Day 288 Day Trip to Lundy Island

Tuesday 17 May 2016

A circular walk around Lundy

7 miles

Harcourt hotel, Ilfracombe

“Verity” in all her glory on the Ilfracombe Quay
I caught the Ms Oldenberg from Ilfracombe Quay, along with 207 other passengers; it was a busy crossing today. It started raining as we were boarding the boat and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to get shelter. I managed to find a spot to stand for 2 hours. Fortunately the sea was calm. 

the MS Oldenberg with Hillsborough across the bay
I had about 4 hours on Lundy and resolved to walk a circuit, just not quite all the way to the North tip. There was plenty of wild life to see, although I didn’t have binoculars. It was just nice to walk around this fairly remote, barren island and admire its beauty. 

Lundy’s east coast
I had taken a picnic and I sat on the granite cliffs above Gannet Bay to eat it, while watching a seal playing below me. A great spot, but no gannets as they left their rock when the Northern lighthouse was built (it was noisy) and never returned. 

Gannet Bay and Gannet Rock – a nice spot for a picnic
The West coast was the most dramatic and it was here that there were puffins to be seen, along with other Auks. Lund-ey is Norse for Puffin Island.

Lundy’s west coast
another wonderful granite rock formation
I did climb up the old lighthouse, the first of 3 on the island. This one was decommissioned because it was too tall and so the light was often above the cloud. Today I could see the whole island from the top, although it was too cloudy to see Devon or South Wales. 

Beacon Hill Lighthouse (too tall)
looking all the way to the north of Lundy from Beacon Hill not far from the South West Point
At the SW tip was an Anthony Gormley sculpture, Daze IV, which has been there for a year and will soon be removed. It was located here to symbolise the point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Daze IV by Anthony Gormley
I finished my trip with a half pint of Lundy Landmark in the Marisco Tavern. This great little pub is the heart of the small village. There are plenty of holiday properties to rent on Lundy and I half wished I was staying. 

inside the Marisco Tavern
The Village
Another 2 hour boat ride back to Ilfracombe and I was exhausted. The bosun invited me back to the ship later for a drink (probably because I was at least 20 years younger than all the other passengers) but I thought it probably unwise. Besides, I was too tired to socialise. 

the MS Oldenberg at The Landing Beach in the South East
List of wildlife seen: gulls, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants, fulmars, wheatears, skylarks, pigeons, swallows, kestrel, seals, feral goats, highland cows(?), sheep, Lundy ponies, sika deer.

lots of feral goats on Lundy

Day 250 Skomer Island

Friday 8 April 2016

Skomer Island

5 miles

The Farm, Skomer Island

The weather had calmed a lot overnight and it was good news this morning when Joan phoned the boatman. I packed my stuff, including 2 fresh eggs that Joan gave me from her hens (for breakfast tomorrow) and then my lovely host gave me a lift to Martin’s Haven.  

The Dale Princess approaching Martin’s Haven
 There were 5 of us going to Skomer for a one-night stay so I was lucky to get a room to myself. The ferry only took 10 minutes but there was lots of kit to offload as volunteers going for a week have to take all their food as well as clothes, and then there’s the specialist binocular and camera equipment. Fortunately there’s a tractor at the other end to carry everyone’s kit to The Farm in the middle of the island.  

approaching Skomer
 With my lack of stuff and lack of food it didn’t take me long to settle in so I hired a pair of binoculars and set off on a trip around the island. After about half an hour I met Olof and Carole and stuck with them for the rest of the day (I don’t think they minded me gatecrashing their trip) as it was nice to have the company.  

The Warden’s House overlooking North Haven
 We spent a good 7 hours outside looking at birds, seals and porpoises. The weather was fine in the morning but closed in later and the day ended very wet. The wildlife-watching was excellent. The absence of land predators means that the birds are everywhere, often just sat on the ground, and they’re very noisy.  

looking at The Neck and the mainland beyond
 The highlight for me was watching a peregrine in an aerial chase of a small bird – fantastic aerobatic display. I didn’t see who won as they disappeared below the cliff top.  

looking across St Bride’s Bay to Ramsey Island and St David’s
 Other highlights included hundreds of puffins returning to Skomer in the afternoon after disappearing from the terrible winds for a couple of days, seeing 4 porpoises swimming line abreast, and the amazing Manx shearwaters that invade the island overnight (two flew into me and you have to be careful not to read on them as there are so many on the paths).  

puffin watching in the rain at North Haven
 Carole and Ollie offered me the leftovers of their pasta dinner (which was much nicer than my ration pack) and shared their tea and milk with me. I provided the bara brith. Dinner in front of the fire was cosy.  

huddled around the fire in the guest accommodation
 At 8.30pm the warden holds ‘bird log’ and we went along. The workers and volunteers make a daily log of sightings, including numbers, locations and behaviours. Carole, Ollie and I were able to add to this so I feel like I’ve helped a little to the study of wildlife on Skomer.  

a few more puffins
 It was freezing in our stone cottage but I was quite snuggly in my sleeping bag covered in a couple of blankets. It had been an excellent day.  

seals on the beach
 A full list of my Skomer sightings as follows:

Harbour porpoises, grey seals, peregrine falcon, buzzard, Manx shearwaters, gannets, puffins, razorbills, cormorants, Choughs, Ravens (+ 2 nests), jackdaws, crows, herring gulls, great and lesser black backed gulls, kittiwakes, fulmars, oystercatchers, curlew, Pheasants, Canada geese, Moorhen, Shelduck, Swallows, Meadow pipits, Wheatears, Wren, Willow Warbler, Pied wagtail. 

a manx shearwater

Day 99 Most Northerly Point of the British Mainland

Monday 13 July 2015

John O’Groats to Thurso

18 miles

Thurso Campsite

It was a cold night but I was nice and warm when I stuffed my coat inside my sleeping bag. I woke to more rain but fortunately it stopped pretty quickly and the tent dried out. Michael’s family had arrived to spend a few days celebrating his completion of LEJOG. He made me a cup of tea while packed away and gave me a packet of biscuits (someone had given him one on his trip so he passed on the favour). 

I caught the 9.30 bus about 5 miles to East Mey and from there I walked on the minor roads through small hamlets and around the cliffs. First though I passed Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s Caithness home from 1952 to 1996. Unfortunately it didn’t look as fine as usual wrapped in scaffolding.  

Castle Mey, not looking its best
 I stopped in the tea room to charge my phone over a coffee and then pressed on. I passed a red phone box that someone called Mark has turned into a book exchange.  

The book exchange, Harrow
 I occasionally had some good views along the coast and of Orkney but it was a grey day so the visibility was not the best. I could just about see the Old Man of Hoy through the grey-ness. 

Looking across the Pentland Firth at Hoy, Orkney
 After a couple of hours I arrived at Brough and stopped in the cafe for a spot of lunch. I got chatting to Dan the lawnmower man (he’s 74 years old and retired from truck driving so mows lawns to keep busy). These Northern Scots are a hardy bunch in their old age!

I wanted to walk to Dunnet Head, Britain’s most Northerly Point, so endured the boredom of one road there and back. There was no way I was going to try and walk around the headland keeping to the coast – way too boggy and no footpath. I was disappointed that not one car stopped and offered me a lift. Still, it was a pleasant walk as it wasn’t raining and Dunnet Head was worth the effort. The cliffs by the lighthouse had lots of birds, including puffins, and the views were 360 degrees from the viewpoint. Sadly the grey day didn’t make for good photographs.  


Dunnet Head Lighthouse facing Orkney
Dunnet Head cliffs looking along to Cape Wrath
 During WW2 Dunnet Head was an important radar station and before that it had been a lookout for submarines trying to sneak into Scapa Flow only 6 miles away. I walked back to Brough along the same road and admired the scars made by peat digging.  

Dunnet Head scarred from peat digging
 From Brough I took the road to Dunnet Village and then onto Dunnet Beach for 2 miles. The sand was a sort of grey colour and there was a ‘slick’ of seaweed that covered the shore. Other than that it was a nice beach and there was a lone surfer in the water trying to catch the 6 inch waves.  

A weird seaweed being washed onto the shore at Dunnet Bay
 I picked up the pace in order to make the last bus at Castletown. I was just approaching the bus stop when the bus went past. Gutted. Fortunately I’d bumped into a couple of guys on the beach that I’d seen earlier in the Brough cafe (always good to stop at cafes) and they were driving to Thurso. They drove past me just after the bus as stopped to give me a lift. I was very grateful. It had started raining again.  

Foam on the Dunnet Beach, and sunshine!
 I got dropped off at the campsite which overlooks Thurso Bay. The rain stopped and I put my tent up. 

Caithness Stone was quarried here in Thurso and Castletown, and exported to the British Empire. Lots of the fences around here are stone fences. I think they look quite good.  


Day 80 Walking Balmedie Beach

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Aberdeen to Newburgh
15 miles
Invernettie Guest House, Peterhead

Oli gave me a lift back to the beach on the North side of the River Don. He walked the first couple of miles along the beach with me and I had an easy time of it because he carried my rucksack. It was nice walking with company. 

Oli carrying my rucksack along the beach
Balmedie Beach is about 10 miles long so I had planned to walk most of the day on the sand, which should make for easy walking. The weather forecast was rain and it wasn’t long before the fine mist in the air became a fine drizzle. 

The beach has beautiful golden sand and I saw very few people.  

Just my tracks on the beach
 The further North I went, the more alone I seemed and the bigger the flocks of birds gathered on the shoreline: gulls, oyster catchers, one flock of eider ducks at one point and terns diving for fish. I also saw the odd seal playing just off the beach. The birds and the sound of the sea kept me company.  
A group of Eider ducks

Disturbing a flock of gulls at Blackdog Rock
Halfway along the beach I walked through the only gap in the dunes and through Balmedie Country Park in search of a cafe in Balmedie. I saw a sign to the Beachside Cafe; little did I realise that it was a 30 minute walk from the beach! On the plus side, I was out of the rain for an hour and had a nice lunch.

I walked back to the Country Park and thought I’d follow a path through the dunes. It soon petered out and I had to cross the dunes and get back onto the beach.  

Lots of dunes
After a few more miles I came to the River Ythan and had to turn inland to Newburgh. There was a colony of grey seals hanging around at the mouth of the river; most lying on the sand, some fighting and several in the water. The ones swimming were very curious about me.  
Seals in the mouth of the River Ythan
As I made my way into Newburgh the fine drizzle became heavier rain and I was forced to put on my waterproof. It was miserable and the thought of walking on to Collieston and wild camping, with not even a pub to go to, was appealing less and less. I walked past a bus stop and made a snap decision to wait 10 minutes for the next bus to Peterhead (tomorrow’s destination) as it is a bigger town. I found a basic guest house with a free room and was grateful to get dry. The weather forecast for the next few days is not good and today was pretty cold, only 9 degrees. I was glad I wasn’t camping. 

A pretty jellyfish on the beach
and another one

Days 41 & 42 Robin Hood’s Bay

Saturday and Sunday 16-17 May 2015

Rest days
Bank House Cottage, Robin Hood’s Bay

It was nice to spend a couple of days in Robin Hood’s Bay staying in one of the quirky fishermen’s cottages at the bottom of the steep hill. The weather wasn’t too bad and I was determined to go for a first dip in the sea on my trip, so Sally and I braved the cold sea twice. Once at Hayburn Wyke, a magical place where the beck flows onto the stony beach, and on Sunday morning in Robin Hood’s Bay before breakfast. Invigorating is the word.  

swimming (briefly) at Hayburn Wyke. Freezing!
 I went back to Ravenscar when the tide was out to get a good look at Peak Fault, the only fault line I know of in Britain. I thought it was impressive. It was also a chance to watch the seal colony that basks at the base of the cliff.  

The fault line (actually a ‘V’ shape) at Peak Fault
 Weather forecast is predicting rain for much of the next week as I tackle the Northern towns of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Newcastle. I am therefore expecting a big contrast to last week. 

Day 22 Brancaster Bay and Lots of Wildlife

Monday 27 April 2015

Burnham Deepdale to Heacham
15.5 miles
St Anne’s Guest House

My tent was virtually dry this morning so it was easy to pack up, and even better that I could nip to the cafe next door for breakfast mid packing. I’d definitely stay here again.

There were some lovely big houses in Brancaster facing out to sea across the marsh. Brancaster Staithe also has a tiny quay dating back to the 1700s when grain and coal were brought in; the grain for making huge quantities of beer. Sadly no longer.   

the tide was out at Brancaster Staithe Quay; not as busy as it was in 1700
 As high tide wasn’t until 2.20pm I decided to walk along the miles of fine sandy beach rather than stick to the coast path. On another glorious sunny day what could be better? 

miles of Brancaster beach in the sunshine
 I needed to cross a small channel of water crossing the beach from a creek just before Titchwell. Before I took my shoes off for a short, and cold, paddle I walked up the creek a bit and was rewarded with a seal show. There were 4 small seals in the creek, probably waiting for the tide to come in so they could swim back out to sea and they were very curious of me. They kept looking at me, diving down and waving their tails in the air and then swimming right up to the shore where I was stood. It was such a lovely experience.  

seals stuck in a Brancaster creek at low tide
 I had to come inland at Titchwell RSPB reserve as there was another, bigger channel further on that I knew I wouldn’t be able to cross. The birders were out in force and I was subject of a lot of strange looks in my shorts and thin t-shirt (it was a hot day) while they were in trousers and winter coats and hats. Oh well. There was plenty of bird life about all day and I saw flocks of oyster catchers and lots of sanderlings on the sea shore, terns dive bombing into the sea to catch fish, a lapwing dive bombing a kestrel and plenty more besides. I didn’t see a grasshopper warbler that one birder I came across was searching for, but I did hear it. 

I walked through the very pretty village of Thornham, which looked like the sort of place where the village council demand you paint your house a certain colour and keep the front garden up to scratch. It worked. After Thornham I was able to walk all the way to Hunstanton on the beach in the sunshine. The beach was littered with pretty shells, particularly razor clam shells that crunch underfoot. 

lots of lovely sea shells on the Brancaster sea shore
 I arrived at the North end of Hunstanton early afternoon and decided, once I reached the other side of town, that this was the posh end. It had big houses up on a cliff by the ex-coastguard lookout and lighthouse, both of which are now dwellings. There was also the remains of a chapel dedicated to St Edmund, the Saxon King, who is supposed to have landed here in 855 and was then martyred by the Danes when they beat him in battle a few years later. From the cliff top I could see Lincolnshire, in fact it was such a clear day that I’m sure I could see the whole of the Lincolnshire coast as there were hills further up, which must be the wolds? 

The view across The Wash to Lincolnshire from Hunstanton
 From South Hunstanton I walked the last 2 miles along the promenade to Heacham watching the clouds roll in slowly from the West. 

Day 18 New Boots and Horsey Seals in Norfolk

Thursday 23 April 2015

Great Yarmouth to Happisburgh
19 miles
The Hill House Inn B&B

What a day. Oh happy feet in new boots. 

I spent the whole day walking on the beach or in the dunes (so I probably actually walked at least a mile further than stated) and it was lovely; the sound of the sea accompanied me all day. The further into Norfolk I got, the finer the sand and the fewer the stones on the beach. Still very few people though, mainly dog walkers, and it is noticeable as walking through the dunes one has to pick ones way past the dog poo!

The day started cloudy with not a breath of wind, so the turbines out in Scroby Sands Wind Farm were still; however, by 11 am the sun was coming out and it turned into another gloriously sunny afternoon. I am so tanned that I am concerned by the end of this trip I’ll be 40 but look 50. People might think my mother is my sister (Norfolk joke…my apologies to anyone from Norfolk). 

I reached Winterton-On-Sea in time for a late morning coffee and a quick visit to the Winterton Coastwatch tower. It’s manned by volunteers who record passing shipping for the Coastguard. To do this job you need to be happy spending hours watching the sea and drinking tea.  

Paul manningthe Winterton Coastwatch tower
Winterton looked like a nice place, with some quirky housing, including a lighthouse and some round houses.  

Fancy living here in Winterton-On-Sea?
The afternoon walk from Winterton was one of those magical times that I hoped for on this trip. I began wending my way through the dunes, eyes peeled looking for adders, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see one even though it was really warm, still and great basking conditions. I did see a pair of ring ouzels but gave up on seeing an added and decided to pop over the dunes and down onto the beach. As I came over the dunes I noticed a line over large stones on the shoreline, but hang on a minute, they were moving. It was a line of grey seals, about 400 of them, lying on the beach enjoying the sunshine. I couldn’t believe it. I walked along the beach, keeping a respectful distance of about 20m and got a great view of them at rest and at play in the surf. For anyone that’s not David Attenborough or hasn’t been to Horsey before, seals are smelly.  

Grey seals up close at Horsey
A very long line of basking seals, maybe 400?
About 15 minutes further on there was a car park and signs pointing the way to the Horsey seal colony; how lucky I decided to walk on the beach when I did!

There were more seals further on up the beach, this time common seals, which are shorter, fatter, cuter looking and lift their tails up whenever a wave comes as if they don’t want to get wet.  

Common seals enjoying the sunshine
After that experience I was on a high so decided to try my luck again adder-spotting; they must be actively avoiding me. I had a quick stop in Sea Palling for a cup of tea and a sandwich and then it was the last section to Happisburgh. I was lucky enough to see a pair of Little Terns to round off a good day. Since I arrived in Suffolk several beaches have had sections roped off because Little Terns nest there, but I am a bit too early so I was fortunate to see a pair flying low over the shoreline. 

Approaching Happisburgh the cliff erosion becomes very apparent and this village is famous for shrinking since the 1990s as houses have fallen off the cliff. The beach section here is closed because of the danger. I didn’t need to walk it however as I was staying in a quirky pub and treated myself to Cromer crab and chips for dinner. What a fantastic day.  

Approaching Happisburgh – cliff erosion visible