- trip report by Mark Rainsley. (illustrated)



Paddling at dusk.

Enjoying the last light.

DATE(S) OF TRIP: 14th June 2003 (springs).

WHERE?: Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, near St. Davids.

LAUNCH SPOTS: We started and finished from the RNLI station at St. Justinians (SM 723 251). Carrying the sea kayaks down the steps here is a bit of a pain; a better launch point would be Whitesand's Bay, further north.

DISTANCE/ TIME: The distance is only 5-6 miles but we spent literally hours exploring every last nook and cranny...this is recommended! We also spent two hours oon the Bitches tidal rapid...we towed playboats across for this interlude!

LOCAL TIDES: Some of Britain's most dramatic tidal flows!

Tides are really strong in the narrow sound between the mainland and Ramsey Island. Do not consider this trip unless you have studied the tidal flows or sought local advice. Ramsey Sound has numerous eddies, whirlies and seemingly random currents! The West side of the Island defies logic and we encountered small tide races flowing in opposite directions!

There are numerous small tidal races around Ramsey Island and of course, the Big One - everybody has heard of the Bitches rapid which forms when the tide flows (floods) north over the volcanic rocks known as the Bitches (SM 709 236)...

Chris Pottinger on the Bitches at dawn. The island's quay is behind.

Chris Wheeler surfs the Bitches - a sea kayak is not recommended for this!
(click on the picture to download it as wallpaper, 1024 x 768 resolution)

We launched at slack water and low tide in the Sound -

High water slack is roughly 3 hours after HW Milford Sound, and then the water starts flowing south.

Low water slack is roughly 3.5 hours before HW Milford Sound, and then the water starts flowing north.

BUT our experience was that the water never actually stopped flowing (ever) - and that these figures could only be taken as extremely rough guesstimates.

Easy Tide might be useful in working out tide times.

HAZARDS/ PROBLEMS: In addition to the extreme tidal currents described (vaguely) above, there is a particular hazard when the tide is flowing north. Halfway between St. Justinians and Ramsey Island is Horse Rock. This is usually submerged, forming strong eddy lines and whirlpools. Swimmers have drowned here. Consider a route which circumvents it.

ROUTE TAKEN: Starting from St. Justinians...

We paddled direct across Ramsey Sound to the small harbour beside the Bitches rocks, towing playboats behind our sea kayaks. We left the sea kayaks on the quayside on Ramsey Island and then threaded through the Bitches Rocks and headed to the southern point of the island. Rounding the tip, we encountered various small tide races.

The west side of the island is quite amazing, densely concentrated with caves, arches and deafening sea bird colonies on the cliffs. Allow as much time as possible to explore. There is one large beach for lunch stops, Aber Mawr.

The northern tip of the Island has the longest caves of all, in excess of 100m - consider taking a headtorch to explore.

Re-entering Ramsey Sound, you have a choice - it is only a short paddle back across to St. Justinians. We first went back up to the Ramsey Island quay and swapped boats to play the 'Bitches'.

EVENTS/ OBSERVATIONS: The sea bird colonies are well worth looking closely at. Seals practically obscure the route ahead on this trip...you can hear seal pups wailing from outside many caves. Be careful to check that a cave is empty before you enter!

OTHER NOTES: Ramsey Island is an RSPB Reserve. I have wandered around the paths and tracks there on many occasions. However on this occasion, my wife was prevented from leaving the quay by a warden, as she apparently posed a 'health and safety' risk if she tried to walk alone. Draw your own conclusions...

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.