On Friday 2nd June the weather forecast said F4-5 southerly. I was at Kilronan on the Aran Islands waiting for a break in the weather to get me to the half-way mark at Slyne Head. It should be an easy enough crossing to Golam Head in south Connemara and from there to follow the coastline to Slyne Head. Sunshine and calm sea would be nice, but grey and squally would have to do.
It was windy leaving Kilronan as expected and the sea had a little swell which increased progressively as I headed out across the bay with the wind helping me on the way. I was travelling west too, gradually moving out of the shelter of Inishmore and picking up more swell as a result. It was really quite lumpy at Golam Head with breakers on the outlying reefs thereabouts. I picked my way through and decided just to carry on up the coastline. After another hour or so conditions had deteriorated further, now with white crests and breaking waves all around. I was at Duck Island, scene of a recent trawler disaster, just off Mweenish Island. Enough was enough. I surfed into the bay and found a sheltered landing at the south-east tip. Only 27km done, Slyne Head would have to wait. I noted that the forecast wind had increased through the day, but that evening everything looked much calmer.
The next day the forecast was a little better, not perfect, but certainly an improvement. I packed up and paddled on with the intention again of getting to Slyne Head, but knowing that I could bail out at several places on the way. Duck Island was still lively, as it was right up to Saint Mac Dara’s Island, but at least I could see clear water between the breaks.
I landed for a rest and surveyed the next section, Roundstone Bay, from the hill top. It didn’t look too bad and indeed it wasn’t, until once again I was out of the shelter and approaching the land on the far side. The section from here to Slyne Head is full of reef breaks and with few landings that I thought I could depend upon if I needed to get out. Roundstone suddenly seemed very attractive, even though it was now 4 or 5km in the wrong direction!
I paddled in and found refuge in St. Joseph’s B&B, conveniently located only a short drag from the harbour, next to shops, pubs and the very good Bogbean cafe. Christina offered me a very good deal for a small but pleasant room on the top floor, which suited me well.
Sunday was another wet and windy day, with a forecast that didn’t look much different to the preceding. I decided to hitch to Ballyconneely to see the state of the sea and was quickly picked up by Pat, who gave me the guided tour and then invited me in for coffee and cake with his family. We chatted for half an hour or so about my travels, at the end of which Pat declared me “as good a specimen of lunatic as you’re ever likely to meet!”. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Sunday night was wind and torrential rain. I sheltered in O Dowds for a while and watched The Queen in the B&B before packing up ready for a prompt start next morning. The wind had changed direction to north-westerly, perfect for a sheltered run to Slyne Head, at the expense of some pain once I’d turned the corner.
Soon after midday I cleared Slyne Head though the first of several short cuts about 1km north of the lighthouse. Nothing much happened, other than that I lost my kayak earlier for about 10 minutes after landing on Illaunura. It wasn’t visible until very close and I forgot exactly where I’d left it when I went for a walk!
On the west side of Slyne Head is a series of long low islands creating a sheltered passage north for perhaps 5km, at the north end of which are the two quay of Doonloughan. The holiday home by the old quay happened to be occupied and I was invited up to eat lunch in the shelter of their terrace. It was a pleasant and warmer lunch that it might otherwise have been. Unfortunately I didn’t write down their names, but thanks!
After lunch was a bit different. Now I was heading north into F4-5 wind that had turned northerly. It was hard work crossing the bay into choppy waves, so much so that it was clear I wouldn’t make it to Cleggan as hoped. I struggled around the back of Turbot Island and just about made it, slowly as the wind was now above F5, to the campsite at the entrance to Streamstown Bay. It’s actually a very nice campsite with convenient water access, so that was no bad thing, but it left a bit more than I’d like for the next leg to Achill Sound.
My father had decided to visit me on my travels, so he met me at Streamstown. We got fish and chips at the Old Pier Inn, Cleggan and next day (it was mad wind again) went for a tour around the local area, including a visit to Derrigimlagh Bog, where Marconi made the first transatlantic wireless transmission and Alcock and Brown “landed” after the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
Wednesday (7th June) there was a window in the weather, south-west F3-4 backing south / south-east F4-6 in the afternoon. I had a long paddle to do, mostly open crossings following the chain of islands Inishbofin, Inishturk, Clare Island and then through Achill Island by means of the sound to the bridge. It was another early start, paddling from 5.45am, but in return there was very little wind, the sun was soon shining and the tide was with me. I made quick progress to Inishlyon (near ‘Bofin) and continued straight on passing between Ox Island and Davillaun and in due course arrived at Inishturk without event. By now the sky was grey and the wind had picked up a little.
At the harbour of Inishturk I stopped for a first lunch and ended up meeting a French sea-kayaking couple from Brittany! Concious of the deteriorating forecast, I didn’t hang about for long, paddling on first to Clare Island, passing Achillbeg and then into Achill Sound.
With the tail wind and early start, I’d made good progress and was at Achillbeg, the entrance to the sound by about 12.30pm. With the wind now increasing rapidly and the first shower arriving, that was perfect timing. Unfortunately it was a bit too early for the tide which had only just started filling the sound. After a short and fairly miserable break at Darby Point, mostly waiting for the tide, I decided to give it a go anyway and see what happened.
Well, it was very shallow in many places and required carefully following the main stream to avoid the sand spits. I got to within 1.5km of the bridge and then I was greeted by a vista of sand! With no obvious way on I landed (in the middle) and wandered about to see what could be done. Fortunately there was a narrow channel at the western edge which was at least 8 to 10″ deep all the way to the bridge! That was just enough to paddle badly.
There was a good flow against under the bridge, perhaps 2kn, but only for 50m. I landed at the slip the other side and crossed the road to the Achill Bridge Hotel, dripping. They were very kind and offered me a room (B&B) at no charge! The wind howled and the rain lashed. But for the sand, it was perfect timing. (I was at the bridge about 2 hours after the flood started, neap tide. An hour later the channel had plenty of water and the sand was all covered.)
Not wishing to get caught out the next morning with a falling tide I left about 3 hours into the ebb, about 10am. It was grey and drizzly, but at least I had the wind behind me again. I was planning to cross Blacksod Bay, north to Belmullet where there’s a short canal connecting to Broadhaven Bay on the north coast, a sheltered passage avoiding the need to pass by the Inishkeas and Erris Head. The wind picked up quickly and the rain came and went all day. It was fine, but it wasn’t a lot of fun and there wasn’t much visibility at times. After several hours I was pleased to see Belmullet in the distance and eventually landed at the slip on the south side for a tide break. The canal is considered passable for 2 hours either side of high water. I had some more cake and then paddled the short remaining distance to the canal entrance. I noted the festive bunting and the guidance on the sign at the edge of the canal, before proceding as planned. It certainly looked okay and I wasn’t about to paddle the 80km or so around the peninsular instead!
On the north side of the canal is another quay and, apparently, entirely different weather with warm sunshine, neither wind nor rain!
A very kind man, David Tyrrell, met me at the quay, showed me where to leave my kayak safely and took me to the Broadhaven Bay Hotel, which he manages. There I was put up for the night and looked after very well by all of the staff. It was a very welcome break in a very agreeable environment. Thanks very much!
Friday was a great day, paddling out from Broadhaven Bay to the cliffs of North Mayo. I had wind mostly behind me and tide too. The scenary is spectacular with high sheer cliffs at Benwee Head, arches, cuts between outlying rocks, islets and such like. With little or no swell past Benwee Head it was one of few days I’ve been able to get really close to the cliffs.
I’d like to have gone out to the cliffs and tunnels of The Stags, but I’d a long way to go and, once again, a deteriorating forecast. They’ll have to wait for another trip with more time!
So, now it’s a waiting game again, this time at Barbara’s house, Keadyville House (B&B) in Ballycastle. This weekend has seen gale force wind and waves miles out to sea visible from the bedroom window! I’m enjoying an extended rest, visited the Ceide Fields (prehistoric settlement) and the local cafe. The coming week looks patchy, but tomorrow I’m hoping to make some more progress.