Bill Thrill

And so, at last, to Portland Bill.

Portland Bill Lighthouse

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’… 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. 

Good old Scupper pro

I opted for my usual dawn departure even though this didn’t fit in too well with the tides, but I reasoned that the more daylight hours the rescue services had to track me down, the better.

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.

Fishing smack dodges the wire hawser blocking the southern exit to Portland harbour

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.

Lighthouse plus Heath Robinson-style boat gantry

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.

Pulpit rock plus gap only just wide enough for Scupper Pro

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.

Excellent Chesil Bank

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.

Sea one side, lagoon the other

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.

Get a life

But even they looked up as the most unlikely aircraft ever to take to the skies wop-wopped overhead.

Chesil Chinook

I sauntered back down the fleet enjoying the wildlife. Skylarks towering over the fields and my best ever views of Sandwich terns. Terrific.

sensational sandwich terns

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……


3 thoughts on “Bill Thrill

  1. Hey, don’t diss the Scupper – it’s the nicest yak I’ve ever owned and better than the other SOT barges!

    Great photos and write up, must try heading that way some time, though I always hanker to go west from Devon rather than east…

    1. Yes, the scupper pro has lasted well considering it was just about the first plastic SOT available. Many many designs have appeared since but few have matched the legendary scupper.

  2. Hi Rupert, I found your photo of Pulpit Rock via a web image search and would like to ask whether I may have your permission to re-create it in oil paint? I’m just starting out with oil painting and your photo would look great in oils! I used to live on Portland and your photo is an unusual angle of the rock – many are taken from the land so don’t capture the angel you did.

    All the best – Richard

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