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Lands End – John o Groats Solo Kayak Odyssey

Following on from my 2004 East Australian Coast kayak adventure I decided to attempt another sizable kayak trip that would take me from the most Westerly point of England to the far North of Scotland. Land’s End to John O’Groats is a very popular cycling challenge though very few people have completed it in a kayak. My chosen route took advantage of the prevailing South Westerly Winds and mixes coastal sea kayaking together with two long stretches of inland waterways. This page contains information on the planning and realization of this trip.

Project Brief

To kayak unsupported from Lands End (Cornwall) to John o’ Groats (Scotland) via the following route:

Land’s End | North Cornwall Coast | North Devon Coast | Bristol Channel | Gloucester & Sharpness Canal | River Severn | Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal | Shropshire Union Canal | Liverpool | Cumbrian Coast | Barrow in Furness | Ailsa Craig | Arran | Crinan Canal | Fort William | Caledonian Canal | Inverness | NE Scottish Coast | John o’ Groats

I had 6 weeks or 42 days in which to complete this challenge.

Trip in Numbers

Number Fact
42 Days in which to complete the Challenge
155 Number of Locks around which I will have to Portage
1300 Approximate Distance in Kilometres

Basking Shark

Risk Assessment

The chosen route was not without its challenges. I anticipated challenging conditions within the Bristol Channel which has the second highest tidal range in the world. Tidal streams in this formidable area can run at up to eight knots. There are also some rather perilous bar crossings including the infamous Bideford Bar. The inland sections of the trip would involve many portages around locks. In the Northern part of the trip are some exposed parts of coastline together with increased unpredictability in weather conditions.
The risks of Hypothermia in waters around the British Isles are ever present as is the unpredictability of the weather.

The correct training, equipment and thorough planning helped to minimise the inherent risks of sea kayaking but can never eliminate them altogether. I therefore had to accept that there is a large component of unavoidable risk when undertaking this trip.

My favourite camp

Timescales

I anticipated that the 1300 kilometre trip to take six weeks to complete travelling on average 30 kilometres per day. The trip needed to be completed within the months of June, July or August when meteorological conditions, including temperature are most favourable. By utilising the prevailing winds and manipulating maximum benefit from the strong tidal streams I hoped that it should be possible to incorporate several rest days into the itinerary.

I managed to negotiate six weeks off work for the trip so promised myself that I would go as far as I could in the available time without putting myself in to unnecessary risky situations.

Sponsorship

Helen & Douglas House

Although I attempted this trip for my own personal reasons I used the opportunity to raise some money for a good cause. The charity that I chose to support was Helen & Douglas House.

Helen & Douglas House is a registered charity providing respite and end of life care for children and young adults with life-shortening conditions, as well as support and friendship for the whole family. The two hospice houses are bright, vibrant and positive places, where the emphasis is on living life to the full, even when that life may be short.

You can check out their website at: www.helenanddouglas.org.uk

Please note that the project wass entirely self funded and all money raised through sponsorship went directly to Helen & Douglas House.

Trip Budget

This trip is an entirely self funded venture. Although I spent most of my time rough camping, this was far from a cheap trip.

I also visited plenty of pubs and restaraunts which was quite expensive, but all part of the experience.

Component Budget
Kayaking Equipment £2200
Safety Equipment £700
Food £900
Accomodation £300
Transport £250

Trip Staging

Day Start Finish Km Highlights/Excitement Pubs Visited, (Where did I Sleep?)
1 Sennen Cove Fishermans Cove 35 Paddling with the Basking Sharks None, (Beach)
2 Fishermans Cove Newquay Riding the tidal streams around the headlands – awesome! The Boat House, Newquay Harbour, (Beach)
3 Newquay Boscastle Entering Boscastle harbour for the first time – not too easy to spot! Cobwebb Inn, BoscastleYHA Boscastle (A), (YHA)
4 Rest Day Boscastle Exploring Boscastle Wellington Hotel, BoscastleYHA Boscastle (A), (YHA)
5 Boscastle Clovelly Stopping off at Hartland quay; spectacular coastline Hartland Quay Hotel (L), (Beach)
6 Delayed due to Wind/Sea State Clovelly Exploring Clovelly and the surrounding cliffs in very windy conditions. Red Lion Hotel, Clovelly, (Beach)
7 Clovelly Woolacombe Landing through heavy surf onto Woolacombe beach The Tides Inn, Woolacombe, (Wild Camping)
8 Delayed due to Wind/Swell Woolacombe Enjoying the sunrise and sunset from my vantage point up above Morte point Hungry Jacks, Woolacombe, (Wild Camping)
9 Delayed due to Wind/Swell Woolacombe Watching the race between Morte and Bull Point in a Force 7 (Awesome) Chichester Arms, Morthoe, (Wild Camping)
10 Woolacombe Lynmouth Facing my nemesis at Morte Point (Beach)
11 Lynmouth Minehead Passing Foreland Point The Old Ship Aground, Minehead, (Beach)
12 Minehead Clevedon 50 Met my sister Rebekah for a bag swap and a feed at Clevedon The Moon and Sixpence, Clevedon, (Beach)
13 Clevedon Shepherds Patch 50 Paddling @ >6knots in ‘The Shoots’ and ‘Hen and Chickens’ Tidal Races under the Severn crossings; Arriving at Sharpness dead on high water. The Tudor Arms, Shepherds Patch, (Tow Path)
14 Shepherds Patch Gloucester 23 Meeting another sister and my two nieces in Gloucester for some food Doctor Fosters (L), GloucesterNando’s (T), Gloucester, (Cow Field)
15 Gloucester Stourport on Severn 65 Awaking to being surrounded by a herd of cows. Enjoying glorious weather on the Severn. The Lenchford Inn (T), (River Bank)
16 Stourport on Severn Brewood Pulling the boat around 33 locks and up nearly 300ft The Vine (L), Kniver The Bridge Inn, Brewood, (Tow Path)
17 Brewood Market Drayton Junction Inn (L) Norbury Junction, (Tow Path)
18 Market Drayton Chester Exploring Chester The Cheshire Cat, Chester, (Hotel)
19 Rest Day Chester Taking the train to Liverpool to scout out Mersey Pumphouse Inn, Albert Dock, (Hotel)
20 Chester Scarisbrick Getting a lift across the Mersey after reaching a dead end at Ellesmere Port. Meeting some very kind scousers! Scarisbrick Arms, Scarisbrick, (Tow Path)
21 Scarisbrick Preston Catching the Ebbing tide down the Douglas before catching the flood stream up the Ribble. Also attacked by swans! Hand and Dagger Pub, (Tow Path)
22 Preston Glasson Visiting Garstang on the way through. Th’Owd Tithe Barn, Garstang (L)The Mill Inn, Glasson, (Tow Path)
23 Delayed due to Wind/Visibility Glasson A very, very wet day so booked into an Inn for the night Victoria Inn, Glasson, (Inn)
24 Delayed due to Wind/Visibility Glasson Visited Lancaster and Morecambe (walked barefoot from Glasson) The Sir Richard Owen, Lancaster, (Inn)
25 Glasson Haverigg Crossed shipping lane before using Strong currents across Morecambe Bay. Harbour Hotel, Haverigg, (Beach)
26 Haverigg Ravenglass Inadvertently straying onto a live naval gunnery range. Enjoying a few beers in the sunshine at Ravenglass The Holly House Hotel, Ravenglass, (Beach)
27 Ravenglass St Bees Passing Sellafield Nuclear complex None, (Beach)
28 St Bees Brighouse Bay 50 Crossing a rather choppy Solway Firth and arriving into Scotland Brighouse Bay Holiday Park Ba, (Beach)
29 Brighouse Bay Monreith 35 Beautiful coastline, strong tidal streams, westerly breeze; Wind Against Tide! Steam Packet Inn (L), Isle of Whithorn, (Beach)
30 Monreith Stranraer 35 Missing the tide around the Mull of Galloway (leading to 14Km Portage) The Waterline, Stranraer, (B&B)
31 Rest Day (Stranraer) Stranraer Exploring Stranraer The Grapes Public House, (B&B)
32 Stranraer Kildonan 60 Visiting Ailsa Craig; Submarine Incident off Pladda island Kildonan Hotel, (Beach)
33 Kildonan Sannox Passing the Holy Isle Arran on a Plate (L), (Beach)
34 Sannox Ardrishaig Popping into Tarbert and enoying some spectacular clear weather Tarbert Hotel (L)Argyll Inn, Lochgilphead, (Tow Path)
35 Ardrishaig Clachan Seil Getting rather drunk with the locals at the Tigh an Truish Inn Crinan Hotel (L), CrinanTigh an Truish Inn, Clachan Seil, (Inn)
36 Clachan Seil Eilean Balnagowan 40 Viewing Sea Otters up close None, (Beach)
37 Eilean Balnagowan Loch Lochy 47 Revisiting Fort William Cobbs (L), Fort William, (Wild Camping)
38 Day of Reflection Loch Lochy Probably my favourite day spent at my favourite campsite reflecting on life! None, (Wild Camping)
39 Loch Lochy Loch Ness 30 Still no sign of Nessie! The Lock Inn (L), Fort Augustus, (Wild Camping)
40 Loch Ness Dores 30 Enjoying some good food at the Dores Inn Dores Inn (Beach)
41 Dores Inverness 10 Cleaning myself up – Getting a haircut and having a shave, re-exploring Inverness The Mustard Seed, Inverness, Gellion’s Bar, Inverness, Macnabs, Inverness, (B&B)

Physical Preparation

In preparation for my trip I have joined the council gym in Swindon. This costs £31 a month and allows you to use all of the councils 6 gyms, fitness classes, 6 swimming pools, climbing wall, ice skating, athletics track and health suite. I plan to go a minimum of 3 times per week.

Below is my intitial training program which I will build upon as my fitness improves.

Exercise Reps Time (Mins) Weight / Level / Distance
Warm Up
Treadmill 5 – 10 minutes Easy to Medium
Stretches 8 – 12 Seconds Full Body
Cardiovascular
Rower 15 Minutes Max Resistance
Resistance
Lateral Pulldown (Wide Grip) 4 x 12 30 – 45 seconds rest on sets
Shoulder Press 4 x 12 30 – 45 seconds rest on sets
Db Shrug 3 x 10 30 – 45 seconds rest on sets
Bicep Curl Barbell 3 x 12 30 – 45 seconds rest on sets
Dips 4 x 12 30 – 45 seconds rest on sets
Regular Crunch 30 Seconds
Crunch with Alternating twist 30 Seconds
Side Crunch 30 Seconds
Side Bends 4 x 12
Reverse Crunch 45 Seconds
Cooldown
Bike 5 – 10 minutes Medium to Easy
Stretches 12 – 14 Seconds Full Body

Charts and Mapping

I have compiled a list of charts, guides and maps for my trip. The OS maps are a mixture of the Explorer (1:25000) and Landranger (1:50,000) series

Chart Code ISBN Title
Almanac 9781408113677 Reeds 2010 Western Almanac
NP 256 9780707712567 Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas (Irish Sea and Bristol Channel)
Book 9781906095055 South West Sea Kayaking (Author: Mark Rainsley)
OS 102 978-0-319-23703-8 Land’s End (Penzance and St Ives)
OS 104 9780319240342 Redruth & St Agnes
OS 106 9780319240168 Newquay & Padstow
OS 111 9780319236963 Bude, Boscastle & Tintagel
Stanford Charts 14 189931881X Chart Pack – The Bristol Channel
OS 126 9780319236970 Clovelly & Hartland
OS 139 9780319240182 Bideford, Ilfracombe & Barnstaple
OS OL9 0-319-23692-7 Exmoor
OS 140 9780319240359 Quantock Hills & Bridgwater
OS 153 9780319237014 Weston-super-Mare & Bleadon Hill
OS 154 9780319236277 Bristol West & Portishead
OS OL14 9780319240953 Wye Valley & Forest of Dean
GEO Projects 0-86351-177-5 Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal with the River Severn and the Gloucestershire & Sharpness Canal
GEO Projects Shropshire Union Canal
OS 266 9780319236543 Wirral & Chester
OS 285 9780319235867 Southport & Chorley
OS 286 9780319235782 Blackpool & Preston
OS 286 9780319235683 Lancaster, Morecambe & Fleetwood
OL 6 9780319240236 The English Lakes (South Western area)
LR OS 89 9780319231500 West Cumbria
OS 302 9780319238387 Dumfries & Dalbeattie
OS 312 9780319238370 Kirkcudbright & Castle Douglas
LR OS 82 9780319229491 Stranraer & Glenluce
LR OS 76 9780319238417 Girvan, Ballantrae & Barrhill
OS 326 9780319238752 Isle of Arran
OS 357 9780319238639 Kintyre North
LR OS 55 9780319231227 Lochgilphead & Loch Awe
OS 359 9780319238882 Oban, Kerrera & Loch Melfort
OS 376 9780319238981 Oban & North Lorn
OS 392 9780319241196 Ben Nevis & Fort William
OS 400 9780319239346 Loch Lochy & Glen Roy
OS 416 9780319239513 Inverness, Loch Ness & Culloden
OS 432 9780319239674 Black Isle
OS 438 9780319239735 Dornoch & Tain
OS 441 9780319239766 Lairg, Bonar Bridge & Golspie
OS 444 9780319239803 Helmsdale & Strath of Kildonan
OS 450 9780319239865 Wick & The Flow Country
OS 451 9780319239872 Thurso & John o’ Groats (Dunnet Head)

Inventory

The following is a list of what I plan to take with me on my trip. Having previously spent five months living out of a sea kayak I have a reasonably good idea of what is required during an extended trip. I plan to keep the weight down to minimum (especially with the amount of lock portages I will have to complete during the trip), with the major luxuries being my camera and netbook.

Please see above for a list of maps, charts and guides.

Item Description Specification Weight (Kg) Post-Trip Feedback

Transport

Kayak P and H Scorpio Fast and Stable Sea Kayak, which a skeg and sail kit. Plastic construction; 5.16m 28.5Kg Performed Satisfactorily – Definately recommend as a expedition boat. Skeg line broke. In future I would opt for a rudder system.
Spraydeck Compatablity with the above kayak. Performed Satisfactorily
Paddle Werner Shuna 215cm Strong, lightweight paddle; requires sufficient strength to be used as a launching aid! 755g Excellent Paddle
PortageTrolley Eckla CanyonCanoe Trolley Small, lightweight, foldaway trolley; corrosion resistant 3 Kg Performed Satisfactorily -very easy to dismantle and was up to the job of carting my fully laden sea kayak. Used on a 14Km portage!

Safety Equipment

Buoyancy Aid Palm Symbiant Tour Touring Buoyancy Aid. Size: M/L Performed Satisfactorily. I found this to be a very comfortable Buoyancy Aid.
EPIRB McMurdo Fastfind 210 PLB EPIRB With GPS – [Link to Manual] Waterproof to IPX7; 5 Year Battery Life; Replacable Battery 150g
VHF Marine Radio Cobra HH330 FLOATING Handheld VHF Marine Radio – Waterproof to IPX7; Floating; Rechargable Performed well, Battery life was satisfactory.
Paddle Leash
Paddle Float
Bilge/Bailer Pump
First Aid Kit Lifesystems Explorer First Aid Kit Code 1035
Navigation Compass Silva 59F
Global Positioning System Garmin GPS60 Would recommend getting a protective case as sea water managed to get into the battery compartment by the end of the trip.

Camping Equipment

Air Mattress Thermarest Full Length Lite 910g Performed Satisfactorily
Sleeping System US Army Sleeping System (Cold Weather Bag plus Gore Tex Bivy) 1220g Performed well but Goretex Bivy unable to work properly in heavy rain. Solved this by adding a Basha to keep everything dry.
Stove Trangia 27 Non-Stick Cookset With Kettle & Spirit Burner 860g As usual the Trangia performed in all conditions. The only issue with these stoves can be getting fuel!
Fuel Bottle Triangia Fuel Bottle (1 Litre) x 1 160g
(Lightweight Knife, Fork & Spoon)
Headtorch Petzl Myo
Multitool Leatherman Blast (with Can opener) Excellent Multitool

Clothing

Dry Cag Palm Alutian Dry Cag
Reef Boots SOLA ZIPPED 5mm BOOT wetsuit diving boots with zip Neoprene, semi-rigid sole Wouldn’t bother taking again.
Wet Weather Jacket U.S Army Issue Woodland Camo Gortex Jacket Goretex Material; Tough well made; Hood
Waterproof Trousers U.S Army Issue Woodland Camo Gortex Overtrousers Goretex Material, correctly fitting
Fleece Lowe Alpine I have had the same fleece for over 10 years and it still does the job!
Swim Shorts (x2) Addidas Performed well – Fast Drying
Rash Vests (x2) Sola & Animal Size: L Excellent Performance
Trip T-Shirts (x2)

Waterproof Containers

Dry Bag 1 x Ortlieb – 59 Litre (Black) Waterproof Drybag
Dry Bag 2 x Ortlieb – 35 Litre (Red) Waterproof Drybag
Dry Bag 2 x Ortlieb – 22 Litre (Blue) Waterproof Drybag
Compression Sack Ortlieb – 22 Litre (Orange) Waterproof Compression Sack
Map Case Ortlieb – 27cm x 27cm Map Case Waterproof Map Case
Map Case Ortlieb – 50cm x 35cm Map Case Waterproof Map Case
Dry Bags Exped Assorted Sizes x 5

Consumables

Batteries Rechargable – 8xAA
Matches Always have several boxes in various bags.
Wash Kit (Shaving razor & brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, biodegradable soap, nail cutters)

Electronics

Mobile Telephone (with charger)
DSLR Camera (with spare batteries and charger)
Netbook
USB Broadband Dongle
iPod + Charger

Permits and Licenses

British Canoe Union Membership Registered
British Waterways Kayak License (Included with BCU membership)
British Waterways Caledonian Canal Kayak License Applied for at Corpach Free (Included with BCU membership)
Portable Marine Radio License Available from the Ofcomwebsite. # = 1-149638863 Free
RYA Marine Radio Short Range Certificate Passed on 12-06-2010 Cricklade Sea School
EPIRB License Registered with the EPIRB Registry UIN: 1D0E6410CAFFBFF Free
RNLI Membership

Useful Contacts and Links

Site or Contact
Meteorology
The Met Office Met Office weather and climate change forecasts for the UK and worldwide. World leading weather services for the public, business, and government.
Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center – Atmospheric Models Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center – Atmospheric Models including wave height predictions for Europe.
Marine Safety and Navigation
HM Maritime and Coastguard Agency
The RNLI The Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
Trinity House General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, responsible for a range of general aids to navigation, ‘signs of the sea’, from lighthouses to radar beacons.
UK Hydrographic Office Provide nautical charts and navigational services of the world’s oceans and ports to support world shipping, including the Royal Navy.
Inland Waterways
British Waterways British Waterways is the organisation that cares for 2,200 miles of the country’s canals and rivers
En Route Web/Surf Cams
Sennen Cove Sennen Cove (Updated Daily)
Sennen Cove Sennen Cove
Newquay
Polzeath
Summerleaze beach in Bude Webcam run by Bude-Stratton Town Council
Saunton Saunton Sands, Braunton
Mull of Galloway Lighthouse PTZ, Mull of Galloway, Stranraer [Position Latitude 54° 38.105’N Longitude 04° 51.436’W ]

Trip Tour

Jonathan Tolhurst

About Jonathan Tolhurst

Based in London, my interests include photography, kayaking, paddle boarding, electric unicycling, teepees, robotics, programming, databases, informatics and pharmacy.

Contact me

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Jonathan Tolhurst