Having promised there would only be one more update, there needs to be two... There's too much to put into one post, so I'll put up one on kit in a few days.

I’ve spent the last few days eating, sleeping, and getting round to sorting out the rather damp pile of kit that has been dumped in the garage. Bizarrely I’m missing the paddling, despite the efforts required to make it to the finish in the headwinds. The simplicity of paddling eating and sleeping is much easier than “normality”. However I’m delighted to be back at home, and enjoying watching the teams who are currently circumnavigating, but with sympathy for all of them who’ve been held up by the winds…

The Blog

I apologise for the slowness in getting posts up whilst paddling. It’s been much busier than I ever envisaged the trip to be. I was either in the boat, eating, planning or sleeping, which didn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. The second problem was accessing the internet, most updates were done by using my phone as a tether, but this wouldn’t always work, particularly further North. Finding Wi-Fi connections was equally difficult, but the highlight in trying to find a connection was in Scotland where I walked into a pub and asked if they had wireless, the elderly man behind the bar looked at me in a slightly puzzled way, and in a deep and broad Scottish accent said “Son, we’ve got better than a wireless in here, we’ve got a television!” as he proudly pointed to a portable tv in the corner of the room……. I put my tablet away and ordered a beer. Thank you for bearing with it.

I’ll try and give you a run down on the trip, as I’ve reflected on it, and also a critique of the kit I used. This might hopefully form a resource for other budding LEJOGers.

The Route

I was really pleased with the route that I took. The balance of open ocean crossings, intricate coastlines and the use of the extensive canal network meant the paddling was about as varied as it gets, but it also meant I wasn’t always at the mercy of the weather, which for those people looking to do an expedition on a tight timescale is a significant lure for this trip.

 One of the more exposed sections of the trip is the SW coastline, so my intention was to wait for a clear 5 day window, which would have given me enough time to get from Lands End to Ilfracombe. I was incredibly lucky in that my planned start date coincided with a suitable window, so within 5 days I was round at Lynmouth. Before entering the Bristol Channel I had a long look at the weather, with a view of Crossing over to Wales, and staying on the coast. This was far shorter than using the canal network, but would leave me exposed to the weather; the patterns didn’t suit so I went with my original plan of using the canal network. Once in the Bristol Channel the exposure to the Atlantic swells was reduced, and therefore the risks of being weathered off, a couple of days later I entered the canal network at Sharpness. This was the only route error I made; I arrived at Sharpness on huge Spring tides, and could have stayed on the tidal Severn right past Gloucester all the way to Tewkesbury, which is tidal on springs. This would have let me experience the bore, and also have covered the distance with significant tidal lift.

The canals were on the whole great. The low point was definitely the Severn, the locks are large and industrial, with awkward portages around them. As a team it would be much easier, but solo it was really hard work. Combine this with 41 miles of paddling upstream, and the toys were out the pram, and the pram was in the canal…. Other than that the canals are fantastic paddling, offering great views, the perfect flat water environment, and the ability to move at any time of day, and in almost any weather. You can get a key from the canal and river trust offices, which gives you access to the showers, toilets, and stand pipes which are dotted along the network, which can make your days relatively civilised.

I changed my route to exit the Canal network via the Dee rather than via Elsmere Port. One of the difficulties with the Elsmere route is crossing the Manchester ship canal, which I understand has to be done with an escort vessel, radio contact, and must be pre-arranged. I never investigated what I needed to do as I’d committed to the North Wales route before I needed to arrange. The route to Anglesey meant an Isle of Man crossing. This was potentially a sure fire way of getting held up by the weather, but reduced the mileage by about 60 miles.

The Isle of Man crossing is something I wanted to do, as it was unlikely I’d come up to do it as a stand-alone trip, but as part of a bigger trip it fitted really well. Weather is the biggest problem; ideally you need a three day window, a day to get there, a day to paddle round, and a day to cross to Scotland. I had to wait for a couple of days before a window presented itself, but the three day window reduced itself to two so I was forced into 2 long, big mileage days, otherwise I would have been stuck on the IOM for around 8 days! That’s the gamble with the crossing, in that you can lose way more time than you might gain by being stuck out in the Irish Sea.

The North Channel up into Scotland provides plenty of excitement in terms of both exposure, and tidal range, from there the exposure was reduced due to entering the Firth of Clyde, as this is protected from the big Atlantic swells by the Mull of Kintyre, I always felt I could cope with stronger winds if I wasn’t having to contend with monster swells as well. Once in the Firth of Clyde there were a few options, but all of them went North, either via coastlines, or crossing to Islands, there were also two potential exits at the top. The Crinan canal, which I took and to be fair was absolutely fine. I’d heard and read horror stories about the locks being a real pain, but they weren’t any more difficult than anything I’d already encountered, the only problem is there are a lot of them, 14 in a 9 mile stretch. The other option was to go out through the Lochs of E and W Tarbert, this would have meant tidal assistance, but the weather worked against me using this option.

From there I had numerous choices as to what route to take through the islands. I chose a mix of sight-seeing and tidal super highway; I could probably repeat that bit of the trip 10 times and change my route each time. From Oban all the way through to the Moray Firth is essentially the same orientation. Before my trip everyone was telling me that the winds conspire to blow SW down the valleys so you have a really high chance of a following wind for a large portion of the trip. I sadly had the exact opposite, with NE winds, but everyone I spoke to did say how unusual the wind direction was….

The Caledonian Canal is incredibly well set up for kayaks, pre-register online for a free licence, and you can get a key for the toilets and showers for a small fee. There are designated camping areas on the way, generally around the locks, but also loads of wild camping, there are a couple of rivers that bypass the lochs that are paddleable, but I wasn’t prepared to risk wrapping the boat so close to the end, they would make it significantly quicker though.

The final stretch of coast after the Moray Firth is classic Scottish sea paddling, long stretches of inaccessible coastline, little in the way of landings, and a long way between suitable camp spots, after the relative ease of the Caledonian this required a little more thought, but was stunning paddling. A tidal gate on Duncansby head determines arrival at John O’Groats, but because you don’t have to venture right into the Pentland Firth, the technical crux is coming round the headland. Then it’s a case of finding your way through all the cyclists to have your photo taken next to the free sign, rather than the one that costs £10!

I find there’s something really satisfying about one way trips, not covering the same ground somehow seems more purposeful, than paddling somewhere and paddling back again, this trip is just a massive one of those! My stats were 865 miles over 32 days with 29 days paddling and 3 days weathered off, which worked out to be 27 miles a day on average. The beauty of this trip for me, were the constant options I had. Because it’s not a circumnavigation, there are no “rules”, re-routing yourself several times for speed, or sight-seeing is possible, as all you have to do is start at Lands End and finish at John O’Groats. Where you go in-between is entirely up to you.  I had looked into a route that came out of the Trent! Maybe next time…..