Reflections beyond Ravenglass

I have always enjoyed paddling on the Ravenglass estuary where the rivers Esk, Mite and Irt converge. With a big tide, it is possible to follow the Esk in particular, a long way upstream while a little wind can create exciting conditions at the mouth of the estuary. On a calm day with neap tides, it is a tranquil haven, overlooked by the western fells; it is an area for which I feel a great affinity...

Arriving late in the flood, I unloaded the car and packed the boat. An elderly local man approached and we chatted, he telling tales of white water on the Leven as I recounted trips north of the border and others closer to home. Our conversation came naturally to St Bees Head, where I paddled very recently and he, many years ago turned for the shelter of Whitehaven harbour as 20ft waves battered the sandstone cliffs. 

He was intrigued by the design of the kayak, the safety gear I carried, the strangely bent shaft of my paddle...the difference of a few decades.

Yet it was not the difference in kayak, or equipment that struck me most. Relating a tale of a recent trip to Anglesey I saw this sharp, elderly man's eyes cloud over, hearing but no longer knowing about what I spoke. 'On the Levens...' he began, describing the river by the name of the village it passes, quickly telling another tale of lost paddles and long swims, suddenly animated, his eyes bright once more.

And so, in returning that afternoon to a place I still think of as home, to a 'local' paddle surounded by early memories, I understood just how privileged I have been, to see as much as I have; to paddle as far afield and in places that this man would never know.
Our world is a far smaller place today, shrinking as our means and expectations grow...it is good then, to reach back, to attempt some measure of understanding of how things were once before, to explore once again those quiet corners close to home and find the challenge, adventure and beauty that remains, while it is still there to be found.

Such were my thoughts as I pushed against the last of the flooding tide...
...on and out beyond the dunes to look back on the fells and the many days and nights I have spent amongst them.

Returning, I sat awhile on the point, thinking still of that man's life; are ours any richer for all that we have and the places we see?
Perhaps. But also, perhaps only if we recognise that richness and take time to understand before rushing on to the next trip, the next paddle, the next place on the list.
Turnstones darted on the shingle, calling, their 'tuck', 'tuck', 'tuck' insistent in the still evening air. I watched and drifted, slowly, soaking in the colour and warmth of spring.

With less than two feet of water beneath the hull, a long and wide shape moved below, twisting, turning, a powerful flick sending the young seal suddenly out of sight, to surface a short distance away amongst the weed.

Surprised, never having seen seals within the estuary before now, I drifted slowly towards him as he rose above the ripples, sniffing the air as a dog might, whiskers twitching, the low sun catching the pale fur of his chest.
We watched each other, the gap gradually closing, a game of nerve and trust until I could almost reach out to touch the small dark head...absolutely still, I held my breath...
I wish he had done the same for with loud snort he was gone leaving only a warm fishy smell on the breeze, thick and moist so that I could almost taste the air around me.  

We had not spoken of the seals, the old man and I, yet they are a constant amongst sea kayakers, a common thread amongst the experiences of many.

I hope this much at least, remains so.

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