Starlight Paddling

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Stars in the night sky

Metal Chicken takes a kayaking trip on Lough Ine, West Cork, Ireland

Lough Ine is a special place at the best of times. A unique seawater lough with asymmetric tides, sitting alongside ancient woodland remnants and fuschia laden hedgerows. A marine biologist's heaven and perfect for whiling away a summer afternoon walking or swimming or just sitting at the waters edge.

Today's experience was different. An evening paddling around the lough as the light faded. It's not only a beautiful place but holds many memories and there's a certain sentimental nostalgia about visits here. I've been coming to Lough Ine all my life (and probably before that). But I saw it in new ways tonight and have laid down a host of new memories.

But I Don't Know How To Paddle!

Getting in the water with trepidation as I've never attempted to paddle a Kayak before. Finding to my amazement that I can propel myself forward in the direction I want to go and change direction and stop when I need to, all without feeling any danger of tipping. Relaxing then and enjoying the trip.

Following Jim in our little flotilla of erratic boats like a load of little ducklings. As the evening progressed and we found our confidence we spread out more and discovered our own space to explore the water. Always ready to shout off our designated number as Jim kept checking we were all still there.

Trying to keep my paddling as quiet as the expert's so as not to disrupt the peace of the lough or disturb the wildlife. We were told there are seals and otters living there, we heard screeches of herons many times and saw the mackerel leaping just out of the surface of the lough.

Paddling around the island for a different view of the ruined castle. Discovering that the island is almost cut in two by a narrow channel of water when the tide is high. Finding we were there at the high new moon tide and were able (with a helpful shove from Jim) to propel our boats through the channel and cross the island. Competitive elation at the thought that few people get the chance to take a boat over the island, certainly not my cousin who was here before me earlier this year..

The Water Shines

As dusk fell, bioluminescence started to appear in the water when it was disturbed. Jim demonstrated and promised as it got darker we would see much more of this and have the chance to play with lighting up the water. When fully dark, the passage of the boat through the water caused a V of luminescence to appear ahead of me. Slapping the surface with a paddle gave the appearance of switching on a torch. Patting a patch of seaweed started a chain reaction and sparks appeared to fly all around the lump of vegetation. Magical and impossible to explain the childlike delight of watching luminous drips of water fall off the paddle and ripples spread out into the night. Dipping my hand into the water, it came up covered in a glove of little fairy lights, persisting for some seconds.

For a moment we were all asked to be still, close our eyes and let the boats drift silently while we listened to the stillness around us. Hearing only the odd heron screech, this level of silence is not something we experience often in this world.

Starry, Starry Night

Raising our eyes upwards we realised the earlier cloud had cleared leaving the most incredible starlit, moonless night. So many stars I lost my way in them. Seeing all the way through to another galaxy, Andromeda simple to spot with this dark night and total absence of light pollution. Using the Milky Way to look for Casseiopia rather than the other way around. With a telescope how many faint fuzzies would we have been able to find, here a Messier marathon would have been a tempting proposition.

Finally we were back at our launch point after a compete circuit of the lough. Time to get out and put the kit away. Seeing how much water came out of my boat, I realised how sloppy my beginner's paddling had been. No matter, we'd made it round in safety and come out with a pack of silly grins and satisfied faces.

As we packed away the boats, somebody looked up and cried out. We all looked up to see a very bright green fireball streaking across the sky. Looking like a bonfire sparkler or firework spitting out green sparks and leaving a persisting trail in the sky. Fantastic. I've seen nothing like this elsewhere, what an unbelievable culmination to a wonderful night out.

Lough Ine will still be a special place to me, but next time I'm there I'll be remembering how it felt to be out paddling peacefully across the middle of it as night fell and the stars came out above and below us.

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