Chapter 2– South West England
“The ocean is vast, seemingly limitless, which is why we think we can dump our rubbish in it,
Like sweeping it under the carpet – out of sight out of mind.”
If ever I was in any doubt as to just how hard the challenge was going to be the first twenty four hours came as a timely reminder. Saturday 3rd April 2004 dawned cold, wet and windy. I was concerned for the safety of some of the many canoeists that had said they would like to escort me out to sea. Some were only novices and it was perhaps not a good idea for them to be paddling in a Force 7 which is what had been forecasted from lunchtime onwards. The plan was to have a reception for sponsors, family and friends in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (NMMC) and then leave from their pontoon, escorted by a flotilla of kayaks and larger boats out to Pendennis Point, the entrance to Carrick Roads and the start line of my challenge. Guy Thomas, Operations Manager at the NMMC was great – I’m not sure what he thought of the whole concept but he was extremely accommodating and professional and seemed pleased that I had chosen the Museum as the venue for my departure and return in six months time. He let us use a large room on the first floor free of charge which meant that those that came to say goodbye got a sneak view of the Museum’s vast array of amazing boats. When it was time to do the speech thing I choked as I said ‘thank you’ to my sponsors and almost completely broke down as I tried to thank Linda for being so tolerant. As everyone left the room to take up their positions on the balcony overlooking the harbour I hurriedly got changed into my YAK paddling gear and then walked down the ramp to where my kayak was waiting patiently for me. Stu Elford did his thing on the PA system and I felt like a prize fighter about to enter the ring as the crowd cheered and cameras flashed. It was so overwhelming that I completely forgot to kiss Linda goodbye! I was planning to see her the following day but it’s no excuse. Fortunately she reminded me in time and our quick kiss got a big cheer from the crowd. To a rousing ‘three cheers’ I pushed off from the pontoon and took the first of a million paddle strokes – my whole body was shaking and I felt weak and timid as I left the shelter of Falmouth harbour.
My mind soon became distracted however as the strong gusts of wind snatched at my paddle blades and I glanced anxiously around me at the group of paddlers that were paddling with me to the open sea. I needn’t have worried; they were all smiles and we were able to chat as we paddled gently out into Carrick Roads. Rob Feloy, the man partly responsible for getting me into this predicament was there along with members of Hayle Canoe Club and collegues from work who had recently taken up the sport. It was really special to have them accompany me on the first part of my long voyage. The plan had been to leave Black Rock, an isolated danger mark in the middle of the river mouth, to starboard and do the same on my return thus ensuring the circle was complete. As it was we were relatively sheltered under the lee of the cliffs of Pendennis Point but the sea was quite choppy around Black Rock and I did not want to cause the Coastguard, whose HQ overlook the Point any undue stress. They were a little concerned that I had chosen to leave despite the poor weather. After thanking my fellow paddlers for coming to see me off, I left them at the Point and headed out to sea, turning right (west) into the teeth of the strong wind.
At least it made for some good photos for the spectators who were poised ready on the cliff top as I got drenched by the steep waves off the Point. I was determined to make at least some progress despite the weather and I head banged into the chop across FalmouthBay towards the HelfordRiver. Dave Nicoll and the boys on the inshore lifeboat kept me company until I was beyond MaenporthBeach whereupon they got a shout over the radio from the Coastguard reporting a 16ft motorboat with engine trouble in Carrick Roads. With a throaty roar from the twin outboards and a final wave goodbye they blasted off, back the way we had come, covering the same ground it had taken me nearly an hour to grind out in just a few minutes. Whilst it had been great to have them follow me and I’d enjoyed the banter, it was good to finally be on my own – a chance to get my head around all that had happened that morning.
The conditions deteriorated even further after the Manacles and the short stretch past Lowland Point and into Coverack took an age. There were times when I did not appear to be moving forwards at all. I had decided on Coverack as my destination for the day as Black Head was definitely out of the question in the worsening conditions. A Force 7 bang on the nose is not what I needed for a first day’s paddle but at least I had made a start. Coverack looked grey and inhospitable, the only colour coming from the golden yellow gorse flanking the cliff tops. At least the swell was small in the tiny harbour and I managed to get out and unload the kayak without too much difficulty. Having changed quickly to avoid the shivers I made my phone calls to the Coastguard and to Linda as I would do at the end of every day.
It had started to rain more heavily and I had yet to find a site to pitch my tent. After a fruitless search for a decent campsite I erected it on the concrete and stone slip way, using a picnic table and other paraphernalia to tie off the guy ropes as best I could. It was far from ideal in the gusty wind but once inside I was at least dry and sheltered from the rain which was now torrential. Knowing I had made the right decision to stop I settled down for a kip and only awoke after dark to have a bite to eat before sleeping through till first light. The emotional drain of the last few days had proved mentally exhausting and my body was not yet in shape for a paddle like the one I had been faced with that afternoon.
Clear blue skies greeted me in the morning, and the wind had certainly eased. I was eager to get on the water as quickly as possible and make towards the Lizard before the wind picked up. Wishful thinking! By the time I was off Black Head a head wind was making progress frustratingly slow. I took a moment’s rest and admired the ancient fishing village of Cadgwith, a timeless, rare piece of old Cornwall, before I made a dash for shelter beneath the spectacularly located lifeboat station with its deep water slip-way in Kilcobben Cove, built in 1961 to replace the old station that can still be seen right on the Lizard itself at the southern-most tip of England. I took another breather, enjoying the first of many, many NRG cereal bars whilst I contemplated how I should tackle this formidable Lizard headland. The tide was flowing fast towards the point and I knew there would be a wild race in these wind against tide conditions. Whilst it may have been prudent to wait for slack I was keen to keep going and felt confident I could sneak inside the race that normally forms over half a mile out to sea. As I approached the lighthouse, a rock garden blocked my path and furious surf thrashed onto the reefs. This was going to be exciting! I was able to take a couple of shots with my waterproof camera before entering the melee. Judging the swell to perfection I climbed up the face of a couple of six-footers just before they collapsed onto the barely submerged rocks. As the bow of my kayak slammed into the troughs I winced, thinking of my delicate laptop computer in the forward hatch. Oh well I thought, if it survived this it would survive anything!
After a two hundred metre sprint I was through the worst and could relax somewhat and enjoy the spectacular sight of the most southerly point of the British mainland. The clear blue sky gave little hint of the Force 6 westerly, only the flags streaming horizontally from the hotel rooftop gave an indication of its strength. I could now head north towards Mullion and hoped and expected to find increasing shelter from the wind and waves. I knew that I would be unable to land at Kynance Cove as I had done on my circumnavigation of Devon and Cornwall seven years previously. The cove was in turmoil, a cauldron of white water and I stayed well offshore. Even so the reflected waves rebounding of the high cliffs produced a confused sea and an uncomfortable ride. I have always been prone to a bit of sea sickness and sure enough the insiduous queasiness began to drain me of energy. I had been looking forward to this stretch of coastline which features some remarable knife edge ridges that fall near vertically to the sea. Sadly I could not enjoy the views to their full extent as I needed to keep my eyes fixed on the distant shore line to stop myself from throwing up. My progress was very slow; perhaps less than two miles an hour as the heavy chop kept killing my momentum. I was now in no doubt as to the arduous nature of the challenge I had taken on although I had hoped for a slightly gentler start!
I eventually arrived at Mullion only to discover that low tide had exposed rocks right in the entrance to the harbour and the unpredictable surf meant that an entry was just too risky. I knew that the surf was going to be too big in Gunwalloe and Church Cove so I resigned myself to paddling on to Porthleven before I would have the opportunity to get out. Running parallel to the steep beach of Loe Bar the wind increased as predicted by the weather forecast supplied by the Coastguard that morning. Porthleven would have to do for the day and the inviting prospect of seeing Linda and spending an extra night in my own bed was too much to resist. I reconciled that as long as I started from exactly the same place the following day it was well within ‘the rules’ I had set for myself.
But first I had to get into Porthleven and anyone who knows the harbour will know the size of the surf that breaks on either side of the entrance in stormy weather. It was certainly spectacular but quite safe and I heard a spontaneous cheer from a small crowd of visitors watching the breaking waves as I surfed into the outer harbour. I had wondered whether the inner harbour would be closed off due to the big swell and sure enough there was no way in. Fortunately there was a tiny piece of pebble beach still exposed in a corner of the outer harbour and without any other option I landed, quickly dragging the boat above the surge. My next challenge was to empty the boat of the heaviest dry bags and carry them up a 45 degree slope which became increasingly slippery as I dripped saltwater onto the polished granite. With the tide rising fast I had no time to lose and I only just managed to empty the boat before the waves started dragging it back out to sea. I paddled over to a stone staircase and with the last big effort of the day I heaved the kayak onto my shoulder and carried it up out of harms way.
Linda drove down to pick me up after school and that night I stayed in the comfort of my own home. Whilst I could be considered to be a bit of a fraud, forsaking my tent for my own bed, I call it sensible use of resources. I knew there would be many months when I would not be able to sleep in my own bed so I thought I might as well make the most of it whilst I could. The forecast remained poor with a 20 mph westerly the following day. I set my goal to reach Lamorna Cove – I was in no rush as the long range forecast indicated that it would not be possible to undertake the crossing to the Isles of Scilly for at least another two days. I had a late start, waiting for low tide to enable me to launch in the outer harbour at Porthleven and with little improvement in the strong headwind I made slow progress towards Rinsey Head.
The clapotis caused by the swell rebounding off the granite buttress topped by beautifully restored engine houses produced a bouncy ride and slowed me still further. My spirits were lifted when I saw Linda’s parents waving enthusiastically from the cliff top. Later they told me how concerned they were at the size of the waves and how small I was in comparison. As far as I was concerned, the wave size was not the issue – it was just the damned head wind.
Messy surf dumped onto Praa Sands and I followed the break line enjoying a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the larger sets. Again Linda’s parents were there waving energetically – they were so supportive. After a brief comfort break it was out to Cudden Point, a saw tooth ridge that forms the eastern boundary of Mount’s Bay. A wicked trick in the wind produced a vortex of spume in what should have been the lee of the headland. I had to paddle flat out to get past the point, only to enter a steep short sea that slapped me in the face all the way to St Michael’s Mount where the rocky mound provided a degree of shelter both for me and a profusion of sub-tropical plants that adourn the terraced slopes that flank a neat little harbour that was once the most important tin trading port in Cornwall.
St Michael’s Mount is probably the ancient island of ‘Ictis’ described by Diodurus Siculus two hundred years after the Greek sailor Pytheas first described the Cornish Peninsula in about 330BC. Siculus stated that the inhabitants of Belerion (West Penwith) both excel in hospitality, and also, from their intercourse with foreign merchants, are civilised in their manner of life. This was a period when much of the rest of the British Isles remained hostile – a land of Barbarians. He described tin-streaming and smelting and how the tin ingots would be taken at low tide to an island where merchants traded them for gold and spices before sailing off with their cargo of tin to the land of Gaul (France). There was no harbour back then. The first pier was not built until the fifteenth century and then extended by the St. Aubyn family in 1727. Salt fish, tin and copper ore were transported by pack horse over the causeway for export and imports included coal, iron, timber and corn. Lord St. Leven still resides on the Mount but it is now owned by the National Trust and as such will be preserved as a national treasure – a rare and fine example of how man can occasionally improve upon the natural landscape.
Beyond the Mount lay a splendid looking, four-masted square rigger. I chose to head direct across the bay towards it to get some photos and when I finally arrived astern the young crew greeted me with smiles and waves. I could not make out the name or identify the flag – I believe it was from one of the Baltic States and no-one on board seemed to speak English but that did not seem to matter to them and they waved cheerily and took photos of me taking photos of their beautiful sailing ship. Further across the bay lay the Sea Princess a massive ocean-going tug operated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. There are three such vessels on station around the British Isles, ready and waiting to avert maritime disasters. The Sea Princess stood as if on guard outside the medieval fishing port of Newlyn, the place where Chart Datum was first measured. It remains one of the largest and busiest fishing harbours on the SouthCoast servicing not only its own fleet of beam trawlers and long-liners and those from the East Coast of England working the Western Approaches but also playing host to an array of continental fishing vessels. Fishing methods had never been under such scrutiny as they were then thanks to the emotive issue of dolphin by-catch by pair trawlers that would sweep through the English Channel during late winter and early spring scooping up the vast shoals of sea bass as well as dolphins that also happen to be hunting the same fish. The Marine Conservation Society produces an excellent ‘Good Fish Guide’ that enables you to make an informed choice about the fish you buy or eat in a restaurant. Unless we as consumers choose what we eat wisely we can hardly go lecturing our local fishermen who are trying to earn a living for themselves and their families in a notoriously dangerous environment.
There is no more poignant reminder of just how dangerous the sea can be than the Penlee Lifeboat Station Memorial. The old lifeboat station, perched on the rocky shore between Newlyn and Mousehole, has been left untouched from when the eight-man crew of the Solomon Browne set out in hurricane force winds and mountainous seas to rescue eight persons from the stricken coaster the Union Star in December 1981. Lieutenant Commander Russell Smith USN, the pilot of the helicopter that was also involved in the rescue described it as “the greatest act of courage I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the Penlee when it manoeuvered back alongside the casualty in over 60ft breakers and rescued four people”. Tragically when the lifeboat went back to the vessel to take off the remaining four people on board it was overwhelmed and all persons were lost despite extensive searches throughout the following days. I remember learning about the tragedy on the news at the age of sixteen and the tremendous courage of those men struck a chord in me and I have had the utmost regard for the work of the RNLI ever since. I always paused and gave thanks whenever I paddled past the memorial.
From Penlee Point I experienced something new for this journey: the wind on my back! I glided through the narrow entrance to the tiny harbour of Mousehole (where all eight of the crew of the Solomon Browne where from) to be greeted by smiles and waves from people relaxing in the spring sunshine. It was like another day – Mousehole (pronounced Mowzal) was clearly the place to be with hardly a breath of wind disturbing the tranquillity of this quintessentially Cornish fishing village. Another ancient fishing harbour, it was the first in the county to have a peir built in the last decade of the fourteenth century. It was for a time the most important fishing port in Cornwall and by 1849 over 800 people were employed in the catching, curing and packing of herring and mackerel. The tiny fishermen’s cottages are now mostly second homes and the narrow streets become easily clogged by holiday traffic but the place retains its unique charm. There is no better example of this than the tradition of the ‘Mousehole Lights’ Christmas festival when the harbour glows from thousands of light bulbs that make up the immensely popular display.
After another brief comfort break I was off again, determined to get to Lamorna in good time, giving me the option of continuing on if conditions allowed. The further around the corner I went the more I came back into the firing line of the westerly wind that had still not abated. I popped into Lamorna to check out the landing – tricky but certainly possible if I timed it right and caught a surge up the slipway. Unwilling to give up on the day just yet I headed west to take a look at the stretch from Tater Du lighthouse towards Penberth Cove. An ugly sea kicked up by the strong wind and rebounding waves made any further progress seem pointless in the circumstances. I did not have to get to Sennen Cove until the end of the following day so why not have an easy day and be ready for a hard blast around Land’s End tomorrow?
Turning back I surfed into Lamorna and made a nice job of landing, so much easier with the keyhole cockpit of the C-Trek compared the tiny ‘ocean’ cockpit of the Inuk I was used to. The proprietor of the café, a middle-aged woman with a London accent stubbornly refused to let me use the telephone despite the offer of money to pay for the call which meant I had to risk leaving the contents of the kayak unattended whilst I walked the ¼ mile up to the village where the public telephone box is located. After calls to the Coastguard and to Linda, I ran back to check on the boat. To my relief it was fine and I settled down to wait for Linda to come and pick me up. I had opted for another night in my own bed – I didn’t dare ask if it would be alright to camp on the private grounds of the harbour after my first encounter with the café owner. The further away from home I got, the less I would worry about pitching my tent where I wanted and taking any flack that came my way. Whilst I was still on home territory it seemed sensible to keep popping home if I could. I listened to BBC weather forecaster Craig Rich describe the long-term weather forecast for the rest of the week and I was depressed to hear that the wind for Wednesday was going to be fresh to strong north westerly. Would it be too strong for the crossing to the Scillies? Only time would tell.
The following day I had one of the most memorable paddles of my life along my favourite stretch of coastline in Cornwall. Lamorna Cove to Sennen Cove has to rate as one of the top ten kayak day trips of the world. Sea-sculpted granite cliffs, white sand and crushed shell beaches washed clean by the warm, azure waters of the Gulf Stream. Sumugglers caves, tales of wreckers, ghost ships and pirates conjur up an air of mystery and romance to add spice to this uniquely Cornish coastline. Leaving the small harbour in Lamorna Cove in bright early morning sunshine the wind had veered northwest as promised. Cotton ball cumulus clouds that streamed across Mount’s Bay towards the Lizard gave an indication of the strength of the wind but I was protected by the high cliffs of the huge granite batholith that is the PenwithPeninsula.
This time it took just a few minutes to leave the gleaming white Art Nouveau architecture of Tater Du lighthouse to starboard and my kayak rose eagerly to the challenge of the first Atlantic swells. The foam gleamed like virgin snow as the turquoise blue water exploded on the pink and yellow granite. I have spent many happy hours walking and kayaking between Lamorna, Penberth Cove, Logan Rock and Porthcurno. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful coastline and all required photo stops on such a beautiful day.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse stands ten miles out into the English Channel like a sentinel guarding the south CornishCoast. It presents an elusive challenge to sea kayakers wishing to land at its base, since the reef of rare granite are constantly washed by swell. This explains why it took eight years to construct the light and became the most notorious of all the lighthouses of Trinity House for the overdue relief of its keepers and hence became the first to receive a crowning helipad.
I had the best seat in the house as I passed the Minack Theatre, carved by hand out of the granite cliffs of Porthcurno largely by one remarkable lady; Rowena Cade. Her vision had created the cliff-top theatre that now attracted vistors and theatre goers from around the world. To watch a play and at the same time admire the natural wonder of the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean is an unforgettable experience.
The overfalls off Gwenapp Head looked menacing with a confusion of breaking waves as the ebbing tide was forced up over the hidden reefs of the Runnelstone to be attacked by the Force 6 northwesterly. It was only 10am when I tucked into the sheltered nook of Porthgwarra to meet Linda. I discussed the conditions that I was likely to encounter on the next stretch of coast with a couple of local men who were repairing the 100 year old winch used to haul fishing boats up the steep granite slip. It turned out that one of them was on the crew of the Sennen lifeboat, and both were fishermen. Tapping into their local knowledge was invaluable and reinforced my strategy for Land’s End, one of the great headlands that define the coastline of the British Isles.
Leaving Porthgwarra after a brief stop I headed out, turning right through a narrow gap between the cliffs and an exposed reef, timing it so the retreating swell sucked me through the narrow gully. The speed of the tidal stream was immediately apparent. This was going to be some ride! One of the biggest tides of the year and I had timed it such that it was at peak rate. It dragged me past the high, intricately carved cliffs of Gwenapp Head beneath the attentive gaze of the watch keeper in the lookout post manned daily by members of the National Coastwatch Institution. NCI is a voluntary organisation set up in 1994 in response to the withdrawl of coastguard “visual watch” lookouts which were closed due to Government cutbacks, amidst much public outcry. I craned my neck to admire the high granite cliffs, a cathedral of rock decorated with Lycra-clad gargoyles on gossamer threads of Kermantle. Below the rock climbers an audience of seals were murmuring their approval of the rock ballet.
The further around the corner I went the more I came to feel the full force of the northwesterly. My boat speed slowed considerably and I was forced out to sea by several reefs, exposed by the unusually low tide. It was a hard slog to NanjizzalBay, the location of my dream house, a large period property with a view to die for. I had given Linda a two hour maximum for the short leg from Porthgwarra to Land’s End and I did not want to be late so I pressed on towards perhaps the most famous coastal feature in the UK. The swell was lumpy and large enough to be intimidating on your own. The clapotis combined with the headwind reduced my speed to a gut wrenching crawl but the effort was rewarded by the simply stunning scenery. Ahead of schedule I reached the lee of The Armed Knight, a tall stack that blocks a kayaker’s path to Land’s End itself. It is normally possible to pass inshore of this granite giant but again low tide had exposed a boulder strewn sea bed. I took some photos and had a good look at what the tide was doing. A race had formed off the seaward side of the stack, which was best avoided. Grabbing a free ride in the eddy for a hundred metres or so I then turned hard to starboard, back towards the shore, my C-Trek kayak responding brilliantly in the testing conditions. Above me I was aware of a number of onlookers gazing down from the terrace of the Land’s End Hotel. I was sure that Linda and her parents were amongst them but I dared not wave in case some kind soul presumed that I was in trouble and telephoned the Coastguard. The huge growth in mobile phones ownership means that people are much more eager to ring 999 if they see someone apparently ‘in difficulty’. I was conscious that conditions were fairly extreme and I can only imagine what some of the spectators were thinking.
I passed inside the reefs marked by Longships Lighthouse and past the iconic landmark of Land’s End (the most south westerly point of the British mainland) without drama and the north coast stretched away before me, CapeCornwall a familiar beacon in the distance. Of course I could not set my sights on it just yet; I had the small matter of the crossing to, and circumnavigation of the Isles of Scilly to deal with first. I passed outside of Cowloe Reef before surfing some gentle rollers into the picturesque harbour of Sennen Cove. I was just in time for a pint at my favourite pub, the Old Success Inn!
Decision time for the crossing to the Scillies was 8am the following morning – Terry George, the coxswain of the Sennen Lifeoat, who knows more about the tricky waters between Sennen and the Scillies than anyone, promised to get the latest forecast off the internet and take a look at the sea conditions and give me his considered opinion. I had agreed to use a safety boat for the crossings to and from the islands. Mark Richards, a work colleague and old friend from 1st St Austell Scouts, had generously offered his services and the use of his rigid inflatable boat (RIB). He had been on standby since Monday and I wanted to let him know either way so that I didn’t completely screw up his Easter weekend. The forecast was for the brisk northwesterly winds to decrease slowly over the coming days, but by just how much?
Good Friday, April 9th, 2004.
It was now high tide, wavelets flopped lazily onto my perfect beach on St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly overlooking the Eastern Isles. It was dusk at the end of a perfect day. I had set out for the Scillies at 10am on Thursday morning. The wind had abated somewhat from the previous day when I had decided to stay put and wait in hope that my luck would change. Change it did and having checked and double checked my tidal calculations and stared at the weather forecast on the internet willing it to show a reduction in wind strength, I made the decision on Wednesday evening that barring an unforeseen shift in wind direction I would attempt the crossing the next day.
Mark Richards had his RIB on the water ready to go as promised at the given time, assisted by Terry George whose advice had given me the confidence to go for the crossing in what were marginal conditions. Heading out on a bearing of 275 degrees it was soon apparent from the cross track error on my Silva Multi Navigator GPS that my leeway in the Force 4/5 northerly wind would force me to point higher still.
The view looking back past Longships towards Land’s End and Gwenapp Head was very dramatic, like it really was the edge of the world. Ahead of me was just ocean and cloud with occasional glimpses of blue sky. The RIB stayed well back as I had requested so that I at least had the impression that I was out there alone. There is no denying that it took some of the exposure out of the situation having the RIB escorting me but then I thought – would I have attempted the crossing in these marginal conditions on my own? The wind was on my beam and whilst it was strong enough to topple the peaks of the largest swells, it did not give me too much of a problem and I was maintaining a steady 5 knots over the ground. I passed a collection of large pink fishing buoys that were only just breaking the surface as the tide tugged them down. I was again astonished at the rate of the current – I had seen the same thing when I made the crossing seven years previously. I remembered thinking then that there was an awful lot of current flowing at right angles to my intended path. I pointed a degree or two higher just in case! When I talk about heading on a bearing and adjusting it by a few degrees the truth is that it was largely guess’work. The bow of my kayak was being swung left and right as the large cross seas threw me around like a piece of flotsam. But now I didn’t have to rely on my compass alone. It was the first time I had used a GPS navigator for a crossing and I became a complete convert. The Silva Multi Navigator was easy to read despite the rough conditions and I could easily adjust my course to stay on track.
I troughed an NRG bar every hour; took regular sips from my Platypus bladder and felt in good shape. The shipping lanes were quiet, just a tanker heading north and a large coaster heading south. I kept a sharp lookout anyway because I hoped to see the legendary Lyonesse, a rich and fertile land with 140 churches that was overwhelmed by the sea leaving just the rocks of the Seven Stones reef and the Isles of Scilly as remnants. It is said that one day Lyonesse will rise again from beneath the waves but as I made my way ever westwards, the mythical kingdom remained hidden beneath the tossing waves.
With three hours gone, the distinctive lumps of the Scillies came into view on my port bow, whilst the Land’s End peninsula was still clearly visible astern. I did not see the Seven Stones light vessel until I was almost due south of it when I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye. The St Martin’s day mark came into view and confirmed my heading. I was bang on target. I knew that anyway because of the number of aircraft flying to and fro. It rather takes away the mystery of navigation when you can follow their flight path straight to islands!
For the last hour I was able to head straight for the southern most of the Eastern Isles, my intention was to land on the east coast of St. Mary’s and then paddle south entering Hugh Town Harbour via Garrison Point. The last mile is always a drag as the buttocks start to ache and the bladder screams to be emptied. The lumpiest seas of all were to be found on the final approach but I was able to get the occasional surf as I worked hard chasing every little wave. Having spotted my intended landfall I was going for the burn, driving the kayak towards the shore. It was with a sense of satisfaction that I glided into the still tranquillity of the little bay – one big crossing done, many more to follow!
What immediately struck me about coming ashore was the abundance of marine life in the shallows. The low spring tide had exposed forests of kelp and scattered amongst the seaweed were hundreds of bright orange starfish interspersed with snakelocks anemones and gorgeous yellow sponges. Tiny fish and sand eels darted away as the bow of my kayak parted the gin clear water.
After a quick pee and a telephone call to the Coastguard and to Linda, I was back in my boat mindful that the lads on the RIB would be keen to get ashore too and have themselves a well-deserved pint. Rounding GarrisonPoint I came to appreciate the strength of the wind that had been on my side during the crossing. The lads headed into the harbour with the RIB and I slid onto the beach beneath the Strand, tired and a bit cold but very content. The cold wind that greeted me when I arrived in Hugh Town was cancelled out by the warm reception I received from the locals. I had only been ashore for twenty minutes when I had been given two offers of accommodation. I hadn’t really given much thought to where I would stay – worrying about just getting there had been enough to occupy my mind. Again Tim Guthrie proved to be my saviour. Tim has a small gift shop called ‘Ragged Island’ on the Strand and he was kind enough to let me store my soggy kit on the floor and thenhe took me home to meet his wife Linda and his two daughters. I turned down the offer of dinner, wishing to meet up with the Mark and John (Mark’s crew on the RIB) so that I could buy them a pint. I spent the rest of the evening in the Bishop and Wolfe, sank several pints of HSD myself and pigged out on a Bishop Burger. Tim joined us later on and it was great to find out more about life on the islands. I also learned about an extreme sport unique to Cornwall – pot holing in old tin mines. John and Mark recalled tales of climbing down ladders for many hundreds of feet, swimming through flooded works with just enough of an air gap to breathe. They invited me to join them on a foray later in the year. It sounded fascinating but completely terrifying. By closing time the beer had inevitably got the better of me and my diary never got written.
The following day (Good Friday) proved to be the perfect day to circumnavigate the main islands; hardly a breath of wind and a big blue sky. I posed for some photos for the local paper and met some fellow sea kayakers who have also completed the crossing in the past – this time taking the sensible option of the Scillonian ferry. They told me some of the best places to visit on the islands and then I finally got on the water, heading south to St Agnes. In the idyllic conditions I was determined not to rush and took many photos including the Witches fingers of granite that Tim Guthrie had eloquently described pointing menacingly out to sea ready to claw at any ship that sailed too close. A myriad of reefs stretched as far as the eye could see and above them all Bishop Rock Lighthouse stood tall and defiant, a poignant and significant land mark for sailors departing or returning from Atlantic crossings or circumnavigations of the globe. A couple of Puffin flew by chased by a large rib full of bird-watching tourists. I had yet to see a seal – had they too been forced out to the off lying reefs due to too much human disturbance?
I had lunch on Samson, sat on a rock overlooking a crescent beach of white sand, soaking up the warmth of the midday sun. The only negative was the stench of rotting seaweed that lay composting on the beach having been ripped from the reefs during the winter gales. I could not resist going for a walk with my camera and taking some shots of the islands scattered all around. Low tide had revealed an intricate network of blue water channels, sand bars and reefs that highlighted the skill and knowledge of the local boatman who ferry visitors to and fro the off-islands.
I still had half of the island circuit to complete and dragging my kayak through the quagmire of rotting kelp I held my breath – what a stink! I was soon afloat and gliding gently over perfectly clear water. The beauty of the islands was all around me, above and below the surface. On the outside of Bryher the Atlantic Ocean gently stirred, tired old swells finally giving up the ghost as they met the solid granite piles that have withstood the most powerful storms. The picture-perfect lighthouse on RoundIsland watched benignly over the islands like a matriarch proud of her family. The tide swirled around her feet, waves like small children tugging annoyingly at her skirts.
And finally St Martin’s; the 40ft red and white day mark features in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the Scillies, like a friendly face welcoming you aboard after the long passage west. Collecting some fresh water from HigherTown, I had spotted my campsite on a beach at the eastern end of the island that put me perfectly placed for an early start back to the mainland in the morning. I walked up to the day mark, the Land’s End peninsula clearly visible to the east. Sitting there visualising the crossing helped to get me in the right frame of mind for the effort to come the following day. I rang Linda to find out about her day, mindful that I did not go on too much about the wonderful day I had just had – I wished dearly that she could have been with me to enjoy it too.
After a dinner of boil-in-the-bag corned beef hash I tried to catch up on my diary, but as dusk fell the bugs came out in their thousands and very soon I couldn’t type for sand hoppers bombarding the screen of the laptop! I had foolishly left the mesh of the tent unzipped and now I had to share my bed with hundreds of this strange little beasties. I was so tired though I could not have cared less and set my alarm for 4.30am.
It was still dark when I awoke – and despite hurrying as best I could but I started the return leg to Cornwall 45 minutes later than planned. I had arranged to meet the boys with the RIB somewhere out in the middle. Mark had not wanted to leave until first light being unfamiliar with the water and navigational marks. They would call me up on VHF once they were clear of the islands and I would give them my location according to my GPS. I headed out into the early morning gloom on my own, relishing the solitude and independence. I’d cracked a Cyalume light stick so that I could see my compass and headed out on a bearing of 90degrees, confident the flooding tide would carry me northwards. For a good hour there was very little wind to speak of but then it arrived with more easterly in it than I would have liked. Soon an uncomfortable chop had been kicked up and I knew that I was going to have to work really hard if I was to get across in good time. I was already late and as the saying goes, “time and tide waits for no man…”
With Seven Stones light to my left as my only point of reference I kept heading out into the grey dawn. It was not long before the islands were just a thin smudge on the horizon behind me. What a difference in 24hours! Summer had reverted back to winter overnight. I took the occasional face full of cold water as my bow slammed into the oncoming waves. The lads in the RIB must also have been late leaving as I had expected them to have called me up by now. I was happy enough though, my GPS showing that the north going tide was being largely cancelled out the northerly wind. I deliberately pointed slightly further north than I had planned – my late departure meant that the tide would be turning south long before I reached Longships and I needed to compensate for that if I was not to end up somewhere off Wolfe Rock! The VHF crackled into life: Mark asking for my location. They struggled to hear me above the noise of the wind despite the Aquapac waterproof bag the radio was enclosed in. After a bit of a merry dance we finally met up just before we both crossed the first of the shipping lanes. Traffic was much busier that morning despite it being the Easter holiday weekend. Global trade carries on regardless. I was never forced to break my pace however as we crossed first the south bound, then the northbound shipping lanes. The key is to look far enough ahead and estimate the speed and direction of travel of the approaching ship to make sure that you not going to get too close. Their speed is so much greater than a kayak’s. A vessel that has only just appeared over the horizon will soon be upon you if you do not keep your wits about you. A simple rule of thumb is if the compass bearing of the approaching ship remains constant then look-out; you are on a collision course! At least it gave me something to think about during the monotonous middle part of the crossing.
My GPS seemed to struggle for a little while to pick up a signal and then when it came back to life, Land’s End and Longships Lighthouse also came into view bang on the nose. Despite my best efforts to head further north I was a little concerned that I appeared to still be on my original track. Perhaps subconsciously I had been reluctant to veer from the line I had drawn on the chart. I was going to be two hours late getting to Longships however, and I knew that the tide was going to be running hard towards the south. It was time to dig in and make best speed. My body felt fine, it was just my buttocks that were hurting. I had toyed with the idea of putting foam on my seat but decided against it. Too much padding can cause problems such as heat rash and sores but the pain in my butt convinced me that perhaps I did need a bit of something under by butt after all.
I had to really pull hard to maintain my track as I approached Longships Lighthouse and her jagged collection of reefs. The closer I got the faster the tide was ebbing south. In the end I was forced to relinquish my intended track north of the rocks and go for the eddy that had formed at the south end of the reef system. The RIB kept well clear as I nipped through a gap in the rocks of Tal-y-Maen, the tide pouring through like a white water river in full flood. The sea state off the extremity of Land’s End was described by the Victorian writer, John Ruskin as ‘an entire disorder of the surges’ and so it felt as my tired body tried to cope with the violent motion of the kayak as it kicked and bucked like a mustang. Ferry gliding the current I struck out for the eddy behind Kettle’s Bottom, a conveniently located rock mid way between Longships and the high granite cliffs of Land’s End. Taking a breather I absorbed and revelled in the drama of the moment – an exciting end to a long crossing. One more hard effort saw me across to Dr Syntax’s Head and I again had to sprint to get through The Peal, a narrow gap through which the flowing tide formed into a series of curling standing waves. It was great fun but perhaps not what my tired arms needed at the end of a six hour paddle.
Once through The Peal the tide all but disappeared and I was able to paddle gently past the wreck of the RMS Mulheim which ran aground on the rocks near Land’s End in March 2003. The 2,200 tonne cargo of shredded plastic and foam car parts en route from Ireland to a landfill site in Germany still litters the beaches of West Cornwall and has caused untold damage to the fauna of the sea bed. How long before another shipwreck occurs with an even more deadly cargo? Ships carrying toxic waste pass close to some of our most environmentally sensitive shorelines and it is only a matter of time before another disaster happens. Environmentalists have been lobbying Parliament for years about the need for an exclusion zone but it seems that once the problem has been swept under the surface of the sea we soon forget about it.
In a reflective mood I paddled around the corner into Sennen Cove. There was plenty of water to pass through The Tribbens channel inside Cowloe Reef and the welcome sight of Linda greeted me as my bow nudged onto the sand in the shelter of the harbour. After making sure that Mark and John and the RIB were sorted and after many “Thank you’s” we said our goodbye’s and Linda and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Old Success before I headed back to my kayak waiting patiently for me on a bed of kelp, ready for the second paddle leg of the day to St Ives.
I left the harbour once again, this time heading north. It had turned into a beautiful day, the south westerly breeze that had been forecasted had arrived and I could not have asked for more perfect conditions to do the next stretch to St. Ives, in my opinion one of the classic British sea kayak journeys. Very achievable in a day, it has everything; drama, history, wildlife, solitude, what more do you want? With the flood tide assisting me I was swept by Cape Cornwall, friends John and Birte waving enthusiastically from the conical summit with its landmark red-brick chimney stack.
It started to get lumpy as I passed Botallack making it difficult to admire the Crown tin mines that are a monument to the daring and tenacity of the miners and engineers who grafted in appalling conditions with waves crashing up against the foundations of the engine houses constructed at the very foot of the granite cliffs beyond the desperate grasp of the defeated swell.
An iconic element of Cornwall’s landscape, a successful bid for World Heritage status means that they should remain so for another century at least. It is difficult to comprehend how the mine shafts sunk deep beneath the sea bed over which I paddled penetrate some two miles out to sea. I could only imagine the hardship and dangers the miners had to endure in search of the tin and copper that funded the Cornish economy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The committing coastline between Sennen Cove and St Ives is protected by the lighthouse on Pendeen Watch which was only constructed in 1900 after the loss of countless vessels and lives. Who knows how many died at the hands of the wicked wrecker who would entice the helmsman of a passing ship to steer towards his swinging lamp believing it to be the light from another vessel, and then watch from the cliff top as the ship foundered on the reefs below. The wrecker’s motivation for such evil was the bounty that would be found washed upon the shore the following day along with the bodies of the drowned sailors.
The fine weather of the Easter weekend had brought hordes of rock climbers to the sheer granite cliffs whose intricately carved faces provide some complex and spectacular climbing. There must have been thrity or more groups working the many routes of Bosigran. Above them all stood a goat balanced on a rock playing ‘king of the castle’.
I had estimated a three hour paddle to St Ives but the steep chop was making this hard to achieve. I was twenty minutes late as I passed PorthmeorBeach, and came around The Island to land on PorthgwiddenBeach.
I was delighted to see my friend Richards Simms from Hayle Canoe Club, stood on the beach with Linda along with Richard Gordon and his three children; Jack, Molly and Amy, who had come to check that I was looking after ‘Freddie the Frog’ the little frog they had given me to keep me company on my long journey. More members of Hayle Canoe Club arrived by kayak and it was really great to see them all. It meant there were enough helpers to get the kayak, fully laden, up to the car park which saved a lot of effort. Ray Helmer unpacked my boat for me and all I had to do was change into some dry clothes provided by Linda – I rather hoped they would all be there at the end of every day! Jack (aged 8) presented me with a beautiful painting he had done all on his own which depicted me paddling around the Isles of Scilly. It was a lovely gift, thank you Jack! I gratefully accepted another night in my own bed – what decadence! I was hoping for Newquay or may be even Padstow the following day if the weather was kind and my hands, which had taken quite a battering during the first week of the expedition, were not too sore.
It was the start of my second week and it was as if all the frustration of waiting for the weather to improve and the nervous tension of the two Scillies crossings had wound up inside me like an elastic band. Now I had a chance for the stress to unwind, for my body to start working like the well oiled machine it used to be, to churn out mile after mile with minimal mental effort.
I launched in St Ives harbour at high water, making sure I paddled round to Porthgwidden beach, touching the sand at roughly the same point at which I had landed the previous day – I didn’t want to be accused of missing even a bit of the coastline! As I paddled out of the harbour I met Dave Stamp, proprietor of Dive St Ives the company I had learned to dive with two years ago. He had just got back from the popular ‘Train Wreck’ a classic dive on the wreck of the St Chamond, a 314ft, 3,077-ton ship that was sunk by German submarine U-60 in the First World War, remarkably without any loss of life. Five 75-ton steam engines now lay scattered 26 metres down on the sea bed and are home to huge conger eels. It makes a fascinating dive.
St Ives bay was serene with a faint breeze tickling the surface of the ocean creating small wavelets that mesmerized me as they flickered past my bow. I was late starting having spent two extra hours at home that morning catching up with my diary making the most of being able to plug into the mains electric.
Working against an ebbing tide I passed through the gap between Godrevy Island and the mainland. Linda was there to take some photos as I passed the classic lighthouse that featured in Virginia Wolfe’s novel To the Lighthouse although she curiously changed the location to the Hebrides. Trinity House threatened to turn the light off but due to the strength of public opnion the light will remain a guiding light for mariners for many more years to come. I counted over twenty seals on their birthing beach beneath the headland. They seemed oblivious to the groups of human onlookers peering down from the cliff edge just a hundred feet above. I paddled past quickly and quietly to make sure I did not disturb them and fought the tide once again as it poured through the rocky stacks below Navax Point. I drew a straight line for Basset Cove, giving the notorious Hell’s Mouth, the scene of many tragic suicides and almost as many shipwrecks a wide berth. Following the undulating line of North Cliffs where Cornwall crumbles unceremoniously into the sea I was sad to see wrecked cars littering the back of the beach in Basset Cove, pushed over the cliff edge by mindless idiots with no regard for anyone or anything. The only agency capable of recovering these vehicles are the helicopter crews of RNAS Culdrose but at what cost to tax payers?
Just before Portreath were some spectacular cliff formations with caves large enough to fit a house with room to spare. I found a secret beach accessed through a narrow gulley that can only be accessible on a handful of days when there is no swell. I could have explored more but there were people waiting for me and as usual I was late. I was rather suprised to see the size of the reception committee that was stood waiting for me on the beach. I recognised the familiar Battenberg markings of a PoliceTraffic car parked conspicuously next to Portreath Surf Lifesaving Club. Pete Davey and his crew mate Ray Heil, a very competent paddler and DW veteran himself were stood with Linda, Pete’s wife, one his two sons and some ladies from the lifesaving club.
It was again great to see everyone and yet again I felt humbled that people were taking such an interest in what I was doing. The feedback I had been getting about my web diary had been very complimentary but I had begun to worry that I would run out of interesting things to talk about. There are only so many ways you can describe the very simple act of paddling a kayak along a bit of coastline. People often ask me what I thought about as I paddled along and I admit I spent much of the time thinking up little literary gems to include in this book – maybe it was the extra oxygen from the clean sea air pumping through my brain but sometimes I would surprise myself with some of the ideas I came up with. The only problem was by the time I got to write them down or type them into my lap top my head had become a shed full of straw and I could think of nothing to say.
Saying my goodbyes after a fairly brief stop I headed on towards Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes where I had arranged to rendezvous with Linda and her parents for lunch. Conditions were perfect and the north coast was bathed in glorious sunshine. The surfing beaches of Porthtowan and Chapel Porth had a little wave running onto them; enough to keep the tourists entertained on their foam longboards.
Perhaps it was just as well they could not see the sewage outfall that bubbled up from the edge of the cliff on Cligga Head – it was much improved from ten years ago when it was common place to surf into something very unpleasant on the aforementioned beaches. I remembered many occasions when a panty liner would stick to my leg or I would surface to see a turd floating nearby! Because organisations like the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage, a locally based, water users pressure group keep the pressure on the government and in particular South West Water (SWW) to clean up their act that we are now seeing the results. The SWW Clean Sweep programme of improvements has seen a dramatic improvement in bathing water quality and an increase in the number of Blue Flags awarded to Cornish beaches but this has been at the expense of the local population who have to pay the most expensive water bills in the country. There is a very strong argument that this should be subsidised by national government since it is the hordes of tourists as well as the locals who are seeing (and tasting) the benefits.
Mum had made it over to Trevaunance Cove from St Austell on her 100cc moped. She had come to give me a bar of my favourite Bourneville chocolate for Easter. Bless her! I enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the beach with Mum, Linda and her wonderfully supportive parents, Janet and Clive. All too soon I was back on the water, heading north towards Padstow. Someone once suggested that I might get bored – after all wouldn’t one bit of coastline look pretty much the same as the next after a while? He was so wrong. The black rocks of Cligga Head were replaced by browns and reds then golden yellow sand as I passed the ancient sand dune system of Penhale Sands. The sea-bird life around Penhale Point and HolywellBay was prolific; guillemots and razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes. As I passed the Bowgie Inn above Crantock Beach more childhood memories came flooding back of wild nights as a sixth- former bopping the night away to the latest surf rock; INXS, U2, Simple Minds – still my favourites. I passed FistralBeach, the venue for the 1989 World Waveski Championships where I first surfed for England, achieving a lowly 31st. U.K.’s surfing ‘Mecca’, FistralBeach looked much smarter now with the newly completed beachside restaurant and surf boutique. Newquay is sadly a victim of its own success as the stag party capital of the southwest. It is desperately trying to clean up its image but remains an altogether unpleasant experience after nightfall – ask any police officer that has had to deal with fights between obnoxious drunken men (and women) who seem to think the streets are where disputes should be settled.
The white speck of the lighthouse perched on the sheer grey granite cliffs of Trevose Head beckoned me onward and with a favourable tide the miles kept going on by. My body seems to operate to a traffic light system: green – everything is fine and I can really push hard, amber – it’s time to refuel, if I leave it too long then the red light comes on as well and then I need to get fuel inside me quickly. When the amber light goes out leaving just red then I am in trouble. I have seen a solitary red light a few times in the past – not a pleasant experience! I kept the pace high until 8pm when the setting sun encouraged me ashore in Mother Ivey Bay, just beyond Trevose Head. I found a spot on the popular beach to pitch my tent, hoping no one would complain – I waited until near darkness just in case.
Mother Ivey Bay has been the home of the Padstow Lifeboat since 1967 when the previous station situated in Hawkers Cove on the west side of the River Camel estuary was closed. There can be no better example of the heroism and tragedy that will forever be part of Cornwall’s lifeboat heritage than the catastrophy that occurred one fateful night in 1900 on the notorious Doom Bar that blocks the entrance to the River Camel. At that time Padstow had two lifeboats; one of the first steam powered lifeboats, the James Stevens No.4 and a traditionall pulling lifeboat, the Arab. Both lifeboats were launched on 11th April 1900 to assist in the rescue of the crew of the fishing ketch Peace and Plenty of Lowestoft which had anchored in the bay. By nightfall bad weather had set in and the ketch dragged her anchors and ran aground on Doom Bar. Despite the Trebetherick Life Brigade successfully firing a rocket line to her and dragging four fishermen ashore, three others were lost. The Arab launched to assist in the search but the crew were unable to see anything in the prevailing conditions. They set a course back for Padstow but as they passed back over the Bar a heavy sea struck the boat, unseating the crew and breaking or carrying away nine of the ten oars. Incredibly they managed to breach the boat and all managed to scramble safely ashore. In the meantime the James Stevens had launched to assist the ketch and headed out of Hawkers Cove towards the deeper water beyond the Bar. However as she turned towards the casualty a huge wave lifted her stern completely out of the water and she was spun broadside to the waves and capsized. The seven crewmen in the cockpit were thrown clear but the four men in the engine room tending the boilers were trapped. Three of the crewmen washed overboard managed to get ashore but four were lost. Eight lifeboatmen lost their lives that night, one of the worst disasters in the history of the RNLI. The lifeboat station was moved to mother IveyBay so that the lifeboat wouldn’t have to cross the Doom Bar.
The coastline from the Camel Estuary northwards past Pentire Head and Rumps Point is exceptionally beautiful and the following day I settled into a comfortable rhythm which allowed me to appreciate the scenery that went by. The vertical black slate cliffs and offshore stacks were piled high with bird life; razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars. I even saw three puffins near the formidable rock buttress upon which the legendary ‘King Arthur’s Castle’ is situated. At the risk of shattering a myth, I should explain that King Arthur reigned in Britain in the sixth century while Tintagel Castle is medieval. King Arthur may not have even come to Cornwall yet the wild expanse of Bodmin Moor is littered with places associated with Arthur including the most famous of all; Dozmary Pool where Arthur’s sword Excalibur is said to be hidden in its bottomless depths.
I was brought sharply back to reality when I found something which turned my stomach in more ways than one. Entwined in some orange polypropylene rope, undoubtedly discarded fishing gear was a dead guillemot. Its right wing had the unbreakable line wrapped around it several times where the bird had been fighting to free itself. It had probably died of starvation and was now in an advanced state of decomposition. Despite the stench I felt I could not leave it there and scooped it onto my foredeck with my paddle. I paddled for a couple of hours with the stinking carcass on the foredeck of the kayak. The awful stench served to remind me of one of the reasons why I was doing the expedition – to raise the profile of The Marine Conservation Society and this was a perfect example of why we should give them our support. Not only do they run the ‘Adopt a Beach’ Scheme whereby local people can volunteer to clean up their favourite beach and survey the rubbish they find, they also attempt to educate fishermen in environmentally friendly fishing methods, including the safe disposal of unwanted fishing gear. When you next go out on the water or walk along a beach, try to pick up some rubbish and take it home or put it in a bin that is not already overflowing. If we all do a bit we can make a big difference.
The entrance to Boscastle harbour is such a narrow cleft in the cliffs that the village is obscured from the sea. The spectacular twisting entrance to the cove helps to break the seas which rush into the ravine and provides the harbour with a remarkable degree of shelter and allowed it to become an important trading port during the nineteenth century. A fleet of trading vessels owned and maintained by the port exported manganese from mines near Launceston and china clay from Bodmin Moor. Sadly Boscastle was to be the scene of a devastating flood later that summer. An unusually slow moving and sustained thunderstorm and resultant torrential downpour saw a wall of water ten feet high surge through the village. Around two and a half inches of rain fell on the hinterland of moor and farmland in just two hours. Remarkably no-one was killed, mainly due to the skilful and heroic efforts of the seven helicopter crews from RNAS Culdrose, RAF St. Mawgan and RAF Chivernor who plucked villagers and tourists from the roof tops.
The next piece of coastline is rarely visited which is understandable because it is so inaccessible, but a shame because I think it is as spectacular as any in the southwest. The cliffs are huge and reminded me of the naked geology of Morocco where the lack of soil leaves the folds of rock, the anti-clines and synclines exposed for all to see. The bedding planes, some around 4 foot thick have been stripped bare by the ocean leaving them smooth and exposed, like gigantic frozen waves, a monument to the powerful forces of plate tectonics. At the base of the cliffs angled reefs march out to sea in orderly lines and continue to do battle with the ocean swell.
It was gone 2pm by the time I reached Crackington Haven where I had arranged to met Linda and her parents for lunch. It was really busy for such an out-of-the-way place. A cold wind had sprung up and the sky became overcast spoiling an otherwise extremely pleasant lunch but by the time I was ready to head off again the sun began to peep again through the veil of cloud. I could not make up my mind how far I intended to paddle in what was left of the afternoon. In the end I only made CrookletsBeach on the north side of Bude before deciding to call it a day. Perhaps I could have made Hartland Quay but there seemed little point as I would only be paddling to Lundy the following day. Linda and I opted for the luxury of a B&B in Bude for what would be our last night together for a good while. A pleasant meal in town and a bottle of Chardonnay, all very civilised!
A cooked breakfast is a great to start to any day, especially if there is a bit of sea paddling to be done. We met up with Simon Hammond down at the beach where he runs ‘Shoreline Outdoor Pursuits’. He is the BCU Paddlesport Development Officer for Cornwall and in 2003 he became World Kayak Surfing Champion. What he doesn’t know about the teaching of paddle sports isn’t worth knowing and his enthusiasm for the sport is very contagious. A nicer guy you could not wish to meet; we are lucky to have him as our friend.
Now you should know that I have genetically selected Linda from a cast of thousands to be my wife based purely on her ability to lift and carry a loaded sea kayak. At least this was going to be the last time for a while that she would have to perform this chore. It was an emotional goodbye and I am willing to admit that I was more than a bit choked for the first few miles. A couple of hours later and I was at Hartland Quay, weather conditions perfect for the crossing to Lundy, which could just be seen in the haze to the north west. I was late for the tide but with it being neaps I was not too worried, happy that I could paddle against the ebb if I needed to. I rang the Coastguard in Falmouth, apologising for not having rung them earlier (they were very understanding when I explained about having had to say goodbye to my wife). After in-putting the waypoint of RatIsland into my GPS I was off, this was going to be a fast crossing. In no time at all I was floating off Hartland Point, the lighthouse looking splendid in the bright sunlight. I made a note to keep a count of how many lighthouses I passed during the circumnavigation. I was in marathon training mode and soon got into a steady hard pace, the kilometres counting down on the GPS in front of me. I only stopped once to refuel, and in two hours I was ferry gliding across the minimal tide race formed at the bottom end of Lundy Island. A harbour porpoise popped up from time to time, not the least bit interested in me; far too busy chasing the fish down below. I passed the southerly tip of the island just two and a half hours after leaving Hartland Quay. I felt good but l knew I would need even more stamina for the long crossing tomorrow to St Govan’s Head in Pembrokeshire the following day – the first big crossing without a safety boat.
My next task was to lug all my camping kit the mile up the steep tarck to the campsite on the top of the island. Using my carbon paddle as a yoke I clipped dry bags either side of me and waddled up the hill, sweating profusely by the time I reached the top. It was well worth the effort though as fine views back to the North Devon coast unfolded before me. The elevated position also produced a signal on my mobile! I took a stroll to the old lighthouse on the highest point of the island where I was able to sneak a quick peek at the Pembrokeshire coast, just a smudge on the northern horizon. It looked a long, long way away. I caught the sipping forecast as I made dinner: south westerly up to a force seven. That was a bit iffy for a crossing of thirty odd miles.
As I typed my diary there was not a breath of wind and the setting sun had filled the heavens with pastel blues and pinks. New born lambs and their mothers were scattered in the fields around me and the Lundy cat was doing its best to put me off my typing. Two very tame chickens polished off my left over cous cous and I decided I was ready for a pint in the Marisco Tavern – a hard life!