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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.