Kayaking, Malin Head, BIG rollers & wet wellies…

It’s Monday and that can only mean one thing… yes, a guest writer.  Debbie has been a good friend of mind since one day we bumped into each other on Donaghadee harbour.  We were both walking the same breed of dog, a border terrier which are fairly rare around these parts.  Since we have swam with the Donaghadee Chunky Dunkers often encouraging each other as we went.  I love Debbie’s attitude to life, hear big smile and addictive laugh.  Her cake isn’t bad either!! Debbie take it away…

I find the older I get the more I like to push myself,  in the form of adventures or challenges. Nothing big like but just things that push me a wee bit out of my comfort zone.

When I was younger I never did anything that was considered adventurous or ‘outside of the box’. I’ve always kept myself fairly fit, through going to the gym (boring!!!), swimming and walking my beloved dogs. In my mid forties I thought I would give horse riding ago. Encouraged by my sister in law who then had her own horse a handsome chestnut stallion,she introduced me to the local stables. I enrolled in a series of riding lessons and really took to it, looking forward to my Tuesday night lessons. Anyway this continued for roughly 5 years, which resulted me getting to a level in which I could compete in small competitions and ultimately a couple of beach gallops along the stunning North Coast. What a thrill!!!!  Unfortunately after a bad fall in the fields I badly hurt my back, but what was even worse I had lost my ‘nerve ‘. I decided my horse riding days were over and started looking for something a bit more sedate.



I’ve always loved swimming and was brought up in a family who were all involved in competitive swimming. But it was sea swimming that I enjoyed, I just loved the freedom that it brought along with being close to nature. I had seen an advertisement for sea kayaking lessons and immediately booked a course of 6 lessons. What fun, something that I really took to and kept me fairly fit at the same time. One advantage I had over my fellow students was I never really felt a fear of ending up in the water (or going for a swim as we called it), as I knew I was a strong swimmer and could always manage to clamber back into my boat again.

This was to change on Sat 25th March 2017. I had made arrangements with a good friend to join her on a kayaking trip around Malin Head. We had booked to go with Innish Adventures, a fabulous outdoor activity company based in Moville. We had been on numerous trips with them and they provided excellent coaching and guiding. The previous year I had paddled round Malin Head on a glorious summer day and had felt so privileged having been able to view the awesome scenery of The Most Northerly point of Ireland, from a completely different perspective.

We met up as planned, got our boats and gear sorted and headed to our starting point of Portronan. It’s surprising how much you start noticing every nuance in the weather when you’re about to go on a trip. Not the rain, not the sun, or temperature, but the wind. We were happy to find it was a reasonably calm day with low winds. I felt like an old hand encouraging my friend as we set off.

The scenery is simply awe inspiring, with massive cliffs on one side littered with every sea bird imaginable and the mighty Atlantic on the other. We started to notice quite a lot of ‘sea foam’ which we paddled through,it is chillingly eerie, like paddling through clouds. This sea foam is created when waves hit the cliffs and gets churned up forming a foam. After about 40 minutes I noticed it had begun to get fairly choppy with still a good 2 hrs to go. I felt for the first time a slight feeling of mild apprehension.



I looked to our guide who reassured me I had paddled through a lot worse. Still the feeling in my stomach wouldn’t go and I started thinking the worse and basically lost all the confidence I had. Our guided hinted we should stop for a bit of lunch and decided we would pull in at the next sheltered cove (few and far between on this bit of ragged coast ). The trouble getting to land in this cove is that we had to manoeuvre our way through some pretty big rollers. I held back and let the others go ahead, then waited for our guide to shout to me when I should start paddling hard to break through the waves and unto the stoney beach. I started paddling like mad and before I knew it I was carried shore-ward on top of what felt like a massive roller-coaster. I had made it, but just as I was coming into land my kayak capsized and I found myself trapped underneath,in the icy cold water. I don’t know why, but everything I had learnt went out the window and I started to panic. Albeit a couple of seconds it seemed like much longer, eventually I kicked my way free and discovered I was only up to my knees in water.That was another problem, we paddlers tend to wear wellies as it keeps your feet nice and dry while on a long trip. These subsequently filled with water and I plodded up the beach dragging my kayak with me. I’ve never been as thankful to be standing on dry land. The others had all made it without mishap and I joined them on a nearby rock, were I emptied the aforementioned wellies. They said I had done really well ‘riding’the wave,but just lost concentration while going those last few yards.Surprisingly my friend had made it, without as much as a nod, she rightly felt very proud.

While we sat chatting eating our sandwiches all my focus was on the fact we still had a way to go, which meant going back out the way we came,through the mighty rollers. While the others were laughing and cheering each other on I sat quietly pondering on what to do. One thing we had been taught was to be truthful in telling weather or not we were comfortable in paddling in certain conditions. I took I deep breath and decided to tell the others of my decision. I was not happy at all at the thought of paddling back out and had decided I would walk back to our arranged finishing point. Now this was not as simple as it sounds, not only we were a good mile from the nearest road, but somehow we had to get my kayak back. The others tried their best to lure me back out but I was adamant, I had made my decision and I was going to stick to it. There was no getting me back into the sea that day. Two of the guys very kindly lugged my kayak back to the road,through an obstacle course which consisted of mainly cow poo. It was a hard slog, but we finally made the road. I thanked them profusely and they made their way back to the sheltered cove. I then realised that I was still a good few miles away from our finishing point,so I trundled on in my sopping wellies along the road,getting a good few strange stares along the way,from the ever ending stream of sightseers!!!!! I didn’t care about my discomfort that day, as long as it meant not having to go back into the sea.



After an hour + walk I eventually made it to Malin Harbour, boy was I glad.Still wet and cold I waited for my friends to make it back. I remember climbing onto the harbour wall and started searching for them on the sea,there they were coming round the headland,they had made it, what an achievement.

I congratulated them and felt slightly envious, but deep down I knew I had made the right decision, I had lost a bit of my confidence that day and didn’t want to put myself or them at risk. We packed up the boats and headed back to collect my abandoned kayak, then made our way back to Moville.

What a day it had turned out to be, not as I had foreseen but one that will stick with me forever. To this day I wonder if I could have made it through the waves and continued to the end by paddling, or if I indeed made the right decision by walking ‘the long road back’.

Bio – Debbie Gray

I am a very ordinary 56 year old women,a wife and fur Mummy to my 3 beloved girls (Terriers).  Who loves the outdoors, whether it be walking ,swimming or kayaking.  I love to holiday in Donegal ,especially the Innishowen Peninsula.
I am a member of The Donaghadee Chunky Dunker Swimming gang, were I have met many like minded people and friends.
If you would like to guest write for McFinkle please get in touch…

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