This post is just pics from a few days out in June/July: an interlude before the next real trip (the far NW and Western Isles in August). In preparation, we've bought ourselves the 'Rockhopper' in this photo. The last trip in this post was its maiden voyage.
After negotiating the breakers (this is a well-known surfers' beach) we turned West towards Portland Bill which dominated the horizon for much of the trip. Incoming surf and swell forced us a substantial distance from shore before we made our way under the fossil-rich overhanging cliffs towards Lulworth Cove. The swell made the first hour-or-so tough going, but gradually subsided to leave perfect conditions with long views towards Exmouth:
The next few km feature a huge variety of rock formations. Cave-pitted cliffs are broken by small chalk bays. We stopped for pie at a beautiful flinty cove between Worbarrow and Mupe.
Soon a long expanse of cliffs (sometimes used by the military to fire shells into the sea!) opens up. Here we saw a rarity: another kayaker!
By this point dark cloud was arriving from the SW.
It was still sunny when we paused at Lulworth, but by the time we headed West towards Durdle Door rain had set in. I didn't get the camera out at all during what was, geologically, the most interesting part of the trip. This meant our only photos of the famous Jurassic arch were on a rubbish phone through its misted cover.
Only on the way back did rain stop and sun reappear, lending colour to the stratified cliffs.
The most exciting and perturbing part of the trip was the return into the bay: the surf was now rolling in and dozens of surfers were waiting to catch the breakers.
Negotiating this in an open kayak never felt secure but the boat has never moved faster: by the time we reached the shore it was 3/4 full with sea. The day finished (but for the 3hr drive home) with plate after plate of curry in a small village nearby. You can tell you're on the coast when the local Indian serves lobster...
The next trip was back to a familiar N Wales haunt:
This area is riddled with rock features including long, winding caves best accessed close to high tide (you'd kick yourself for visiting without a torch). The Gwylans would surely be a well-known destination but for their unpredictable currents: they're perched on the fringe of the infamous Bardsey 'swnt' which means that tidal races often cut across them. These are no problem if treated with care, but being dragged into the swnt would be a nasty end to a lovely day out. The complex currents here mean these races do the opposite of what might be expected: they are fastest at Aberdaron high water slack. Around high water is, however, still the best time to be at the islands because (equally counter-intuitively) that's when the most caves and arches are accessible. Here's Llinos negotiating the double arch on Gwylan Fawr...
They regularly pop up laden with sand eels before flying the feast to their island burrows:
Soon the sky began to turn At-the-Gates red:
Here's one last puffin between us and the setting sun:
Our thoughts then turned to Scotland and its islands. We're planning - weather permitting - to pick one or two trips from amongst these: Ulva, Gometra, Little Colonsay and Staffa (all from Mull); a trip south from Stornaway inc. Harris & possibly North Uist; Priest Island, where Frank Fraser Darling once established an extravagantly isolated steading; a journey north west from Loch Torridon in amongst the islands and skerries of the Minch. The trip from Mull (the one that would require perfect weather) is calculated for some basking shark spotting. With water temperature reaching 18 degrees in July, this August promises a bumper crop of sharks, cetaceans and perhaps even sunfish.
In preparation, we've bought a new toy: a Bluesky Rockhopper 340. This is for me to cover distances on multi-day solo trips (where I wouldn't want to lug around 33kg of tandem kayak) and for Llinos to do short rockhopping trips (unfortunately it doesn't have quite the support to keep her injured back comfortable). It was designed by Julian Patrick (the 'P' of P&H kayaks) especially for negotiating breaking waves and bumping off rocks (as described here). It's a little faster than the Prodigy and comfortable in bigger seas. Most importantly of all, we can now take a friend out to sea without me having to toil along in an inflatable.
In order to see how the Rockhopper handled, we made time for one last pre-Scotland jaunt, to the Tudwals. At one point shortly after dawn Llinos was surrounded by dolphins. On any other day I would have had the camera out, but for the first hour or so of experimenting with the Rockhopper I'd cautiously stowed it somewhere waterproof. After several trips seeing porpoises, I'd forgotten how much bigger dolphins are. They surfaced just a couple of metres from Llinos' boat at the moment when direct sunlight first hit the water. They passed by in high arches, heads above the water at the start of each long sweep. A couple of minutes later, the sun behind a cloud, they disappeared. (Every single time I've seen dolphins has been just after dawn or just before dusk). Here's Llinos in the distance shortly after:
Fortunately, dawn today coincided with low tide. Unlike the Gwylans, the Tudwals are best when the majority of their rocky coastline is exposed. For a start, the caves and reefs of that coastline are full of very, very playful seals (nowhere to be seen when their basking rocks are submerged). The water was clear enough to watch them swim back and forth beneath the boats.
Rounding a corner on Tudwal Fawr, we found this wee beasty just a few feet away - we managed to skirt round carefully enough to avoid scaring it into the water.
The Rockhopper allowed us deep into caves even on the exposed side of Tudwal Fach. To make sure we tested the boat as fully as possible we wedged it into the tiniest spaces, and paddled it against the backwash where waves hit cave walls.
The Prodigy is far more manoeuvrable with one in than two, so Llinos (being Llinos) was first into many of the narrowest, most entertaining caverns. Hundreds of kittiwakes, with fluffy, neck-striped chicks nest on the cliffs above these caves - a few are flying past the entrance in the shot above. We then disembarked on Tudwal Fawr to swap boats: here's Llinos showing off the new vessel with a backdrop of seal, Tudwal Fach and Snowdon:
In an effort to test it further, I finished this trip by going where the prodigy couldn't follow: the surfers' beaches of Porth Ceiriad and Porth Neigwl (Hell's Mouth). These are exposed to prevailing south westerlies and often offer a powerful roll. Some of the headlands that separate these large bays offered much lumpier conditions than the Tudwals - this was exhilarating, but hardly fierce enough to make for a kayak surfing day. Once I was at a more sheltered spot I left the boat on the beach and climbed the cliffs to perch on a ledge with a book of Damien Walford Davies' poetry:
So the new boat is performing wonderfully, but yet to be tested to its limits. With a skilled paddler, it's supposed to be capable of this: (!!!!)