And so, at last, to Portland Bill.
I’ve been putting this trip off for years because if you do any sort of research about kayaking round the Bill you will soon be engulfed, and deterred, by tales of tide races and massive rescues of dozens of paddlers by lifeboats and helicopters.
And to consider doing it on Friday the thirteenth, and one hundred years to the day that the Titanic went down, would easily win you knucklehead of the year award. Especially if you’re going solo.
But sea conditions were perfect, no doubt Americans would call it Tripple ‘N’…..no wind, no swell, neap tides.
My kayak of choice was my Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro, one of the appallingly barge-like plastic sit-on-tops, but super stable and narrow enough to provide a turn of speed if necessary. And great for dragging around for long portages over Chesil Bank.
I was really quite anxious, even dry-mouthed, but as I exited the eastern gap in Portland harbour I was overtaken by a miniscule fishing smack even less seaworthy than my boat which boosted my confidence.
And conditions could hardly have been better. I had expected the flat sea but the unbroken blue sky was an unexpected bonus….the cumulus clouds built up inland and rain was in sight as the day progressed but never threatened the Bill.
I needn’t have worried. I didn’t paddle through a breaking wave all day and whenever my forward speed dropped as I encountered an adverse current I hugged the coast to keep in the slacker water. And I swung offshore a bit when the current was favourable.
The east coast of Portland is a jumble of cliffs, rubble, old forts, rusting winches and gantries, and the odd beach. Strangely the song of several wrens carried far out over the water. Little bird, loud voice.
As I approached the Bill after a couple of hours I had a coffee break ‘on board’ as I didn’t want to rush the experience of rounding England’s Cape Horn, and I wasn’t in any hurry. Only one person visible on the shore at the point, a birdwatcher peering intently through telescope at a gang of milling shearwaters further out.
Paddling north up the west coast I squeezed through the gap at pulpit rock and was kept entertained by a cackling guillemot colony, occupants lined up in rows on the narrow cliff ledges. Didn’t see the Puffins, unfortunately. This much more cliffy side offers no option for landing until nearly back at Chesil cove and I wouldn’t fancy it in any sort of wind or swell.
But I was quite relaxed on the flat water and watched a constant stream of swallows heading north as I considered my options for the rest of the day. Portage over the bank back to the car, or face the interminable monotony of a section of Chesil beach before heading for home. No choice! Interminable monotony anyday. In fact after my first encounter with Chesil bank in its entirity last year I have been hankering for a return visit.
It’s nothing short of extraordinary. I paddled five miles along the featureless shingle shore and stopped for lunch. Couldn’t see anyone in either direction.Or anyTHING, apart from pebbles and sea. Until I heaved my kayak up and over the bank (worse than walking up a down escalator) opening up a view of the Fleet lagoon.
I watched a double sit-on-top kayak drift by. The occupants were motionless for a good twenty minutes.Heads down. They missed the couple of hares that were galloping around to my left, the ringed plovers displaying over the shingle and the terns squabbling over fish in the shallows. Engrossed in their mobiles. Clearly unaware that kayaks are the guaranteed cure for Nature Deficiency Disorder.
But even they looked up as the most unlikely aircraft ever to take to the skies wop-wopped overhead.
I sauntered back down the fleet enjoying the wildlife. Skylarks towering over the fields and my best ever views of Sandwich terns. Terrific.
Out into Portland Harbour in front of the Olympic sailing venue to complete the circuit. Just got to drag my long-suffering Scupper Pro back to the car. And trolley it across that busy main road. It would be awful if the kayak trolley collapsed as I was half way over……