WINTER WANDERINGS

TEETH CHATTERING UP THE TAW,TORRIDGE AND TAMAR ESTUARIES.(and one or two other places)

The last three months have been exceptionally cold and really not conducive to sea kayaking. DEFINITELY not conducive to fishing from a kayak so if you are a diehard fisherman look away now.

And it’s even worse if you are an early bird and like to be on the water before dawn. Sometimes way before dawn, as I had to do recently when I launched in Barnstaple and followed the big spring tide up the river Taw to the tidal limit three miles upstream. Only a full moon to guide me and a large flock of swans to provide a ghostly terror moment. I still managed to get the timing wrong and paddled the last mile flat out into a 3mph current, passing icebergs of frozen froth.

The front of the kayak was fairly caked in ice when I got back to Barnstaple……..

Icy,but nicy,Barnstaple dawn

The day I chose to paddle the Taw estuary down to the sea wasn’t much warmer and a low mist made it feel even more cheerless. Yo’ve really got to be pretty loopy to go paddling in such a bleak place on such a bleak day.There’s really no scenery…..Yelland oil terminal is a highlight….and great sandbanks at low tide add to the sense of isolation/desolation.

Low tide Taw sandbank

But don’t get too depressed and gloomy just yet. The variety of winter wildfowl and wading birds is quite fantastic. Oh…well….OK ….be depressed and gloomy  then, because I realise the fraternity who get excited about this kind of stuff is fast shrinking. Well, I am still hardcore and was thrilled to pass a dozen different species of wader including the sand loving Bar-tailed godwits with their idiotically long beaks, and a confiding little troop of sanderling.

And even better a female peregrine carved over my head at unfeasible speed and lashed into a flock of flying Teal. It turned so sharply I thought the G-forces would snap both its wings off, but it emerged unscathed, but  also unsuccessful.

I don’t care how much of a nature heathen you are. If witnessing an attack by the most exciting , and fastest, bird in the world doesn’t get your pulse racing then there’s no hope for you and you might as well not bother doing anything, ever.

Lapwing

I followed the outgoing tide from Barnstaple to Appledore and then returned as it came in. Despite having made the same bungle on numerous occasions I forgot that the tide often doesn’t actually get to the head of an estuary till an hour or so before high water, so I once again had to paddle like fury up the river to get back.

Oh yeah-forgot about the New Taw bridge which is probably more scenic than Yelland power station:

New (ish) bridge over Taw at Barnstaple

For a jaunt up the Torridge from Bideford I did actually manage to negotiate a sunny day with no wind so it didn’t  feel too cold. The town was looking at its best in the morning sun-it’s all a bit more scenic than Barnstaple as it nestles in more of a valley.

Bideford

And as you head upstream it is more typical of a Devon estuary with big swathes of broadleaved woodland on the sweeping bends….very easy on the eye. Always a lot of Shelduck up here and a few pairs nest- they are striking black-and-white ducks but make a rather simpering whistle rather than a quack.

Shelduck escaping fast

Back at Bideford I had a rare encounter with other river users…Bideford rowing club. It’s about the only large area of sheltered water with decent access for miles and miles. Needless to say no other kayakers…can’t remember the last time I saw one.

The new Torridge bridge is virtually the same as the one over the Taw but it was looking quite impressive against the unusually blue winter sky:

Torridge bridge (complete with number 92 bus)

My only jaunt to the excellent river Tamar this winter was for one specific purpose…..to photograph Avocets.Many wading birds, I’ll confess, are non-descript and mud-coloured. Sensible because they have less chance of being spotted by a peregrine. Avocets however are not your typical English looking bird and do not spend time cringing in the corner of a culvert.

They are quite stunning and their legs are impossibly spindly and beak far too fine to be sweeping about in the mud in danger of clanging into a stone and snapping the end off.

I was lucky to catch them in the evening sun to give their posteriors a pinkish glow.

Avocets on the Tamar

I was using my son’s non-waterproof camera which survived this trip but succumbed to the brine shortly afterwards. Cameras and kayaking really don’t mix well so I’ll stick to my waterproof and bomb proof one from now on.

Calstock viaduct is always a gob-smacker:

OK….confesion time. I did venture out into the open ocean in early new year  and it was nearly a serious mistake. My enthusiasm control centre completely swamped out all my other departments such as common sense and caution and don’t be such a bl—y idiot.

I paddled out from the sheltered Gannel estuary in Newquay and rounded several exposed headlands in some very bouncy conditions of short chop waves, bounce back from the vertical cliff and a bit of tide race thrown in.

Newquay bay itself was much more cosy.

Leg stretch at Beacon cove, Mawgan Porth

I didn’t fancy the return paddle round Towan head again so landed in Newquay harbour and walked back the mile to the car through the crowded streets,slapping along in my dry suit and clipping a few New Year bargain hunters with the end of my paddle (especially those ones who sniggered at me).

Back in the car all I had to do was to drive back to the harbour and load up. Simple……

But no way….is anything simple nowadays? For example, even filling up my car with diesel at the local garage in Holsworthy is fraught with complication, because  if another driver arrives and uses the same pump as you the motor inside gets overloaded and starts to make a grinding sound and the flow of diesel starts to fizzle out with the result that you eventually get to the checkout BEHIND the idiot who wants to buy two lottery tickets and a scratch-and-sniff card and has left his wallet behind in his stupid little Nissan Whatever, when if the garage owner had bothered to invest in decent pumps that could handle delivery of two lots of fuel at the same time in the first place, I would have got in BEFORE Mr. Irritating and all would be well.

Anyway, no way could I find my way back to the harbour because of some half-witted one-way system and I was beginning to boil in my drysuit.So the only option was to park up (not far from the original location), walk back to the harbour and load my kayak onto its wheels and trolley it back through the High Street and its idiotic contraflow system.

Phew…hang on…I need a breather….let’s take a picture break (nothing to do with Newquay):

once a trainspotter,always a trainspotter

I had left my paddle in the car but if anyone sneered at me as I jostled for position on the crowded pavement (and there were a lot more than my prevous passage with paddle only) I made a fair effort of catching their shins with the end of my kayak.

I forgot to mention that although this was early January there were several small groups of Kittiwakes dipping down to the surface in Newquay bay….undoubtedly onto sandeels….which undoubtedly would have had a few bass lurking around…..but I had no rod. Too blooming cold and impossible to fiddle about with little hooks wearing great thick gloves.

Spring is just around the bend.