Morecambe Bay Poo Sticks

Day 73 – Roa Island to Bispham – 1st Aug – 16.2 nm

Morecambe Bay is a fascinating place. It is an extensive area of drying mudflats and sands, split between Cumbria and Lancashire. The Bay has often been linked with tragedy; casualties and misfortune make up a good part of its history. The expanse of flat sands lure the unwary; the area is scattered liberally with quicksand and hidden channels, while the tide comes in at running pace in many places. Tidal bores run up three of the rivers that feed the bay. It is not often a forgiving place.

I played on the beaches there as a child, and later other adventures oft took me back to the Bay, runs from one side to the other and many bores were surfed. But until today I've never paddled across. It’s about time.

Last night’s campsite was another fun place to be. We watched as the feral kids tried to kick the fire alarms off the wall. Once they grew bored of that they moved to less energetic targets, working their destructive way along the bike rack. In the snooker room the dad’s drew the blinds when they saw what was happening outside the window. The wind blew all night, shaking the van.

We know there is no hurry to get to the beach, but then the campsite isn't the most fun place to be, so up and away to take a look over the back of Walney Island.  We are met by a wet and windy, white-capped vista.

We head down to Roa Island anyway, where it is blowing a hooley. It’s hard to judge the conditions out in the Bay, open water is 2 or 3 miles away. The binoculars tell a tale but can only help up to a point. But I can see a distant buoy rolling with the waves; I get the idea, no paddling for a while.

We take a walk out onto Foulney Island, marvelling at the countless Eider Ducks taking a break there. It is a pretty spot, with beautiful views out to the Lancashire Fells in the distance, familiar friends on my home ground.

But once again we are corralled by rope fences and endless forbidding signs. Our presence here is suffered obviously. I find it rather arrogant that some think the birds cannot tolerate any other wildlife passing peacefully by. Nature is far more resilient than so many give it credit for, but obviously only they are gifted enough to save the wildlife! A pity some of the sign making effort couldn't have gone into removing the plastic litter covering the place perhaps?

Rant over we head back, the tide is quickly coming in and as we near the van the track is swiftly becoming a causeway. I like to watch the water move and we sit and watch as it starts to flow over the stone bank, I am intrigued by the mechanics of one side being higher than the other.

As the salt marsh starts to cover we find the car park is becoming populated by kite and windsurfers. The dynamic is interesting to watch: there is a hierarchy and the top boy swaggers around, living up to the image, drinking in the adoration and sycophancy. That is until The Visitor rolls up, he pulls out his kit and quietly takes centre stage. The Alpha Male has just been out Alpha’d. David Attenborough could do a programme on this one.

It’s interesting to watch the folks skimming at high speed across water, only inches deep, skilful and speedy. But we get the feeling we are taking up valuable car parking space and take our leave.

A quick trip to the end of Roa helps no more to assess the conditions in the Bay and we retire a little further up the coast to take in the view and snooze in a peaceful picnic site on the edge of the Bay.

Eventually a no/go decision has to be taken; soon it will be too late to get across before nightfall. We head back once again to Roa. Thankfully the indecision is accompanied by a decrease in windspeed. Game on, let’s go.

Conveniently the long wait for the wind links quite well with the tide. There should still be flow down the channel and going across the Flats shouldn't be too bad, I’m hoping the fading of the ebb should settle the conditions out there a little. Further out, the Lune Deep runs out for about 9 out of 12 hrs I think, so that may be a little lumpy against the wind. And then I guess I’ll run out of tide somewhere as I close on Rossall, on the other side. But you can’t have everything, let’s get on with it.

It’s a splashy headwind out and down the ebbing channel. For 4 nm I have to be patient, ticking off the buoys, cut across too early and it may be impatient payback time as I get caught in the shallows. The last buoy goes by and eventually I can hang a loiue and point towards Blackpool Tower. The Flats go by with no hassle but then as I cross Lune Deep things chunk up quite a bit. It’s half an hour or so to get across that and I'm fairly glad when things start to settle. I'm expecting the tide to turn soon so I head in towards the coastline at Rossall, the venue for my first ‘surf’ outing.

A mile out the tide does indeed change, an increase in the wind accompanies the change. I find myself hanging outside the break, in the coffee coloured water. It’s not the most enticing stretch of coastal paddling anyway, but a number of years ago I stopped paddling here as I came across so many, to put it bluntly, turds floating in the water. I know the Utility company has been putting in some work in recent years and I am hoping to see an improvement. Not a major one it seems, Christopher Robin could have played poo sticks all day long here. I paddle along the choppy coast, marvelling on the diet of the locals that ensures their little mementoes can survive intact for so long in the surf.

Eventually the cold, wind and onset of darkness finish me off. I slide onto the sand at Bispham and trolley the boat up through the extent of concrete sea defences. As I reach the top, gasping for breath, I am very suddenly face to face with a very large and loud young guy, all muscles and so on. He is big, loud, in my face and accompanied by a carer.

I am a little taken aback, I'm only seconds off the water and not yet quite ready for Blackpool. But soon it dawns that he is a nice guy, he's just so curious about this idiot landing on the windswept beach in a pink canoe. He has so many questions - there is no edge, no agenda, nothing to prove, no pride or ego, just unbridled curiosity – all in a rather loud sort of way.

We speak for a while, until eventually the lady alongside drags him away without saying a word. He wishes me luck and waves as he goes. I reflect that I am lucky to be doing something that not everyone can have the opportunity to do. I hope he is doing well wherever he is now.

Seconds later I am standing in a crowd, holding a 5.5m of pink canoe on a trolley, waiting for the lights to change to cross the tram lines and promenade road. Blackpool Tower is all lit up just down the road.

It has been a day of contrasts.