Snowy Car Park

Snowy Car Park

So the UK is gripped in what the press are calling the ‘Big Freeze‘. Today provided brilliant sunshine and freezing cold temperatures with the car reporting -5 degrees celsius. A quick phone call to the brilliant staff at Lepe Country Park confirmed that the country lane running down to the beach was passable. It was time to head out.

I was particularly keen to paddle from Lepe and head up the Beaulieu River as I had heard reports of a Seal being sighted by paddlers last weekend. Arriving at the car park I was greeted by a beautiful snowy scene with relatively calm waters despite a cold F4 Northerly wind.

Snow Covered IOW

Snow Covered IOW

To the amusement of the occupants of the only other car parked up, I kitted up and launched the Kayak. Heading out into the Solent I took some time to take in the unusual sight of a snow covered Isle of Wight in the distance before turning West and heading across the mouth of the Beaulieu River.

I worked my way up the edge of the Nature Reserve that forms a spit on the southern side of the River. I saw all manner of birds but no sign of the seal. Passing the Beaulieu Sailing Club and then on past the Royal Southampton Yacht Club Gins clubhouse weaving my way through the moored yachts. The wind was funnelling down the small valley that surrounds the river and my face felt the full effects. I deployed one of my christmas present – a buff in the fabulous Welsh Dragon fabric. Pulling this up around my face provided welcome relief from the biting wind.

Beaulieu River

Beaulieu River

I paddled past the amazing properties that are sighted along the river bank before stopping just short of Bucklers Hard. After taking a few photographs I checked the time and realised I would need to head back in order to make it in time for the 5pm closure of the car park.

Still no sign of the seal so I decided to work my way back along the other edge of the river which winds its way the edge of mud flats which appear at low tide. The wind assisted my progress as I paddled against the tide. To the west the Sun was beginning to set and bathing the river in a golden glow.

Reaching the River entrance where the Solent opens up I gave up on any thoughts of meeting the Seal and stopped for a final time to take some shots of the Sun setting. As I did so, the kayak drifted across the River Entrance taking me out into the Solent. Suddenly to my right I noticed a black blob. I looked carefully sure it was yet another bird bobbing on the water. Then the blob disappeared from sight. I scanned the surface and a minute or so later it appeared again, this time closer to me. i had accidentally found the Seal.

Seal

Seal

What followed was a game of cat and mouse as I desperately tried to edge my way closer and get a clear photo of the Seal. It almost seemed to be toying with me, waiting patiently as I crept closer and brought the point and shoot up to my eye before disappearing under the surface to reappear somewhere completely different.

At one point I heard a splash and just behind me and looking round caught a glimpse of a dark shadow under the boat before seeing the Seal appear on the opposite side of the kayak. This time I just managed to capture one shot of the Seal, albeit not particularly clear and at a distance. How I longed for Mark Rainsley’s superb 600mm lens!

Sunset Over Solent

Sunset Over Solent

Running short of time, I said took one final glance at the Seal before pointing my bow back towards Lepe and setting off on the final stretch back to the car. As I pulled the boat up onto the beach the sun gave a final bow setting almost exactly in the middle of the Solent between the IOW and Lymington. i took the opportunity to shoot a few shots with the DSLR of the Kayak sat on the snowy shore before loading up and wending my way home.

A simply stunning short paddle in idyllic conditions and one to be remembered for a long time to come.

Sunset Over Snowy Lepe

Sunset Over Snowy Lepe

Kitted Up For Winter Paddle

Kitted Up For Winter Paddle

Watching Sunset

Watching Sunset