillness in sky and sea, like a silent prelude to our upcoming travels. The wind had disappeared entirely, the only sounds those of sporadic iceberg collapses. The punctuated abruptness of these explosions contrasted sharply with the bluey quiet.  Fragments of broken ice, myriad of shapes and colours floated gently on the mirrored surface. Not a breath of wind and only the smallest of sea swells gently rocked our heavily laden kayaks. Despite the cool air, the sun was strong in the clear sky and we warmed quickly, donning shades and sun hats for protection.

11km on we stopped for lunch in a beautiful sheltered bay with mineral-rich turquoise water. There were caribou on the slopes behind and we watched in awe as an eagle got chased off by squawking and dive-bombing terns, protective parents whose full nest was deemed under threat.  A few of us collected drinking water from a nearby glacial stream.

Greenland Kayaking (5)

Despite being warned by our guide to be wary of unstable ‘bergs, when getting back in the water after lunch and awaiting the group, I approached a small bus-sized lump of ice and it suddenly, heart-stoppingly, decided to break up and flip right by my floating kayak. With barely time to react or control my sudden panic I readied to brace, but the resultant wave proved small and rolled harmlessly over my bow, to great relief.  Lesson learned.

Some kilometres on we entered a protected bay surrounded by high mountains, a calm watery cul-de-sac where our night’s campsite formed the northern end.  We beached and decanted our gear and chose a prominent pitch, with a wide view back down our secret bay, where we could watch the partial sunset from the comfort of our sleeping bags.

Day 4
We awoke to a mirror flat sea reflecting the surrounding cliffs and to tranquil silence; a stunning spot. We packed up and readied to leave, but had to brave both dark swarms of mosquitoes and the rigorous effort to drag loaded kayaks over 50 metres through knee-deep sticky grey mud, left behind like a trap in the shallow bay by the retreating tide. Once underway, we paddled the pristine calm waters, staying close to the coast, passing nesting birds.  Black guillemots clung precariously to the fault lines in the shear granite cliffs, nestling into almost imperceptible crevices.

Greenland Kayaking (6)

Greenland Kayaking (7)

Time is a strange thing when it slips by measured by the length of a paddle stroke. The soft, melodic rasp of jacket rubbing on buoyancy aid accompanied each movement, while the slow drips of sea water from the paddles provided background percussion. Magical, quiet stillness was enveloped by bright blue skies above and the deep turquoise waters of the fjord below. The occasional thunderous crack of a larger berg, breaking inside and turning violently as its centre of gravity searches for stability, was the only discernible sound.

We took short breaks in small bays with caribou warily watching us from the hills behind. A few hours after lunch we turned a corner to be greeted with the majestic view of the Greenland icecap, huge on the horizon yet still many kilometres away. We paddled slowly towards the carving face enjoying the drama and noise of the huge breaking ice.  We entered a protected side bay, filled with expelled floating ice, seemingly so close but still 3km or so from the glacier face. We exited our kayaks, set up camp on a small hill near a fresh water stream and relaxed to wonder at the view.  We had dinner and a beach explore through all sizes of marooned ice.  A deep red sunset accompanied the reflective ice and glacial backdrop, creating a wonderfully intense visual spectacle that was quite unforgettable.

Greenland kayaking (16)

Greenland Kayaking (9)

Day 5
Two nights camping in the same location allowed a slower morning pace, with much less packing. We struggled with a long portage, carrying all the group’s kayaks out to the low waterline, before heading across the ice strewn bay to the glacier front. We watched closely for large portions of the ice face collapsing and marvelled at the patterns of wedding cake seracs decorating the top, towering 200 metres above us.

We approached as close as we dared, around 500 metres away, as a large carving could potentially swamp us with huge waves. We paddled parallel across the face, through wide running currents of small ice particles. We felt insignificant before the grand size and power of nature, yet this was only one small tongue of many on the periphery of a glacial icecap covering over 1.7 million square kilometres. That’s over seven times the size of the UK, an incomprehensible expanse.

Greenland Kayaking (10)

Greenland Kayaking (11)

Icebergs comprising of the dark, vibrant blue of old ice, compacted for many years deep within the glacier’s heart, stood out most prominently as we passed. Translucent, almost glowing as if internally lit, they drew the greater portion of our attention for both their exceptional colours and relative rarity. The ice is potentially older than recorded history, formed in natural processes much older than our species, yet slowly disappearing one drip at a time, like the seconds in a lifetime. The timescales involved played on the mind, making one feel both small and insignificant yet a vital part of some unfathomable grandness.

We paddled on around a bare headland to a second glacier tongue, this one not currently active so we were able to approach much closer.  We had lunch on a stone peninsula near the left corner of the glacier, soaking up the views and the afternoon sun. After lunch we took a short trek on the tension zone of the glacier, past stable crevasses and rippled seracs. Gaining height quickly this walk offered yet another perspective on the immense extent of the ice cap. Returning to our kayaks, we noted the waterline was only a few metres away and our rocky lunch spot was fully submerged, so it was fortunate we carried the kayaks a lot higher above the waterline before beginning the trek. We returned to camp via a similar route, covering 18.5km on the round trip.  Later, we climbed up behind the camp to a large crater at the back of the abandoned moraine. At dinner we found out it was Mic’s 62nd birthday. We performed limited shadow puppetry on the tent wall to the amusement of the gang inside. We heard that Vincent was to leave us, as the kayaking and camp setting was proving too strenuous for him. A rib boat was dispatched from base to collect and return him, after warm goodbyes, to Narsaq.

Greenland Kayaking (8)

Day 6
We packed up from our stunning glacier view and readied for the next camp. We left through choppy floes of ice driven by currents and wind. We paddled just a short 1km before our guide Adrian decided, for safety, we needed to ground the kayaks and await a change in the weather as the racing ice floes were too dangerous to cross. We beached up and waited for the winds to abate. To check out the ice build-up and to stretch our legs, we trekked up the mountain behind to take in a wide overview and were rewarded with exceptional views over both the glacier and the adjacent fjords.

After three hours the ice floes had sufficiently broken up and the wind abated, so we started out again following the coast south. One short stop in another beautiful bay with a warm fresh water lake behind, then on to our final campsite. We moved slowly, each paddle stroke leaving tiny whirlpools of spinning bubbles that trailed the stern and got lost in the turbulence of the kayak’s wake.  We became acutely aware of the intricacies and simplicities of flat water paddling; the soaring reflections, the surge of the bow wake with each forward stroke, the fluidity of muscles under effort. There was no pitching or twisting of the kayak, no waves or further weather concerns; just the steady reach and pull with each blade slicing into the cold mirrored sky.

Greenland Kayaking (12)

Greenland Kayaking (13)

After the sweaty work of hauling gear and setting up tents, a few of us decided to cool off with a very quick dip in the icy water; shocked and breathless, we sat chilled in the sun after, feeling brave and very refreshed. Post dinner we climbed a local hill and watched the roaming icebergs, looking out for some violent crashes or collapses. A small local inlet was home to two small ‘bergs, the currents pushing them against the rocks. We climbed down and tested their weight to see if we could move them, and managed to initiate a full collapse and flip with a tiny push. Again, the inherent and unknowable instability of floating ice astounded, superficially so solid.

Day 7
This was our final morning awaking in our tents, so we soaked up every possible detail of this grand wilderness.  We demolished a hearty breakfast before packing up for our final day’s paddle, closing the loop back to Qingaarsuup island.  Choppier seas and a wide fjord crossing made our last day of paddling a more concerted effort, more challenging and unnerving, but welcome for the additional experience.  Arrival back at base brought on a mix of feelings; satisfaction at completing such a wondrous trip; sadness for it ending; longing for a shower and home comforts.  Overall, we covered around 85km in our kayaks.

This trip was everything we wished for before we left; challenging, rewarding, eye-opening, feeding muscles and thoughtful reflection equally. Before we began, we’d made the decision to live life in a more simple way, as free and unencumbered as possible. To be more conscious of every passing day, with adventure becoming the mainstay, not the exception. Remaining conscious of each event slows the seconds, and appreciating moments as they pass creates a deeper perception of time lingering, expanding like a rubber band, allowing more memories and experiences to be encapsulated within the same portion of stretched bandwidth.  This trip was an important step in us understanding the practical application of these principles we hope to fully embrace going forward.

Greenland Kayaking (15)

Day 8
Today we returned by the same rib boat to Narsarsuaq airport for our return flight to Copenhagen, full of thoughts and memories. The terrain looked more familiar as we passed through the straits of Tunulliarfik fjord for the final time.  The traveller is always saying ‘goodbye’; to many it can seem adventurous or romantic, but it can also be a lonely feeling, difficult to get used to. A paradox in movement, the deep excitement of moving on to new adventures contrasted with the real reality that the current shores and company may never be seen again.  It brings a happy kind of sadness, a welcome melancholy.

Coastal Kayaking – Dorset

Developing our summer kayaking theme, we wanted to consolidate our 2* star skills training and intermittent flurries of paddling on the river Nene, and get some kayaking experience more akin to sea conditions of our much anticipated Greenland kayaking trip.

We negotiated an early escape from our respective workplaces on the Friday afternoon, and headed down to Dorset in Benny for a weekend of kayaking, fresh air and general outside activity.

We’d booked a one day sea tour of ‘Old Harry Rocks’ which are a combination of stacks and stumps along Dorset’s Jurassic coast. Having swum through the arch of Durdle Door previously, we thought kayaking around Old Harry Rocks just a bit further along that stretch of coast would be fun, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

Dorset Kayaking (1)

Ironically, given we wanted some sea kayaking experience, we were met by a completely flat sea. With blue skies and sunshine though, we weren’t prepared to wish those away. Our small group of 5 made progress along the coast with just the tranquil splash of easy paddle strokes, a truly beautiful contrast to the inside and stressful office environment of 24 hours earlier.

Dorset Kayaking (2)

Dorset Kayaking (3)

From land the stacks and stumps are lovely to see, but I was amazed at the extensive and more intricate view you get from the sea, being able to see the full depth and breadth of the stacks/stumps/caves/arches, many of which can’t be seen from land. We spent plenty of time exploring the Harry Rocks area specifically, and then were treated to more variations of the same again in parts along the coast heading towards Swanage.   We landed on a beach just short of Swanage to have our packed lunch and after another liberal spreading of sunscreen to protect from the lovely sunshine reflecting off the water, we then headed towards Swanage and across the town’s bay, then looped back around and home the way we’d come. A fabulous day of paddling, totalling 10 miles.

Dorset Kayaking (4)

Dorset Kayaking (5)

After a relaxing evening with Benny, on Sunday morning we headed to Poole Harbour Canoe Club’s base in Hamworthy, Poole. Having connected with them through their facebook page we were lucky enough to have been invited to join them on their Sunday club kayak trip. This was across Poole harbour, and up the River Frome to Wareham and back again. Although the start was in the harbour, there was a reasonable wind and swell with waves on the sea, so we got some good experience paddling into the wind to get to the river, then a gentle paddle up to Wareham town where we enjoyed our packed lunch before the return journey.

Dorset Kayaking (6)

The gentle meandering river stretch was in contrast to the blustery stretch back across the harbour. With the wind behind us we were sea kayak surfing in parts which was quite exhilarating, especially for our relative inexperience. The Poole Canoe Club were a lovely group of people, easily sharing their knowledge and experience with us, with a friendly open invite to guest again if we wanted. Another fabulous day of outside activity, totalling 13 miles. A lovely weekend all round which we reflected upon as we drove back to Northampton in Benny.

Midsummer Nights in London

One long June day, with plans afoot, we drove under clouded skies to the north of London.  The weather slowly improving with every mile south, and with a promise of better yet to come, we parked up near Golders Green, on the Northern Line, to begin what could prove to be our last visit to London for at least a few years.

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With no real route in mind, we hopped off the tube at Goodge Street, near the BT tower, and walked through leafy parks and beautiful Georgian squares to the British Museum. Not wanting to be inside too long, we did a quick loop of the foyer under the spectacular roof and visited a part of the European history display on the third floor (Sutton Hoo) before heading on our way again.
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Wandering south we next reached Covent Garden, loud and lively with bustling crowds, live music and street performers.  We paused briefly for a small injection of culture, to watch a lively string quintet play rousing pieces in the covered market.
Our next stop was Somerset House, home of the Courtauld Gallery, an important collection of impressionist paintings.  We sat in the neo-classical courtyard, watching kids (and adults) play boisterously in the vertical jets of the fountain display.
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We walked slowly along the embankment to Blackfriar’s Bridge, before cutting left to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.  A quick explore here then onward south, across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern gallery on the south bank.  Unfortunately the main hall was between installations, so with nothing new to see we wandered on.
We passed by the Globe theatre (more of this later) before stopping in the Anchor pub for a relaxing shandy on the roof terrace.  Suitably refreshed, we passed the Clink Prison museum and Drake’s Golden Hinde (a ship I first boarded over 30 years ago now), before rounding Southwark cathedral and passing under London bridge.
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Hay’s galleria was next where more live music greeted us, this time in the form of a duet playing Eastern European accordion music.  The tunes were pleasantly apt in the iron-framed ambiance of the large space housing Kemp’s impressive bronze sculpture ‘The Navigators’.  The views of London’s north bank skyline were nicely framed from here, showing off new targets to aim for in our rambling explore.
 HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser permanently moored just beyond the galleria, is now a successful and popular museum.  With its dazzle camouflage patterns and impressive armoury it provides a stark contrast to the glitz of the southbank.  Next on our walk we reached the ‘Scoop’ adjacent to the City Hall, where some festivities were undeway, not least the attempt to bring a Jamaican vibe to the Thames.  Maybe with a few more cocktails and we could have embraced it.
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A quick ice cream and we climbed to cross Tower Bridge, heading north side again in the direction of the Tower of London.  We walked along the Thames promenade, enjoying views of the southside again with the Shard behind, to Tower pier then north to Trinity Square gardens. Zigzagging north and a little west, we arrived at the Gherkin and the Leadenhall building, before crossing to Threadneedle street and the Bank of England.  Here I tried to explain the merits of no.1 Poultry (James Stirling’s last completed building) but I failed to convince my dubious audience (Nicky) of the values of Post Modernism.
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With time now pressing, we found a pub for a quick bite to eat and wandered back across Southwark bridge to our main goal for this trip – a night at Shakesphere’s Globe theatre. We were here to see Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummers Nights Dream’, a fantastical tale of interwoven lives, lovers and fairies with hilarious confusion and mayhem.
“The course of true love never did run smooth…
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The Globe theatre was a visual treat, helped greatly by the muggy summer weather and a light cooling breeze. The building was rebuilt in 1997 to replicate the original 1599 design; three storey with a circular (actually a 20-sided polygon) plan.  The Globe has no roof over the performance stage and spectator standing area, with only a short thatch cover to the edge tiered seating; an arrangement similar to a football stadium. If it rains, the players get wet but the show goes on. We had seats on the uppermost level of the East Tower, on the front row of the balcony. This offered great views of the action and the crowd below, and a comfortable resting position throughout the performance. The warm night air also assisted our comfort as it afforded the use of coats as makeshift cushions on the hard wooden benches.
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind…”
The performance was terrific- a modern interpretation of the classic Shakespeare comedy; high energy with quick humour, contemporary musical interludes and naughty sexual overtones. It even concluded with a Bollywood dance number.
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The players, especially Katy Owen as Robin Goodfellow, fully interacted with the standing audience, rubbing, squirting, holding, hugging and even kissing audience members during her energetic and mischievous portrayal of the naughty Puck.  The directorial change of Helena (female) to Helenus (male) added another layer of spicy complication to the lovers’ confused infatuations when enchanted by fairie magic. The physical humour and high-energy slapstick farce of it was most admirably played by all, although purists beware.
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The play, the performances, the weather and the glorious setting in the historic Globe theatre all combined to provide a night’s entertainment of magical proportions and a very worthy finale to a great day spent in the capital; well met, all.
A&N.

BCU Kayaking Weekend

Benny had himself another local outing this weekend; this time to the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham.

We signed up for a two day course, to reach BCU canoe and kayak 2 star level. This involved two full days on (and in) the water, learning various paddle techniques; forwards, backwards, sideways, turning, bracing and stopping in a variety of different sized canoes and kayaks. We’d kayaked a little before, fooling around on sit-on-tops on holidays, sea kayaking around Gozo and Comino, along with various other short play times on the water, but had had no actual formal training.  The closest we’d come to lessons was attending ‘Paddle in the Park’ at the same venue several weeks prior to this visit. There we had gleaned some rudimentary skills and definitely improved technique-wise with the patience of very helpful instructors, informally awarding us our BCU 1-star for our efforts.

Our main goal this time was to tune up our skill set for our upcoming sea kayak trip to Greenland, where we’ll face long distances of up to 20km each day in arctic waters and want to ensure both forward stroke efficiency (to prevent over-tiredness) and kayak stability (to prevent capsize).

We couldn’t have picked a better weekend weather wise, with temperatures over 25 degrees and clear blue May skies above. Camping locally the night before, we had a relaxing breakfast with bird song before starting our lessons at 9am Saturday morning.

All  kitted out

Kitted up and ready for action

After being kitted out with wetsuits and life jackets, our guide Elvis started us off in small, highly manoeuvrable open river kayaks.  We learned forward and backward paddle and sweep stroke turning, edging and draw stokes, all in various combinations of set moves. Next up was sit on tops, partly to ascertain if our core and legs were working appropriately as part of our forward paddle stroke, along with revisiting all other stokes as before. The different hull design made these kayaks handle much more like the sea kayaks we expect in Greenland; more stable and straighter in the water yet, surprisingly, when edging they turn opposite to the previous river kayaks; an important tidbit to remember.

N turns river kayak

Time on the water was really the key goal; repetition and practise raises the standard and allows paddling movements to become automatic and instinctual, rather than considered and slow. Simply doing and doing again, with suitable instruction and expert nudging along the way, was exactly what we required.

Open canoes

Open canoes were the next play.  We began learning to paddle a canoe straight with strokes only on one side, using J strokes as a stern rudder and adding braced bow rudder strokes for turning. The open kneeling position was a welcome change to the cramped sitting position in the kayaks, and the paddling had a calm, measured simplicity to it. We learned overturning the canoe and rescuing both the paddler and the canoe.  This proved a difficult task due to the weight of the volume of water the canoe can hold as it had to be manually lifted up over the bow of the remaining upright canoe and then turned over to drain before resetting.

N in canoe

We tried blue Arcadia kayaks next, another variant on a longer sea kayak design, and my favourite to paddle so far. Faster, leaner and more comfortable, right up to the point where I mistakenly practised a canoe only high stabilising stroke and flipped the boat right over, meaning I got an unexpected but cooling swim and we both have the opportunity to undertake another rescue and kayak recovery. All in the name of learning.

Paddleboarding

To finish off the first day we decided on a more playful end and took out stand up paddle boards.  Starting in a kneeling position we slowly paddled down the lake, then stood up to continue. The paddling is more akin to punting; short, vertical strokes from a high position, but it’s really a standing canoe J stroke that’s the typical steering mechanism. It’s definitely good to start to understand the crossover between strokes across the full range of paddle-powered boats and how connected (and yet unique) each particular craft is.

Finishing at around 4pm, we returned to the local campsite and set up in the sun to enjoy a very leisurely dinner and a few well earned beers.  Nicky’s mum had joined us for the day and after walking her dog around the Water Sports Park she joined us for dinner and drinks. Nicky even managed to skillfully produce a very nice dessert based on a recipe from the campervan cookbook – yum!

Alfresco dessert

The following day on the water was more of the same, only with a greater emphasis on bracing and rescue, so proved to be a lot wetter.  First we had a bit of free time to revisit and tried out a few different kayaks to ensure we still remembered the lessons from the day before. Then Elvis got us back in the manoeuvrable river kayaks to start the wet work, where we were also joined by Scarlett, a British team slalomist and speed kayaker. We quickly progressed through lessons, from low brace support strokes to high brace, then on to ‘get an ear wet’ before applying high brace, to ‘whole head under’ to ‘opposite shoulder under’ to fully upside down in the water. We never progressed to full Eskimo turns, as that’s more of a 3 Star level and is arguably best first practised in the more controlled environment of a pool.  From here we did a simple ‘release spray deck and get out’ before rescue, and then a ‘stay in the kayak and await help’ where you bang on the sides of the kayak and wave your hands until a helpful paddler bumps your hand with their bow and you can leverage yourself out using their kayak as support.

In conclusion: a fantastic few days with a long yet always positive learning curve, with some sore muscles and a few bruises, adding up to a great experience that will keep on giving. Along with the memories, the experience and new-found skills this weekend will provide access to many enjoyable future adventures.

Birthday tulips in Amsterdam

Nicky hinted at wanting tulips for her birthday, so I very romantically obliged with a last minute whirlwind trip to see tulips in their natural habitat (not really as it was planned a while back, but I’ll take the plaudits where I can).

A leisurely birthday morning began with welcome sunshine, a quick drive to Luton and an easy hop over the channel to Schipol airport. Direct from here, an unexpectedly long queue and eventually a bus to Keukenhof Gardens, located just outside of Amsterdam in Lisse.

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An obviously popular place, with huge crowds drawn by the day’s welcome sunshine and the short window of availability (open only 7 weeks per year in Spring) to see the extensive flower displays in the park. With 35 hectares and over 7 million planted bulbs the overall experience, vista after colourful vista, is simply overwhelming.  Several hours of blissful wandering and more than a few photos later we had a picnic lunch sat by a lake away from the crowds, taking time to reflect on all we’d already seen. And we’d still not yet made it to the city proper.

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After saying goodbye to Keukenhof, a bus and train later and we arrived at Amsterdam South. From here we decided to walk to our hotel in the Museum Quarter, through a very pretty, tree lined residential area.

After a bit of chill time in our room we headed out for an explore locally, before finding the inevitable Irish pub for a welcome pint and a very decent birthday meal.

DCIM101GOPRO

3

Early next morning we found a local bike hire store (Mac’s) and hired robust three-gear city bikes to begin our wider exploration of Amsterdam.  Vondel Park was our first destination, with lots more tulips and lakes to enjoy. We cruised gently alongside expert locals who zoomed along, weaving through traffic made up of pedestrians, joggers, skaters and the occasional horse. The upright position felt slightly alien to us mountain bikers at first, but proved efficient and comfortable with a little time in the saddle. Perfect for sight-seeing in the sun.

6

We doodled a loop of the city, zigzagging around backstreets and canals with many stops to take in the sights. The Anne Frank house, the Northern markets, de Oude Kerk church, Science Centre NEMO on to Molen de Gooyer windmill where we stopped for lunch.

tbc