One thousand, one hundred and fifty four and – a- half miles of coast.

Should you be tempted to put your kayak in the water at one end of the South-west coastal path at either Poole or Minehead, and paddle to the other end at either Minehead or Poole, and follow absolutely every twist and turn in the coast and go up every inlet and estuary and creek at high tide until you can go no further, and go through every gap in the rocks and venture into every sea cave and take a tour out to every offshore island and pile of rocks, you will have covered a total distance of 1154.4 miles, give or take a furlong.

Start (or end) of the SW Coastal Path in Minehead
Start (or end) of the SW Coastal Path in Minehead

It has taken me five years to piece together the whole jigsaw, cringeing up sheltered river valleys when the weather is poor and venturing out to the headlands and exposed coasts on more clement days. And waiting in trepidation to get round Portland Bill. And Lizard Point, and Land’s End, and Trevose Head,and Hartland Point, and Foreland Point and a load of other dodgy places.

If you want to be really picky it has actually taken me 35 years to complete the whole distance, because the only time I have paddled from Lulworth to Worbarrow bay was in a fibreglass Snipe slalom kayak as a break from A-level revision in 1977. I towed a tiny hook ,with a bit of silver paper wrapped round the neck of it, attached to a cotton reel that sat in the cockpit, and caught my first mackerel….the dawn of kayak-fishing?

So five miles in an old slalom boat,ten from Croyde to Lee Bay in a Sipre Millenium sea kayak, and the rest in an assortment of  recreational  fishing sit-on-top kayaks, two of which I have completely worn out by too much dragging over sand and rocks, eroding a hole in the bottom.

En route I have had close encounters with puffins and peregrines and purple sandpipers, ocean sunfish, porpoises, common and bottlenose dolphins , grey and common seals, swimming fox, deer and badger,otter, mink, stoat and even a Leatherback turtle the size of a small car. And a toad.

Swimming badger
Swimming badger

The scenery hasn’t even got a mention yet! I think it would be a safe bet to state that this bit of coast compares to anywhere in the world in terms of variety of vistas to keep a kayaker interested and entertained. From the glaring white chalk cliffs of Dorset with the photographic favourite of Durdle Door as its centrepiece, to the deep red sandstone stacks of Ladram bay, the surf-blasted granite headlands of west Lizard and Land’s end, the hostile reefs of North Cornwall, and the slightly cosier wooded slopes of Exmoor in North Devon. And of course there are several hundred miles of super-sheltered rias all along the south coast of Devon and Cornwall, most of which have slopes of deciduous forest which drapes into their creeks. A great place to go and get lost when the sea is unfriendly.

Tavy estuary in South Devon
Tavy estuary in South Devon

Beaches? Where do you start? In fact I’m not even going to bother…there’s just too many. But my favourite, Lantic Bay near Fowey must get a mention. It’s got it all. Golden sand surrounded by an amphitheatre of cliff, turquoise water, tricky access by land which keeps pedestrians down, nice area of marram grass for camping, only a three mile paddle from Fowey to get there, and the only place I saw my favourite butterfly (a Clouded Yellow) in the whole of last year.

The ultimate beach is Chesil Bank. 18 miles of pebbles.  What a  weird,barren, lonely and haunting place.It’s so extraordinary I’m surprised it’s not talked about more often but then I suppose there’s not alot you can say about it. It’s  simplicity appeals to me and it’s the only place around the SW I have watched Brown Hares from my kayak. Pity about the thousands of plastic bottles washed up at the storm surge tide line.

Chesil Bank
Chesil Bank

Oh and the fish. I’ve mentioned mackerel. Troll any sort of lure around behind the kayak during the summer and you will catch too many mackerel,together with pollack, garfish and a few bass. And the odd wrasse and even a sea trout or a twaite’s shad.

bass hat trick
bass hat trick

And if you fancy sitting about bottom fishing on a calm day you will haul in a lot more, especially if you spice up your mackerel feathers with a sliver of mackerel.Gurnard,whiting, cod,dogfish. North Cornwall has historically been the number one shark-fishing site in the UK. Anyone feeling brave?

Opportunities for trainspotting  are limited, although the main line to the southwest rather spectacularly follows the coast for a few miles between Exeter and Teignmouth, and the china clay train rumbles up and down the super-quaint Fowey estuary a couple of times a  day hauled by a good old-fashioned diesel engine, like the ones I used to drool over on Platform 4 of Reading General.

China Clay train Class 66
China Clay train Class 66

A couple of tips. I don’t like to preach but having clocked up over 8000 mile in (on) SOT kayaks there’s a couple of things I feel strongly about. One is don’t overcomplicate and overclutter your fishing tackle. A kayak is a simple craft so keep your fishing gear simple. The more clobber you’ve got the more things there are to go wrong, the more time you spend fiddling with it and the less time you spend fishing. I don’t even bother with a fish-finder but then I’m quite happy watching the shearwaters zip past my ear instead of reeling up a fish, or watching the china clay train rattle past.

And secondly always have five Weetabix for breakfast on board. I have been doing this for ten years. I wouldn’t ever dream of eating five Weetabix, or even two, for a normal (non-kayaking) breakfast. I’m a Muesli and banana man. But when you are kayaking and have notched up a couple of hours to build up a bit of an appetite, five Weetabix with a dusting of brown sugar really hits the spot. And if you are in a bit of a rush you can shovel in the whole lot in about a minute. Try it.But remember to take the milk. I forgot last time and ended up pouring orange squash on my Weetabix. Not so good.

Just one more. Don’t whatever you do stick that MP3 earpiece in…er..your ear.Or any other earplug. What on earth are you thinking of? You are going kayaking to get away from all that kind of stuff, and let your ears be assailed by the piping of Oystercatchers , the piff of a porpoise, the bawl of a seal, the extraordinary sound of the sky being torn as a peregrine scorches across the firmament at two hundred miles an hour, or maybe even your reel screaming as a big fish bites. Although that doesn’t happen very often.

A real reel-screamer
A real reel-screamer

Why bother with Bohemian Rhapsody when you’ve got the sound of the saltmarsh.

I nearly forgot to mention the Isles of Scilly. These are hyped up to be golden jewels in a turquoise sea. But if you go there on a sunny summer’s day that is precisely what they are, only better. And if you go there on a five-day kayak camping trip and the sun shines more-or-less non-stop for the whole time, you will struggle to find a better spot on the planet.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Tresco, Isles of Scilly

Derrick, Scilly

Choice of Fishing kayak….Paddleyak Swift

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to super-practical and seaworthy kayaks, the South Africans have got it.In fact they have always had it, as I found out when I took a super light  custom waveski out for a surf at Jeffries bay a long, long time ago (way before any of One Direction were born). Boy did it shift along the waves, that is until I nose-dived it and snapped it in two. Oops. And then I got a load of seas urchin spikes in my foot which got infected. So I had to buy it and have had a lot of fun on it since.IMG_4992

So I have always kept an eye on fishing kayak developments in South Africa, while paddling about here in our very wide,but ultra stable and fun, plastic yaks. The SA glass fibre kayaks were of a different league, more like a modified sea kayak and capable of taking on a bayful of legendary Cape rollers that have had the entire Southern Ocean to build up a bit of kayak-snapping power.

My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when I spotted a Paddleyak Swift hybrid kayak, top of my wishlist, for sale on e-bay, only 25 miles from home! I bought it for a snip (maybe the word ‘hybrid’ put others bidders off…sounds a bit neither-one-thing-nor-the-other).

Within ten minutes of becoming its proud new owner I was scorching out of Looe harbour at olympic speed and having a close encounter with a friendly seal round the back of Looe island.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Paddleyak Swift is not strictly a fishing kayak. I had to put the flush-mounted rod-holders in myself, or at least my chum Austen did. If I had attempted it it would probably have gone to the bottom on its maiden voyage.

It’s got hatches in the front and rear deck so no tankwell to sling your catch in.The only place to put your fish is in the footwell, with your feet. I don’t keep many fish so it’s not that much of an issue but on the occasion I have wanted to bring the odd decent-sized bass or pollack home, it’s a bit distracting to have them thrashing, then twitching, around your legs. And in the case of bass, spiking and lacerating.

And in common with other South African SOT kayaks it hardly sets new standards in seat comfort. Although the seat is nicely moulded into a vague buttock-shape, you are left sitting on bare gelcoat. This is a pity as the UK plastic yaks are streets ahead with regard to seat comfort….an all day paddle does not leave you numb from the kidneys down.

I ‘drop in’ an OK comfort seat when I go on a long paddle in the Swift. There is nowhere to clip it on but it fits fairly snuggly. The biggest problem is that it raises your centre of gravity significantly and makes the relatively narrow kayak significantly less stable.

It’s actually way narrower than any UK sit-on-top kayak at 23″ wide. The Scupper pro and RTM Disco are 26″, most are 28-30″. Length is just over 17ft and weight of my one is about 27kgs (a bit on the heavy side, especially as it doesn’t have side carrying handles).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So does it really cruise along alot quicker than the beamy plastic SOTs?. Well, yes, but I’m not sure by how much. I would guess it moves about 0.5mph faster than a Scupper Pro at moderate effort. The ‘glide’ is where you’ve got a real advantage, so you can stop paddling to pick your nose with hardly any reduction in speed, where the shorter kayak would have ground to a halt, and veered off to the side. The chunky over-the-stern rudder helps in maintaining direction, of course.

Easter a couple of years ago was a scorcher and I was determined to see how many miles I could notch up in a day, on the open sea, in the Swift. I near perfect conditions I paddled the entire length of Chesil bank from West Bay to Portland, and back again. 36 miles, and at the end of it I was a gibbering fool, but possibly because I had been driven crazy by staring at a featureless wall of pebbles all day, rather than the physical exertion. I take my hat off to extreme kayakers who can notch up 50 miles in a day and then the same the next day, and the next as part of a UK circumnavigation (….oooh, that gives me an idea).

So I use the Swift for all my estuary and sheltered coastal water day trips if I want to clock up the miles (or keep warm in winter) and fishing is only second priority. Although it’s probably a bit quick for trolling a lure behind it is a sure way to catch a regular trickle of bass in the Autumn, and always a thrill to hear that line buzzing out as a beast is hooked.

I might think twice before tackling a major bit of exposed north Cornwall coast by myself in the Swift. I have yet to tip it over but wind chop combined with a swell and bounceback from a vertical cliff can lead to a bit of a wobble (and ultimately less enjoyment) than the rock steady scupper Pro or Tarpon.P1040238

Maybe it’s best feature is it’s fantastic looks.Good grief, what am I saying, I really need to get out more. But there is no question the sleek lines combined with the motorbike-style fairing creates quite an unusual, and impressive look. It certainly draws quite a crowd when I roll up at a busy beach. Onlookers are not so impressed , however,when they watch me cranking my numb legs and stiff back out of the seat. Oh and the nose of the boat is a favourite dog leg-cocking location…I think it is permanently impregnated with pheromones.

There seems to be a bit of a buzz about the glass SA fishing yaks at the moment with the arrival of Stealth in the UK. If the Stealth Pro Fisha 575 combines the paddling attributes of the Paddleyak Swift with improved fishing credentials it will be a formidable boat. as long as it has the looks too.

Most unusual fish caught from my Paddleyak……Twaite’s Shad:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA