On the one hand you could spend the shortest day of the year moping about shovelling in the pies and chocolates and then feeling guilty (but then having ‘just one more’), on the other you can join in with probably the motliest band of motley kayakers ever to gather together in South West England, for a legendary paddle down the Tamar.
Fifteen kayakers distributed between one canoe and twelve kayaks…one double and seven single sit-on-tops and four sit-ins. Christmas hats and a goofy look were the order of the day.
Age range was from upper fifties , and the healthy sense of caution that goes with it, down to the tender age of twelve and the anarchical disrespect and astounding paddling skills that go with no sense of fear at all, and spending an awful lot of time on the water.
As the convoy headed downstream the leading boat saw an otter but with a general noise level that would have done justice to a Motorhead concert the only thing I saw was a Kingfisher flying away…fast.
We came to the BIG weir and the more cautious portaged while the more confident shot. Not the age split that you might have thought. Yes the boys went down like newts in a pond….but so did some of the more wizened. Like Jeremy:
Josh was completely absorbed by a maelstrom of foam…..
so Tim and Harry could not turn down the challenge despite almost certainly messing up their carefully contrived ‘One Direction’ haircuts.
Time for a tea break at the stunning little beach below the cliff.
Kevin and Bob sport their camouflage gear.
The post tea-break session continued with thrills and a few spills over the next series of weirs. Jeremy demonstrates the concentration and commitment required:
Team leader Dr. Dave kept his Christmas hat firmly in place till only half a mile from the end when it was consigned to the depths.
Dave…bemused. Tim and Harry….amused. Scrote….confused
And so the gloombuster paddle came to an end and the cold and damp (some a lot damper than others) retired to the obliging pub at Chipshop for chips and pavlova.
The same thing happens every year but it seems an unpredictable nasty shock every time. The winter is not only very cold but very dark.Actually it’s not been particularly cold down here in the southwest, but never mind that. If you are an outdoor freak like me ( my children leave the ‘outdoor’ bit out), the dark months bring intense claustrophobia. So when there’s a gap in the gales you go…no question.
By sheer good luck the mighty winds abated to coincide with a couple of days off with no work or family commitments.
Torbay was my first destination:
This was new territory for me and would provide shelter from the west wind and swell as well as being another piece of coast to add to my long term goal of kayaking the whole of the south-west coast path from Poole to Minehead. Over 1000 miles completed so far, about 50 to go.
And maybe I might catch a fish or two…..
I set out from swanky Torquay marina at dawn and the calm conditions encouraged me to get the headland of Hope’s Nose ‘in the bag’ before the wind got up.
I trolled a plug behind in a very half-hearted manner but when I wound it in to remove some weed there was a swirl of a big fish giving chase . Mmmmm. But of course just as my hope was up, nothing more.
I dug in to a steady rhythm to complete the whole of the Torbay coast . Not exactly the most natural scenery….Torquay, Paignton and Brixham with a few little bits of wildness in between. At least on a cold winter’s day I had the sea more or less to myself.
I switched lures from plug to rubber sandeel for the shallow beaches and was surprised to here my reel buzz as I passed this rather scenic mini sandstone headland.
Into the kayak came a sporty little bass that was dehooked and put back to fight another day (and get bigger…..hopefully I’ll catch it again when its in excess of ten pounds).
But it’ll have to dodge the nets of this menacing rusting hulk powering out of Brixham to cause a bit of fishy havoc.
The bottom corner of Torbay past Broadsands and Elberry cove was actually very attractive and a fertile bit of sea as there were plenty of Guillemots, Razorbills and Great-crested Grebes busy diving for there lunch. I joined in the fun and hooked three mackerel.
My turnaround point was Brixham but I first had to paddle round the back of the breakwater to breakwater beach because that would connect up with my last time here (when I paddled west to Dartmouth).
When I emerged from the back of the breakwater I was greeted with a sea covered in whitecaps which had appeared out of nowhere. Gulp….I had to paddle six miles back to Torquay into that howling wind. Hoping it was just a squall I cowered into the shelter of Brixham harbour and marvelled at the unbelievable small size and unbelievable top heavy appearance of the Golden Hind.
I coast-hugged my way back up wind and for the return trip the wind did, thankfully, ease off. A few more mackerel and another bass off Roundham head (surely not the same one…it will hardly have grown at all since I last caught it).
The next day Fowey was my destination as the wind was forecast to be very light first thing and I fancied using some of the fresh mackerel as bait.
I arrived at Caffa Mill car park at first light as my car thermometer read zero degrees and a freezing mist was flowing out of the Fowey valley. No-one else about. I straddled a white line in the carpark to avoid having to get out into a puddle and get wet feet when changing into my kayaking stuff. A single neurone from my extremely- unlikely- scenario department in my brain flagged up an alarm but was drowned out by its seven billion colleagues that rationalised that there were a couple of hundred empty parking spaces in the carpark and these were unlikely to fill on such a cold morning in mid December. Had the maverick neurone had the courage of its convictions it would have instructed me to move my car to exactly within the white lines, but even it conceded that this was superfluous nonsense.
So I set off through Fowey to the open sea. Sorry to be boring, but the town IS very scenic. Always a safe spot for a winter paddle as it is very sheltered and you are guaranteed a few miles of interesting paddling whatever the conditions.
As planned I dropped a fillet of mackerel to the bottom at the entrance to the estuary and let the outgoing tide drift me out to sea. On the other rod I used a smaller hook and a sliver of mackerel.
Didn’t have to wait long…I soon had hooked a couple of (cannibalistic) mackerel. About a mile offshore I was suddenly joined by a trio of porpoises. They kept surfacing all around the kayak while I fumbled with gloves and cameras. When I was ready, they disappeared as quickly as they had come but I did manage one shot:
Suddenly both rods went off … I had snagged the bottom with one but the other produced a 3lb pollack. Unexpected. I went big and dropped a whole mackerel to the bottom and after a big pull this disappeared..was it a fish or snagged on a rock? The thrills and spills of fishing!
For half an hour something was nibbling and tugging at the line virtually all the time. Dogfish probably. Then a more chaotic bite produced this crazily coloured cuckoo wrasse.
As the sun rose I was approaching meltdown with all the fleeces I had put on to fend off the early morning freeze so called in at a tiny beach to shed a few layers.
Just got to get back to the carpark before my car park ticket expires at 12 noon. Shouldn’t be a problem.
Left the kayak on the slipway while I went to get my kayak trolley. The local gulls wasted no time in robbing me of my catch. Oi, get off! But then I felt a bit sorry for the parent gull who was merely trying to provide for its offspring so it would stop that unbelievably annoying wingey squealing. Know how it feels.
I thought you were going to share that with your persistent offspring.
I was all packed up and in the car and engine turned on at 12.01. Not bad though I say it myself…..would have been 11.59 if it hadn’t been for the gulls. Anyway no problem with any parking official as my ticket was valid. AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGHHHH!
What’s that on my windscreen.? I know very well what it is but what is it doing there as it has been stuck within about four inches of my clearly visible valid in-date ticket. WHAT?
It was only when I opened the ticket as I was driving home I read the offence and I nearly swerved off the road into Bodmin Asda with shock.
Yep there were the words in black and white ‘Parked beyond the bay markings’. I immediately felt sorry for my brave little neuron who had probably been made to walk the plank by now.
Reading more I discovered that my car had been ‘observed’ being parked beyond the bay markings’ between 0800 and 0805. Not difficult because there were no other cars to observe in the expansive carpark although certainly very diligent given the freezing conditions.
Who is this guy. What a loser. Worryingly I think I might have passed him in his stupid little van entering the car park just as I was leaving. I think he was trying to get another ticket on my windscreen for outstaying my time. That would have really made his day.
What is going on? There is no way I am paying that. NO WAY.