The open sea and exposed coast is always my favourite paddling environment. It’s just so exciting, especially down here in Devon and Cornwall. The scenery alone is enough to fulfil all your requirements for a good day out. But for me its the expectation of an extreme wildlife encounter that makes me go back time and time again. A peregrine scorching across the sky, the glimpse of a dolphin’s fin, the snore of a sleeping seal, a fox hunting along the shore.
It’s so easy to take it all for granted. Kayaking is by far the best way to see all this stuff. It’s silent. Not having an engine means you can hear the marine equivalent of a pin being dropped. The piff of a porpoise, the ‘thoomph’ of a distant gannet hitting the water, the snicker of a little gang of purple sandpipers creeping amongst the barnacles.Or the high-pitched squeak of an otter up one of the rivers.
The weather ensures that the north coast of Devon and Cornwall will never get crowded with kayakers. There has not been a single day in the last three months that has been suitable for the open coast. Almost incessant wind and huge waves. On the handful of windless days the groundswell has been prohibitive.
So it was a wise move to make the effort to go to Boscastle at the end of September, on probably the last calm day there of the summer. And it was amazingly flat with no wind and a very rare completely swell-free day. Any sort of lumpiness at all makes going into the amazing caves and ‘zawns’a bit uncomfortable and edgy. Not to mention the exposed headlands.
Boscastle down to Tintagel is one of the UK’s best paddles. You can do a sort of circuit. Paddle half a mile offshore and follow the tide down, admiring the coast from afar, and then return investigating every twist and turn and gulch and cave and waterfall and island and beach. There’s a lot of fish here as they are protected by the fisherman-hostile environment.
The turning point of the trip is Tintagel island. In the summer time there are always a lot of tourists here who do a lot of aimless milling about (or are they reeling from the extortionate entry fees to King Arthur-land?).
At high tide you can paddle right through the neck of the island using Merlin’s cave, emerging into a completely different view down to Port Isaac and Rump’s point. To make it even more mysterious the entrance to the cave is very difficult to find, especially if approaching from the south.
On the way back up to Boscastle Bossiney bay provides a superb sandy beach stop, as well as the only colony of cliff-nesting housemartins in the southwest (I think).
Long island provides the biggest highlight. An impossibly craggy and eroded fang of rock. I had my first encounter with basking sharks here.
It’s a bit of a shock to get back to Boscastle itself. Although super quaint it is always heaving with sightseers. Trolleying the kayak back up through the mainstreet I never loiter. I’d sooner still be out with the sandpipers.
Since the wind has livened up it’s been a bit of a struggle to find somewhere to paddle to burn off a few mince pies. The coast is out of bounds and the rivers are flooded. This makes even estuary paddling a bit of a problem as the river flow overwhelms the strength of the incoming tide. Bideford and the Torridge estuary is always a good bet however and if you have to paddle against the flow for a bit it can only be a good thing in terms of blubber-burning.
Canals are very much a last resort for me. They really are quite boring and the tow paths are teeming with doggy people, and dogs. Not good for wildlife. But sometimes they are the only viable option if I feel a necessity to put paddle to water. The Grand Union Canal at Tiverton is one of the best around here. 11 miles long and no locks. It carves through some pleasant farmland and has one or two very scenic cuttings that look even better with the colours of autumn.The whirligig beetles have to jostle for a bit of space on the surface of the water with all the fallen leaves.
A couple of weeks spent in North London before Christmas would have been even more like a holiday in a prison camp if I hadn’t taken Puffing Pig, my inflatable kayak with me. A handful of jaunts along the Grand Union Canal provided a welcome change to the stationary traffic of Watford and Rickmansworth. Kingfishers and Herons and the squawk of Parakeets. The water smelled a bit oily and looked a bit iffy but it was OK for a bit of a blast. I was grateful for Puffing Pig’s easy 14kgs weight to make the many portages around the locks as easy as it could be.
It was my first ever visit to Berkhamstead. And my last, probably. Hopefully.