Sea kayaking Ireland and its northern coast is a never-ending paddling and adventure inspiration. Rock hopping, tide races, surf, stunning caves and gullies of all shapes and sizes abound. Add to it a paddle over to Inishtrahull, the most northern island in Ireland and you get an ideal place for ISKGA advanced coastal guide training.
The seas of Ireland's northern coast are some of the countries most dynamic. Tidal flow speeds and tidal direction that escapes all charts. Plenty of coastal features to rock hop around. It one of the most unique stretches of the coastline if you are looking for sea kayaking Ireland. That kind of environment makes for the ultimate playground for moving your limits, no matter what watercraft brings you here.
A small side story. Just a month ago, windsurfers were in the area to take advantage of the conditions. Not far from where we paddled (66km away) Red Bull Storm Chase event took place. Talking to a local windsurfer who attended the event (watching, not participating) you learn about the side stories behind the mind-blowing videos. The windsurfing skill is clearly apparent, but so is the work of the support crew for the event. I heard German helicopter pilot had nerves and skills of steel (even after a few pints of Guinness night before). Then there were the two local watermen who supported the windsurfers with jetskis picking them up and dropping them off by their gear that drifted away. That answered my question on how the riders who lost his windsurf got back to it in those extreme conditions.
ISKGA Advanced Coastal Guide Training
Anyway, what brings me to this sea kayaking Ireland trip is ISKGA Advanced Coastal Guide training. It's a part of an intense program that combined incident management in these tough waters and paddling with some of the best paddlers in the Ireland. The training included rescues of different complexity. Rescuing people out of gullies, tidal races and all the medical support that goes with it. Our hands and minds were full, but I still managed to snap a few shots of the pure paddling there. Here is a little glimpse of what we saw.
North Ireland: Movile
Our base for the week was Moville. Small town with a vibrant local community and busy main street that literally has all you need. Seen from a distance like this, black and white, it feels like you walked into history. It feels the same when you enter one of its cozy pubs and start chatting with locals.
Moville is situated in Lough Foyle. Town has a very small harbor where all smells of fish and dried seaweed and where people spend a sunny day repairing their boats.
Not much fishing here. Small scale fishermen keep their nets and fishing cages on a small pier. Juxtaposed to the cages is a statue made of wood that resembles a cypress tree (or that is the first thing that comes to mind to a viewer coming from the Mediterranean). Actually, all around Ireland, I've seen such random exhibits of artwork - very refreshing even if you aren't into art.
Walking up the coast, in that little time I had free, I noticed this was the only day when wind and waves were absent. Even then, one thing is obvious. Looking around you can't miss rugged silhouettes of rock and seaweed thrown around - as if in a hurry. Zooming in, you notice the size of enormous barnicles - I found one that was really the size of half of my hand and I get regularly get jokes on my large hands. Visually, everything almost screams of big seas and big waves that may have been here just a day before. It's terrain that looks loud even when it is silent.
Sea kayaking Inishowen
After a bit of 'classroom talk' the paddling begins.
Even on a neap tide, conditions in this part of coastline were gnarly.
One of the paddling routes brought us to the Tower of Malin Head (on the right in the image above) - the most northern point of Ireland. Later that afternoon, we found ourselves looking at Guinness in our pint glasses in the most northern pub in Ireland: 'Farren's.
Next day we launched from one of the kilometers long sandy beaches - ubiquituous coastline feature of this part of Ireland.
Turn around the corner and here is another gully.
Turn another corner and here is a cave, leading to another gully. A paddling maze of endless features. Hours fly by like minutes.
On the last day of coastal touring, we had some more spicy conditions. Ciaran here navigating through a feature.
Here we have Dave showing his skills. Sorry for the blurry image. :)
Sea kayaking: Inishtrahull
Following two days it was all about crossing over to Inishtrahull island with some 'elevator' paddling.
Here in the back, the final leg of the crossing with Inishtrahull lighthouse in the back. Some decent tidal flow past the island.
Once up on the island, we set the camp spot...
...collected some driftwood for fire...
...and set up our tarps for the night.
As we were preparing food for dinner, splashes of distant waves were mixed with howling sounds of tens of seals chilling out on the rocks nearby. I don't know if this inspired stories of fairies (supposedly it did) but it sure sound fairy like.
We were very grateful for the weather. Not a cloud in the sky.
Just walking around Inishtrahull you can't escape it's the exceptionally meditative vibe. No trees in sight. Rocks look like letters of a long forgotten alphabet. Seagulls drift on the thermals. Irish mainland hilltops decorate the background. You just close your mouth and soak it in.
Below your feet, soft grass absorbs your steps. There are two lines of some four-wheel vehicle that have passed through here long time ago. All around you are literally hundreds of holes in the ground. The kind that Alice in Wonderland peeks into to discover a hidden world. Where ever you look you find hares just running out sight as soon as you spot them.
Down on the coast, seals rest on the seaweed covered rocks.
One of the little fellows sneaks behind me, just shy of breaking the water surface. A magical place, really.
Next day, color is back. We paddle back to the mainland to Garvan isles. We paddle across a few tidal races and then disappear in the maze of cracks in the rock....
...just to find a little beach and couple of seals working they way off the beach.
Here is a short video from the trip:
We'll be paddling here again. If you want to join us for a trip, say email@example.com and we'll keep you posted on the dates. The minimum requirement for the trip is solid Level 3+ sea skills.
Complement this piece with a story and video about ski touring to one of the longest couloirs in the Julian Alps or one about the winter paddling trip in Croatia. For something altogether different watch a video about a summer paddling trip in warm Croatia.
If you like what you're reading, sign up for my quarterly newsletter here.
‘Moving your limits’ isn’t necessarily about the highest mountains, biggest caves, deepest canyons or oldest ruins. But it is about great adventures. It’s about that constant pursuit of world’s secrets – cultural as well as natural. It’s about how we move in nature and raise our expectations about each and every place in the world, moving our mental and physical limits on the way.