Skomer and Skokholm

I had planned a bit of kayaking in Pembrokeshire before I picked son no.2 up from Aberystwyth University and the weather forecast was……stunning. Big excitement and big plans. It may be even calm enough for a circumnavigation of Skomer and Skokholm.

Skokholm Island
Skokholm Island

Should I take my Paddleyak Swift to eat up the distance or stick with my Tarpon 160 fishing kayak to provide a superstable and supercomfortable viewing platform for the many puffins I hoped to see? Serious sea kayakers may also consider it to be a supertanker.

Supertanker (on the roof)
Supertanker (on the roof)

I had an afternoon, a full day, and a morning to play with. The north wind was still blowing for day one so I opted for a ‘warm-up’ paddle in the shelter of the south Pembrokeshire coast between Freshwater East and Stackpole Head. I had my eye on Barafundle Bay, much hyped as one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the country.And what an excellent name. Good place to stop for lunch hopefully.

Bootiful Barafundle
Bootiful Barafundle

Of course I trolled a plug-type lure behind as I cruised along, hopeful of catching a bass. It didn’t look good however as the water was gin clear and there was very little wave action or tidal movement (apart from the headlands). Not alot to get a bass excited.

P1070481I think it’s pretty important for kayak fishermen to have a few different tricks up their sleeve.Putting all your eggs into one basket and going all out to catch fish can lead to disappointment during weekends like this, epecially as bright sunshine never seems to be much good for catching fish. It really helps to have other kayak-based interests, such as an appreciation of coastal scenery, a passion for marine wildlife, or getting a kick out of clocking up the miles.

Barafundle bay lured me in from many miles away as the sun made it stand out like a jewel in a gap in the cliffs. But just as I arrived, salivating with anticipation of my stale and warm cheese and pickle sandwiches, the sun went in and the beach starting heaving with people so I aborted and went to find a deserted kayak only (but rather grotty and pebbly) beach to myself.

No fish.

That evening I camped in the carpark at Martin’s Haven and was very excited about my planned visit to the waters of Skomer and Skokholm. These are legendary places to seabird enthusiasts and I had never been before. I was ready to go before 6am and couldn’t believe the National Trust carpark attendant was already on site  as I trolleyed my kayak past. He was of course full of disaster stories of kayakers coming a cropper in the local tide races. Thanks alot (but he was a nice chap).

Martin's Haven
Martin’s Haven

It was as good a morning as I could have hoped. Blue sky, light north wind, minimal swell. Neap tides as well so the tide rips shouldn’t be too bad. But crikey, they were like a river. Just for a lark I paddled as hard as I could against the flow in Jack Sound and remained exactly stationary. Fortunately it was an easy and short ferry glide across to Skomer and I was soon back in calm water and absorbed by looking at puffins. Loads of them.

Puffin hoard
Puffin hoard

About a hundred photos later I was heading south across the three mile stretch of open water to Skokholm, to arrive in time to meet the incoming tide. Loads more puffins. I loafed around the north coast of Skokholm and devoured my five weetabix breakfast while surrounded by cackling Guillemots (including a couple with ‘bridles’), Razorbills and a lot more puffins.

Breakfast at sea
Breakfast at sea

The water was glassy along the south coast and the birdlife was complemented by a few seals that ‘exploded’  with a big splosh behind me .

This one, however, is fast asleep
This one, however, is fast asleep

The west coast was rather more hostile looking, essentially bare rock that looked like it spent most of the time being pounded by wind and swell. And a lighthouse.

As usual I was early for the tide change so had to paddle against the whitecaps of the outgoing tide race, but to compensate I saw a porpoise surface a couple of times in a typical unshowy manner. Another race two hundred yards further on flowed in the opposite direction. Uh? 

P1070691During the paddle back to Skomer my gaze was drawn to the west where Grassholm sat low on the horizon, and even at the range of seven or eight miles I could see half of it completely white with gannets.

Grassholm (and another supertanker)
Grassholm (and another supertanker)

I was already puffined out, but it hadn’t even started. In the bay there sat thousands of them. With hundreds more commuting overhead to their nesting burrows on the island. I loafed about enjoying the amazing natural scene and soaked up the sun. A lot of walkers on the island looked down with envious eyes.

.....wish I had a kayak.
…..wish I had a kayak.

Skomer’s west coast was about as impressive as anywhere in western cornwall with stacks,caves and islands, and as usual a tide race which seemed to be running in the opposite way to expected. And to finish it off the big bay of  North Haven was full of even more puffins than before. Skomer is supposed to have ten thousand of them and I reckon I saw every single one. Twice.

Flattering puffin pic
Flattering puffin pic

Not so flattering puffin pic

I was projected north at some speed by the tiderace of Little Sound and was accompanied back to Martin’s Haven by a tourist boat. Watching marine wildlife from a boat has never rung my bell as the other passengers always seem to be a lot more interested in what pies are available in the restaurant or who has just texted them to tell them what time ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is on. Kayaking has got to be the way to do it (until I get too creaky).

16.4 miles, 7 hours in the seat without getting out. No records broken, apart from number of photos taken.

Back on shore I loafed about on a clifftop in the sun amongst the sea pink and kidney vetch and watch the world go by. Kestrels hovered, choughs buzzed, peregrines carved.The Pembroke ferry slunk out.

Ferry and Mew Stone, Skomer
Ferry and Mew Stone, Skomer

And then suddenly I got the urge to go and find some dolphins so hopped in the car and headed north. I was gripped by a sense of urgency (as usual) as I arrived at superquaint Cymtydu beach and, as I stepped out of the car and glanced seaward, a bottlenose dolphin surfaced! Needless to say no-one else on the beach noticed (maybe pies and Kardashians were involved again).

I was on the water in a matter of seconds and tearing off around the corner in pursuit. I got a distant glimpse as it jumped once more and that was it. It was a dolphin on a mission and no way was I going to keep up. So a bit of bottom fishing instead in the evening sun.No joy.

However I was fired up and was back on the water before 6am paddling north to New Quay which has a reputation for dolphin sightings, and it was flat calm. I would normally have got very excited about the big Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake colony at Bird’s Rock but after yesterday it was a bit trivial.

Around into New Quay bay and the stage was set. Glassy sea, and from half a mile out I could hear the lambs bleating and blackbirds singing. And there they were , a couple of bottle-nose dolphins surfacing time and again in the same spot. I sidled closer and watched (and shot off a load more pics). Fantastic. The display continued as I ate my Weetabix. After an hour I left them to it but then had an even better encounter with a singleton dolphin in the tide race off  New Quay Head. Sensational.P1080021

P1080172P1080165I tore back to Cymtydu, passing yet another dolphin, caught nothing as I trolled a lure behind (surprise, surprise), and it was back to the roads and the traffic, and civilisation, unfortunately.

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6 thoughts on “Skomer and Skokholm

  1. Amazing, but i bet the pictures don’t do your experiences any justice. Picking up my scupper pro this weekend, cannot wait to get out on the water after reading this months update!! keep ’em coming!!

  2. Superb stuff Rupert, one of my favourite little places is Cwmtydu, love the drive down through the ancient Oaks. I must get to Skomer and Skokholm, as well, and the trip around Stackpole passing Barafundle, is reputed to be on of Wales’ best. How could anybody not love Puffins? Did you encounter any Manx Shearwater? They have the spookiest call of ANY bird at night, really eerie, and haunting. We’ve just had a week at Anglesey, and camped on the Skerries, which I’m sure you would love, but not before Matt called for a helicopter for the ‘lost’ Me, who was actually filming Porpoise, and Puffins myself!!! All in a day’s paddle eh? Well, I think that was summer, but at least we had something this time.

    1. Thanks Frank. Hope to see your video about the Skerries and their puffins (and hopefully the helicopter!) soon. It’s normal service with the weather down here again. Wet and wind. Beginning to wish I had paddled round Grassholm as well. All the best. R.

  3. P.s. I have been reliably informed that Dolphins can be spotted off New Quay head every evening around 6pm. The fact that the fish factory dump their waste there, may have something to do with it, but the Gulls get first dibs on that.

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