Only Chumps Choose Chesil

 …..because surely no one with any hint of sanity would paddle a kayak along a more or less straight beach for 18.5 miles, and then back again.

Dawn at West Bay

Mmmmm OK but I have been eyeing up new bits of coast to explore and I’ve always been fascinated by Chesil beach and its legendary geographical credentials. The only real down side was the certainty of it being an appallingly long featureless slog but can a ten hour plus kayak trip be less tedious than ten hours plus trainspotting at Reading General or ten hours sitting absolutely motionless in a home-made bird hide? (why did that wren choose to sunbathe ON my telephoto lens about two inches from my nose instead of somewhere a bit further away where I could catch it on film?). These were past-times of yesteryear,of course, but a handy way of raising one’s threshold of boredom.

However today was an April day to die for..even better than my Exmoor trip. Sunny, hot and more importantly absolutely still. Such a nice day in fact that even paddling round and round the garden pond would be a pleasure (might confuse the tadpoles before giddiness set in).

This big trip was a job for my Paddleyak Swift, at only 23 inches wide quite nippy…. essentially a sea kayak with a sit-on-top cockpit. South African designed and made so bound to be good.

Overtaken by Bridport gig

 I always build myself up into a bit of a frenzy before departure but once again my carefully made plans were derailed by a parking meter, this time because it refused to accept my £2 coins. I sped to the nearest newsagent for change (good excuse for a couple of creme eggs) and sped back, scattering all my belongings which I had laid out on the roof round the back streets of West Bay. I fortunately relocated sunglasses and suncream….essential today or I would be mistaken for a pork scratching come sundown.

On the water at last just after dawn, and I passed a line of impressive sandstone cliffs with their cackling fulmars before having a brief chat with a couple of guys on Evo racing skis at Burton Bradstock. As Chesil beach built up to a more organised bank of pebbles the cliffs made way to very pleasant sloping green fields, and at every road access more and more fishermen, and their shelters, dotted the beach.

Looking back to Burton Bradstock

 At first I couldn’t work out what the repeated sharp ‘sooomp’ noise was, until I saw a fisherman’s weight impact the water a few yards away despite me being what I thought was WAY beyond casting distance. I headed even further out and was a bit surprised when a flight of swans alighted on the sea nearby…must have been looking for Abbotsbury which is a couple of miles further on.

seagoing swans

 At Abbotsbury the fields backed away from the beach to make space for the sheltered water of the Fleet so for the next eleven miles it was just me and the increasingly tall bank of shingle, high enough for me not to be able to see anything behind it.

Farewell to greenery

 Just for a hoot I planned to stop for lunch half way along this extraordinary place. I kept thinking I was paddling along Namibia’s skeleton coast. OK I havn’t actually been there but I’m sure it’s similar. The tuneless piping of migratory Whimbrel was the only sound to break up the woosh of small waves. I like Whimbrel.

Whimbrel. NOT a Curlew

 After an hour and a half of paddling with no view of anything beyond the shingle I hauled up on the beach for lunch. I nearly made a Horlicks of it as it was so steep. Wouldn’t fancy it in anything more than a tiny swell like today.  I couldn’t quite believe that I could see noone or nothing in either direction apart from the very gradual sweep of the shingle bank.Fantastic. OK , I could just about make out the bulk of Portland Bill through the haze.

View to the west......a few billion pebbles


View to the east.....a few billion more

 I peeped over the top of the bank and was thrown into a completely different visual world of a buzzing Weymouth. Nope, I think I prefer the nothingness of the desolate side so ducked back down again.

Back on the water the fishermen gradually phased in again and I homed in on Chesil Cove in the armpit of Portland Bill, which marks the end of Chesil bank. I thought I was about to encounter some ghastly sea creature as great glooping bubbles appeared from the depths and broke the surface in front of me, but it was the local diving club lurking unseen beneath.

Chesil Cove at Fortuneswell

Yikes….over 18 miles on the GPS. So that means over 18 miles back again I guess. And when I turned around my speed read out was over 1mph less even though the tide should have been assisting. Must have been a huge back eddy round the end of Portland Bill I suppose.

It was a monotonous drag back along the featureless expanse although I do sort of like this kind of thing. Think I’ve made that clear by now.

About turn and more of the same......a lot,lot,lot more

 I hauled out for another break on a bit of the shingle bank so steep it seemed to defy all scientific principles. Ask your average person on the street whether this pile of stones should remain standing or collapse into the sea , they would select the second option. That is if you manage to extricate them from their MP3, and then maintain their concentration as they grapple with incoming text messages on their mobile, and generally wallow in a world of electrical trivial drivvle. Do they ever look up? Would they recognise a Whimbrel? Or be able to hear one piping (even though it is a bit tuneless)?……unplug before it’s too late. Or maybe not, otherwise they might all want to go kayaking to places like this and I would no longer be able to sit on this bank and enjoy seeing  absolutely nothing.

I cricked my neck when I cranked it round to see the owner of a repeated grating chatter. A Little tern was chasing after a chum. Hardly ever see these nowadays but I was very pleased (later) to discover a few pairs breed on Chesil on the Fleet side. Good luck to them…they nest on the beach and so are terribly sensitive to disturbance by  people and dogs.

Apart from the terns there were just a few loafing gulls around:

Let's loaf

 I hit a bit of a mental wall when I thought I was back at the green hills but calculated I still had an hour’s worth of bare beach to look at. I tried paddling further offshore but every time I did my speed dropped, inexplicably. Some weird currents. At last I approached the fishermen at West Bexington again and for the first time EVER I witnessed one of them catch something…a couple of mackerel I think.

I had a brief passing banter with a handful of very sedentary kayak fishermen and at last West Bay appeared in the far distance. Incredibly I was now fizzing along at up to 5mph despite the fact the tide should have been coming in and so been against me. You could see the current swirling past the lobster pots. Weird again.

Nearly back at West Bay

 As I approached West Bay my senses were assaulted by the buzz of outboards and smell of boat fuel. The sea was still millpond flat as it had been all day so the waterskiers too were having a ball. A queue of boats were heading back to the slipway and a handful of Sandwich terns were diving for sandeels in amongst them.

West end of Chesil beach

 I rolled back into the harbour at 6.30 and ran the gauntlet of fishing rods being dangled from the the walls either side, and tried my best not to seem totally fatigued. A good samaritan gave me a hand to lift my leaden kayak onto the roof of the car as I stooped over it trying to summon up the strength for a bit of powerlifting.

Excellent day…glad I didn’t heed the advice of the bloke on the radio who said it might be wise to stay indoors due to the poor air quality.