Back at work Tuesday before last then on the road again just two days later. Bags still unpacked but simply restocked with clean underwear and loaded into the car. Tent? Check. More importantly perhaps, tent poles? Check (never going to make that mistake again!). And then something new compared to any other trip we’ve ever taken before. Kayaks, paddles and floatation vests? Check. This was going to be a good one.
Continuing this summer’s frankly insane schedule no sooner had we bid my family farewell in Kent than we were welcoming Emma’s parents down here in South Wales. Plans for the weekend were loose but with August bank holiday fast approaching we were looking forward to five days of relaxation. No work, no office and best of all, barely any mobile phone signal either. We kicked off with an amble along the Burry from Machynys on Thursday morning coinciding nicely with a high tide and warming sunshine. A couple of Wheatear’s were good early finds amongst the breakwaters before we got to enjoy an Oystercatcher roost numbering several hundred in size. At peak dog walking times i.e. morning and evening, they wouldn’t have stood a chance but with footfall light appeared well settled. Keeping them company was a small flock of Ringed Plovers, a smattering of Mediterranean Gulls and at least two Common Gulls, their equally chilled persona’s conflicting somewhat with my own. Ahead of us lay two days under canvas at what is fast becoming a regular haunt of ours just outside Solva and I was eager to hit the road. Don’t get me wrong I had no desire to cut short our time locally but there was an inescapable sense of trepidation building at what lay ahead, largely thanks to our recent purchase of two sit-on-top sea going Kayaks. Technically that should really be a sense of trepidation at securing said kayaks to car roof as thus far things in that area had gone far from smoothly.
On our first practice trip to Oxwich all went well but on the second both kayaks attempted a break for freedom. Thankfully they didn’t succeed but that experience certainly served as a wake up call to us both. With this trip being much further and on faster roads we spent far longer ensuring everything was secured as we’d been instructed and set off with confidence high. That lasted all of five minutes as after pulling onto the M4 we got a text from Emma’s parents (who were following behind) telling us to slow down and pull over. It soon became clear why. Despite our best efforts as soon as we’d hit cruising speed both kayaks had attempted to split from their respective restraints and were now dangerously close to working themselves free. Not good. A couple of minutes head scratching later and we had a new plan of attack with a tying approach that filled me with much greater confidence compared to what we’d been previously using. The acid test was still to come though and after spending an hour at national speed limits I can happily report that we and the boats arrived in one piece. Success! I also realise that I’ve just spent far too long wittering on about something which probably interests literally no-one so here’s a moody photo of Newgale beach instead.
Hard to believe this was taken just a few hours after leaving sunny Swansea but the further West we headed the more the clouds built until we were pitching tents in a light drizzle. At least it wasn’t cold as my family saying goes. There was a degree of brightness on the horizon out towards St Davids though so we headed down to the beach to stretch our legs and scope the area out as a potential launch point for the following mornings activities. It quickly became apparent that with the tides as they were that was going to involve a very long walk so back at base-camp it was out with the OS maps for a rethink. Initially Solva itself looked promising with a very interesting inlet and coastline to explore but similar issues of tide meant that water, or lack thereof, would probably be a major hindrance. I briefly considered Whitesands but thought that likely to be rammed with holidaymakers before finally settling on Porthclais. With a deep, natural harbour it was the ideal location to stretch our limits a little, starting sheltered but with easy access out to open water and with a rugged coastline to explore. Oh yeah, it looks pretty stunning as well.
Paddling out between moored yachts before breaking into the slight swell of St Bride’s Bay I was reminded of what set us down this path in the first place. From an outsiders perspective our sudden divergence into water sport’s may seem a little unexpected but it’s been on the cards for a long while now and is very much focussed on gaining new insights into areas of the country which, from land at least, we already know like the backs of our hands. Fingers crossed there’ll also be the chance to get up close and personal with some of our marine wildlife and if this voyage was anything to go by we can look forward to great things ahead. Right from the off we were joined by a couple of Gannets soaring off to our left but as we approached the island of Carreg Fran a juvenile Guillemot popped up ahead. Anyone who’s been on a boar trip will know that you can only usually approach so far before the birds either dive or take off but as we drifted closer this individual showed no such concerns. After eyeing us up we were clearly marked as no threat, just another sea voyager passing through. In the end we came within a couple of meters and had grandstand seats as the Guillemot continually dipped its head underwater looking for prey before diving down to give chase. Simply magical. Our second wildlife encounter was on an entirely different scale as a By-the-Wind Sailor drifted through. Now I have never seen one of these outside of Scotland and even there never alive so this was absolutely fantastic and made my whole weekend.
Of course it would have been even better to have been able to include a couple of photos or maybe some video footage at this point but, as I’m sure you can appreciate, cameras and salt water rarely mix. Instead I’d been mulling over picking up a GoPro prior to this weekend and these encounters plus the stunning scenery have convinced me that it’s definitely the way to go. Next time we’re out on the water I should have one with me but for now here are a couple of shots from shore showing us in action.
From Porthclais it was on to Newgale where, with the sea state considerably rougher and tide higher than it had been yesterday evening, we took to the waves for a spot of kayak surfing. This proved to be much harder than it looked but was great fun if a little exhausting. Punching out through the waves was easy enough but running back in proved distinctly trickier. The trouble with a sit-on-top is that as soon as the waves break over the top of one you’re on a hiding to nothing. Combine that with paddles which are in hindsight a little undersized and there were plenty of rolls to be had. I’ll do a separate post at some point soon covering exactly the kit we’re currently running with and I hope to be sharing plenty more from our coast before the year is out.