This was my first kayaking trip to the Jurassic coast but the only dinosaur I glimpsed all day was way before dawn in the bathroom mirror.
I was lucky with my choice of day-light NW wind, no swell and blue sky.The sun was about to rise over the distant Portland Bill as I set off.
I trolled my two favourite lures as I paddled- a ‘GULP’ sandeel on one side and mini jointed Rapala plug on the other. However fishing was going to be tricky as the mudstone cliffs made the sea close to the shore quite cloudy.
No sign of the French Lieutenant or his woman as I passed the Cobb at Lyme Regis but I caught a small mackerel……
…….and was pretty thrilled to see a little party of one of my favourite wading birds, Purple Sandpipers, roosting on the giant rocks of the pier. They are winter visitors from the arctic and you only see them on exposed rocky shorelines.
I was pleasantly pleased with the scenery after Lyme heavily wooded cliff and no sign of human existence at all. Apart from a couple of gill-nets close to the shore. These really irritate me as not only do they rather unskillfully catch all fish but also any unsuspecting diving birds. Aren’t they illegal?
My irritation was alleviated by catching my first bass of the day on my miniplug (small and put back) shortly followed by my only Twaite’s Shad of the year on the sandeel.Although I kept it out of the water only long enough to take a photograph I think at least half its scales fell off and it didn’t swim off too speedily.
As I stripped down to my (thermal) t-shirt I could hardly believe it was mid November-it was my ‘hottest’ paddle since June.I found a suitably Mediterranean style beach for my breakfast break which was totally deserted.
On the approach to Seaton I caught a hard fighting bass on the miniplug close to the shore.
No problem with bass staying alive long enough to be put back even though getting hooks out of their mouths without being speared by their fins or lacerated by their gill covers takes time.
I had to pile on the power for the ten mile paddle back to Charmouth or I would be late for an appointment- so my excuse for not catching any fish on the home leg is that the lures were being zipped through the water at such a speed that they might not draw the attention of predators looking for an injured or disabled baitfish.
The sweat in my eyes meant I was barely able to appreciate the vista either.
The Bude Old Gits Big Autumn Adventure of 2007 took us on an appallingly long haul north to our starting point beneath Ben Nevis at Fort William. We broke the journey at a Travelodge in Dumbarton and while my companions opted for a tobacco impregnated cell I,in the true spirit of a camping trip,bedded down in the back of my car. Bad move, with a main road on one side, busy railway line on the other and a very twitchy car alarm that went off every time I turned over.
Irritatingly the route north was made even longer by a huge diversion around much of the West of Scotland, and when we dropped much of our group at Fort William, Austen and I then had to drop our cars 70 miles away in Inverness and catch a taxi back. This,combined with a disastrous lack of sleep and minimal nutritional and fluid (coffee!) intake and excitement overload meant the start of the paddle for me was blighted by a pulsating headache.
However it was great to be underway at last and shortly after setting off overlooked by the vast bulk of Ben Nevis we hooked our first,but embarassingly tiny,brown trout in the broad Caledonian canal. The scenery was classic Scotland with swathes of purple heather hillsides. A kingfisher flashed past and a peregrine circled overhead.
After seven miles of broad canal,a few swing bridges and a couple of lochs we suddenly emerged onto the expanse of Loch Lochy. A daft name but a stunning place-this is what we came for! Carving across deep black waters of a huge loch flanked by mountains….even the sun very nearly put in an appearance.
The advance party had gone on ahead and selected the ultimate campsite on an idyllic beach backed by a hazel wood. They even had a fire going to keep the hordes of midges, who seemed very keen to introduce themselves to us,at bay.My Bude companions cut quite an image in their designer surf and sportswear whereas I opted for a more agricultural angle with thermal long johns and dealer boots from Mole Valley Farmers.
Supper consisted of a vast feast of pasta and fresh trout (sardine sized but tasty) followed by banana custard and washed down by a few swigs of Glenfiddich, and then a few more. Inexplicably my headache vanished.
Next morning I was bright(ish) as a button and was thrilled to catch a 3lb pike right beneath my kayak as I dropped my spinner down after unhooking a trout.
We exited Loch Lochy onto a two mile section of glassy flat canal flanked by Scots pines.
This soon expanded into the shallow island-studded Loch Oich and at the eastern end of the Loch we split up with half the group following the canal and half paddling down the unchartered waters of the fast flowing River Oich. The five mile stretch of river proved to be quite entertaining with several white water sections-but not so entertaining for Andy who took an impromptu swim.
We guffawed when he mentioned something about a tumble dryer to get his clothes dry but our jaws dropped in incredulous amazement as we rounded the next bend into Fort Augustus and there on the end of a jetty was a little wooden shed with ‘Tumble Dryer’ on the front door. Fifteen minutes later Andy was warm,cosy,smug and smelling of fabric conditioner.
Fort Augustus heralded the start of 25 miles of Loch Ness and when Andy whooped as his line zinged out he was convinced he had foul-hooked a monster of sorts. Not quite- but it was a decent,and unexpected ,sea trout.
We had clocked up well over 20 miles for the day so were looking out for a campsite but none were forthcoming along the rocky and plunging cliffs of the southern shore. Time to point out that most of us had paddled big milages before but two of our group, in a conventional sit-in double kayak, had NEVER paddled before and this trip was one of their annual physical challenges which previously have involved climbing mountains and cycling to Paris.Part of their challenge is not to do any prior training otherwise ‘it is all too easy’. Potty.
Just when we were started to get despondent we came upon the lovely wooded beach near Foyers and were soon feasting on the dozen or so brown trout as well as Andy’s sea trout. Another Top location!
Paddling conditions on our final day got interesting as a westerly wind picked up and set up quite a chop on the eastern end of the loch. Conditions like that in the sea at Bude would be trivial but it’s a bit more unnerving with your buttocks separated from a thousand feet of peaty black water by only a couple of millimetres of plastic.
Anyway we surfed out of the end of the Loch back into the canal but had soon opted to use the River Ness for our final stretch. This included a couple of weirs to keep us on our toes.Andy stayed dry-no tumble dryers on this section.
We hauled out in the middle of Inverness and a couple of hours later were gorging ourselves on the best Indian meal I have ever had, in Pitlochry (mind you, I don’t get out much).
The thought of another Travelodge or night festooned with car alarms didn’t appeal so we drove back to Cornwall through the night.
Austen and I had muttered about a trip to Lundy early in 2007 but hadn’t expected the unusual conditions of no swell and light winds to turn up so soon.
I drove through thick fog on the way to Hartland quay on Good Friday but my scoolboy knowledge of weather gave me hope that you don’t get that type of fair weather fog over the sea. Sure enough the stars were shining brightly as we set off at the first whimper of daylight, but it was just a little concerning that we couldn’t see the lighthouse on Lundy flashing.
My sunglasses were on their way to Davey Jones’ locker within a minute of departure, but we were soon shooting up the coast on the incoming tide past Hartland Point and then swinging out offshore on Austen’s pre-planned GPS course. He did the technical stuff, I made the sandwiches.
We were bowling along at a good speed on flat calm sea and I was pretty pleased in the ornithological department- guillemots,razorbills,a few manx shearwaters and,for the exceptionally nerdy observer,a Little gull.
Seven miles offshore we stopped for our half way tea break (and other break which I won’t go into,but wasn’t easy). As soon as we started to paddle again things got interesting…..very interesting. We were suddenly enveloped in a pea-soup fog with visibility less than 100 yards. We think it was the radiation fog spilling off the land out of Bideford Bay. If Austen hadn’t had his GPS and been on a yachty training course I suspect our next land fall would have been somewhere along the east coast of Greenland.
We ploughed on in the silence but suddenly my heart did a funny squelchy thing when a ship’s foghorn boomed out so loud and close it made my fillings rattle. Then it boomed again and we could hear the thudding of its engine just like in a scene from ‘Das Boot’ ( Get back to zer engine room, Johann). I couldn’t believe our bad luck-ships around here are scarce. Next time it boomed it,phew,had passed and we never even saw it.
I trusted Austen’s navigation implicitly but when he announced we had only 318 ft to go and all we could see was swirling murk I thought mmmmmm. But suddenly, wallop, cliffs materialised. Not bad-hope my sandwiches turned out to be as much of a success.
So much for the beauty of Lundy-we hauled out on the quay and left our kayaks between a rubbish skip and a slurry tanker in a patch of oil.
Time for some breakfast-a bowl of muesli (I was in charge of that as well).Still in our paddling gear we slapped our way up the long track towards the village and,Hey presto, the fog suddenly cleared and Lundy suddenly looked amazing.
Outside the Marisco tavern we managed to track down our old friend Roger Fursdon who now lives on the island and who we hadn’t seen for about fifteen years. Despite this,and the fact that he had no idea we were coming,and the fact that the few other island visitors were well-to-do neatly trimmed National Trust types and we were in wetsuits and a bit smelly, he seemed not in the least bit surprised,or horrified, to see us.
We had a bit of a chat and a laugh and relished a chicken-flavoured Pot Noodle complete with Soy sauce sachet. My sandwiches would have to wait.
The visiblity had improved enough to see the North Devon coast so we were in for a top trip back.Well,we would have been had I not made one potentially serious error-I tried to tell the time (using my watch).
We had been smuggly impressed with our time to get out to Lundy-over 13 miles in 3 hours 45 minutes. I thought we left for the return paddle at 11 o’clock-lots of time to do a spot of fishing AND avoid the Hartland Point tide race.Wrong.
We managed to catch one small Pollack on the way back so it qualified as a fishing trip! We sauntered back soaking up the sun,stopping every hour or so to ease knotty muscles. Quirkily my phone rang when we were at least six miles from Terra Firma (except straight down) and it was Henry (my eldest son) wanting to be picked up from golf!
I had cunningly planned to get past the legendary tide race of Hartland point before the tide turned or we would be fast tracked to somewhere we didn’t want to go,like Porthcawl. Oops, this is when I realised I hadn’t adjusted my watch to summer time and the swirling water heralded the start of the incoming tide…..and we still had two or three miles to go.
We paddled flat out for 45 minutes (not great after 25 miles already) and were still losing ground. We just managed to claw in against the rocks to the north of the point and sneak round close to the shore, before enjoying the last few miles along the dramatic saw-toothed coast in the evening sunshine.
As usual the worst part of the trip was carrying the kayaks back to the cars and as usual I twanged virtually every sinew,tendon and ligament in my twiggy legs after I leapt out of the kayak and carried it up the steep track.
We are fairly sure this was the first crossing to Lundy in Sit-on-top kayaks.I was paddling a Scupper Pro and Austen was using his Perception Freedom.Certainly the first there-and-back-in-a-day-trip for a Pot Noodle.
We covered a total of 30 miles and spent about 9 and a quarter hours on the water…..and we never had my sandwiches!