Skip to content

A night paddle around Hilbre by Tim Haines

A boat on the water Description automatically generated

A night paddle around Hilbre by Tim Haines

Sometimes work and family commitments, the weather and the tide all conspire against us to prevent paddling, and the onset of winter can exacerbate this, with reduced daylight hours to add into the mix as well.  

One option is paddling in the dark – Liverpool Canoe Club do this quite a bit on the local docks, either on the long winter evenings or (very, very quietly) before day-break. But on this occasion, Laura and I fancied something a little bit more adventurous.  

A person and person in a dark roomDescription automatically generated
Tim Forgot to Smile… 

On Friday night there was a >8m high tide at 20 minutes after midnight, so we planned to set off at around 1100 with the intention of being back by around 0130. We were keen to avoid an unnecessary call out of the RNLI so I contacted them to let them know that reports of ‘lights on the water’ were not necessarily a cause for concern – we were well prepared, and had multiple forms of emergency communications. The RNLI directed me to the Coast Guard, and the coast Guard didn’t pick up the phone, so ultimately that didn’t work! 

A boat on the waterDescription automatically generated
Paddling at night is always a special experience.

The weather was fine, with <5 knots wind, and the sea was glassy as we paddled out in the direction of Talacre on the Welsh coast. This course takes you far out into the estuary, avoiding the sandbanks which lie along the Wirral coast. In daylight hours, the navigational ‘cue’ to turn right and head for the islands is the ability to see the gap between Hilbre and Middle Eye*. At night, there is a little more guesswork involved, but using the ‘Hilbre Mark’ light at the north end of the Island, it is not too complex.  

Paddling at night is always a special experience. It’s somehow quieter and more intense than paddling during the daytime, and you are more dependent on the ‘feel’ of the boat on the water. The night was partially overcast when we set off, but it cleared as we approached Middle Eye and the star-scape above added immeasurably to the grandeur of it all. I cannot do justice in words to the awe that paddling under a star-lit night brings, but it calls to mind a line from TE Lawrence: “We were shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of the stars”.  

The water around the north end of Hilbre was choppy, as it frequently is, but I was surprised by how rough it was, given the combination of low winds and fine weather that we’ve had recently. Various factors (including Laura having borrowed an unfamiliar and slightly tippy boat, and me experiencing a bad case of rapid-onset-heebie-jeebies) led us to raft up in the worst of the tide race and let it push us gently round the corner into the calm water to the East of the island. From there, the short distance back to the beach at the south end of Hilbre was followed by a welcome leg stretch and then back to the slipway at West Kirby.  

We were entirely un-lit for the duration of the trip as we opted to keep deck lights and head torches off unless absolutely necessary. This was largely to maintain night vision, but also to prevent any unnecessary callouts (the locals around West Kirby are hyper-vigilant in this regard, and ‘false alarms’ are commonplace). Given the absence of any other marine vessels in the vicinity of the islands, I think this was a reasonable, common-sense approach.  

Two kayaks under waterDescription automatically generated
Boats pulled up on Hilbre beach, with the lights of Liverpool docks in the background. 

1 thought on “A night paddle around Hilbre by Tim Haines”