• A solo circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight


    Given the alternative of visiting the in-laws, I suddenly decided to paddle around the Isle of Wight on Thursday night. I loaded my Icefloe up with four ready-made curries, three kilos of wine gums and 16 bottles of Lucozade before setting off from Keyhaven.

    The short crossing to the island was easy; no tide and noone else around. I plodded along the coast to the Needles, which are well worth a trip to see. Shortly after rounding the lighthouse, a coastguard helicopter roared over the cliffs above and the lifeboat appeared screaming around the corner...oh blast. But although they buzzed around and had a good look at me (I remembered not to wave) they were clearly there for some other reason, and went whizzing offshore to do something or other.

    I paddled into Freshwater Bay on the south side of the island and put my tent up on the cliffs....and the rain began...

    In the morning, I listened to Solent radio saying, "we've had a few phone calls saying that our report of light rain is a bit of an understatement..."

    I laughed (but not much) as there was a river running through my tent at that point. I stuffed all the sodden kit into my boat and headed off along the south coast of the Island. It was fairly monotonous at first, but became much more interesting scenery-wise as I rounded St. Catherine's Point, the southern tip. The sea and weather picked up a fair bit as well, and I got bloody cold (why do I own state of the art whitewater gear, but still use sandals, a nylon cag and an ottersport spraydeck on the sea??). Stopping at Ventnor, a few holidaymakers were good enough to inform me that it was dangerous out there at sea. The weather still grim, I decided to make it to the end of the Island's south coast that day, and took a guesstimate bearing on where that location might be...because I certainly couldn't see anything more than a couple of miles away.

    After heading into the mist and rain I eventually reached the massive chalk Culver Cliffs and rounding the corner, finished the day by camping in a puddle on on what looked like a quiet village green...

    ...except that it turned out to be an enormous holiday camp, and I was just outside the disco. See where using a 22 year old OS map gets you. In the morning, still wet and now with the added bonus of being muddy, I kayaked past Bembridge (which stinks, there must be a sewage outflow there?) and reached the north side of the island. The hundreds of ships (from dinghys to tankers) told me I was in the Solent. The weather was now hot and sunny, allowing me to dry off and get some serious sunburn.

    The next bit of coast was a real pain in the a@$e. The town of Ryde has a pier stretching a mile out to sea, surrounded for miles by vast shallow sandbanks. I spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to get around/ over these features, all the time dodging incoming hovercraft and hydrofoils...they don't hang around. Finally getting ashore at a quiet spot for a much needed number two, I was promptly evicted by a caravan park boss who wouldn't let me use his facilities.

    When I reached Cowes (northern tip of IOW) it was mayhem...I've never seen so many boats crammed into one little harbour. Crossing the shipping lane was like a real life unamusing version of the old computer game, 'Frogger'.

    The coast after Cowes was lovely and surprisingly 'wild' but it was a grim slog against the tide. I pushed on until I reached Yarmouth, effectively completing the circuit of the island....and quite a lot of mileage in one day for me.

    I'm glad I made it there...it's a nice little harbour, with a perfect campsite on a near-island in the harbour, used by Yachtie types for barbeques. Watching a perfect sunset finished the day off, as I lay in my sleeping bag going, "ooh, ouch, ooyah!" at my lobster sunburn.

    Just the home leg left...

    ...and I did it this morning, crossing direct fromYarmouth to Southbourne (home!) in two hours. The tide must have been shifting somewhat as the distance is about 13-14 miles.

    It was pleasant and quiet out in Christchurch Bay during the crossing, until wave after wave of luxury cruiser started screaming past from Poole. Each driver wanted to see how close he could buzz me without dropping below 40 knots or spilling his gin. Are these things just a local curse or do others suffer them? Give me a nice quiet jetski any day, at least they don't produce three foot wakes.

    Anyway, to conclude...(anyone still reading?)...the paddle around the island is highly recommended, the coast is far more interesting and varied that I'd gauged from the map beforehand. Navigation is hardly rocket science...just keep the island sort of to your left. Finding a campsite isn't too difficult, there are long empty stretches of coast where larger groups could probably camp without annoying anyone.

    Mark Rainsley.

  • A Special Kind of Freedom

    A Special Kind of Freedom
    Multi-day trips by sea kayak

    Mark Rainsley - 2008 - first published in Canoe Kayak UK

    of the ocean
    moves me to emotion
    From ‘Seaing the Sea’ by John Hegley

    A few months back, I was asked by Canoe Kayak UK magazine to pen an article on how to plan and carry out a multi-day trip, for their special sea kayaking supplement. I’m not a coach these days and I don’t tend to write technique/nutsnbolts stuff too often, but I enjoyed putting this together and I hope it makes some sense, at least.

    It’s primarily aimed at paddlers who ‘follow the herd’ and only go on trips with their club or commercial centres; if it persuades one such paddler to think independently and carry out their own adventures, it’ll have been worth writing.

    You now own a sea kayak. You’ve paddled along the coast on day trips and you’re learning about navigation, tides and weather. As each trip ends, you’ve wondered what it might be like to paddle on a little bit further. You’ve gazed at the sinuously upturned bow of your kayak and realised that this is a craft that wants to travel, to explore, to seek out new lands and *ahem!* to boldly go where no man has gone before. The BCU Sea Touring Committee describe sea kayaking as, ‘A special kind of freedom’ and that perfectly sums up what you are yearning for; rugged coasts, wild camps and the sense of journeying, fettered only by tide and weather. It’s time to make a multi-day trip.

    Now that you have the urge, what do you do with it? Tagging along with an experienced group or local club is a reassuring option for a first trip. So is paying out to join a trip run by an established outdoor centre or coach. These options will relieve you of the burden of planning and decision-making, and may helpfully allow you to borrow or sample some of the gear needed. Sooner or later you’ll want to do your own thing and make your own voyages of discovery; independence and freedom are what sea kayaking is all about. This article will hopefully get you started.

    Disclaimer: although he’s been around a bit, this author has no formal coaching qualifications. Judge his advice for yourself in the following article and allow for the possibility that he has no idea at all what he’s talking about.

    The group

    Although this is a no-brainer for most paddlers – you’ll want to paddle with your usual friends, or partner, or club – you should certainly give some thought to group dynamics. A trip is much more likely to be a success if everyone involved wants the same thing from it and has the same aspirations. Hence, an honest discussion beforehand is time well spent. How far do you all wish to paddle? What kind of conditions are you happy with? Are you all content to paddle at the speed of the slowest? Unfortunately, an uneasy group compromise is a recipe for both social disaster (everyone falling out) and literal disaster (involving rescue services!). Also, be honest in assessing whether each paddler will be a positive and helpful team member or a PITA (it’s an acronym).

    The size of the group will influence the outcome of your trip. Regard three paddlers as a safe minimum (if you have the skills and experience to paddle with less, you’ll already know). Large groups are great fun around camp and make for a sociable trip. On and off the water however, they are slow and difficult to keep co-ordinated. As a rule of thumb, assume that every additional paddler beyond three will markedly reduce what you’ll achieve during your trip, and that beyond eight paddlers, the group will become increasingly unworkable. It’s no coincidence that most major sea kayak expeditions have been carried out by solo paddlers. The challenge is to find a happy middle ground between such single-minded misanthropy and a dysfunctional mob. Another factor to consider is the environmental impact of your group size. Larger groups are less likely to encounter wildlife close up and will not be suited to sensitive, delicate camping locations.

    Does your group require a ‘leader’? This is a hot topic but basically, the answer is probably ‘yes’ and if you’re reading this article seriously, then it’s probably you. The degree of formality or informality in this arrangement is for you to establish with your paddling peers.

    Planning the route

    Sea kayakers the world over dream of visiting our shores! Yes, the best place to do your first multi-day trip is the UK, and arguably it’s best for every trip afterwards! The undisputed highlights are the west coast and islands of Scotland, but no part of our coast is without merit*. To help you choose where, there are worse starting points than a road atlas.

    The kind of multi-day trip you wish to make will influence your choice of area. Sections of coast facing the open ocean will be exposed to swell and surf. Open water crossings of more than 3-4 miles should be avoided unless you already know better. Clusters of islands or sea lochs offer plenty of route choice and flexibility, if the weather changes. Large islands offer great opportunities for circumnavigation trips returning to your start point, but tie you to paddling in one direction. Similarly, a simple ‘A to B’ coastal trip can be tricky to achieve as you are dependent on the weather suiting your direction of travel for the duration.

    Pore over OS maps to get a detailed idea of what you will encounter. Prominent headlands and narrow straits may indicate tide races. Long sections of cliff will mean no landing zones. Long straight beaches are more likely to be ‘closed out’ by surf than bays and inlets. Pebble beaches shelve more steeply than sandy ones, creating dumping waves. Large settlements will make discreet camping tricky. Large areas of tidal shallows and mud flats should be avoided like the plague!

    Nautical charts look the part, but rarely contain much information of direct use to kayakers. Pilot books (www.imray.com), tidal atlases and sea kayak guidebooks (www.pesdapress.com) will give specific tidal information and Easytide is a simple and free way of gauging the tidal strength in an area; look at the ‘springs’ tidal range.

    How far can you go? Plan conservatively, especially with a large group. Assume 3 miles an hour as a maximum pace for a group with loaded boats, not factoring in exploring caves, rockhopping and chocolate stops. Covering 10-15 miles each day is a good target. If you can all go much further and faster, you’ll already know.

    How long for? It makes sense to first practice with a single overnight camp on local waters, but five days to a week gives time for a satisfying multi-day trip. If you enjoy that, anything is then possible, as long as you can resupply with food every week or three; Paul Caffyn spent a year circumnavigating Australia! Oddly, long trips can feel easier logistically than short trips. You often lug the same amount of gear along on a weekend trip as you would on a longer trip, and it can be a few days into a trip before camping and packing arrangements become a faff-free routine.

    When to go? If you are able to be flexible, wait for a long-range forecast of high pressure, settled weather and light winds. Depending upon your group’s competence with rough water, you may also wish to plan your trip a few days either side of ‘neap’ tides – when the tide flows most slowly.

    With an idea of the journey that you want to make, consider how flexible your plan is. If the wind strengthens or surf builds, what are your options? Do you have a sheltered alternative route? Are there spots where you could be stuck ashore? Is there road access where you can abandon your trip? Can you get back to the car? Do you have a back-up plan if you arrive and decide that your original route isn’t a good idea?

    * Excluding Chesil Beach.

    On the water

    It isn’t the purpose of this article to instruct paddlers how to actually paddle, but consideration needs to be given to how your multi-day trip will look out on the water.

    Actually, what happens on the water is predominantly determined by what you do before you launch. Prior planning based on good judgement is everything, because once you’ve launched, your options are massively reduced.
    Before launching your group should always…

    • Most importantly, check the weather forecast, carefully consider its implications and if in any doubt, change your plans. Force 4 winds will impede progress and whip up waves, Force 5 may cause serious problems. Avoid anything stronger unless you are sure you know better. The direction of the wind is also important. Offshore winds are dangerous, meaning temptingly smooth seas beside your launch spot, but rougher water the further out you are blown. Winds blowing in your direction of travel sound appealing, but are actually the trickiest to control a kayak’s direction in. Any forecast of poor visibility (i.e. fog) should also cause concern.

    • Look carefully at the local conditions and sea state. If it doesn’t look good, then it isn’t. Any surf breaking ashore needs consideration; are you competent to get out through it? What effect will this swell have on headlands, cliffs and tide races along your route? What will it make landing like? Note that groundswell can often be several times taller offshore than the beach break.

    • Check the tide flows and plan to launch at a time that will allow you to utilise (or avoid) their power. Avoid ‘wind against tide’, where the tide is flowing in one direction and the wind is blowing against it; this generates steep, choppy or even breaking waves.

    • Plan out your intended route, factoring in the weather, tide, landing zones, escape routes and suchlike. Check that map, compass, tidal notes and watch (and GPS?) are easily accessible.

    • Check over the safety and communication gear that you will of course be carrying. Items such as distress flares, towlines, pumps, mobile phone, VHF, etc should be safely secured but easily available to hand.

    • Contact the Coastguard via mobile phone or VHF radio (Channel 16). Tell them your plans and call them afterwards when you are safely ashore. Incidentally, they won’t take action if you do not call again; it is good practice to have a third party (friend/relative at home?) who will call them if they don’t hear from you.

    • Ensure that all of the above is communicated amongst and understood by all of the group.

    If the steps above have been faithfully adhered to before launching, the odds of a problem developing out on the water will be vastly reduced. All of this leaves you free to do what you came to do, which is to enjoy and explore our fantastic coastal environment. Navigating should not be a huge problem if you planned properly beforehand. It makes sense for everyone to have a map and compass and know where they are going, why hog the navigation?

    Group dynamics on the water need consideration; a group spread all over the place each doing their own thing is not a group, and obviously problems may arise. A group leader who has issued clear instructions and expectations is one solution to keeping everyone on track, but it’s equally desirable for everyone in the group to act responsibly. Coaching types use the acronym CLAP to outline effective leadership, but the principles that it embodies should be understood and followed by all paddlers in a group…

    • Communication. Let people know what’s going on, stay in touch with them.

    • Line of sight. You should always be in a position to monitor what your fellow paddlers are up to. This can’t be achieved over the horizon!

    • Avoidance is the best form of prevention. In other words, best not do anything that’ll require undoing.

    • Position of most usefulness. Always be looking out for, and jostling to achieve, the spot within the group where you are best able to keep track of what is happening and most prepared to respond accordingly.


    Coming ashore and setting up camp after a day on the water is wonderful. With the tents up and a (hopefully) delicious meal served, the day’s adventures can be reviewed over a beer. Everyone has their own personal approach to camping, but a few pointers follow.

    Firstly, your camping gear all has to fit in the boat. Packing used to be a form of purgatory but modern sea kayaks have big hatches making it easy to pack and retrieve your gear. That said, it can be a day or two before you figure out the best system for slotting it all in. Good dry bags are cheap and easy to get (e.g. www.ewetsuits.co.uk). We tend to bag up gear together based on categories like…

    • Kitchen (food, stove, fuel, matches, plates and cutlery)

    • Bathroom (toiletries, loo paper)

    • Wardrobe (dry clothes)

    • Bedroom (tent, Thermarests, sleeping bags)

    …but then again, we are very dull people.

    Other gear? You’ll need fresh water, which can be carried in expensive Ortlieb waterbags or big supermarket bottles. This can be replenished from taps, or (less appealingly) from purified stream water. A large drybag/rucksack is indispensible when you are shifting your gear from kayak to camp spot. A trolley may be useful if you have to move the boat any distance. A LW radio is indispensible for getting the forecast and a good book will keep you sane if the weather forces you to be stormbound for a day or two. In Scotland, a midge hood is an unfortunate necessity.

    Where to camp? The spot you select is your call, but try to be discreet and steer away from people’s houses and gardens. In Scotland there are few legal strictures on responsible groups, but in England and Wales the law is hazier; hence it’s often appropriate to keep the number of tents to a minimum, arriving late and leaving early. In some locations, there are of course ‘proper’ campsites near the water.

    Which tent? Tents come in all shapes and sizes, but something with decent porch space is ideal for cooking in wet weather. A freestanding tent will allow you to camp on the beach, but note that sand gets everywhere!

    What’s cooking? We cook on a Trangia stove with a gas attachment; stable, simple, safe. What you eat for dinner is down to you, but the amount of space available in a sea kayak means that Vesta Dried Curry is never forgivable. Think carefully before you start a fire; is it necessary and appropriate? If you convince yourself that the answer to both questions is yes, then light it on the beach in the inter-tidal zone and remove all trace afterwards.

    Where’s the loo? Do your business well away from camp, between the high and low tide mark. Burn paper and bury everything. Some paddlers carry out all waste in tubes. Alternatively, wait for or walk to a public toilet.

    Ray Mears/Bear Grylls-style survival isn’t for everyone. There is no reason at all why you can’t indulge in ‘credit card’ sea kayaking, where you stroll to a pub for lunch in the evening, and perhaps sleep the occasional night in a seaside Bed and Breakfast. Such luxuries are rarely far away in the UK, and sea kayaking is a broad church!

    End note

    Skimming back over this article, it looks as exciting as a telephone directory. Tedious lists of ‘don'ts’ and equipment inventories. Yawn. Please don’t lose sight of the wood for the trees, though. This dull but necessary information is a stepping stone to help you reach the real goal. You’ll know you’ve achieved it, when you first watch the sun melt into the sea from your tent, or when you realise that you’ve crossed the mornings’ horizon, or when you become reconciled to the weather and tide dictating your days. That’s when you’ll know that you enjoy a special kind of freedom.

    Further Reading and Information

    www.ukseakayakguidebook.co.uk – contains masses of useful information and advice; look at the ‘Almanac’ and ‘Community’ sections.
    Sea Kayaker Magazine's Handbook of Safety & Rescue by Doug Alderson and Michael Pardy – an outstanding guide to planning and executing trips safely and effectively.
    BCU Coaching Handbook, ed. Franco Ferrero – don’t be scared off by the dull title; it contains a great overview of leading and organising sea trips.
    Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble by Matt Broze and George Gronseth – true horror stories about US sea kayak trips descending into melt-down. Learn from their mistakes.

    Mark Rainsley - 2008

  • Dartmoor Coast


    Rockhopping the South Hams Coast
    Mark Rainsley - 2005


    Welcome to the world of rockhopping, slotting neatly into the gap between playboating and sea kayaking. Rockhopping is saltwater paddling in the ‘No Man’s Land’ between sea and shore; short trips and playing the sea, calm or wild. Spectacular coastlines, blue skies, rock gardens, swells, surf, tides and tidal rapids - all combining to create the perfect rockhopping experience.

    This month we head to South Devon. ‘South Hams’ is the district’s name, meaning ‘Sheltered Place’. However, most of the coast here is anything but sheltered! We fibbed a bit with the title, it’s actually just outside Dartmoor National Park. However, the rugged wildness of the coast here - mostly within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - is best understood and described as, Dartmoor hitting the sea.

    The fifty miles of coast between Torbay and Plymouth (the Cornish border) is the South Devon Heritage Coast, labelled and protected as such with good reason. Much of the coast is craggy and gnarled, making for a rockhopper’s playground. Exposed headlands focus the tide’s flows giving memorable tide races to ride; Start Point and Prawle Point being the most powerful. Five rivers flow down to the coast from the tors of Dartmoor, creating natural harbours at Dartmouth, Salcombe, and Kingsbridge, among others. To top it all, South Hams has one of the mildest climates in Britain! The rockhopping potential is huge. Many small beaches break up the exposed cliffs and allow short trips to be made, but taken on as a whole the coast can offer serious exposed long trips. And when the weather is a bit grim, the sheltered harbours offer sheltered rockhopping at their mouths. Let it not go unsaid, that the region also has one of the best surf beaches on the South Coast at Bigbury Bay. Unconvinced? Suck it and see for yourself…next time you come down to the River Dart and find it too dry (or high?) for your group, consider a short drive down to the coast for some rockhopping splendour.

    Salcombe Harbour to Hope Cove

    Trip duration: 2-4 hours.
    Character: Kayaks longer than 3 metres are recommended if you leave Salcombe Harbour. Various possibilities from completely sheltered to exposed. High cliffs. Some tidal flow. Cliffs, caves, rock gardens and surf zones.

    You have a choice here. If weather conditions are good, on offer is a moderately challenging 10 kilometre trip with some amazing scenery and many rockhopping possibilities. If the wind is howling or the seas are big, there is a short safer option; you can follow this trip as far as Bolt Head and then turn back into Salcombe…you are sheltered from the Southwest winds and swell but still enjoy a fun trip. If you are going to make the full voyage, it is best started off within two hours after high water at Salcombe, to speed you on your way.

    Salcombe is pretty busy through the year and the roads down to the beach are irritatingly narrow! There is a large convenient car park at the beach, ideal for launching. To the north (left) of the beach are the remains of Salcombe Castle, easily explored by kayak. Then head south along the edge of the harbour, passing South Sands beach and reaching the steeper shores known as ‘Stink Cove’ (!). A kilometre on you round the corner into Starehouse Bay and here, things get impressive. The spiky slopes above are known as ‘Sharp Tor’, no prizes for guessing why. The rocks and platforms at the base of the cliffs are known as the ‘Rags’ and make for a great playground. In a swell, a group can be occupied for an hour just here. Last time we visited, with perfect timing you could surf up a narrow inlet, spin 180 degrees, and paddle a short-lived steep Grade 4+ rapid as the saltwater poured out again. Oddly, we wussed out…

    Salcombe Harbour ends at Bolt Head, you won’t miss it! You round the corner and suddenly you are facing the full ocean. Tides are not too powerful, but be careful that it doesn’t draw you out of the harbour if you weren’t planning on this. In bad weather, you will wish to do no more than enjoy an exhilarating sneak behind the two Mew Stone rocks before heading back into the harbour, but if the weather is right, splendid…you can see seven kilometres of enticing cliffscape stretching away to the west (right).

    On a calm day, you will locate many spots between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail (where the trip ends) where it is possible to pull your kayak up high and dry. In swell though, there is only one opportunity to escape or rest, at Soar Mill Cove…and this isn’t guaranteed, waves can break across the entrance onto shallow rocks. Ouch. On 13th December 1938, the freighter ‘Cantabria’ ran aground in Steeple Cove in fog, and twenty-four Spanish sailors failed to appreciate how steep the cliffs are hereabouts. They made a misguided attempt to clamber to safety. They were rescued alive off the rocks by the lifeboat eventually, but it was a near miss. Today, remnants of the Calabria can still be seen among the rocks at low tide in Steeple Cove – this inlet is perhaps the most impressive part of the trip, well worth exploring.

    When you round the headland of Bolt Tail, you enter sheltered Hope Cove and the trip is over. If you haven’t had enough of the area however, you could do worse than walk the shuttle back along the cliffs…

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Down to the sea on a dry Dartmoor weekend, we had paddled the stretch of coast around Prawle Point in calm seas without incident. We were particularly impressed by the remnants of smashed ships, which presumably lacked the manoeuvrability of our Rockhopping kayaks. Lots of energy was expended checking out the nooks and crannies of this coast and we were much more tired than the distance ‘as the crow flies’ might suggest. Our target was Salcombe harbour, an obvious finish point. We hadn’t planned on a longer trip, and were travelling somewhat light.
    However, someone had the bright idea of pushing on further to Hope Cove…the best of South Devon’s coast in one long rock-hop mission! The obvious thing to do would have been to stop for a break – and hey, maybe food and drink – in Salcombe. But that didn’t cross our minds. We altered course and aimed straight for high Bolt Head

    The instant we rounded the Bolt Head, the trip completely changed character. We hit a large smooth swell which we’d somehow failed to notice up to this point. Our boats rose and fell rhythmically as the silent waves swept underneath, before smashing loudly into the cliffs, seconds later. Not enough seconds in fact, we moved further out and abandoned any rockhopping notions. Sorry, we’re just not brave enough! We were glad of the skegs as our aim now was simply to make a beeline to safety. The tiredness which we’d suppressed previously also surfaced and we all grumped at one another. Most definitely, time for a break.
    “Soar Mill Cove. It’s only small, but we can have a rest there and rethink plans.”

    But where was it? Ordnance Survey said it had to be there. The Cove finally became visible when we were right up close. It was tiny, but looked ideal. Our desperately needed rest was within sight. At that moment, a random swell glided into view. It didn’t want to be a swell, so it reared up into a wave. It kept rearing up, until it was a towering monster of a blue wall. We kid you not, it was like something out of ‘Big Wednesday’. It broke explosively across the whole cove mouth. Soar Mill Cove simply vanished from view.
    “Where did THAT appear from? Um…perhaps we could keep going and wait longer for a rest.”
    “Strangely, I agree.”
    It was only another four kilometres to reach the calm water (and ice cream) of Hope Cove, but it dragged like a lifetime. A great day out was had, but because we missed a few basic ingredients – rest, food, maybe even a bit of planning ahead – it nearly ended in tears. Hindsight, it’s a wonderful thing. Oops.

    Hallsands to Salcombe

    Trip duration: 4-5 hours (less with spring tides)
    Character: Not suitable for kayaks shorter than 3 metres. Sections of exposed coast, but plenty of landing zones. Large tidal races. Cliffs, caves, rock gardens, arches and surf zones. Discreet overnight camping possible.

    This is a 14 kilometre+ full scale sea kayak trip if treated as an A to B exercise, but this approach doesn’t necessarily do it service. Take your rockhopping kayak and get in close to enjoy the endless succession of reefs, inlets, and tiny beaches. Paddling all this at once whilst exploring would be a long day out, consider a quiet overnight camp or break down the trip by making a ‘rough launch’, carrying down to the water near the Prawle Point car park. For the full trip, launch from the Hallsands end of the trip just after high tide, the ebb current will be with you all the way. Another option is to launch further north at Torcross, where a Sherman tank commemorates the 749 American soldiers who died in 1944 when a secret landing practice for D-Day was intercepted by German attack boats.

    You first follow the pebbly beach south towards Start Point, with its lighthouse high above the water. The Point is surrounded by a galaxy of distinctive stones which make a great arena for rockhopping. In addition, the tide race which is generated where the water squeezes around the corner can offer a bit of entertainment. Take care out there…

    The coast stretching to Prawle Point (Devon’s southernmost spot) is wildly varied. There are cliffs, but there are also many spots where the coast dips low. Raised former beaches can be spotted just above the high water mark and many wavecut ledges stretch into the sea forming reefs…surf landings, anyone? Not really recommended in a glassfibre craft! There are about half a dozen miniature sandy beaches which may be accessible at different points in the tide. Lannacombe Beach is only one served by roads. Another thing which will grab your attention along this coast is wrecks…more than once you will spot rusting remains high on the reefs.

    You won’t miss Prawle Point…the distinctive rock arch can recognised from miles around. If the tide is high it is possible to thread your way through it, an intimidating buzz in a really awesome spot. Don’t make a mess of this, the Coastwatch Station above are watching! The coast from here to the shelter of Salcombe harbour is higher, more open to the Atlantic waves and contains many caves ground out by the force of the swells. This exposure only lasts a few kilometres until you are in the lee of Bolt Head. Note that landing at Salcombe proper will leave you with a big shuttle drive…consider parking on the east side of the harbour near East Portlemouth. Feeling hardcore? Keep going right on, and knock off the trip above as well. Hallsands to Hope Cove in one go makes for a real challenge, but boredom will never set in…the variety of coastal landforms will keep your interest, and the endless technical interest of rocks, reefs and races will keep you alert.

    Further info

    ‘Tidal Stream Atlas of the South Devon Coast’ by Mike Fennessy
    South Devon Coast: Chart Pack 22: Stanfords Charts
    South Devon, Brixham to Newton Ferrers: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map


    See this article on the basics of rockhopping, and also this one on the Jurassic Park Coast.

    Thanks to Julian Patrick of BLUEsky (check out the new RH340 rockhopping kayak at /www.playthesea.co.uk)

    Mark Rainsley - 2005


  • England - Info

    Local Centres & Kayak Hire

    Weather & tides

    "Easy Reference Sheets" - Western England & Wales - Eastern England - Summary sheets with paddling speed calculators, wind speed chart, CG contact & MSI Broadcast Times, Marine VHF channels etc

    Inland Waterways - detailsand guides to canals and other inland waters. Click the "Go Boating" link for extra details. See also this link.

    Information and tidal data for the Dorset Coast

    Lundy Island - the "official" website for Lundy - lots of information, including details of accomodation.

    Photography - The Geograph project aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland - there are some useful coastal shots.

    Bothies - the Mountain Bothies Association maintains a variety of bothies throught the UK. The UKBothies forum provides a mass of useful information.

    British Canoeing website.

    British Canoeing Sea Kayaking site.

    Bing Maps will help you find places mentioned.

    Military Exercise Areas - the Lulworth Ranges - details. Ministry of Defense contacts for some of the military exercise areas are to be found in this discussion and this one. See also the Ministry of Defence webpages for contacts.

    Planning your first multi-day trip? Mark Rainsley's article "a Special Kind of Freedom" is essential reading.

    Broken links? Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with details.

  • England - Relevant Forum Threads

    The links below lead to discussions on our Community Forum

    Channel Islands

    Chesil Beach

    Cornwall - with pics

    Farne Islands

    Flat Holm & Steep Holm

    Jersey - 2006 Symposium

    Kimmeridge to Weymouth

    Lundy with a guide to Lundy - download a Word Doc with the Guide here. See also here. Some planning advice here

    Portland Bill

    Scilly - discussions here, here, here,here and here

    Surfing - SW England - places to surf.

  • Ennui (from Mark Rainsley's cirumnavigation of Britain)


    ennui \on-WEE; ON-wee\, noun: A feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction; dullness and languor of spirits, arising from lack of interest; boredom.
    Mark Rainsley - 2005


    I realise I am awake. I haven’t been asleep for hours, yet this is the first time I’m conscious. The slapslapslap of the flysheet tells all. Eyes tight, I extend a hand from my bag and fumble for my Nokia. I press out an ingrained key sequence. Eventually I summon will to squint at the display.
    Same old same old. I draw my hood over my head, and zone out for a few more hours.

    I am about to completely miss Ramsey Sound. My head is down, but I am being sucked inexorably to seaward of Ramsey Island. Several hours into a three week journey, already I’m embarrassed by my own incompetence. A flurry of long strokes and finally I clear the tip of the island…on the correct side. Now allied with the flood tide, I surge down towards the broken bottle silhouette of the Bitches rocks. I spy paddlers ferrying across to play the Bitches tidal race. I envy them, but not for the top wave; they have company and camaraderie. My friends are on a ferry to Norway. Tonight I’ll camp and dine alone. The boat accelerates amongst the swirls of Horse Rock, and only slows when it reaches Whitesands Bay. I am not alone. A solitary porpoise and I share the last rays.

    Afternoon; I force myself to get up and boil some noodles. As the rain rattles the walls, I take stock. The interior of my space capsule is littered with chocolate and sweet wrappers, newspapers, Lucozade bottles, crushed clothes. My sleeping bag is dank from sweat and condensation. I have no mirror, but guess I am no oil painting. I retrieve the radio from under a pile of charts, and tune through a forest of static. Soporific dance music, or cricket.

    I have cut in too close around the point at Newquay, and collided with a back eddy. The sudden violence of the breaking waves is daunting. I accelerate to a sprint but my kayak is static. I veer inshore and off, trying to surf my way out. Dry and warm minutes ago, I’m now drenched to my armpits and wiping salt from my eyes. I find purchase against the current and judge I am making headway, but the harbour wall refuses to fall back. Seagulls tear the air apart with their cries and I’m cursing wildly to no one in particular. I gain an audience. In unison on either side, curved dorsal fins pierce the surface, rising to expose slick grey backs. Within touch of both paddle blades, I have a dolphin escort. I curse harder, in awed disbelief.

    I emerge before dawn, unable to ignore my bladder. Steadying myself in the porch, I aim into the bushes. Only with my business finished do I realise that the rain has moved on. I am the only person witnessing these sparkling stars. The orange glow to the south denotes garish Blackpool, but I am transfixed by the view north, ten miles across Morecambe Bay to Barrow. Deciphering the urban glare, I can make out the immense derricks and submarine units of the dockyards. The wind feels less defined. Could this be it? I can be on the water in under an hour. I am already stuffing away my down jacket before I take a reality check. The wind will soon return in force. Either way; huge seas bar the crossing, whipped up by a backlog of storms. It is not going to happen this time, just like all the other times. Am I making good decisions? Am I fabricating lame apologies? This is worse than anything by far. With no one to bounce ideas off, I relive this quandary a hundred times daily.

    Bardsey Sound has been oversold. My ‘Irish Sea Pilot’ brimmed with calamity tales about the quirks of local wind and tide, but I am gliding along a shimmering expanse of blue perfection. Rounding the Lleyn Peninsula, I accumulate flow and pace. Today it comes easy, all effort absorbed by the unheralded beauty of this coast. The day’s allotted paddling hours are up, but today I need no motivation targets. The boat courses on with ease whilst quarried mountains loom over the sea, hemmed by quiet villages with names I’ll never grasp. Later I plot the next leg over pasta and pesto. I am startled to see that forty miles have eased by; how could this have been so pleasurable?

    I have joined the Lancashire Library Service. Killing a morning at the keyboard, I trawl through any and every weather website. I alight upon any minor disparities between forecasts, as if this will somehow wish the wind away. I check the paddling message boards and post updates of my non-progress. I read my posting of a week ago, ludicrously announcing that by now I’d be in Scotland. Later I walk along the sea front, transfixed by the kite surfers. The tent is safe, hidden at the back corner of a golf course. I have ‘text’; a local paddler has heard of my enforced stay in Fleetwood and offers food and shelter. I am stunned by such consideration from a stranger, but embarrassed to take it up. Perhaps this isn’t the sole reason. I am dimly aware that I am relishing the ennui.

    Hilbre Island is a low sandstone bluff, marking the point where the River Dee meets the Irish Sea. Wales ends here in this disorientating landscape, where sand overcomes sea for much of the day. Observed coolly by languorous seals, I launch an hour before sunset. I paddle north for an hour, hard. A half submerged wreck initially seems vast, but perspective proves to be distorted here. Miles from dry land, I wade and drag for a time. The swell gains definition; deep water. I alter course to cross the Mersey estuary. I knew the light would fade, but I am counting on the full moon. This is ascending behind Liverpool docks, too slowly. My headtorch fails even to illuminate my compass. I am lost. I pick out some lights and take my chances. Feeling my way blind, I stumble into a tidal race. The waves feel huge in the pitch dark. Terrified but exhilarated, I emerge right beside the Mersey Channel where a giant tug is passing. Its spotlights pick out the kayaker, a tiny intruder in the big boy’s playground. An hour later, I make landfall – on sand, by lucky chance - and discover that I am directly outside the Liverpool Coastguard Station. The night watch are concerned and sceptica. After they’ve examined my equipment and heard my story, smiles break out. I am welcomed inside as a guest, albeit a late one.

    In the early hours of the sixth morning, I finish another book. By now I am tuned to the movements of the tent; something is different. I emerge and I look to Barrow once more. No doubt this time, the wind has eased. The sea is grey-brown mush, but has calmed appreciably. This is it. I engage myself with hurried packing, refusing to permit myself space to revisit my decision. I am outside the surf break and already making ground towards Barrow through the peaks and troughs. The panorama of Morecambe Bay expands around me. I can see Lake District peaks and even my old university, white buildings against a Pennine backdrop. With inconvenient timing, a ferry emerges down the Lune Channel, and then two more large ships; I have to sit tight as they pass, bracing into the waves. Something is wrong; the swell is smashing right up their bows. Once they they’ve passed, I regain pace and enter the channel. Right away I am hitting very big water. Waves are surging and breaking around me. My nerves force a physical reaction; I retch. I try to rationalise my circumstances before fear predominates. My incredibly stupid, obvious error is that I am trying to cross as tide flows from the bay against the wind and swell. The tide is exaggerating and steepening the waves. Turning back will not be easy, but continuing could be catastrophic. Haste and impatience have brought me here. I am engulfed by a world of foam. My mind wanders to another place, not so far way. I have now a solution, and it is simple. I draw my hood over my head, and zone out for a few more hours.

    (For more images from Mark's trip in the summer of 2005, see this discussion from the Community Forum.)

  • External links (Trip reports from other sites)

    THAMES ESTUARY & APPROCHES - from Tower Hamlets Canoe Club comes this excellent illustrated trip guide to this (unlikely?) area.

    DORSET COAST - report & pics - Lulworth Cove westwards to White Nothe & Studland Bay to Swanage - from Civil Service Canoe Club

    Nich Burton has a link to some of his surfing adventures on Guernsey

    CORNWALL. From "Sea Kayaker Magazine" comes a nicely written and illustrated article on this pretty part of the world.

  • Goreston Beach, Great Yarmouth


    DATE(S) OF TRIP: Summer 2004

    WHERE?: Goreston beach, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

    PUT-INS/ LAUNCH SPOTS: Launch off beach for 3km....plenty of parking. Parking also available on cliffs at Gorleston - for a more peaceful time ..but futher to launch boat.

    DISTANCE/ TIME: You can kayak from here to just north of Lowerstoft

    LOCAL TIDES: depends on sea conditions and wind direction

    HAZARDS/ PROBLEMS?: strong currents on off-shore wind days

    EVENTS/ OBSERVATIONS: Beachguards & firstaiders available Whitson - 2nd week in September

    OTHER NOTES: Gorleston is 3km of great beach, Blue Flag award, sits in a nice cove, plenty of other sea kayers during summer months...so if you want a bit of peace you need to launch further along the beach.

    CONTRIBUTED BY: Cherie Walpole.

  • Insomnia


    I've been paddling alone along the south coast for nine days. I'm getting careless and I'm getting lazy. Why careless? Because poor planning has just given me a generally hair-raising day. A little pre-thought and common sense might have helped me to avoid finding myself utterly exhausted in a chunky swell, with miles of grim cliffs between me and my intended destination. But hell, when has hindsight ever been any use? Why lazy? Because after surviving everything the South Devon coast can throw at me, there is no way I'm going to waste my valuable energy and motivation on something as minor as putting a tent up.

    I see it while I'm dragging my over-laden sea kayak (I carried umpteen tins of beans for 400 miles and never opened one) up the beach. A 'mouse-hole' opening in the cliffs rimming the cove, above the high water mark with a flat sandy floor. Perfect, no fiddling around with wonky tent pegs tonight.

    Whilst I cook up a nutritious dinner of dehydrated 'Beanfeast' Mexican Chilli, various people wander over and chat to me about my trip. They ask the usual tourist canoeist questions about how far I've come, is it safe and can you do that thing where you go over and come up again? The last visitor is particularly impressed by my apparent affinity with outdoor living. Not wishing to shatter this image, I manage to keep pretending that the alleged 'Chilli' is edible until he is a safe distance away. My word, that was foul. I throw the rest behind a rock for the seagulls (seems they really will eat anything) and dash up to the pub for a curry.

    After dark, I make the usual call home ("no honestly love, this trip isn't just about enjoyment. I'm touring the south-west's beaches to discover myself..."). Leaving the phone-box, I see that the pub has emptied out onto the street. Everyone is admiring a spectacular free light-show which is performing across the horizon. Lightning is doing some fairly elaborate things, at least enough to muster the odd 'ooo' and 'ahh' from the crowd. Clearly some interesting weather is heading our way. What do I care? I have a nice sheltered cave to doze in.

    Inflating my sleeping mat, a noxious whiff hits me. Déjà vu, I know that smell. If only I'd packed the washing up liquid separately. I barely need to rig my tiddly gas lamp up, the cave is almost constantly lit by the lightning. What a night! The rain arrives now; it persists it down with a vengeance. I sit up in my sleeping bag reading, wondering how long it'll be before this deluge moves on. Suddenly I'm soaking wet, where in hell is it coming from? I leap out of my bag and run to the very back of the cave. Water is hissing into the cave from a thousand cracks in the roof. At least there is a sheltered spot along the back of the cave. The thing is, it's rather less comfortable there. I'm lying on heaps of rocks, rotting seaweed and lager cans. It could be worse, I suppose...I turn out the light and try to get some sleep.

    I wake up with a start. Something is crawling over my leg! Swearing, I fumble for my head-torch and unzip my bag. The inside seems to be moving. Moving the light nearer, I see hundreds of shrimp-like bugs slithering around. This is not good. I try sweeping them out, but it's like trying to plait fog. Come on, I've been through worse than this. I've slept in inches of water in the Tatra Alps, I've slept on a slalom kayak in Leeds city centre, I've even slept through Andy Pitcher's snoring. All the same, I contemplate escape. I could make a dash through the rain to my kayak, grab the tent...

    A loud crash stops me in my steps. What on earth was that? It takes a while before I gather what is happening. The rain has waterlogged the cliffs, and now they are beginning to crumble. This is very bad indeed. It seems possible to get out of the cave without being hit by falling rocks and rubble, but I know for a fact that I used up my weekly luck allowance during the day's paddling. I'm stuck here for the night, with the rain, lightning, rotting seaweed, falling rocks and of course the slimy bugs. To add to this, my stomach is playing leapfrog...seems the 'Barf-feast' isn't done with me yet.

    Stuck in my self-inflicted cell, I try counting sheep. I mentally paddling the entire length of Chesil Beach, in fog, once more. I recall 'Canoeist' magazine editorials on the minutiae of British Canoe Union policy, I even dig a copy of the BCU 'Coaching Directive' newsletter out of a dry bag and try to read it. No joy. It's going to be a very long night.

    Mark Rainsley

  • Isle of Wight

    Isle of Wight - June 2005

    by Mark Rainsley

    We discovered this weekend that if you keep paddling along the coast of a piece of land, you eventually wind up back where you started.

    Six of us launched from Keyhaven, near Hurst Castle on Friday night...




    Reached the Needles at sunset...




    We landed in Freshwater Bay at 11 pm...this was made amusing by the clean groundswell. Luckily we all knew how to surf by moonlight.

    Next morning, the sun woke us up far too early...


    We shared the water with 1700 yachts completing the annual Round the Island Race. This photo does absolutely no justice to the sight of 1700 yachts all within view at once...it's quite a spectacle.

    This day was far too much like hard work, with a stiff headwind killing off any tidal assistance. After about five hours on the water, we pulled into Ventnor for ice cream...

    We then clocked a few more hours in the evening which was far more pleasant, calm sea for crossing the bay to Culver Cliffs.

    We camped near Bembridge (eastern end of the island) in a perfect little spot we chanced upon...some chose to sleep on the sand.

    (EU regulations decree that every sea kayak photo album will include at least one shot of two Quests on a sandy beach).

    Today we launched early, and headed out into the middle of the Solent to catch the tide. We literally ripped along, knocking off 28 miles in 5 hours back to Keyhaven, finishing at 1.30 pm. The only blip was my attempt to play 'chicken' with a supertanker...luckily the Harbourmaster Pilot stopped us before I killed us all.

    Back at Keyhaven, we all felt rather smug...60 miles knocked off by a random team including two Thames Valley paddlers who'd never paddled further than the length of the Hurley queue, and even one expectant mother!




    Oh yes...and it was HOT.

    Mark Rainsley


  • Isle of Wight Challenge

    Isle of Wight Challenge – 19th June 2004.

    A 60 mile circumnavigation in less than 18 hours


    “Hi Bertie, it’s Roger… Do you fancy a kayaking trip around the Isle of Wight?”
    “Sounds great” I replied, “How many days?”
    “Just one…” was the reply.

    That was how I found myself at Calshot Spit, on the mainland opposite the Northern tip of the Isle of Wight at 1.30am on a Saturday morning, jumping around in front of the security cameras at Calshot Activity Centre, trying to attract the attention of the security guard who could open the gate to the car park to let the others in.

    “You guys must be mad” commented the security guard. I couldn’t really argue with his astute observation. Particularly, as I had arranged to borrow a demo P & H Bahiya sea kayak from Bournemouth Canoes, which I had not had time to try out before. Still, what could go wrong with trying a borrowed kayak for the first time at 3am in the morning at the start of a 60 mile circumnavigation?

    After packing our boats, checking over group communications, a quick look at route timings, and contacting the Coastguard who also probably thought we were mad, we were afloat by 2.50am. I should have spotted the warning signs when Roger announced that we were “already 20 minutes late and we need to catch it up by the Needles”, but at that time in the morning I failed to spot the obvious clues that Roger was ex-military or that he had established a plan with typical military obsession to timings.

    It was time to try the Bahiya out, to see whether I’d chosen wisely to use a borrowed boat, rather than my own sea kayak. Thankfully, rumours of the boat being very unstable proved to be slightly exaggerated and the boat and I soon settled into a nice partnership. As well as the Romany sea kayak I own and use regularly, I also own a really unstable hard chined wooden Angmassalik sea kayak which put the rumoured instability of the Bahiya into perspective.

    Our first problem was to identify the lateral port bouyage marking the main channel, which indicated to us where the major tidal flow was. “It’s that one over there, flashing now… now… now..” said Roger, unaware that there were at least two or three others flashing similarly and naturally each of us in the group was now focussed on different flashing lights. Off each of us went, each convinced we were right, and the others were wrong.

    We quickly sorted out our flashing red light problem, then set off together. It felt like we’d set a fantastic pace, but without daylight it was impossible to gauge just how fast we were travelling at. However, our 4am rest stop (no doubt scheduled with military precision) was an opportunity to look at GPS logs, which showed we’d hit nearly 8 knots as we made our way towards the Needles.

    The Solent narrows and the tide pick up speed through Hurst Gap, created by a spit of land which extends most of the way across the Solent. Just as we came through the Gap, someone said “wow, look at the sunrise behind us”. We turned to look and were greeted by a fantastic blood red sunrise, supposedly forecasting bad weather but looking fantastic.

    By approx. 5.30am, we were at the Needles. “Approximately” was clearly not good enough for Roger, who informed us we were 3 minutes behind schedule and if we didn’t catch it up by our scheduled breakfast stop, we’d have to knock it off the time allocated to breakfast. Harsh, I thought.

    The dreaded tidal overfalls at the Bridge were no where to be seen, so we ‘threaded’ the Needles – paddling through the gaps between the vertical stacks of rocks that form the needles. The weather couldn’t have been better for us at this point, and we were greeted by a double rainbow which had formed over the rock formation.

    A moment of calm reflection, i.e. “what the hell am I doing at the Needles at 5.30am on a Saturday morning when I could have been in bed!?”, then off again, this time to our breakfast stop location – Freshwater Bay. Obviously a misnomer, as the beach smelt nothing like “fresh” water, still it was 6.30am, I’d been paddling since 3am, and nothing was going to put me off my cooked breakfast! Thankfully, Roger allowed us our full amount of scheduled time, as we’d recovered the three minutes lost by the time we got to Freshwater Bay.

    Unfortunately, our departure was delayed by 15 minutes due to the skeg on my boat being jammed by the loose stones from the beach. After some cord had been attached to the thankfully pre-drilled hole in the boat’s skeg we were off once again.

    From Freshwater, our next obvious destination was St Catherine’s Point – familiar to anyone who has obtained an inshore waters weather forecast for the South Coast. Thanks to the earlier sunrise, we could now see our destination approx. 15 miles away from where we were and it looked a long way from where we were.

    Thankfully the weather was behaving itself, giving us north-westerly, Force 3-4 winds, with plenty of sunshine, so the journey to St Catherine’s Point was a pleasant one. With the assistance of the tide, we’d made the point by approx 10am, hitting the overfalls just as they were coming off their strongest flow. Because the weather was behaving itself, the ride through the overfalls at the point was nothing more than a bumpy ride through small standing waves, which gave a welcome relief to the flat water we’d paddled through so far. Our thoughts immediately turned to spending some time playing, however Roger pointed out that we were 8 minutes behind schedule, so couldn’t spare the time…!

    We stopped for a short rest and comfort break on a beach just east of St Catherine’s Point. As we approached the beach we encountered a small following sea and I was quickly able to use this to my advantage as the P&H Bahiya demonstrated its ability to catch the smallest of waves and track perfectly true whilst surfing.

    By now we’d turned towards the North East, and were soon making our way past Ventnor, one of the IoW’s big resorts. We’d been paddling for over 7hrs, yet I’m sure people on the beach were only just taking their early morning walks!

    From Ventnor, a straight paddle across the large bay that Shanklin and Sandown were located in would take us towards Bembridge, the eastern point of the IoW – a tidal gate, and one that ideally we needed to reach by 12.15pm before the tide started to ebb and run against us. At Bembridge the ebb tide separates into two flows, one heading southwest against us if we hadn’t made it, and another flow heading northwest, potentially carrying us further on if we’d made it in time.

    Unfortunately, the tide started to turn against us with a couple of miles to go. We knew we had to keep going to get past Bembridge so we hugged the coastline to hopefully catch any assistance from any eddies created by the points extending into the sea. Coming around one such point, we were surprised to find a small overfall much like Penrhynmawr on a really calm day only just after it’s started to run. Even more surprising was that this was located about a half mile from a public beach where kids were playing in their cheap inflatable dinghies. As an experienced beach lifeguard the thoughts of an offshore winds, combined with an overfall at one end of the beach made me glad that we weren’t hanging around for longer. I wondered how many kids in inflatables had made unplanned runs through the overfalls!

    Around 1.30pm we rounded Bembridge Point and landed near to the Bembridge lifeboat station, where Roger reminded us that we had to leave by 2.15pm. We’d found shelter from the wind and shortly after we’d eaten our lunches some of us grabbed a quick snooze whilst others kept the public entertained with tales of how far we’d been and where we’d come from.

    Bembridge Point was meant to be a psychological boost, as rounding it meant that we were now heading north west on the last leg of the circumnavigation and back to the beach at Calshot. We were on time, unless you were Roger, in which case we were 8 minutes late, and we only had 15 miles less to do having done 45 miles already.

    We set off at 2.20pm, newly fuelled up after our lunches; however it soon became apparent that the final 15 miles was not going to be the easy paddle we’d thought it would. We had to paddle quite a distance offshore to avoid the tidal eddy flow near Ryde working against us; however this meant that we were more exposed to the north-westerly head wind, into which we were now paddling. Although, not an overly strong head wind, paddling into a force four wind after 45 earlier miles was rapidly proving to be difficult. We made slow progress along the north east coast of the Isle of Wight, made all the worse by our final destination being so obviously sign posted by the tower at Fawley Power Station. We knew from the tidal atlases that we only had a limited amount of time before the tide joined the wind in opposing us.

    We soon realised that we were not going to achieve our estimated time of arrival at Calshot, it becoming rapidly apparent when we barely made it to the end of Ryde Pier without being run down by either the hovercraft or fast catamaran ferry. We regrouped at the end of the pier realising that we had to devise a new plan to take into account our tiredness, the wind and the tide.

    As a group, we knew that we had to rest and sit out the worst of the wind. Looking at the tidal atlases, there was an opportunity for some tidal assistance during the crossing from Cowes to Calshot from 7pm onwards. It was now only 4.30pm, so we headed for the nearest beach to grab some rest and more food. Shortly after landing at the beach, I blinked and woke up 45 minutes later to find everyone else asleep on the beach, clearly the 50 or so miles we’d already paddled was taking it’s toll!

    Around 5.30pm, I phoned Solent Coastguard to get the latest weather report, which still looked manageable. We set off, determined this time to reach Cowes, and make the crossing back to Calshot. We still had the wind against us and to make matters worse it was joined by rain – the first of the day. We reached East Cowes, just as Cunard decided to join in the sustained attack against us, launching the Aurora and one other large cruise liner to pass within a few hundred metres of our bows as we started the crossing. I don’t think you truly realise how big these ships are until you’re sat that close to them in a sea kayak as it cruises past you. Jokes about how ‘the ship’s crew wouldn’t even notice the little ‘speed bumps’ we were in as they ran in to us’ rang through the group. The laughter soon abated as we refocused on our destination, Calshot.

    The final crossing was uneventful, being nothing more than a slog through the wind and tide to get back to Calshot. We arrived at Calshot at 8.20pm – 56 nautical miles and 17 hours 30 minutes after starting. We’d succeeded in our objective of paddling around the Isle of Wight in one day, and the sense of accomplishment combined with the sense of relief that it was over was fantastic! And, just for the record, Roger did not tell us how many minutes we were late to Calshot by!

    Throughout the trip, the P & H Bayiha that I had borrowed performed extremely well. The boat tracked well and proved to be a fast sea kayak. Whilst we weren’t out to set records that day, the speed of the Bahiya allowed me to paddle very efficiently which definitely assisted me to complete the whole paddle.

    Many thanks to all who gave us assistance, advice and help along the way, in particular:

    · Phil’s parents who acted as support crew, circumnavigating the island by car in case we needed assistance.
    · Bournemouth Canoes for the loan of the P&H Bayiha that I paddled,
    · HMCG Solent, for not letting on that they thought we were mad
    · Calshot Activity Centre for allowing us to use their car park.


    The paddlers:

    Graham Beckram, ‘Bertie..’ to his friends, lives in a small village close to the Dorset coastline. By day he is an office boy in Dorset’s ‘Big City’ - Bournemouth, but when not working he is an aspirant Level 5 sea coach, Level 4 inland, sea and surf coach, and a member of Weymouth Canoe Lifeguards and Poole Harbour Canoe Club. When not working or kayaking, he spends his time repaying his brownie point debt to his wife.
    Roger Hiley, by day a farrier, but by night clearly a time-obsessed maniac who should never be allowed to look at a watch again.
    Roger Wiltshire,
    And finally...Phil, who took time out from his busy schedule of sailing around the world in various tall ships, to join us.

    Graham Beckram - 2004

  • Isles of Scilly

    Lyonesse, Where the Sun Sets Last

    - A Sea Kayakers Guide to the Isles of Scilly -

    By Mark Rainsley

    First published in 'Paddles' Magazine

    Full Gallery of Scilly photos by Mark Rainsley

    We're just coming up on Menawethan Island, the most easterly point of the Scillies. We're keeping our heads and paddles down as there's a stiff wind from the southwest, Force something or other. If I was a better person I would have managed to wake up for the 0555 Shipping Forecast. Or at least, maybe by nine. As it is, we've had to make do with the mumbled guesstimates from Radio Cornwall, far from reassuring…the other evening the weather presenter had fallen asleep on air. We're not worried though. There is a clear view down the Road, the wide channel between the largest of the Scillies. We can see right through to the outer reefs, sharp wedges of granite with whitewater exploding behind them. Beyond that is, well, Brazil. Quite a run-up for the waves. No worries though, the sea is calm inside the reefs and the worst of the wind is soaked up by the islands. On a day when she'd usually be firmly rooted on dry land, my wife is enjoying herself immensely. Her attention is completely absorbed by the surrounding scenery, rather than staying upright. Hailing from northern Scotland, she's entranced by the Hebridean quality of the small isles around us; even though a few miles away there are beaches which would be more at home in the Caribbean. We make out a shape balanced precariously on the rocks ahead, a large amorphous blob of plasticine. Getting closer, it turns out to be a particularly obese seal. Typically, he waits to within a split second of the camera being ready before he ripples his belly off the rock and disappears with an unceremonious snorting dive-bomb. As we round the cliffs of China Point, The noise is deafening as dozens of Black-backed gulls take to the air and screech the bird equivalent of, "Shove off". We have the sense of being followed, and look back over our shoulders. Sure enough, the seal is back, with his equally inquisitive mates. They follow us at a discreet distance, occasionally surfacing right beside us by accident. There is a split second where the seal's eyes meet those of the paddler, then a huge splash as he downs periscope fast.

    An hour later we are real people again, wearing dry clothes, drinking beer and scoffing cake from the bakery on St. Martin's. The sun is now blazing and the kit is drying out nicely among the bright garish flowers of the Scillies.

    How to use this guide: Take a marker pen and cross out anything which sounds like an opinion. You will be left with a small number of facts to work with, which are quite certainly possibly not inaccurate.

    Why: The Scillies are stunning, a truly unique environment which is simply impossible to describe adequately. Partly a piece of England, partly a piece of the Atlantic; but much more than the sum of its parts. Although the area is small, the variety is great. Any kayaker who isn't captivated by this maritime paradise in miniature simply doesn't have a soul. Nice beer and cream teas, too.

    Overview: The name 'Scilly' comes from 'Sully' appropriately meaning the Sun Isles. The islands are located 21 miles WSW of Land's End and measure a tiddly 10 by 7 miles. There are about 100 islands and rocks of which only 6 are inhabited. The total land area is a laughable 6.25 sq miles at high tide and the population numbers just 2000, most of whom live in Hugh Town on the largest island, St. Mary's. The islands belong to the Duchy of Cornwall (lucky Charles), although the uninhabited islands are leased to the Isles of Scilly Environmental Trust. The whole area has been designated a 'Special Area of Conservation', so assume that killing and roasting the flora and fauna will be frowned upon. The islands are literally saturated with ancient sites and archaeological remains. Those who believe in pixies and fairies (quite a few Cornish folk) will tell you that the Isles are the last remains of Lyonesse, an Arthurian Kingdom which sank beneath the sea in a cataclysmic storm. Geologists have a somewhat drier explanation; that the islands are an extension to Cornwall which has been slowly drowned by rising sea levels since the last Ice Age, forming a rocky archipelago; imagine Bodmin Moor or Dartmoor with only the craggy summit tors peeking through the water. With beaches.

    Getting there: Three choices; fly, ferry, or paddle. Taking a plane or helicopter is fast and convenient, however you enter a world of pain regarding cost and you will have to make alternative arrangements for your sea kayaks. There is nowhere yet to hire decent equipment on the Islands. The 'Scillionian III' ferry is how most will reach the islands, a stomach-wrenching three hour crossing from Penzance to St Mary's. They are happy to crane (unloaded) kayaks aboard as cargo if told in advance. The car must be left at Penzance and there are a number of long-stay secure compounds for this purpose; your car will accumulate an impressive array of seagull poo. None of this is cheap; assume around £75 pp for the return ferry trip, plus £44 for your kayak (although for reasons unknown, our second kayak was charged at half-price) and about the same again for a week's parking. The final option is to paddle from Land's End. Anyone capable of that won't need this article.

    Accommodation: Wild camping is sadly not permitted, you must stay at and shell out for designated campsites. There is logic in this, as although quiet spots are not hard to find (and I know of groups who have made use of them), they are usually left quiet for sound ecological reasons; before shoving your pegs in, take a close look at the surrounding wildlife and assess your impact. The good news is that the official campsites are pleasant enough, are mostly fairly priced and are near the water, with the exception of that on St. Mary's which is a fifteen minute uphill walk. An option for softies is to hire a cottage or similar and use it as a base for day trips; perfectly practical given the relatively small area involved.

    Shopping and Food: St. Mary's has plenty of shops and a supermarket. There are twee 'village stores' on most islands, stocking useful things like gobstoppers and tinned peas; the Tresco store even stocking such luxuries as newspapers. The only cash machine is on St. Mary's but the pubs etc. seem happy to accept plastic. Undoubtedly you'd prefer to spend your evenings boiling lentils in a windy corner of a campsite, but there is no harm in knowing that all of the inhabited islands have warm pubs serving good food.

    Communications: Radio 4 and Radio Cornwall are readily available on FM radio, the latter giving regular but quirky Scilly weather updates. Mobile phones (Orange, O2, Vodafone, etc.) seem to work well on a 'line of sight from St. Mary's' sort of basis. The coastguard MRCC is Falmouth (01326) 317575.

    The Paddling: Does your preferred paddling day involve clocking up epic distances in monstrous seas? Chewing on whale blubber to take your mind off the salt water sore where your beard gets caught in your armpits? If so, the Scillies aren't for you. The paddling is mostly characterised by short relatively sheltered hops between islands. Those prepared to take their time and explore the wonderful environs properly will be richly rewarded, those who merely want to clock up mileage are missing the point. You can either spend your days leisurely relocating from island to island, or you can do longer day trips from a single base. The larger islands effectively form a barrier around a central lagoon so there will always be an option of a sheltered paddle, whatever the weather. The inner rim of the lagoon has many amazing beaches, the outer edge has cliffs, reefs and rugged islands. Paddling on the outer sides of the islands, you are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic swells. Tides are not notably strong among the islands, but on the fringes the flows reach up to 2 knots at springs. The inter-tidal zone is vast; in plain English, huge areas of sand and rock dry out at low tide. This is worth bearing in mind, as channels between islands disappear (don't believe that OS map!) and many trips are more sheltered at low tide when reefs shut out the Atlantic swells. Many expert sea kayakers have sworn adoration for paddling in the Scillies, but the region is perhaps most unusual in that mixed club groups or novice sea kayakers can have a great time, under appropriate guidance.

    The Islands:

    St. Mary's: The largest island also has Hugh Town, the only town. After disembarking from the ferry, many paddlers opt to launch straight away and paddle to other islands; the alternative is to stow the boats somewhere and then slog up the hill to the expensive campsite. If you plan on going there from the ferry, get your luggage labelled for the St Mary's campsite and it appears at the site ahead of you, due to some unseen logistical magic. Be careful in the harbour; the water is chock full of nippy little inter-island ferries, and they don't take prisoners. A circuit of the island is a good day trip however, and leaves the tourist hordes behind quickly. There are a number of impressive burial mounds and chambers worth hopping ashore for on the way around.

    St. Martins: There is a good campsite right on the beach, a first stopping point for many paddlers leaving St. Mary's. The 'Seven Stones' pub and a scrumptious bakery cater to all your needs. To the east are the Eastern Isles, a small group of wild islets occupied by numerous seals. On the isle of Norrour, search for a 2500 year old village uncovered by sea erosion in the '60s, and the remains of a former Penzance ferry which tried to take a short cut. To the west of St. Martins are more uninhabited islands, with two particularly impressive rocks; Round Island, with its sheer sides and lighthouse, and the incredible Men-a-vaur, three towering stacks gleaming white with seagull polish.

    Tresco: There is nowhere else remotely like this in the UK. The northern tip is craggy moorland, with two castles worth a peek. The east is flanked by wonderful beaches which seem to have been wrested from the Tropics, and the west faces the island of Bryher across a narrow sound. Tresco is famous for its Abbey Gardens, created in the nineteenth century to take advantage of the warm local climate. Described as 'Kew Gardens with the lid off', over 3000 species of weird and wonderful plant literally assault your eyeballs. Pay the excruciating £8.50 entrance fee and go see. Food at the pleasant New Inn.

    Bryher: Perhaps the bleakest of the inhabited islands, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd just arrived in the Hebrides. The campsite is a short walk from the water's edge and there is a pub-cum-café, 'Fraggle Rock'. The northern tip of Bryher is Shipman Head, actually a separate island. Rounding this brings you into Hell Bay, where jagged rocks meet the southwest swells head-on. To the west are the Norrard Rocks, giving the impression of a mountain range with just the peaks showing…well worth exploring. South of Bryher is Samson, recognisable by its two facing hills. This now empty island has many sad remains of past communities; in the nineteenth century everybody got hungry and left.

    St. Agnes: Easily recognisable by the disused white lighthouse on the highest point. Whilst being close to St. Mary's, St. Agnes is arguably the remotest of the inhabited islands; it faces the open Atlantic and reaching it involves crossing a strong tidal stream. The campsite is beside the water's edge on the western side, a gorgeous location overlooking Annet and the Western Rocks. The coast is a mix of sandy bays and granite stacks, quite unforgettable. St. Agnes is connected at low tide to Gugh, a (barely) inhabited island with similar scenery. The pub is the 'Turk's Head'; arrive early for food as every evening, a boatload of Hoorays arrive to quadruple the local population and to clog up the bar infuriatingly, before embarking back to their hotels in Hugh Town.

    Annet and the Western Rocks: Annet is only a short distance from St. Agnes, making for an exposed circuit along with the unsettlingly named Hellweathers Rocks. You will have to be prepared to stay in your boat for the duration though. Landing is not permitted as every inch of the island is occupied by nesting birds. Even from the water you can see every kind of squawking and flapping creature, including Puffins which are becoming rare in the Scillies. Seals abound also. The Western Rocks extend out into the Atlantic in a series of reefs, culminating in the towering Bishop Rock lighthouse. If you reach the tiny rock of Rosevear, spare a thought for the men who lived on it for six years in the 1850s whilst building the lighthouse. Although the distances are not big, tides are strong and the commitment is total; experts only and pick your day carefully. The sea around the Western Rocks is littered with wrecks, most notably four ships of the British Fleet who sank there in 1707 with 2000 deaths. When a sailor had suggested to the Fleet Admiral that the Fleet was on course to hit the Scillies, he'd been instantly hung for mutiny. Oops. In a satisfying bit of irony, the Admiral survived the disaster to crawl ashore on St. Mary's. Where a local woman promptly strangled him for his jewellery.


    http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk > reports

    Maps and Books:

    All available from http://www.amazon.co.uk:
    Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Explorer 101 - best map of the Isles available.
    Admiralty Leisure 1:25000 Small Craft Chart 34 - indispensable for tidal advice.
    Isles of Scilly Pilot, published by Imray - for the compleat beardie.
    Walking in the Isles of Scilly, published by Cicerone - actually a useful pocket guide to the area.
    Scilly's Wildlife Heritage/ Scilly's Archaeological Heritage/ Scilly's Building Heritage, published by Cornwall County Council - three excellent pocket guides to everything that moves or doesn't in the Scillies.

    Mark Rainsley.

  • Jurasic Park (The Purbeck Coast)


    Rockhopping the Purbeck Coast
    Mark Rainsley - 2005


    Welcome to the world of rockhopping, slotting neatly into the gap between playboating and sea kayaking. Rockhopping is saltwater paddling in the ‘No Man’s Land’ between sea and shore; short trips and playing the sea, calm or wild. Spectacular coastlines, blue skies, rock gardens, swells, surf, tides and tidal rapids - all combining to create the perfect rockhopping experience. This month we head to Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, part of the Jurassic Park. It isn’t an island, and there are no velociraptors.

    The area between Poole and Weymouth is known as the Isle of Purbeck, and it’s straight out of an Enid Blyton story (‘Five Have a Spiffing Time Rockhopping’). This sinisterly quaint region features steam trains, rolling hills, ruined castles, secret caves and lashings of ginger beer. As noted, it isn’t an island, but it is surrounded by water and this particular part of England’s south coast does spectacular things. The region’s unique geology makes for incredibly varied scenery…one sea kayaker having circumnavigated the entire UK, called it “Britain’s most interesting coast”! The general splendidity of the whole area was recently acknowledged when it became part of the ‘Jurassic Coast World Heritage Park’. For rockhoppers, it gets even better…the local tides literally scream around the Isle, offering some impressively humping races to get the pulses racing. Do you want mellow bimbling, or a mission to take on the ocean’s full force? The trips described here cater for both possibilities. What they have in common is awesome locations and some of the best rockhopping anywhere…

    Lulworth Cove

    Trip duration: 1-2 hours
    Character: Possible for all kinds of kayak. Various possibilities from completely sheltered to moderately exposed. Little tidal flow. Cliffs, caves, arches and rock gardens.
    Other notes: Some of this paddle is within Lulworth Gunnery Range. Kaboom! If you don’t want to dodge incoming ordnance, call the Army on 01929 462721 or read the Range notice boards for firing dates.

    Lulworth Cove is a tourist trap and best avoided at the height of the hols. In summer months you have to carry your boats down from the car park, whilst in winter you can drive down the narrow lane to unload…how good is your reversing? Even when the Southwest gales blow, it’s worth a trip just to potter around the famous Lulworth Cove. On a finer day however, two short trips out of the Cove can be done separately or back to back.

    Heading east (um, left) out of the Cove leads you along sheer cliffs for a kilometre to the distinctive Mupe Rocks. When a swell is running, surfing between the rocks is a hoot! In calm weather, you can land near (or on) the chain of rocks and gawp at Worbarrow Bay. Another option is to go a further kilometre to Arish Mell, the obvious beach in the centre of the Bay. This has some caves to explore beside it, and is the quietest beach in the region. This could be connected to the fact that the Army live here and have tanks. Stay on the beach and footpath!

    Heading west (right) out of Lulworth Cove brings quick rewards. A few hundred metres along the cliffs is the amazing Stair Hole, a warren of caves, tunnels and hidden coves. Two kilometres further is the improbable Durdle Door, a massive rock arch looking like a dinosaur turned to stone…Jurassic Park indeed. You can take a break at the beach here, or paddle on to the next visible landmark, the tiny Bat Hole which is a tunnel leading through a monolithic chalk headland. Directly after this are a series of gorgeous beaches only accessible by water…nothing to do with rockhopping, but two different mates of mine have paddled here for some – ahem – ‘quality time’ with their girlfriends…only to have their fun interrupted by other kayakers arriving!

    It’s late in the year, and the nights are drawing in. Heather and I skip out of work early, determined to reclaim one last evening from the autumn. At the Lulworth car park we meet Claire, another local paddler.
    “I need this”, she admits, “I worked a sixteen hour day yesterday.”
    We’re also feeling fried from our jobs; launching into the Cove is cathartic and the day’s stresses vanish at once. Heather and I paddle our Rockhoppers whilst Claire has her sea kayak. The sun is blazing, but the narrow mouth of the Cove reveals the real weather…a stiff wind is funnelling in, and waves are breaking over the reef at the mouth. We put our heads down and turn east into the wind. The boats bob over the oncoming swell, and although it’s just a short hop to Mupe Rocks, it proves a real workout. I had hoped to get to the rocks quickly and then backtrack to Stair Hole, but the clock isn’t on our side…behind us, the sun lowers out of sight behind Portland Bill in a blaze of glory. The Mupe Rocks turn orange, then red, pink, mauve…and as we finally reach their shelter, night is encroaching. Waves surge over the outlying rocks and Heather and I try to pick a moment to ride right over…don’t try this at home! As the light fades, I notice that tallest of the jagged rocks has a small dark cave underneath. Whilst the others wait outside, I manage to squeeze within, land the kayak (wonderful thing, plastic) and climb out to explore. Perched on the summit of the rock, I absorb the dusk panorama. Soaring chalk cliffs, overhanging precipices, sandy beaches. Work? It is already a million miles away. But riding the swells below, the women are getting restless.
    “Come on Mark, time to get back”
    I return to my boat, watched suspiciously by a Shag (it’s a sea bird, you know). We paddle out from behind the Rocks and Whoosh! the wind takes hold. For a few embarrassing moments, I veer wildly out of control…then I remember to put the Rockhopper’s skeg down. We surf downwind frantically, making the return leg in a fraction of the outgoing time. It’s dark as we return to our start point, but Heather wrings one last drop out of our trip; she turns back to surf the wave pulses humping into the Cove.

    Swanage to Kimmeridge

    Trip duration: 4-5 hours (less with spring tides)
    Character: Not suitable for kayaks shorter than 3 metres. Long sections of exposed coast with few landing zones. Large tidal races. Cliffs, caves, rock gardens and surf zones. Overnight camping possible.

    This is a classic demanding sea kayak trip in its own right, but treating it as a rockhopping trip adds the X factor to make it into something really memorable. You need to launch from Swanage at high tide or a little while later; if you don’t know how to figure this out, this isn’t the trip for you. The tide will be flowing with you all the way, often with a bit of ‘omphf’ to it! As soon as you turn right out of Swanage Bay, you encounter the waves of the Peveril Ledge tide race. It’s possible to ‘eddy out’ here and play, but note that the OAP volunteers manning the ‘Coastwatch’ station behind will probably have kittens and call out the lifeboats if you so much as wobble…best go ashore and tell them your plans first.

    Carrying on south, you cross Durlston Bay to the cliffs below the castle on the headland; this is Durlston Head, the point of no return. There are no guaranteed landing spots for at least ten kilometres. If the sea or the weather doesn’t suit your group, turn back before you round the Head. Dolphins are a common sight here, not that we've seen them. The coast from here to St Alban's head is now stunning, sheer cliffs with numerous caves and ledges; mostly formed by quarrying in the last century. Dangling from above are plenty of rock climbers (what is that all about?) and the sea birds dive-bomb you thick and fast, including the occasional Puffin. Your best hope for landing is at the hewn rock platform of Dancing Ledge. If you’re in a Rockhopper alongside sea kayaks, you’ll become very popular at this point; somebody has to surf onto the rock first to guide the others in! Other landing possibilities exist, depending on the sea conditions and your imagination.

    The imposing headland to the west is St Alban's Head. As you near the Head, the sea accelerates and compresses towards a vast tide race, extending miles offshore. If you are riding Spring tides (after a full or new moon) this will be a biggie; a huge wave train, often breaking right over your heads! Hero boaters can take it face-on, whilst those of a nervous disposition can hug the shore and dodge the worst of it. Eventually you hit a powerful eddy flowing against you. Paddle against or around this to reach Chapman's Pool, a tiny cove with steep hills towering around. This is a special place; you must stop for lunch or even camp here. Last autumn I carried my playboat 350 feet down the hillside to surf a big swell on a sharp reef here; an outrageous experience in one of Britain’s loveliest secret spots.

    Leaving Chapman’s Pool, a garden of rocks are good for a play…and hidden just behind is a perfect secret camp spot(!). The last six kilometres to Kimmeridge lead you along the shallow fertile reefs which make the area both a famous surf spot and a Marine Reserve. The cliffs on the right are black Kimmeridge shale…rather gloomy and imposing, but the occasional waterfall keeps your attention. When you spot the peculiar Clavell Tower crumbling on the cliffs above, you've reached Kimmeridge Bay. This forms the best surf break on the South Coast; although if it’s working well, taking on this sea trip could be seriously detrimental to your health! Carry your boat up to the car park…you’ve just completed one of the finest day trips the UK’s coast can offer.

    We wake up late, after an outrageously decadent lie-in. Last night we paddled from Swanage to Chapman’s Pool and camped just outside the cove at our regular spot, a ruined cottage just above the water’s edge. All we have to do today is paddle the last few miles to Kimmeridge Bay (and perform a complex shuttle involving mountain bikes and steam trains!). Lying in the tent however, we are both aware that something is different. We peek out at the sea.
    “You have got to be kidding”.
    To our disbelief, things have changed beyond recognition from the day before. There is no wind and the sun is shining – as forecast – but out of nowhere, a perfectly clean five foot swell has appeared and is breaking smoothly along the Kimmeridge Ledges. Given that these shallow reefs extend half a mile out to sea for the whole coast to K-Bay, our day has just become much more interesting.
    Heather’s sea kayak swallows the tent and the sleeping bags. My Rockhopper’s rear hatch gets the cooking widgets and we are out on the water.
    “What do you think?”
    “We could head out to sea past the breaks and avoid it all completely.”
    We look at each other and both decide at once.
    The trip is a puzzle. Our challenge is to find a dry route through the surf between the breaking shoulders and humping soup. The glassy waves rear surprisingly steeply before breaking, providing moments of weightlessness as we crest them at the last possible moment. Eventually heading in towards the Bay more or less dry, we spot a lone board surfer ripping up the breaks nearest to the car park. I’ve been well behaved up to now, but can’t miss a ride any longer.
    I wonder what went through the surfer’s mind, when he looked up whilst paddling back out and spotted a loaded RH340 bombing along the shoulder – apparently appearing from thin air!


    Further info

    ‘The Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast’
    ‘Inshore Along the Dorset Coast’ by Peter Bruce
    Bill of Portland to Anvil Point: Admiralty Small Craft Chart SC 2610
    Purbeck and South Dorset: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map


    See this article on the basics of rockhopping, and also this one on Rockhopping Dartmoor

    Thanks to Julian Patrick of BLUEsky (check out the new RH340 rockhopping kayak at www.playthesea.co.uk)

    Mark Rainsley - 2005

  • Keyhaven to Lymington


    DATE(S) OF TRIP: I make this trip regularly - all year.

    WHERE?: Keyhaven to Lymington (or reverse) in the Solent. Map.

    LAUNCH SPOTS: Keyhaven - you can launch and park at Keyhaven itself - you can get in here even at very low tide and flow the main channel toward the castle. You can park further to the west by Hurst Spit. From the middle of the tide on you can launch into the back of the salt marsh. You can carry over the spit and launch to the seaward side of the spit. This is only a good option on an incoming tide.

    Lymington - the slipway near the yacht clubs is the easiest, with ample parking and toilets.

    DISTANCE/ TIME: 1.5-3 hours - depending on route - about 4 miles paddled straight.

    LOCAL TIDES: If you pass through Hurst there is a very strong tidal flow.

    HAZARDS/ PROBLEMS: Large waves at Hurst are not uncommon especially with a SW blow on a falling tide. The eddy lines can be quite grabby. Passing close to the castle avoids most of the problems. The back eddies can be 2 or 3 Kts here.

    As with any Solent paddle boat traffic in the channel can be heavy (and unskilled)

    ROUTE TAKEN: Paddle this one in either direction depending on the tide. If not in the middle two hours of the tide it is easy to touch the island to land. Favourites are at Yarmouth or at fort Victoria.

    EVENTS/ OBSERVATIONS: Hurst Castle is interesting with extensive salt mashes on the inside. Fort Albert and Victoria on the island are less impressive. Fort Victoria has a good cafe.

    OTHER NOTES: A sheltered paddle possible in quite high winds. Taking time to explore the salt marshes is worth the effort.

    Mark Rainsley: 'There are numerous channels through the salt marshes, good fun to explore in any weather'.

    CONTRIBUTED BY: Richard Seaby.

  • Kimmeridge Bay to Lulworth Cove


    DATE(S) OF TRIP: We've done this many times.

    WHERE?: It's on the Dorset Coast, effectively being the southern edge of the 'Isle of Purbeck'. Map.

    LAUNCH SPOTS: You can only get to the sea by road at the beginning and end, and there are few landing spots inbetween.

    Kimmeridge - the Bay is accessed via a toll road, although if you are early or late it isn't manned, ie. free! In winter, you can drive right down and park at the water's edge, otherwise you are forced to use the carpark on the cliffs - quite a carry down, maybe dump the boats and then park.

    Lulworth Cove - for the colder half of the year, you can drive down to the water's edge to unload. Through the summer, you have to carry boats several hundred metres from the carpark to the water. The carpark is extortionate.

    DISTANCE/ TIME: About six miles. About two hours to complete.

    LOCAL TIDES: There is little flow...barely noticeable. This is as the trip is sheltered by Portland Bill.

    HAZARDS/ PROBLEMS: Just after leaving Kimmeridge Bay you cross the surf spot of Broad Bench, a shallow bedrock reef. This sticks out to sea and if there is swell, may need a big dogleg to avoid.

    Most of this trip is through a live firing range. Check firing times.

    If the sea is 'lively' and you choose to start at Lulworth, you will be directly exposed to swell and clapotis as soon as you leave sheltered Lulworth Cove.

    ROUTE TAKEN: Cross Kimmeridge Bay and work your way around the bedrock promontory of Broad Bench. You now paddle along below the Gadcliff, an impressive overhanging affair.

    You then round the little headland of Worbarrow Bay to enter Worbarrow Bay, which is gorgeous. Steep chalk cliffs rise from the water. Immediately behind Worbarrow Tout is a footpath leading a mile to the village of Twynham, evacuated in WWII. A visit is essential.

    You can land in the wide bay in many places but the most tempting is at Arish Mell where there is a chink in the cliffs. You can't go far inland; it's a military base.

    At the western end of the bay are Mupe Rocks, worth exploring.

    From the rocks, a mile of cliffs (look out for fossilised trees) lead to wonderful Lulworth Cove.

    Photos from this trip


    OTHER NOTES: Glorious. The south coast's finest scenery?

    CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley

  • Lundy Island

    51°10' North 04°40' West

    Paddles Touring Guide – Lundy Island

    'There's a feeling I get, when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving.'

    Led Zeppelin, ‘Stairway to Heaven’

    On most days, paddlers surfing at Woolacombe, or exploring the North Devon coast by sea kayak, won’t see it. But on the occasional clear day, suddenly it is right before you, impossible to ignore. It fills the horizon, it blocks out the Bristol Channel and it seems improbably, confusingly huge. How is it possible that you didn’t spot this before? It is three miles long and four hundred and seventy feet high. It is an enormous block of granite, with lighthouses guarding the northern and southern extremities and a third towering a hundred feet above the highest point. Where did it all appear from? This mysterious propensity to materialise from thin air has lead to identification with the mythical Isle of Avalon, last resting place of King Arthur. We know it as Lundy Island.

    A visit to Lundy should be placed high on any sea paddler’s wish list. You need to go there. Just trust us on this one.

    The Crossing

    How are you going to get there? The open crossing from North Devon is an intimidating barrier. Lundy is roughly eighteen miles west of Morte Point and eleven miles north of Hartland Point. These distances are compounded by the very strong tidal flows in the region. Are you up to this trip? Quite possibly you are, as long as you are fully aware of all the factors that need to be taken into account for a safe trip. The main thing to grasp is that a paddle to Lundy requires no heroic paddling ability or outlandish risk-taking, just good planning and common sense. Any group of competent sea kayakers could consider this.

    Good weather is obviously a pre-requisite. Look for several days of high pressure and low wind in the forecast, and little or no groundswell (check the surf forecasts). Winds from the east are to be avoided, as they make landing and launching on Lundy awkward. Carry equipment, food and supplies for an extended stay, whatever your plans…the weather can turn on you! Before the crossing and after arrival, you will of course call Swansea Coastguard via VHF or mobile (01792 366534) to notify them of your plans. All of the standard sea kayaking safety equipment will naturally be carried. A GPS with your destination pre-programmed won’t get you to Lundy, only your own navigation will achieve that. It may however offer useful reassurance - in those initial hours when you can’t yet see the island - that Lundy really is out there somewhere!

    The longer of the two crossings is perhaps the simplest to plan and execute. Starting from Lee Bay (or Ilfracombe) the full distance is over twenty miles. With a launch window just after high tide however, the tide flow is almost behind you. You will be slingshot along your course at speeds of two to four knots before you even dip a paddle in the water! The flow drags you slightly south of your destination, so devote a little planning time with tidal flow charts, map and compass to finding the appropriate bearing to compensate. Depending upon the tides and the pace of the group, three to four hours is normal for the crossing time.

    The more direct crossing, from Hartland Quay via Hartland Point, is actually a bit trickier to pull off. From serrated Hartland Point and its lighthouse, the tide flows strongly across your path. Although Lundy is closer via this route, a carefully pre-planned ferry glide will be needed to ensure that you don’t miss and end up in South Wales! This is clearly a crossing choice for more experienced sea kayakers.

    Whatever your chosen crossing, there is only one viable target…the Landing Beach on the Southeast edge of the island. This has a jetty and small sea wall, and is sheltered from westerly and southerly wind and swell.

    With either route choice, bear in mind that you will encounter the strongest tides and possibly the most demanding conditions in the tide races (and associated eddies) near the start and finish of your voyage. Your journey back to the mainland? Simple. Reverse the tides, times and bearings. What could go wrong?

    A final option is to take the ferry. The MV Oldenburg belongs to Lundy (which, incidentally, belongs to the National Trust), and makes regular crossings from Bideford or Ilfracombe between April and October. Owners of folding or inflatable kayaks could easily transport their craft this way. The Oldenburg doesn’t usually carry full-sized kayaks; however they have been known to strap sea kayaks to their decks on the return trip when the weather has unexpectedly turned foul. This will only happen entirely at the discretion and good will of the captain and Island Manager, and after significant money has changed hands.

    Camping and Exploring

    Camping on Lundy needs to be pre-booked (and prepaid) with a limit of around 40 spaces, due to the finite supply of fresh water available at the campsite. Call the Lundy Shore Office (01271 863636) to arrange this. The 2005 costs were £9 a night, plus £3.50 landing fee.

    Those wanting more luxury might consider a bit of extravagance…the Landmark Trust (01628 825925) rent out over twenty Historical properties on the Island…why not stay in a lighthouse?

    From the Landing Beach on Lundy’s east coast, a steep road leads up to the plateau on top of the island. If you are lucky, you and your gear might get a lift to the top from one of the Wardens. If not…it’s a long slog uphill when you are weighed down by dry bags. Make sure that you leave your sea kayaks a long way above the high water mark; more than one paddler has sacrificed their boat to the seven metre tides!

    Reaching the top of Lundy is like touchdown on another planet. Despite boasting a grand total of twelve permanent residents, Lundy has a small shop and Post Office, a church and possibly the best pub anywhere in the British Isles, the marvellous Marisco Tavern. Lundy even has its own beer… there is no reason to ever leave. Inside the Marisco, seek out the ‘Sea Kayaking Book’ and record your visit. This tatty tome dates back to the Eighties, and includes many names that you will recognise.

    A visit to Lundy isn’t complete without a walk around the coast. There is so much to see and explore, it’ll take longer than you allow for. Look out for the endemic Lundy Cabbage; it’s honestly more exciting than it sounds. Take your binoculars as the wildlife is rampant, from Soay sheep to pygmy shrew to tiger moths, to the ever-screaming seabirds above. If your legs have any strength left, climb to the top of Britain’s highest lighthouse. This is long since disused, as it was found that cloud regularly obscured the light from ships at sea level.

    Circumnavigating Lundy

    The paddle around the island covers about nine miles if you explore the nooks and crannies. It requires a little forethought for several reasons. Landing is difficult or impossible for most of the trip. The west coast of the island is exposed to the Atlantic swell. The ‘Hen and Chickens’ tide race forms around the Northern tip of Lundy, whilst, named less ambiguously, ‘The Race’ guards the Southern edge.

    The seas around Lundy are England’s only statutory Marine Nature Reserve, with restrictions imposed on fishing and diving. This is because the waters harbour a unique diversity of habitats and inhabitants; Lundy literally teems with life. Encounters with the cetacean folk who feed on this oceanic banquet are commonplace; Lundy’s seals are Grey Seals, Britain’s largest mammal. Consider taking a diving mask to get the best out of the Reserve…there is an awful lot going on down there.

    The bird life is predictably impressive, this being Southwest England’s biggest seabird breeding colony and a stopping off point for innumerable migratory species. The very name ‘Lundy’ derives from Old Norse for ‘Puffin Island’. Guillemots, Razorbills and Manx Shearwaters are actually a more common sight as the Puffin population has taken a battering from non-indigenous rats. Puffins are still hanging on in there though and can often be seen swimming and fishing near Jenny’s Cove.

    It hardly needs pointing out that the coastline itself is something special. A rock by rock description would fill a telephone directory; suffice to say that the smooth granite on the west coast is internationally renowned among rock climbers. Look out for the ‘Devil’s Slide’, a 120 metre high smooth ramp soaring up from the sea…the seal launch from Hell? Lundy has at least thirty-seven sea caves and they are, well, cavernous. One near the north of the island is reputed to extend back more than two hundred metres! Whilst wrapped up in this granite rockhopping wonderland, remember that the seals were here first…explore with care and sensitivity.

    The full picture set is here

    Further Reading

    ‘Lundy and Irish Sea Pilot’ by Imray Norie
    Ordnance Survey Explorer 139 – Bideford, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple
    ‘Small Craft Sea Touring Guide: North Devon, Somerset and Avon Coastline’ by Nigel Hingston
    ‘The Lundy Companion’ by Michael Williams and Peter Rothwell
    ‘Island Studies: Fifty Years of the Lundy Field Society’ edited by R.A. Irving

    Useful Websites

    www.lundy.org.uk/dive/tide.html – indispensible tidal flow charts.
    www.crowng.com/lundy - ferries.
    www.landmarktrust.org.uk/otherOptions/lundy.htm - accommodation
    www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/lundy - barking mad, but compelling.

    Mark Rainsley - 2005

  • Lundy Island - Photos

    27 hours on Lundy Island
    Mark Rainsley
    June 2005


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    Click here to link to the discussion on the Community Forum that has some more detail of the trip including camping and tidal info.

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  • Other route information


    Inland Waterways - detailsand guides to canals and other inland waters.

    Other sites with routes / trip reports

    Sean Morley paddled round all the inhabited islands of UK in 2004 - a stunning trip, well documented here.

    Many of the bloggers have excellent pictures and write-ups of their trips - check the Other Sites page.

    NWSK's web site has some reports on trips.

    Swaledale Outdoor Club has some excellent illustrated trip reports covering trips in a variety of locations.

    Sea Kayaking in NE England - lots of info for the NE coast, including Holy Island and the Farnes.

    Song of the Paddle, although dedicated to Open Canoes, provides a useful reference to places to paddle.

  • Sennen to Scilly and back

    Sennen to Scilly and back

    Dillon Hughes - August 2005


    DATE(S) OF TRIP:8 to 10 August 2005

    WHERE?: Sennen to Scilly and back

    LAUNCH SPOTS:Launched from Sennen Harbour, landed on St Agnes, below the Turk's Head pub and later on the small beach below the campsite. Next day paddled to St Marys for some more R&R and then spend the night on the beach at Bar Point and returned to Sennen Harbour the next day.

    DISTANCE/ TIME:24+ nautical miles - 5.5 hours on the way over but 8.33 on the way back against a 3 to 4 NEasterly.

    LOCAL TIDES: Given the nav you get 2 hours of good tides, 2 hours of OK tides and 2 hours of against you. On the way over we didn't go far enough south and ended up ferry gliding across a strong northerly flow to get into the protection of the inner lagoon. On the way back we had a bearing to get us to Sennen but in the end cut and ran for close in and made our way northwards to Sennen.

    HAZARDS/ PROBLEMS?:As always crossing the shipping lanes is interesting and finding the beach below the campsite on St Agnes was interesting in the dark and after too many beers.

    ROUTE TAKEN:Track can be supplied for the return journey.

    EVENTS/ OBSERVATIONS:Small pod of bottlenose dolphins on the way out and possibly a turtle.

    OTHER NOTES:Full VHF coverage and very helpful staff in the St Mary's Harbour Master's office who helped recharge the VHF.

    CONTRIBUTED BY:Dillon Hughes - also Steve Miles and Phil Butler

    The team, Steve Miles, Phil Butler, Dillon Hughes
    Phil Passing Longships Light
    A welcome break amongst the Eastern Rocks
    Bar Point on St Marys waiting for the sun to go down
    Camp/Bivvi On St Agnes
    Sunrise, mid crossing

    Dillon Hughes - August 2005

  • South Pembrokeshire Coast

    Wild Wild West - Paddles Touring Guide - South Pembrokeshire

    Mark Rainsley - June 2005


    Green Bridge of Wales (Castle Martin Ranges)

    Pembrokeshire in Southwest Wales was the UK’s first ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and has our only coastal National Park. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, to learn that it boasts some of the finest coastal scenery anywhere…despite this, paddlers visiting for the first time are often blown away by the place! The name is an Anglicised form of ‘Penfro’, meaning Land’s End... it really does feel like you’ve reached the edge of the world. For the sea paddler, Pembrokeshire has it all; beautiful beaches, cliffs, estuaries and islands, populated by wildlife galore. In this installment of the Paddles Touring Guide, we take to the seas between Tenby and Skomer Island, outlining a series of trips leading you further and further west. Note that all of these trips involve tidal flows and exposed sections of cliffs; seek experienced guidance if you are unsure about the risks involved.

    Lydstep Haven to Stackpole Quay

    This twelve kilometre trip offers a perfect warm-up to the area. A mix of beaches and sandstone cliffs means that you’re never too committed, and although you’ll encounter some tide races (rapids), they are small and easy enough to negotiate when the sea and wind are calm. The tide starts flowing in your direction an hour before HW Milford Haven, and the flow is quite strong; once you’ve launched, you can’t turn back, although you can finish early at any of the beaches. Lydstep Haven offers convenient parking and launching, but is a Haven for the cursed Jet Skier; don’t hang around unless you like the stench of diesel exhaust.

    Rounding Lydstep Point, the first highlight is Skrinkle Haven, after two kilometres. If there is a more perfect sandy cove, we’ve yet to find it. After this is Old Castle Head, which will have a small tidal race speeding you around it. Above on the cliffs is a firing range…obviously you will have called Milford Haven Coastguard on (01646) 690909 beforehand, to check that nobody will be firing at you…?

    The next landing point is Manorbier Bay. There is often surf here, so be careful! The castle behind the beach is worth a detour to explore. Between here and the finish are two more possible resting points; Swanlake Bay is delightfully quiet (no road access!) but Freshwater East suffers from over-development on the hills around. The last few kilometres to Stackpole Quay include some great rockhopping around the Iron Age fort of Greenala Head. Stackpole Quay itself is a tiny harbour built to serve the local limestone quarries. The National Trust own the land and supply their usual expensive car park and cafe. Finish – if you dare – by cooling off with a jump off the quay!

    Near Broad Haven

    Stackpole Quay to Freshwater West

    This is the most spectacular coast within the National Park, and a serious but manageable undertaking for the sea kayaker. The eighteen kilometer paddle around the Castlemartin Firing Ranges traverses a fifty metre high limestone plateau plunging vertically into the sea. Along the way are incredible rock formations and enough birdlife to make your ears bleed. The tide rips along with some bouncy wave trains and flows often in excess of five knots. The tide flows west along this coast from around three and a half hours before HW Milford Haven.

    Check with the Coastguard or Range Control (01646) 661321 that no firing is taking place. If this is the case and the weather is good, don’t miss this. Out of Stackpole Quay, aim for Stackpole Head, past Barafundle Bay (winner of a ‘Britain’s Most Beautiful Beach’ award). The Head offers the brave a shortcut right through, via a tunnel! On the far side, the air is thick with screaming Guillemots, not the last seabirds you’ll see in the next few hours.

    The wide sandy beach of Broad Haven offers a last resting point, after that landing is not permitted by the military…although Bullslaughter Bay offers a possible emergency landing. Paddle around St Govan’s Head and ahead of you a line of imposing limestone cliffs materialises. It’s all pretty stunning, although a few landmarks stand out. First is tiny St Govan’s Chapel, hidden in a cleft near the shore. This is quickly followed by the vertiginous ‘zawn’ (sea-filled cleft) of Huntsman’s Leap. Passing Bullslaughter Bay, the sky fills with Guillemots once more, from the colony on Elegug Stacks. You won’t miss these rock pinnacles, they are stained white with…well, you know. Shortly after the stacks is a famous tourist attraction, ‘The Green Bridge of Wales’.

    Oddly, this enormous natural arch is no great shakes when seen from water level; as the surrounding caves and formations are arguably more impressive! Eventually you will reach the end of the cliffs, suffering from scenery overload. The beach of Frainslake Sands is tempting, but you are still on military land so keep slogging to Freshwater West. The last challenge of the day might well be making a surf landing onto the sand here…if the waves look too big, your next sheltered landing is six kilometres further on at West Angle Bay.

    Near Broad Haven

    Skomer Island

    A circumnavigation of a wild island! This twelve kilometre trip includes rampant fauna, crossing strong tide flows and plenty of exposure. Setting out from (and finishing at) Martin’s Haven at the far west of the South Pembrokeshire Peninsula, you get the satisfaction of bypassing the queues of tourists taking the boat trip. The crux of this trip is right at the start, when you ferrygide across narrow Jack Sound with its intimidating tidal race. This starts flowing north four and a half hours before HW Milford Haven, and south two hours after. Whenever you launch, you will find yourself either paddling against or across the tide at some point; study tidal flow charts carefully!

    If this seems a step too far for your group, consider following the tide south through Jack Sound to visit fantastic Marloes Sands instead; this trip involves passing steep-sided Gateholm Island and a break on Marloes Sands before heading back. Take time to explore Marloes; the beach features a unique mix of sand and spectacular geology. If you are taking on the trip right around Skomer…be aware of the Marine Nature Reserve’s ‘Seabird Protection Zone’. You can get details of this from the shop at Martin’s Haven, but basically you are asked not to get too close to the island’s cliffs in summer, and the inlet known as ‘The Wick’ is always out of bounds.

    We all know that sea kayakers cause minimal disruption; so how they square this with allowing hundreds of fee-paying tourists to walk right past the bird colonies every day, beats us. Also, if you choose to land at the island’s quay, there is theoretically a ‘landing fee’ although they don’t tend to harass kayakers for this. Once you’ve negotiated all this bureaucracy, focus on the positives. Seals are everywhere on this trip, and the Skomer seals are as intrigued by kayaks as any. The island is home to the world’s largest colony of Manx Shearwaters, whom you’ll meet out at sea by day.

    There is a colony of Puffins on the south coast, and you’ll almost certainly spot them bobbing around or flying in their usual unconvincing manner. What else? Look to the north and you’ll spot Ramsey Island in the distance across St Bride’s Bay, famous for the ‘Bitches’ tidal Race. But that is in North Pembrokeshire, which will be covered in a future Touring Guide. Watch this space…

    Marloes Sands

    Marloes Sands

    Further Reading

    ‘Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion – a Sea Kayaking Guide’ by Susan and Raymond Griffiths
    ‘Irish Sea Pilot’ by Imray Norie
    Ordnance Survey Explorer OL36 – South Pembrokeshire

    Useful Websites


    Mark Rainsley - June 2005