When approaching the island of Rhum from the north side we usually paddle to the bothy of Guirdile. It is a very nice bothy on a shingle beach with a good water source passing the house to the sea. It’s not a good idea to put a tent up even though the grass looks excellent for it. On the grass grazes a herd of highland cattle, and they eat or lick about anything. We strip our boats from everything of the deck because the cows will eat/lick it. We found that out when we left a green bag made of fisherman’s rope attached on the boat. The plastics knotted thing was gone the next day and we only saw a bit of green string dangling down from one of the cow’s mouth.
They just love the salty taste of the gear, they lick the entire boat clean from salt if given the chance. A tent is most likely to get the same treatment, a good thorough wash and probably missing a few strings.
The bothy is very comfortable and ranks high on the list among walkers visiting the island. It has a large area upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs where you can have some good fires in the hearth. Through the windows, we have watched beautiful sunsets over Canna in the evening and sometimes otters can be spotted playing and food gathering on the beach. After some tea or something stronger, it’s time for bed. Not a sound is to be heard. Until….I sit up straight in my sleeping bag, what is that sound?
A rasping noise woke me up like someone is rubbing a stone against the house. My imagination gets the better of me and I imagine ghosts of the people who once lived here or men with evil intentions, sharpening their axes on the house. Are the zombies finally taking over the world? Could it be something simple like the wind?
It turned out to be the cows who like to use the corners of the bothy as scratching posts. But why in the middle of the night! Don’t cows sleep?
OMG! What am I going to wear? Most girls know this panic before going on holiday. Especially, when wearing the outfit for 5 weeks, do you go for functional or fashionable? So let me take you around my kayak wardrobe and the thoughts behind it.
Well, let me start with fashionable. Of course, we are on prime beach fronts, but the deserted island we like are inhabited by two and a half sheep. So a fancy suit is maybe not high on my priority list. I am more looking for functionality.
So do we have options? Yes of course. For the non-kayakers, some regular outdoor clothing and a pair of green English wellies might sound like a good option. However, cold water and weather combined with sea spray and incidental capsizes should be taken into consideration. So to add some safety to our endeavours, the only valid options are dry-suits or wetsuits.
The drysuits keep the water out and seem to be the more fashionable statement at the moment. This fashion comes at a cost of about 600 euro and up. A wetsuit is made from neoprene and comes at a cost of approximately 65 euro. But costs aren’t everything, there are more things to consider….
Suit comfort A drysuit keeps me perfectly dry. Water can’t come in, and it can’t go out. Excellent in cold weather, not so nice in hot weather. Imagine a wearable sauna. Getting in and out of a drysuit is like a rebirthing experience, the narrow cuffs around the neck, wrists and ankles are really very tight. A tight-fitting wetsuit stretches with all my movements. But it doesn’t dry very fast, on cold day’s I got to wiggle into a cold and wet suit. Luckily my body heat warms it up pretty fast.
More suit comfort A drysuit is a nightmare if you need to pee while kayaking. The zipper sits not anatomically in the right position in the suit. A wetsuit can be altered to have a zipper on the right spot and thus making peeing easy.
I can throw my wetsuit over barbwire and there won’t be any holes in it. I don’t recommend doing this with a drysuit. One hole in a drysuit and the suit has to be fixed by a specialist. I can sew my wetsuit with a sewing machine and alter the suit myself.
Suit management. A drysuit is great, it dries very easily even when it’s a bit salty. A wetsuit doesn’t really get dry when using it on the sea. It is the salt in the water, you see, it doesn’t get dry. And there is not enough Scottish sunshine to dry the suit.
Suit safety A drysuit is very safe, it keeps me warmer when I’m lying in the cold Atlantic for an hour. But kayaking a sport where I supposed to be in a kayak…. So it is very good against hyperthermia but not so good when overheating by kayaking in 30 degrees. A wetsuit is sufficient when I’m planning to stay in the kayak and not too much in the water. I can make the suit wet when the weather is hot and not too wet when the weather is cold.
Suit looks I look so much better is a slinky black wetsuit instead of a bulky loos fitting drysuit.
Men are already ‘designed’ in a way that it is easy to make a device that lets you make water in the boat. A cheap, one euro PVC insert from your local DIY store, some old bicycle inner tube and a plastic sanitary towel bag, does the trick.
This is an image, I reproduced from an etching by Rembrandt. It’s a nice introduction to the next story. Actually, this story is not about men but about a woman making water. We perceive the British as polite, and at the same time, after crossing the Minch or any another four or five-hour crossing, they ask curiously “But what if you have to go?”. They look at Charlotte with that question because for girls it is much more difficult to pee in a kayak then for men. So for those whose imagination is triggered, this is the story.
However, for Charlotte, and for woman in general, it is a different story. Even before we went to Scotland, paddling from the Dutch Wadden back to the mainland, on a 25 km crossing we discovered that it is important that you can relief yourself while kayaking. The first step into a successful pee in the kayak for women is a suit with a zipper on the right anatomic position. Not many suits have that luxury for women, You need to be handy with a sewing machine and a zipper of around 35 cm. With the zipper installed, it was easy, the weather was absolutely calm and the water flat. We rafted the two kayaks together and Charlotte threw one leg over my kayak opened up the zipper in the suit and peed between the boats. We concluded this would not be an option in anything above a force two Beaufort.
We know a few female club members, who just drinks less and solve the problem of going by not going. But on a five-week trip, this is a dangerous and unhealthy solution.
We looked for a ready-made solution in outdoor shops, I mean, there must be more girls with this problem, right? We found the Uribag and for our first couple of years, Charlotte used this device.
But the uribag was not always successful, urine could escape over the rim of the device because of the sitting position.Unfortunately, the thing was a little bit big and had to be stored in the deck bag, between all the fishing gear. After using it for four years, when rounding the Mull of Oa, it slipped off the deck and disappeared into the deep. A big disappointment, not only because it littered a beach on Islay but also because the Uribag is not cheap (about €24) and we were far from any form of an outdoor shop to buy a new one. Panic, what to do now?
The only solution was for me to become the creative handyman. With an old Marmite jar found on the beach, a small plastic bag and an elastic band I crafted a replacement. The plastic jar was first modelled with a knife and later sculpted with some heat from a lighter. It was a crude device, modelled after its predecessor. Charlotte, however, was impressed and the device was more successful than the first one!
This made my engineering curiosity flame up. Back home, I decided to do some research. At first, it was not so easy, I learnt some very strange things and visited some very dodgy websites…
The solutions I found was for woman visiting festivals trying to avoid dirty toilet seats by peeing standing up and ill ladies confined to their beds. Useful, but not where I was looking for.
Then one day I spotted a glider, soaring high in the sky. I realised that the girl-pilots were spending a long time in a seated position. So I restarted the research like a true scientist and learned some new few useful things.
Broadly, the glider-girls use three systems; nappies, external funnels and internal funnels. Charlotte thought of the nappy idea; ‘Seriously, nappies? No way!!!’
That plan was dismissed immediately to be too bulky to carry around, create a lot of waste but foremost, ‘I’m not a baby/I don’t have that fetish!!’.
Our Uribag and later the Marmite Bag where the external funnel types. Festival girls and ill ladies use this as well. This device, you place over the Labia majora. More or less the ‘take it all’ approach. This makes the device large, and in the sitting position might give you some leakage through the creases between your legs.
For the next device, the internal funnel, you need a bit of knowledge of the female anatomy. Get out your biology book and open it on the chapter describing the human female bits. (the Internet can also help you in your research)
This smaller device only covers the Urethral orifice. This is a much smaller device and it sits between the Labia majora for a bit. Some small plastic draining pipe in the right shape, a bicycle inner tube and an sanitary towel bag are all you need to create your own pee-device for girls.
After some prototypes and practice trails by Charlotte in the shower (I don’t think Google will allow these pictures), this looked like a successful design. According to Charlotte, it takes a bit of getting used position it on the right spot and to letting the pee flow and trusting the device.
But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. (Strange use of words in this context) So we went on a larger trip to try out this new design and it worked. It really did!! No leakage and no fuss. It was great. Charlotte recommends this pee solution to all girls in a kayak.
In the picture gallery below, you will find how you make your own pee device for kayak girls. Be sure to practice the handling of the device in the shower!! Have fun!! Let us know how you get on with using it!!
Partly due to the weather the light is already dimming out. We had an early start and some rest on the southwestern tip of Arisaig. But then late in the afternoon, we started a long crossing in some formidable waves and a strong wind. Now we move along the lee side of Isle of Eigg and everything is calm again. However, it is hard to make landfall on the rocky beaches and the grassy slopes are to steep for a tent. We keep pushing on and around 20:00h we approach the northeast point of Eigg and the Sound of Rhum. Sgorr Sgaileach, which appropriately translates from Gaelic as the Shady Hills. Here the cliffs that fall straight into the sea. Before we can circumnavigate the point we pass a cave, in it the skeletal remains of the bow of a ship. The force of the sea has the rusty corpse firmly wedged in the dark chamber. Where the hull is riveted together the heavy metal plates are not jet corroded, leaving a rough but picturesque trellis. Fascinated by the scene, I snap a few pictures with my small digital and waterproof camera. Unfortunately, the camera is already signing that it is too dark or that I am too shaky.
Back home there are two issues, a burning curiosity and some blurry pictures. The later is solved by some drawings and watercolour and results in the image above. To satisfy my curiosity, I start normally at the Canmore site (https://canmore.org.uk). The site contains information about archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage across the whole of Scotland. By starting on the map page you can normally find the smallest cairn or mitten by just zooming in. Just get the right location on the map.
In this case, I discovered, it was the Clyde Puffer “Jennie”. She sank in February 1954 when she hit Sgorr Sgaileach. The tragedy worsened when int the spring of 1954 the Puffer “Lythe” tried to salvage cargo from the wreck of the “Jennie”. The “Lythe” did strike her and ended up on the bottom of the Sound of Rhum herself.
Puffers are stumpy little coal-fired steamboats. They were the workhorses of the Hebridean. Transporting cargo between Glasgow, through the canals and on to the islands. This “Jennie” was built in 1902. We did see one of the last two seagoing Puffers, the VIC32.
Throw mindfulness out of the window! We should all be singing when fear gets to us.
Anyway, that is what I do when the waves are just a bit too high. Or when bigger waves are coming from the back and I can’t see them coming. When I’m not singing, fear will take over and I will start stiffening in the kayak. The paddling strokes become careful and tense. I try to find support on the waves by bracing. The entire flow and energy are gone as is my speed. Totally exhausted I wash up on the beach with aching muscles and close to crying. Not a nice state to be in. Fear takes too much energy.
Do you recognise this state? The best medicine for this is Singing!
I will tell you why.
I read a book written by Timothy Gallwey called ‘The inner game of tennis’, he has written also one about work, golf or any other field except kayaking.
In short, the theory is that there are two selves: Self 1, which is analytical and ego-driven, prone to worrying and ruminating, and Self 2, which is more unconscious, intuitive and physical.
The secret to the Inner Game is to get Self 1 out of the way, to stop being so self-critical and anxious, and simply let your body play the game, without being too outcome-oriented. You can get Self 1 out of the way by training your attention on each point, for example, or on the sound of the ball (in tennis) – giving your Self 1 some activity to keep it busy so it can let Self 2 do the work.
Translating this theory to kayaking, my Self 1 judges the waves and my own skill set in paddling bigger waves, this will lead to thoughts of fear which results in stiffening up and paddling with laboured strokes, ending up in exhaustion.
My Self 2 is not bothered by the fear and knows exactly what it must do in order to stay afloat.
The problem is that my Self 1 is dominant over my Self 2.
So, what to do?
According to the theory, the best thing to do is to put my conscious Self 1 to work. To Sing. Let it be busy with remembering the lyrics of the song. With big waves, I sing out loud with smaller waves I sing inside my head. In the meantime, my Self 2 will do the paddling and be excel at it. It hasn’t failed me yet!
To be honest, I have to bring myself to start with singing, usually, fear is sitting right on top of my head. First I start singing hesitantly, I notice it helps a bit, then I sing a bit louder and try to sing more convincingly, Yes, I definitely feel the benefits. And then there is no holding back. I sing aloud and I don’t care what the birds think of the quality of my singing.
My preferred songs are from ‘The Sound of Music’. This movie has a special place in my heart because it was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema when I was around 10 years old. I cycled all the way to The Hague with my mother and sister to see it and it was magic. I have this totally useless gift of remembering the lyrics of a song after hearing it only once and remembering them forever. It is a family thing, both my sisters suffer from the same affliction.
So after TSoM I go on with lyrics from the movie ‘Grease’ and then Aretha Franklin with ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’.
There are more benefits to singing, it boosts your immune system, it lowers stress and is a natural antidepressant. I wonder why people are not singing all day? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Try it next time you come into a scary situation like paddling higher waves that you are used to. Of course, you can create your own playlist of favourite things, euh, songs…
After a day, sheltering for the endless rain, we decide to explore the town a bit further and find ourselves a nice dinner. Dressed in our dark green rain ponchos we wander around Castlebay. We are desperate for a hot and spicy meal and walk into the Kisimul café, a small Indian restaurant with views over the castle. Unfortunately, all the empty tables are reserved for the night and we leave disappointed.
We ramble on, looking for an alternative restaurant. The choice is limited, in a tiny town like this. The desolate streets end quickly into the hills, so we return and climb the stairs to the Craigard Hotel. Hotels are not really our thing, especially after four weeks of peddling, a handful of showers in a cold creek, some crusty streaks of seaweed on the bottom of your trouser legs and wearing our most elegant rain gear. Indecisive, if we would like to eat there, we loiter around. Looking for a menu and some glimpses of the food being served.
“The food is good”, a smoky voice declares. We turn around and in a cloud of smoke we see an elderly chap wearing a shabby blue sweater and jeans, he is standing on his socks just inside the hotel door. With his friendly, but glassy blue eyes it’s hard to tell if the man is tired or just enjoyed a whiskey or two. We start chatting and learn that he rented the “Boy James”. For two weeks he makes boat trips around the Barra head isles with his family and friends. So we tell him that he must have passed us this morning while we were getting on the water near the deserted village on Vatersay with our kayaks.
This triggers his interest, he used to kayak himself when he was young. Now he is still fascinated by the outer edges of the British Isles formed by this chain of rocks, skerries and little islands. He has been close to a lot of them. For every remote island, we mention there appears a new twinkle in his eyes. The more we exchange about our sea journeys, the more exuberance and vitality inhabits the man. It’s funny how a love of remote little islands, the sea and an obsession for the ever-changing light, can turn a meeting into an instant connection. A connection based on shared experience of the solitude shared in the screaming of the seabirds, of this deep longing for this aesthetic enchantment in the architecture of the land and the isolation of being on the edge of everything. We enter the building together, and while we wait for a table we chat about our kayak trip. He is clearly impressed, telling his companions enthusiastically about what we talked about outside.
When the waitress comes, to tells us that our table is ready, we say goodbye. For starters, we choose the local cockles, harvested on the Barra beach that doubles as an airfield. We really enjoy the seafood. One of the fears of eating in hotels is that I’m still hungry after the last bite. Fortunately, this is definitely not the case today. By the time we are on our last few bits, the man and his entourage are seated by the waitress at a table close to ours. We recommend the cockles. When I spot a sort of sketchbook in the man’s hands. It showed signs ruffled pages like it is used for watercolours.
As the main course, we are served on a large and full plate and the salmon comes with a good dose of potatoes. A habitual smoker, as the man is, he walks to the hotel doorway again for a quick cigarette.
The conversation starts going back and forth again. I become more and more intrigued and curious by the big stack of paper he is carrying around. It looks like a home-made holy book, a precious volume that needs to be guarded. Being an enthusiastic watercolourist myself, I recognise that behaviour and bluntly ask if he is drawing and painting. He confirms my question, but the stack of drawings stays firmly by his side. I do not push on, understanding that it can be quite difficult to show someone else your fresh work. Only at the end of our dinner, when we leave and say goodbye I ask if I can find his work on the World Wide Web. One of the men in the group quickly respond and writes a name down followed by “.com”. I read slowly, “normanackroyd.com”, it does ring a bell, but I can not remember where I have seen it before.
Only a couple of days later, on the ferry back to Mallaig, I can use my phone to access the Wi-Fi and check out his website. I am very surprised, the watercolours are familiar. Half a dozen of his paintings are already on my phone. I had downloaded them a long time ago. I studied them, to learn from his incredible capacity to capture this beautiful Hebridean sea light in watercolour. And there I was thinking this man was a fisherman when we met at the doorway of a Castlebay hotel.
Later, at home, I learn that Norman Ackroyd is a very accomplished artist, his work in the collection of the Tate Gallery. I copied some of his watercolours to acquire a bit of his skill. If you would like to see some of his work check out the Eames Fine Art Gallery.
At the time of our meeting, he is 78 years old. But with this vitality, both in his work and life, the sea must be his elixir of life.
Until now most of the blog post, where stories about our summer kayak adventures. However, in the spring and autumn, we like to slow travel by car. Taking the bicycles and hiking boots somewhere into the landscape of northern France. To get some sleep in a French forest or field we use our car as a small mini camper.
Our Caddy Mini Camper for Breakfast
As you have read in Charlotte’s story “The divorce“, we had to give up our old and tired Peugeot Partner. This meant we had to buy and convert another vehicle. This was one of the reasons the flow of new stories was slow. There was a lot of work to do, in the few of weeks before our autumn trip.
Our Peugeot Partner, a small commercial van, was a simple camper conversion. There was an outer tent, consisting of a woven and PVC coated tarpaulin which rested on the rear barn doors with a frame of bend electric PVC pipe. There was also an inner tent to keep the warmth a little bit in the car. However, the cargo area of the car was hardly insulated and a clear night meant suffering and wearing all the clothes you can find. We also had an air mattress that was resting against the cold metal of the wheel arches and on top of a rubber mat. Especially in the autumn, this could result in a cold night in the car.
Mini camper van in the woods, our old Peugeot partner close to Saint-Malo this spring
When we returned with her from our Orkney kayak trip in August, we were driving with a screaming clutch. There were some other repairs required as well, and we felt that the car was not worth the costs of the reparation she required to run again. We also dreamed of an update on our camper van interior.
Charlotte did a lot of research to find a new car and we ended up with a choice. A Volkswagen Caddy was advertised as a small commercial van but when we showed up at the garage, it was an import from Germany that was not yet converted. In the end, we choose to keep it as a Multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) version which means that we have now windows in the back and are able to carry more people. The advantage of this type is that the rear benches, without any tools, are easily removed. And the colour, a reddish-brown, is excellent for stealth camping.
So for the mini camper, we had a few requirements:
It should be fast and easy to install or remove.
Loads of storage space. No more moving stuff to the front seats when making the bed.
It should be compact when not in use. An IKEA flat-pack concept for storage would be nice.
Getting a nice, comfortable and warm bed. The inflatable mattress should be a thing of the past, no more midnight leaks or cold asses. Not to mention the heap of plastic that remains when the bed is beyond repair.
An easy way to transport our bicycles, in a safe and compact manner.
We would like to make it nice looking, but also use as much reclaimed materials as possible.
With this in mind, we build our new mini camper and tested it in the last week of October. The building story became a bit long with a lot of pictures, so we created separate pages, just follow these links if you would like to see the results.
In the first two weeks, we had to design and build the removable compact camper unit. The work was mainly carpentry and a lot of measuring and re-measuring. I work at a University and they were redoing the World Soil Museum, so I did some dumpster diving and salvaged a lot of plywood. The plywood had served as the backdrop to their soil profiles. Except for some fixture holes on the back, there was very little damage to the sheets. We were able to cut most of the camper unit parts out of this material. All the hardware, metal threaded inserts for furniture and the Allen key bolts were salvaged from old office desks. Then, for the top, we used the phenolic plywood flooring with a slip-resistant pattern, which we salvaged from our Peugeot Partner.
All in all, we ended up with a double bed, 113 centimetres at the feet end, and a 120 cm wide from the hips up. We are not that tall, so with some narrow pillows, the 185 cm of length is more than enough for us. We bought a 120×200 cm HR foam or cold foam mattress with a thickness of 8 cm. After slicing it up in three pieces and bagging it into tricot sleeves, we took some old Jersey bedding sheets and made colourful covers. We sew the covers with the sewing machine, nice and tight and put zippers in sites. By having zippers we are still able to wash the covers. We salvaged some sturdy straps with Velcro from our home mattresses. These straps are used to transport the mattresses in an upright position.
For some privacy and insulation, we used yoga mats bought at the Decathlon sports shop, to create window covers. They were fixed in the windowsills with mini bungee cord and some home-made fixtures. We also created a ventilation bracket for the tailgate. This keeps a gap between the door and car while the door can still be locked.
To transport the bikes, I created a wooden bicycle stand. Which is secured to the car floor with a steel rod. With some help from a friend who is an excellent welder the bikes are firmly fixed to the chassis
So with most of the work done, it was time to test drive our labour. We went for a week to the French Ardennes. The weather was great, nice, dry weather during the day for all kind of activities, and a wide range of temperatures during the night. The pictures below give a good impression of the weather and our favourite camping spots. Very good for a nightly sleep test.
Evigny, 10km South of Charleville-Mézières
A frosty breakfast
Frosting on the bicycle tarpaulin
Sauville, 30km South of Charleville-Mézières
Lion-Devant-Dun, 45km SW of Sedan
Meuse near Champneuville, 15km north of Verdun.
We are very happy with the result. We had a frosty night but it was not cold in the car. Of course there is still a wish list, but for now, we had fun.
I felt a bit of a struggle coming up when we drove back from Orkney. The paddle of the clutch was not responding all that well. It kept sticking. Overall it sounded a bit unwell. I thought it caught a Scottish cold or something. The indicator lights didn’t flash up when needed and the headlight sometimes just switched off for no apparent reason. All signs that the car was definitely a bit under the weather. I opened up the hood to check for problems but no problem was found. I checked the wiring, everything was fine. Perhaps it is a bit of oxidation on some switch or whatever, of the Scottish salty air. Just like other years, the problem will wear off with use, I’m sure.
But when the door handle of the side door broke off while camping on the Black Isle, I really was concerned. Is the car shutting me out! Am I not taking good care of my car, did I leave it alone for too long in Scotland? Is it physical or a mental problem? After some checking the internet I found I could fix the door problem for 10 euro. Great stuff. All is well again.
As we drive to Hull to catch the ferry back to the Netherlands, we hear the car crying. A high pitched crying sound comes from under the bonnet. It probably does not want to go home. Just like Alexander, it’s got ‘going-home-blues’. With handkerchiefs, I try to comfort it. Some small oily tears are dripping out of the engine onto the pavement. The engine sounds normal but the pain is in the gearbox. When squeezing the clutch the crying starts. We drive off the ferry and limp home in our injured car, hoping it will make it home.
Back home we must consult a car doctor. Luckily my brother in law is an excellent car doctor but the diagnosis is not encouraging. All the reparations costing well over 1500 euros!! OMG.
Well, uh, just that, €1500,00. OK, that is too much reality all of a sudden. What to do now? Do we repair the car or do we need a replacement?
But this car has been with us for ten years! She has brought us to France and Scotland. I felt safe in her while sleeping in the back and safe while driving on the motorway. I’ve got pictures of us together on our holiday. And she would start on cold wintery mornings without complaining. It is my lovely dependable blue car and I’m quite attached to it even though she is dented on all sides including the roof, she still looks lovable to me. Every dent and scratch has its own story to tell. What is 1500 euro in a friendship like this?
But at the end of the day, I am looking out for a different vehicle while my little blue car stood hopelessly on the driveway. Looking at me with sad headlights and unable to stop me in my efforts to replace it.
The more I am looking out for a new car the more distance becomes between me and the blue car. It must have felt it because I noticed it had a flat tyre. Like it was the last thing it could do to get some attention, love and care from me. A bit annoyed, I change the tire and patience is running out. I have no time for a whining car, I need a working car!!
I took Alexander out to look at some new cars and found one that met all our needs!! How exciting!!! We went out for a test drive, it felt great. She is a lovely German reddish brunette, slightly bigger than our blue car and it sits 5 people. Lots of windows and well insulated. It is love at first sight, butterflies in my stomach. The blue car is just a vague memory now. We can not resist her good looks and comfort and decide to buy her. We sit down for the deal and the salesman starts talking about trading in the old car….
There is this interesting mix of emotions going on within me:
All excitement of the buying of the new and much better car and spending lots of money.
This is how it must feel when you get into a midlife crisis. Replacing the old model to a new one. There is a little guild in the background.
No feelings for the old car, flog it for the best positive price. The car is a thing, not a person where I might have emotional feelings for!!
But how do you say goodbye to a trusted friend who brought us to all our holiday destination? I just don’t know….
It makes me feel a bit giddy. Even though I try to talk positively about the blue car, the nice bright colour, the low mileage, the air conditioning and the neatness of the interior, it doesn’t weigh up to the engine problems and the dent and scratch issues. And my feelings towards my little blue car change from affection to business-like cold hard cash.
Next week we go to pick up our nice new lovely car. I talk to the blue car one last time. ‘Now listen blue car, I am going to bring you to a nice matchmaker who will take good care of you. He will put you on Car Tinder and you will be speed dating in no time. Don’t cry!! In the end you will be much happier in a new relationship!’
Slow Traveling is exciting because it is not about the big and expected stories of visiting major landmarks or tourist traps, but rather the surprise of an unexpected small and beautiful story around a not well-known monument or place.
Walking to Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy
Last week we visited the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Quite an achievement for us, because of the many kilometres travelling by car. We had pushed it a bit because we were tired at the start of the holiday. It was nice but also very busy and not so surprising. Everywhere you see the postcards and images, and it is almost of you already saw the best bit before you got there. Going around, the beauty of the island has to compete with the tourist shops screaming “buy my stuff!!”.
Now we are on the way back and trying to find a place to park our mini camper, relax a bit and get a good night sleep. We drive through this string of small county roads reading the landscape. We like the mix of forest and agricultural landscapes because the edges give good opportunities for nice stealthy camping spots. Then we see this old tourist sign. It is probably of placed in the 50’s, based on the look of the lettering of the enamel sign. “Monument de la Rouge Mare” reads the text. We follow the little lane into the forest and end up at a huge monument. It’s a good place for the night and I start drawing.
The monument reads “Combat de la Rougemare et des Flamants” and just the names of 4 men and Octavie Delacour, almost the name of a Harry Potter character. Another old tourist sign reads “Embuscade Allemande (16 Septembre 1914)”. My French is not too good but this sounds like an ambush of Germans. While drawing, I get more and more intrigued. We are far south of the Great War frontline, Germans here??
There is no info panel so the research starts at home. I won’t go over the full story, but in short, it is a German raid on the Seine. Three German vehicles with sappers were loaded with 500 kg of explosives and en-route to the bridges of the Seine near Rouen. They are able to drive through France just because people think they are English soldiers, although they are in there German uniforms and drive cars with German licence plates. As one of the vehicles breaks down, the farmers in the area offer their help to the “English”, who answer them in English and bad French. After the repair, and after shaking hands with the French farmers they drive on.
This, I find the first funny fact. It would be impossible nowadays, with the internet, television and travelling. You would recognise a Brit or German just by their posture and accent alone. But in those days they never did hear a foreign language or saw a foreigner.
Then the Germans halt in a forest, hiding for the day. This is where the 56-year-old lady, Octavie Delacour comes in the picture. She walks through the same forest and is temporarily halted by the Germans. The let her go probably convinced that the pass as Brits again. However, she recognises the Prussians from the 1870 war who had occupied the area, when she was just 12 years old.
Walking to the nearest village, she informs the brigade commander of the Gendarmerie in Gournay-en-Bray. He, however, is not taking her completely seriously. In the end, he sends some men but they go ill prepared. The spot the German sentinel but three gendarmes are killed instantly and the local guide is fatally wounded. Is this what happens if you take half your population not serious in matters of war?
Drawing the Monument of Combat de la Rougemare et des Flamants.
In the end, the commando is arrested, the bridges are saved and Octavie becomes a hero. Honoured with a monument somewhere hidden in a French forest. And for me, it might be a story that leaves a bigger imprint in my memory than the grandeur of Mont-Saint-Michel.
A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned,… for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.
John Millington Synge
Our little tent on Pabbay island between the wild flowers.
We are on the beautiful island of Pabbay on the Barra-head island group. The sun is out but the wind is still a bit strong. On the beach, we watch the surf crashing on the sand. The seals play with the white-crested waves and a small group of teal duck bob up and down between the waves. We consider our options to leave the island. There is only one and a half day of food left in our kayaks. That is about the time we need to get to Castlebay on the island of Barra, to do some shopping.
The VHF forecast announced the wind was going to ease from 4 to 5 bfd to 3 to 4 bfd, but that showers would be likely. But when will the wind ease? VHF is not that precise. We have to observe that by ourselves.
We climb up on the hill overlooking the sea we have to cross to get to the other island. Too many whitecaps. We are not leaving just yet.
Quite a stiff breeze with white caps between the islands.
Time passes by and Alexander gets out his wind speed meter. He stands on the hill where the wind comes from and measures the wind. It is easing, the sea state becomes calmer, fewer whitecaps. But we also see raincloud developing. We decide to break up the tent and pack the boats before everything gets wet. When we are in our kayak gear the rain comes in the form of drizzle. We quickly cover yourself with a rain poncho. We have to wait until the wind eases a bit more and the tide comes in our favour.
Little seal being curious about the kayaks
Sealtracks in the sand
We watch the seals as a pastime. One of the smaller seals climbs on the shore right behind our boats. Why is it doing that? Now we have to disturb it when we leave.
After 2 hours under the poncho developing a sore ass, the tide has changed and the wind eases a bit more. The sea looks like we can manage it, and we feel confident enough to paddle to the next island.
We push our kayaks in the water, apologize to the seals for the disturbance, and paddle away from the beach.
Coming around the island, the combination of big swell coming from the west colliding with the tidal waves coming from the east whips the waves up to a clapotis-like wave pattern of 4 meter high.
This is what a clapotis wave pattern looks like in a quiet situation.
The word ‘Clapotis’ comes from the French language for ‘standing wave’. By definition, they are formed by a reflecting wave from the cliff shore meeting the wave of the swell and they crash into each other.
In our case, the clapotis is formed by two colliding wave patterns, one from the west and the other from the east. Resulting in a wave that is much higher and contains a lot of energy. After the collision, the wave collapses. When kayaking in these waves, the kayaker has to be skilful enough to brace at the right time, that is…. if he/she can find water to brace on…
After looking at the sea state while on top of a high wave we decided that, beyond the clapotis field there were too many whitecaps for a safe passage to the next island. Usually, I want to go forward because going back is more difficult. But you got to know when to stop and realise the state of the sea is beyond your skill level. We went back to the beach where we came from.
This is not me in the clapotis waves! The picture does illustrate how to paddle these waves. Picture: http://www.kayak.nu
A clapotis wave pattern is bad if it is against you but worst if the wave comes from behind. There is no way I can see what is coming. Anxiety is creeping in and I feel myself stiffening up. There is only one solution to tame this fear. Singing loudly ‘My favourite things’ of the musical ‘ The sound of music’, I paddle back to where we left.
The entire endeavour took around 45 minutes and covered 3 km distance. Safe and sound though wet, we land back on the beach.
Upon arrival, the seals look a bit annoyed. ‘Back so soon?’
‘Sorry for trespassing again on your beach for another night’ I exclaim.
The next day the sea and weather were in perfect condition to paddle all the way to Castlebay. Isn’t it ironic?