Wow, what a world-class adventure. Hard to believe it’s only half an hour’s drive from where I live.
Finding a day suitable for a kayak trip to Lundy, twelve miles off the coast of North Devon, is very difficult. It is at the mouth of the Bristol Channel so there are big tides and big, swirly currents. It is also generally windy and is fully exposed to groundswell from the Atlantic.
Planning a one-way trip is challenging enough, but sea conditions suitable for paddling there and back in a day are very rare indeed. If you like a smooth ride, there has got to be virtually no wind, virtually no swell, and tides should be neap. It’s just a handful of days a year.If you like being thrown about a bit, there’s a few more.
It’s a thirty-mile trip but because you have to paddle at an angle across the tide the distance equivalent is quite a lot more.
So all in all it’s a pretty daft thing to do. And therefore irresistible to our motley posse of paddlers, who were not without a bit of experience of the sea. Simon, ex world champion surf kayaker. Jack, current runner-up junior world champion surf kayaker. Austen, seasoned paddler and sailor. Me, good at spotting seabirds.
Austen, Jack and Simon were in sea kayaks. I was in (on) my plastic recreational sit-on-top. Not as fast as a sea kayak but boy, is it comfortable. Very important on a very long trip.
We were on the water at Hartland Quay at 0630 (as planned!). Clear skies, light wind, not really any other sign of humanity. Apart from Hartland Quay Hotel, there are very few houses along the notoriously savage Hartland Heritage coast. No vapour trails, no boats or ships (not many ships go past here, either). Good, good and good.
We headed out past Hartland Point lighthouse, where there is usually an impressive/ terrifying tide race.
We soon had Manx Sheawaters zipping past our kayaks, en route from their breeding islands off the Pembrokeshire coast (and also Lundy now) to feed somewhere off Land’s End, before returning to their nesting burrows at dusk.
Next on the wildlife list was the puff of a Porpoise, which was, as usual, difficult to spot. It’s quite a small creature in a very big sea.
Unlike Austen’s and my first (and only other) trip to Lundy thirteen years ago, visibilty was very good. On the previous occasion we became enveloped in thick fog and nearly run down by a ship. We could hear the thud of its engine and the blast of its foghorn, but all we ever saw of it was its bow wave.
This sort of offshore paddling is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely love it. The wilderness experience combined with the anticipation of seeing some extreme wildlife is quite a thrill. Not to mention the benefits of a wee spot of exercise, I suppose.
Several miles out from Lundy we eyeballed our first Puffin. Looking good in bright sun and blue sea.
As we neared the island after three hours of paddling, we had to increase the paddling rate and battle through the Rat island tide race before we reached the flat sheltered water beneath the cliffs.
A few seals gave us the look. Perhaps they don’t see many kayakers out here. I’ve just noticed that this one has a red tag in its tail, so is probably a rescued seal from Cornwall Seal sanctuary. I’ll find out.
We hauled up on a shingle beach beside the slipway, and although it was only just after ten, we demolished lunch. I generally will not entertain the idea of lunch before midday, but these were exceptional circumstances. Here’s the spread….
Sharp-eyed blog readers amongst you may have just noticed, like me, that there are five lunchboxes laid out, but only four paddlers. The feet in the background give the game away. Hobbits need a second breakfast.
We wandered up the hill to the village and rehydrated with a shandy at the Marisco tavern, but it was time for the return leg.
Despite a solid forecast of virtually zero wind, we were all a bit edgy about the return leg (apart from Jack and Simon). Maybe it’s because we got caught in the Hartland Point tide race last time.
No need to worry, for the whole four-and-a-half hour trip back the surface was about as smooth as this stretch of water has ever been. Incredible.
And we came across Puffins. Fifteen total. How fantastic to see these charismatic little seabirds in such ideal conditions. The reflections are almost as perfect as the original above the surface.
Superlatives all round. The name Lundy is derived from the Norse word ‘Lundi’, meaning Puffin. Unfortunately Puffin numbers had crashed (down to thirteen pairs), until rats were eradicated from the island about fifteen years ago. The number of breeding seabirds, including Puffins, has increased exponentially since then. A fantastic conservation success story.
Smiles, and camera clicks, all round from the kayak team.
I struggled to drag myself away from Puffinfest and got a bit left behind.
The others plodded on towards the distant Devon coast.
We briefly stopped for a breather half way back. Land six miles in front, and six miles behind.
There is the potential for boredom on this sort of a trip, but only if you are not in tune with wildlife. The call went up from Austen….’Sunfish!’. Two Sunfish were flicking their way just beneath the surface, with dorsal fins waving about in typical fashion. Strange, strange fish…visitors from warmer waters.
I was starting to get greedy and muttered about how nice it would be to finish off the day with a pod of dolphins. As I spoke I saw Simon, who was away off to the south, looking hard to his right. A dolphin suddenly leapt clear of the water right behind him. Muscle fatigue disappeared instantly as we powered over towards them.
At least a dozen, probably double that number, were scattered over a wide area and we were surrounded by the sound of splashing.
Wow, yet again.
Once through the tail end of the Hartland tidal current we had a lake-like paddle back to the slipway at Hartland Quay for the final mile.
The end. I’ve exhausted my quota of wow’s.