At last….my day off coincided with a decent day, in fact possibly the most stunning early April day since Stig of the Dump, or whoever first thought of Aprils.
Having paddled every inch of the Cornish coastline, and most of it so often I know it better than the contents of my sock drawer, my gaze was drawn to North Devon. A pretty hefty swell on the west coast would hopefully not make it round the corner too much to mess things up.
I had to go with the tide so I set off from Combe Martin at 6.30. I had my usual run in with a ticket machine in the car park. Because I was so early it only registered the night rate but when I stuffed more dosh into it (with more and more venom) it suddenly decided I had put in the maximum amount allowable , but it expired at 1pm! That’s no chuffing good if you are looking forward to spending all day on the water. Clearly designed for cosy, dull bores who slob about and go to the pub at lunch time and don’t mind going to top up the ticket. Not that they would have to anyway because they don’t get out of bed early enough and so don’t have the problem of encountering the moronic machine in night mode.
Seething, I headed east up the coast past the mist capped Little Hangman hill and the vast bulk of its brooding neighbour, Great Hangman.
I was quite surprised at the cliffy nature of the coast and the slurping swell which bounced back of the vertical faces made for quite a bumpy ride initially and I was quite glad I was in my bomb-proof super stable Wilderness Tarpon 160.
Elwill Bay sports all sorts of huge buttresses and deep gulches and the first of several Razorbill colonies. There was a constant to-ing and fro-ing of birds from their impossibly narrow cliff ledges….great to see so many around. And huge rafts of them bobbing about on the water.
My intention was to get round Highveer point before the tide turned, and I just about managed this but my speed was seriously hampered by the increasing hordes of auks flying about.So of course I had to stop and gawp. More than a thousand I reckon and more razorbills than Guillemots….so the biggest colony I have yet come across in SW England-certainly beating Boscastle and probably the Isles of Scilly. There was even a small Kittiwake colony in amongst them.
After three hours paddling I was getting peckish and the ONLY sheltered landing was Lee Bay, so that’s where I demolished my five Weetabix. Just a quicky break because I needed to get to Lynmouth before the ebb tide started to bite. The swell dropped away and calm conditions made the rest of the day an absolute paddling dream.
I just about got to Lynmouth and then was slingshot back by the tide. Yes OK I tried abit of fishing but it was only half-hearted as I was just using plain mackerel feathers but the cloudiness of the water really requires you have some smelly livebait type stuff. Yes so I didn’t catch and yes that’s a pretty pathetic excuse.
I whipped back past the Razorbills so fast a couple fell off their ledge in surprise. I suddenly realised why I was pushing on so quick- it was that stupid blooming carpark ticket and my subconscious was shovelling coal into my engine room and opening up the throttle to the max so I could be back in Combe Martin by 1 to get another blooming ticket.
I wafted into the sleepy harbour as a little family splashed in the shallows and a half-witted Springer tore across the beach to chase a sniggering seagull. More like high summer.
I thumped up the beach, slammed another load of coins in the machine and scowled at the carpark man in his High Vis jacket (ridiculous on such a high vis sunny day).And then thumped back down the beach and set off for Ilfracombe.
The character of the paddle was quite different to the morning.This bit was heavily indented and sported loads of idyllic secret beaches. I loafed around on one or two and had lunch.
I couldn’t resist yet another stop at the sandy beach just past Rillage point which echoed to the whinnying call of a peregrine who had also been loafing on the shore.
So all I had to do was get back to Combe Martin. The sea had turned into a sheet of glass so I paddled a mile or so offshore with the hopes of encountering one of the many porpoises that I have seen from the shore on previous occasions. I didn’t but it was unbelievably hot and unbelievably calm. Surely Conbe Martin and the Hangman hills have hardly ever looked like this:
After nine hours on the water and over 28 miles it was time to call it a day but not before one more ornithological adventure. A gang of Fulmars were milling about on the surface and ‘gobbling’ at each other in their guttural primeval way.
I do have a soft spot for Fulmars as they always come and have a snoop at you when you are in a kayak and zip silently past at enormous speed on stiffly held wings. They are of course more closely related to albatrosses than they are seagulls. Don’t be fooled by their gull like plumage.
So I left them to their squabbling and beligerent body language.
Time to go home and apply some after sun to the top of my head.