A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the category “Canoes and other boats”

Water Above and Below!

It had seemed like good idea – a trip to the Lake District, taking our inflatable canoe. We had not expected a weekend of rain, not in July!

We decided to abandon the idea of going on the water on the Saturday – pumping up the canoe, putting the seats and oars together, and then spending time on the water, all in the rain, wasn’t appealing, even to us two hardly souls!

We took out the chair, and had a little pootle along the lane in the Langdale valley, glad of our top-to-toe waterproofs, even for that trip. It was nice to see people coming down off the fells, dripping wet but well waterpoofed and looking happy to have successfully managed a hike. I can’t say we were envious though!

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Ullswater, Lake District

The next day brought a chink of dry weather, with the impending threat of more rain at any moment, as assessed either by the grey clouds above or the dispiriting analysis on the weather app. Should we be brave (or foolhardy) and risk a canoe trip on Ullswater? Would the rain hold off long enough even to enable us to get the canoe ready for launching?

We decided to be brave (no, not foolhardy!). I kept glancing nervously at the sky as Pete pumped up the canoe – it took effort and I didn’t want it to be wasted, especially as I wasn’t much help. I managed to clip the oars together (!)  and Pete did everything else.

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pumping up the canoe

Finally, we were ready and it still wasn’t raining! Then we were on the lake, floating near to Glenridding Pier. The wind was blowing towards us – strongly. That wasn’t helpful. It was pretty hard work making headway in the direction we wanted. I paddled a bit but really Pete was the engine. And we couldn’t stop to admire the view as we started going back the way we’d come dishearteningly quickly.

Eventually, we made it to a sheltered spot near the reeds. From there we could enjoy watching a few swans diving about, as well as a large group of Canada geese that were sitting so still on the bank that they were effectively camouflaged, and we almost missed them.

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rain bouncing off the water

Eventually our luck ran out and the rain began. Fortunately we’d had a good stint on the lake by then and were happy to head back (with the wind now helping!). It was even fun to watch the water bouncing off the lake surface just a few centimetres away. It was quite dramatic.

It had been worth the effort after all. Wet air is still fresh air and we felt pretty invigorated by our efforts!

Not Puffin Hunting

We could see the Farne Islands from where we were staying in Northumberland. Islands and boats are a winning combination in my book so there was no way we wouldn’t be paying them a visit. Actually, the secret reason for the trip north was to get on to the islands – and to look for puffins.

So we hopped aboard one of the many boats offering such a trip from Seahouses harbour. Puffins were advertised as arriving from the end of March, which was a whole week previously, so obviously there would be no problem …

Seahouses harbour

Seahouses harbour

As the boat approached the islands, it was amazing to see how the number and variety of birds increased – and also the noise! There were birds everywhere – flying overhead, flying past the boat or sitting on tiny ledges of rock. There were eider ducks, shags and kittiwakes, and, around one of the outlying islands, fulmars. But no puffins.

However, there were seals! So many seals! They were basking lazily on the rocks, totally unfazed by the boat coming close and the many pairs of eyes staring at them. They just stared back, not very interested. They came in many shades, from rust coloured to black, from grey to speckled. And they were all so very chilled.

seals

seals

After a tour of the islands, we landed on Inner Farne for an hour’s explore. We tried not to think about puffins. I’d already heard a distinct lack to the word ‘puffin’ and there had been no sign of any flying about so far. Sightings were going to be unlikely.

more seals!

more seals!

This experience of Inner Farne was very different from our previous visit when we had been pecked within seconds of arrival by fierce little arctic terns guarding their nests which they’d carefully placed right by the side of the footpaths. At least this time we had arrived before them and could look around without cowering!

It was clear that this was puffin city as the whole island was pocked with burrows – puffin homes. It was just that they hadn’t moved back in yet. Although this was disappointing, I did console myself with remembering that we had been before and seen them at their height. This time we could enjoy the other birds.

nesting shags

nesting shags

The stars of the show were the shags which were nesting on rocky ledges all around the island. We could get very close to them and were able to clearly see the tufted crests on their heads.

rocky living!

rocky living!

After a wander round the whole (very small!) island we sat by the shore enjoying the sunshine and waiting for our boat to take us back home. The odd shag flew by with its beak full of nest material.

All in all, it was a very good day not puffin hunting!

waiting for our boat

waiting for our boat

As to accessibility – I had to climb down a number of steps to the boat but that would vary with the tide. The boatmen were very helpful in providing stable arms to get me aboard. On the island, if you can walk a little way uphill at the start (or have sturdy pushers!) it is wheelchair accessible as there is just one circular footpath around the island which is covered by duckboards. It wasn’t even very bumpy! There are also trips which don’t include landing on an island.

Happy adventuring!

Spring Awakenings

Ok, so I can stand the rain, but I have to admit that a day by Lake Windermere in beautiful spring sunshine is even better! A whole day of fresh air!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were there for an assorted family gathering, including my sister who was visiting from New Zealand, and who also has MS. Such gatherings often include congregating at the lake, since earliest memories for my siblings and me include days by the lake shore, pottering about with Dad’s (now practically vintage!) motor boat.

It was therefore essential for us to have a spin in Dad’s boat but, as a bonus,  my brother also had use of a kayak for the day. My sister was thus able to try out something that I’ve been doing over the last couple of summers, and she glided across the lake whilst someone else did the hard work!

spotting relatives amongst the reeds

spotting relatives amongst the reeds

 

Later I also had a go. I was going to paddle too but my brother seemed to be coping admirably on his own, and I thought I’d just interfere with his strokes. Besides, the drips from my paddle would have got my trousers wet!

A kayaking club had gathered for its monthly expedition and they magically came to my assistance when I needed to get in and out of the kayak.  There was none of the usual awkward shuffling into position.  Instead, I was lifted extremely efficiently by suddenly appearing arms before I even knew what was happening!

pretending to be part of the kayak expedition!

pretending to be part of the kayak expedition!

 

There was plenty to watch from the shore too. A sailing race was taking place and the yachts were cutting through the water at a good rate of knots right in front of us. You could hear the sharp rattle of sails as the boats tacked away just in time to continue down their course. We could also watch the kayaks as they paddled away up the lake.

We were treated, too, to the spectacle of the smallest members of our party running around all day with more energy than the rest of us put together. I lay back amongst the daffodils – a most satisfactory place to rest!

When I’m outdoors I really don’t need to be doing much to feel better!

 

Paddle Power

Old Man of Coniston

Old Man of Coniston

After getting back on the tandem last weekend, this weekend saw us paddling our way round Coniston Water in the Lake District. Isn’t summer just fab?! Although Pete’s knee wasn’t up to taking the strain of lugging the inflatable canoe about, we were able to hire a boat instead.

We chose a sit-on-top kayak. Well, we actually thought we’d chosen what we now know to be a Canadian canoe, which is much more well, like a boat rather than a piece of plastic sitting on top of the water! Ah well, you live and learn. Anyway, although we got a little damp, it was fun, and, incredibly, the water was warm – a record! The kayak was really nippy and we cut through the water at a good rate of knots, although it did spin around in circles of its own accord if we stopped!

our kayak

our kayak

I also found that a day on the water with a fresh breeze blowing really helped to counteract the rather intense heat we’re experiencing at the moment. It kept me at a pleasant temperature and I had the added bonus of beautiful scenery to admire all day.

approaching the shore near the boating centre

approaching the shore near the boating centre

I’ve been perusing the website of the Coniston Boating Centre since I got back and I was very impressed to see that they have a wheelchair accessible boat! I have to admit that I didn’t spot it on the day but I’m sure there wouldn’t be a problem if you rang ahead.  They also have electric bikes for hire … and I can definitely recommend those! This is the website: http://www.conistonboatingcentre.co.uk/home – just click along to Boat Hire then Motor Boats and have a look.

Messing About In Boats

Oh Joy! The sun came out at the weekend. Even better, we were able to travel up to the Lake District and stay with my parents.

Since Pete’s knee, although improving, still requires tender care (it really ought to get its own blog!) Pete was reluctant OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto risk using the inflatable canoe. Fortunately, my dad has a boat. Now, it does have an engine so I’m not able to count it as providing any level of exercise but it’s certainly a great way of getting a huge blast of fresh air!

We were able to head down to Windermere and launch the somewhat venerable motor boat on to a beautifully calm and shimmering lake. My brother, who hopefully won’t mind me mentioning this, is, like me, also the wrong (right?!) side of forty, did point out that the boat is as old as him. However, it still serves us well. We were able to whizz about at a good rate of knots (but definitely still within the lake speed limit!) and feel the fresh air on our faces.

Sailing2I love to stare up at the Lakeland fells that rise up around the lake edges, watch the birds scoot over the water’s surface and ogle enviously at the houses nestling above the shores. Those houses have remained the same, majestic and old, all my life; places where, in my mind’s eye, the children from Swallows and Amazons could run down the gardens to the stone boathouses and jump into their sailing boats. But changes are afoot; some of the houses are being demolished and replaced with huge homes, all glass and wood. Impressive, but yet to become characterful.

Meanwhile, I can still maintain the Arthur Ransome dream as my brother has inherited a Norfolk dinghy which has been in the family for years, having been brought back from the Norfolk Broads by our grandad. It’s the first boat I ever sailed in and is still my favourite for its sturdiness. It dates from about 1928 and creaks reassuringly when you sit in it. It’s been lovingly restored to its shining wooden glory, initially by my uncle, then in turn by my brother.

So, after the speedy motor boat ride, I was able to step back in time and into the sailing boat, where I could sit and listen to the gentle waves lap the boat’s sides. We waited, in no hurry on this gloriously sunny day, as the wind ebbed and flowed, taking us so far along the lake, then disappearing for a while, before gently blowing us along once more. Idyllic! What a difference the sun makes! sailing1

Brrr! Easter!

Waterhead, Windermere

Waterhead, Windermere

We spent a couple of days visiting my parents in the Lake District over Easter so, regardless of the stiff 15 mph breeze whipping across the lake, we decided that it was time that the canoe had its first outing of the year.

Although we have already had an outing on  Windermere near Bowness by canoe, it is pretty large, so we felt it ought to count as separate “bagging” if we launched from the top end of the lake, at Waterhead.

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

It took me about the same length of time to put all my layers on as it did Pete to inflate the boat and put the seats in ready for launching. In my defence I had on so many layers that I looked like the Michelin man – there are definitely no photos of this look!

Once afloat (another ungainly procedure – this is where having MS is a good excuse for the palaver involved!) we hugged the coast, negotiating our way past the many boats bobbing at their moorings. It’s funny how very close to the water you are in one of these canoes, and yet how stable it feels too.

As soon as we’re away, we get straight into Swallows and Amazons mode, and everything is a huge adventure. (You can see why the teenagers want nothing to do with us!) In fact, we were very soon in danger of being dashed against rocks poking their jagged edges out towards us. Suddenly, not only did the water feel very close, I was very aware of being in an inflatable canoe. However, fear not, I bravely lent a hand to avoid calamity and we were soon heading towards calmer water, and I could stop “helping out”.

We headed towards the far side of the lake, less than 2km as the crow flies, flying along very much as a crow would until we realised that we would have to make it back without wind assistance; indeed, battling very definitely against the wind. Once more, I felt it my duty to assist as otherwise we would have been knocking on the door of some unsuspecting local asking, shamefaced, for a lift back to our car.

At the cove

At the cove

So, some time later, we rounded our own Cape Horn and glided into a hidden cove, somewhere we fondly imagined that no-one had found before us. We hauled the boat out of the water (oops, that’s a royal “we”!) and set about munching our lunch. We were immediately disturbed by a rowing boat filled with six people making the same discovery and were sadly reminded (again) that nowhere is undiscovered on Windermere (it’s much more fun to live in Swallows and Amazons world though!)

Using the bothy bag!

Using the bothy bag!

After a leisurely lunch stop we made an exploration of the mouth of the River Brathay, wondering about the possibility of a trip downstream another day … we’ll see. It was very mellow and gentle, and we watched families walking along the river as we paddled by.

Once back on land a trip to the teashop warmed us up sufficiently to be able to feel our limbs again. Brrr! Easter!

On the River Brathay

On the River Brathay

Thinking Differently

I’d been living with MS since 2004 and was feeling the increasing frustration of not being able to get out into the countryside with my husband, as my legs were no longer prepared to carry me any distance.

Pete, clearly not prepared to let this be a permanent problem, hit on a solution whilst we were on holiday in France, where everyone was enjoying travelling to the beach by bike. He arrived back at our tent one day, having hired a tandem for us to try! I have to say, I was sceptical at first; I hadn’t been on a bike for many a year and now I was expected to ride on the back of something when I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t in control of the brakes.

However, after a few anxious squeaks (by me, not the bike), I had to admit that it was fun, cycling along special cycle lanes the few odd miles to the beach in the sun. I mastered the art of letting my legs move round on the pedals without actually putting any weight down and so minimising my effort. I could see that I was successful when Pete looked more tired than me as we dismounted.

First steps, west coast of France

First steps, west coast of France

We didn’t initially consider getting a tandem ourselves. After all, we live in the Yorkshire Pennines; there are lots of hills there. It would be a silly idea. So for a couple of years we just hired a tandem for a sunny two weeks. At least it was something, and I looked like everyone else as I pedalled away; no stick, no wheelchair.

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

In the meantime, not to be thwarted by our home geography, Pete kept thinking and came up with the notion of canoeing. Again, the Pennines are not known as great canoeing territory. The solution was to get an inflatable canoe and escape to the Lake District when we could. We discovered that it is feasible to travel there and back in a day, and still have a lovely few hours out on a lake. My parents also live up that way so we can even claim a bed for the night. We’ve had memorable days on Coniston, Windermere and Ullswater … and there are many more to try yet. It’s becoming something of a challenge to “bag” them all.

One great day out was to canoe about half-way down Ullswater with the wind behind us to Howtown, pack up the canoe into its, not exactly portable, but manageable, bag, and wait for the steamer to take us back up to our car at Glenridding.

Ullswater, near Howtown

Ullswater, near Howtown

An important trick that I’ve learnt in order to minimise fatigue is to only paddle when I feel like it, generally when other boats are nearby, so that it looks like I’m pulling my weight, but otherwise just dipping in a blade now and again, to “help out”. Fortunately, Pete is great at doing all the hard work, which also includes getting the canoe inflated and deflated.

It then occurred to us that maybe it would be feasible to use a tandem round where we live if we used the car a little, either with me driving to the start of a flatter route and Pete cycling solo there, or putting it on a bike rack. After all, I’m never going to give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money; I’m just tootling short distances of about five miles. So, we took the plunge and bought a mountain tandem (yes, they do exist!) a few months ago.  They come with lovely fat tyres which absorb a lot of the bumps. To make it as suitable as possible for me we fitted a crank-shortener to the back pedals which makes it much less tiring (since my back pedals still have to go round in time with the front ones). In order to minimise any complaints about my sore backside, we also got a very wide springy seat and a seat post with a spring shock absorber which is very helpful over all the bumpy paths.

Moors near Widdop

Moors near Widdop

So far we’ve made several trips in the local woods, had a bit of an epic trip following a reservoir road amongst the moors and a cycle along a canal towpath. The railway follows the same route at that point and we left the car at a station so that I could travel back by train but, after a good rest and refuelling stop at our destination, I was really chuffed when I made it back again too.

We have plenty of stops to admire the scenery and rest, and cafés are always popular, or flasks of tea. I stagger off the bike feeling utterly exhausted but extremely happy. I am out in the countryside again, smelling the earth and feeling the fresh air in my eyes. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and, whilst part of the tiredness is fatigue, that speciality of MS, most of it is the same as that old feeling of happy tiredness from having been outside on the fells all day.

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