Bigbury Blaze

Probably the best week of weather since March was first thought up had one more day to burn before the normal service, of cold grey skies, was to resume.

So I was going to make the best of it , and where better to go for a paddle than Bigbury bay in the south hams. I have now pieced together almost the entire SW coast from Lynmouth to Poole by kayak , just got Portland Bill left, and this gem of a coast which I had been saving up for just such a glorious day as this in order to do it justice. A twenty plus mile circuit on flat seas under the March sun. Mmmm.

Burgh Island
Burgh Island

The sea was as calm as I had hoped, in fact so smooth that it blurred into the horizon. Fantastic. I took a quick tour of  Burgh Island to stall for time so that the tide would be right for my trip up the Avon estuary to Aveton Gifford.

And it was as perfect as it could be. No wind,blue skies,crystal clear water, the peep of a kingfisher, primeval cackling of nestling herons and chorus of newly arrived chiffchaffs in the woods. And the howl of a chainsaw, unfortunately.

Shelduck pair
Shelduck pair

The solitude was interupted by a horde of dogwalkers on the tidal road at Aveton Gifford , and I was kept on my toes by a male swan who fluffed up and went all aggressive as I ventured too close to his mates nest.

Aveton Gifford Bridge
Aveton Gifford bridge

The world was waking up as I paddled back down to Bantham, and I watched scores of grey mullet dashing about in the clear shallow water below my hull.

water in Devon doesn't get much clearer than this

Some creatures were still trying to shake off early morning torpor. Perhaps they’d had a late night stealing fish and chips out of people’s hands…..

Herring gull pair

Just before the estuary opens out into the  sea there’s some quite quaint waterside residences , more like what you would expect on the river Thames, to have a nose at.

cosy Bantham grottage

 And so onwards past the unusually swell free Bantham bay towards Thurlestone. It was so still I could hear the ‘thwick’ of club on ball from the players on Thurlestone golf course which runs along the clifftop. They must have been having a superb day, but not as superb as me. 

Thurlestone rock

Thurlestone rock must surely have been put there by the great god of sea kayaking. I was sorely tempted to be the first paddler ever to pass without venturing through the tunnel, but couldn’t resist. I succumbed totally and paddled through it both ways. Twice.

Thurlestone Rock....the sunny side

I have visited this bit of the coast  a few times before, decades ago, but had forgotten how stunning it is. Beach after beach, many not easy to access down the cliff. And the excellent little fishing port of Hope Cove tucked in behind the shelter of Bolt Tail. No wonder it’s completely gridlocked in the summer…its almost too perfect to be real.

Paddleyak Swift...the ideal sea kayak

A few short fat sit-on-top kayaks were milling around in the cove. The short and the fat refer specifically to the kayak design, I should point out. Nothing short and fat about my sit-on-top kayak as I cruised past. My Paddleyak Swift is essentially a sea kayak with a Sit-on-top cockpit. Self draining scuppers so it’s impossible to swamp. Made in Cape town so ultra practical and in my view about as good a sea cruising kayak as you are going to get. It’s just so easy. You sit down onto it and go. No fussling about with spray decks. And if you did tip out you just climb back on and away you go. And if you want to stretch your legs and dangle them over the side, or do a bit of fishing, that’s fine.

Serious sea kayak buffs may want to know that it’s got a 23 inch beam which is a lot less than nearly all other standard SOTs, so it doesn’t hang about. In fact I like it more and more and it is my favourite winter and spring cruising kayak. And probably Spring and Summer too, I suppose.

The only thing I don’t use it for is serious fishing sessions where my Tarpon 160 has the edge in terms of fish clobber carrying capacity and comfort. But it’s a barge. And the Paddleyak is hard to beat in the looks department. The cowling over the front edge of the cockpit gives a Formula One impression.

Heavenly Hope Cove

I resisted the lure of the super-sheltered golden sand beach at Hope Cove harbour and stuck with my principle of lunching on the most remote beach in the most extreme location I can possibly find, and ideally accessible only by kayak. I seemed to remember there was just such a place round the corner from Bolt tail, but after paddling a mile beneath vast cliffs that would do justice to the wildest parts of Land’s End, I was about to turn back.

But there was a patch of sand beneath the biggest, most contorted cliff,which had just been exposed by the receding tide. That’ll do nicely.

Bolt beach

And about as desolate as it could be. Just sea and rock and a few quizzical shags in their smart green breeding plumage and daft topknots.


The sea had glassed off even more for the return trip across Bigbury Bay, so I couldn’t resist heading directly towards Burgh Island for the three mile open-sea crossing. I like doing this sort of thing….always a chance of a dolphin encounter or something like that. But probably not a good idea if you are by yourself. But all I saw was a floating crisp packet (worcester sauce, I think).

I did encounter a few more kayakers and two pairs of paddleboarders doing the circuit of Burgh island. Sorry folks, I just can’t see the point of paddleboarding. It’s neither one thing nor the other, although what those things are that it isn’t I’m not entirely sure .

Paddleboarders (on the left)

After soaking up a final dose of sun on a secluded beach on the island I crossed back to Bigbury where frisbees flew, balls were booted and bare feet splashed…….March!

Incidentally, if you are new to sea kayaking (or kayak fishing), and want to know where’s the best place to go around Devon and Cornwall’s 1056 mile coastline(I know that’s how far it is because I’ve nerdily paddled it all), this has got to be it. It’s  got it all, packed into six miles of shoreline. A tidal island, sheltered creek, the best surf beach in South Devon, loads of sandy beaches, superquaint coves, offshore rocks, wild cliffs. And no doubt fish, although that’s not what I was here for today.



4 thoughts on “Bigbury Blaze

  1. Thanks for posting yet another great piece Rupert. What a stunning day; I love it when the horizon fades into the sea. Your photo captures it perfectly. The Paddleyak Swift is indeed a great looker!

  2. Beautiful photos! It’s been my favourite kayak fishing location for the last few years, launching from Hope or out of the Erme. Paddling over the white sand on a flat calm spring day is about the best thing in the world… 🙂

  3. What an inspirational blog. It sounds like our adventure exploring the Devon coast line is only just starting as my wife and I are enjoying visiting all of Devon’s wonderful bays and estuaries. We would like to take a trip around Burgh Island and travel up the Estuary or along the coast weather dependent – where do you recommend we put in – all local knowledge is gratefully received.
    Cheers – Bruce West

    1. Bruce,

      that bit of south Devon has ‘got it all’ packed into a few miles of coast. Burgh island, Bantham’s surf beach, loads of secluded bays, the lovely Avon estuary, superquaint Hope Cove and the intimidating cliffs between Bolt head and Tail. Fantastic. i don’t think there is a finer bit of coast anywhere. I put in at Bigbury although you have to be early to get a parking space. Otherwise Hope cove (but that can get a bit choccer too!). Have a good paddle.

      regards Rupert

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