Paddling the Pointy Bit

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					     Paddling the Pointy Bit

                                          Aloe on Tresco, Scilly Isles.

A voyage of discovery round Cornwall by kayak
                Alex Bowling

                   Aug, 2005
Saturday, 13th August.

Every year I endeavour to fund raise for local
charities by short kayaking trips here in the U.K.
This summer was no exception, but with our first
child on the way, this may be the last time in the
near future that I could take this length of time
away from home without filling my hatches with
nappy bags and baby clothes! In addition to this,
Christa, the bump and I are looking to move
down to Cornwall within the year, so this
represented my best opportunity to fill in the
blank spaces in my mental map of the county,
before deciding on a place to live and set up
After finishing my week in the Chiropractic clinic
and watching the clock through the early shift in
the post office in Poole on Saturday, I set off with
Christa to spend the night with Sarah Bromley in
Boscastle. The weather forecast for the first few
days of the trip looked to be great though
tomorrow, Sunday, looked like a poor day to start
the trip.     Christa‟s new work vehicle was,
according to the manual, officially in “limp
mode”. This and the low cloud gave a fairly
oppressive feel to the start of the trip as we
passed across Bodmin moor. I always get pre-trip
gitters, and doing this on my own didn‟t help.
John Kelly and Rik Barton, both Northern lads,
are the usual partners in crime, though for this
paddle neither of them could make it.                           Dr. Barton on trip training, Lulworth Cove.
Undaunted in the planning stage, it became a tense drive sitting in the cloud layer as I mulled over
my rather rusty procedures for self rescue. Having not sat in a boat all year and only maintaining
the most modest of fitness regimes, it was easy to become intimidated by what the next ten days or
so would require of me. And this was meant to be a holiday!
Boscastle reached the national news last year due to the terrifying flooding that seem to come out
of the blue. Driving down the small switchback road into the steep-sided valley, it became clear
that this village was predisposed to nature‟s wrath from all angles. The way that granite very slowly
erodes leads to the landmass rising very suddenly out of the sea, leaving little elbow room for
fishermen and tourists between the devil and the deep blue proverbial. Late on that windswept
rainy evening, few tourists were out on the roads. Whilst many tourists go through Boscastle, few
seem to stop, perhaps intimidated by the crowds and difficulty in negotiating the narrow main
street. Perhaps they only seek a fleeting glimpse of the devastation they saw on the telly and don‟t
feel the need to get a real sense of the place.
Sarah Bromley was one of the unfortunates who really did take a beating in the flood of 2004. Away
visiting relatives in the opposite end of the country, she and her family watched the news and saw
the stone house that had stood for 200 years get washed away in an hour. For those with good

Memories from the T.V, it abutted and was directly up from the witch museum. With little
material goods left after the flood and no insurance, Sarah re-established herself and her family 500
meters up the hill from the harbour in Penally Court. The Penally family seem to have had a great
deal of say over the development of Boscastle, with many of the main buildings there , not to
mention the mine, named after them. Could there be a link to the Penally outside Tenby in
Pembrokeshire? Answers on a postcard please…
We were met by Sarah‟s father, who was waiting for us to arrive. We had arrived too late to join
Sarah at a folk festival in Port Isaac and they had gone without us. Tired and hungry, we left our
gear in the house and went down for a meal at The Cobweb. Maybe it was just the oppressive
weather clinging to the valley sides, but the sense of menace I had felt on the drive down continued
after we arrived in Boscastle. Perhaps it was the blank stare I received when telling Sarah father
that I was leaving my pregnant wife-to-be for as long as it took to go around Cornwall alone in a
boat two inches wider than my bum. I told myself that this may be the last fresh meal I was going
to have for a while, and managed to turn great pub-grub into a last-supper type of event. This kind
of trip must bring out the drama queen in me. After a couple of pints and the most outrageous
desert, my mood lightened somewhat. What was I worried about?

Sunday, 14th August

By the next morning, the weather had improved, but the wind had picked up to a North-westerly
force 5 or 6. A quick walk down to the headland showed a fairly lumpy sea around the islands just
outside the harbour. Imagining myself out there brought back the previous days tense and
grumbling stomach. If I were to get on the water today, it wasn‟t to be here on the North coast, so
the decision was made to drive to down to Plymouth and have Christa drive my car back up to
In the grand scheme of things of course the paddle can be started at either end of the coastline.
However, the two variables of tide and weather proved frustrating for the two weeks I had planned
this trip for. By Wednesday, the 5 day forecast was for the wind to swing in from the Southwest as
the expected dominate high pressure over France became squeezed against the next weak Atlantic
low. Starting from Plymouth, if I could get to Lands end by then, both the Spring tides and the
wind would be behind me for the North coast. This would mean large breaks from paddling in the
middle of the day whilst the tide turned against me for the entire trip and getting up in the middle
of the night to pack for an early start every morning. Having decided to set off from the south
coast and go around Cornwall clockwise, the vision I had of this trip being a relaxing holiday were
fading away at the thought of regular 4.00 a.m wake-up calls.
First we had to sort out Christa‟s car problems. The RAC guy came out and found that the
problem wasn‟t fixable with his laptop. There was no real problem with the vehicle, but some
microchip was reading emissions wrong. Modern cars can make you scream. Soon mechanics will
be doing motorway call out remotely from their lounge chair in their smoking jacket and their
favourite slippers. There wasn‟t much time to deal with it, since she had to be filming with David
Bellamy in Perran Sands and be in Wales the day after. So after organising a meeting with the
Vauxhaul dealer in Truro for the next day, we set off to Plymouth.
Emotions were high for the drive down. Christa hadn‟t driven the “family car” I had just bought
from Gabriella, a Norwegian friend that was returning home. We drove to Plymouth via the stretch
of coast just West of the city to get a look at the sea state. A combination of Christa not wanting to
drive an unfamiliar car in Plymouth city centre and the North-Westerly winds whipping up off the
notorious Rame Head meant that I began the trip one Km West at Port Wrinkle, a tiny harbour
below Crafthole.

Christa’s map of the trip.

Christa waited patiently whilst I mucked around with balancing the gear in my Legend for the
afternoons head wind. I immediately relaxed with the job at hand, and soon forgot the previous
day‟s dark mood. Whilst I was unhappy not to have started in Plymouth itself, the sea state down
here on the South coast was so good, I couldn‟t complain. Christa waved me off and was still
waiting there for me ten minutes later when I returned for the wallet I had left in my jeans pocket.
She knows me better than I know myself. I watched her from the cockpit of my boat as she drove
off quite happily in the unfamiliar car and I immediately felt quite alone. Whilst this was what I
had been looking forward to for the last couple of stressful months, it didn‟t leave me with quite the
same taste in my mouth that I had been expecting.

The first two towns on the coast are Downderry and Seaton, both pretty grubby and reminding me
of the caravan tourism of Dawlish and the coastline beneath Exeter. Like a blast from the past the
Monkey Sanctuary at Looe appeared on the horizon to remind me of the month or so I had spent
there 10 years ago in an effort to convince myself I could be an Anthropologist. My father‟s
mothers‟ grandfather was a fisherman from Looe and I can‟t imagine it has changed a lot since his
time. It remains in essence two small towns divided by a river, with the harbour walls at its heart. I
stayed out in line with Looe Island to get as much from what ebbing tide there was.

With the present neap tides and calm conditions, the only element to contend with the wind, which
was living up to the forecast of North-Westerly 5-6. For those of you reading this with little sea
knowledge, force 6 on the beaufort scale is given as a strong wind warning by the meteorological
office for small vessels, such as pleasure cruisers and inshore fishing vessels Gales start at force 7.
The wind had been dropping all afternoon, but the strong headwind close into shore made for slow
going. My paddle blades went deep into the water and required whole-body paddling. My feet
pushed hard against the bulkhead to drive the boat into the wind that looked for any purchase to
grab the nose of the boat and push me off line. By the time I had aimed off for Looe Island, I was
two or three km from the mainland and the wind that had initially been pushing me backwards
came from over my right shoulder, endeavouring to blow me offshore. The boats‟ hatches were
packed tight with all the food I would need for the week or so I would need to complete the trip, so
she sat heavily in the water and tracked beautifully, giving very little deck for the wind to grip hold
of. The Legend was a great boat in its day, but seems archaic in comparison to many of today‟s
designs.            My
particular boat is
older than I am and
has so many patches
it looks like its being
held together with
gaffer tape,        but
loaded       as      the
expedition boat that
it was designed to
be,              travels
excellently in most
sea states. By the
time I landed on the
privately        owned
island I was soaked
and had worked
muscles that for
months had been idle.                       John Kelly and the Legend after our charity paddle round Pembs, 2000.

Looe Island is lovely and must be idyllic for the two sisters that own it. The island has a chequered
past, with smuggling being the main cause of its local notoriety. It would have been a great place
to stay for the night, but since I hadn‟t managed to get a call through to Christa to say I was safe, I
was motivated to get back on the water after a short walk around the island. 500 meters wide and
long, it must have been a very zealous German Pilot that bombed the island thinking it was a
warship in World War II!

With the wind dropping quickly, I was tempted to make the most of the weather and by 7.30 there
wasn‟t a breath of wind or another vessel on the water to be seen. I decided to get off the water
early enough to find a phone box since I had absolutely no reception on my mobile. Pulling into a
sandy cove on the edge of Talland bay, I was greeted by the sight and smell of honeysuckle spilling
over the back of the cove and I knew I had made the right choice for the night. After filling up my
water bottles and a quick phone call I built a fire, cooked up a mess and dried my paddling clothes.
It was to be an early start for me tomorrow, so I wasted no time and climbed into my bivvy bag.
The remnants of the fire gave sufficient light to consult my charts as I planned the next few days
paddling to make the most of the tide.

Monday 15th August

I got up for the 5.35am shipping forecast and a cracking day was predicted. The beautiful calm
from the previous evening had remained and the East facing aspect of the bay gave me some of the
dawn‟s warmth to make getting out of my sleeping bag easier.

                                                                                          Gribbin Head.
I had reduced my normal kayaking gear for this trip, reducing the weight of the boat by not taking
luxuries like a stove and a tent, making manoeuvring the boat less painful now I was single
handed. This meant I spent far more time than normal getting on the water, packing and
repacking to get the weight correctly distributed. I was on the water by 7.30am and already
sweating in the heat by 8.30a.m. The beautiful village of Polperro passed quickly over my right
shoulder and all of a sudden I felt like I was really in Cornwall. With not even a whisper of wind in
the air, I paddled to Lantic Bay for a second breakfast in something of a day dream. With no paths
marked on the ordinance Survey maps and only sheep track with a rotting rope dangling over the
400ft cliff as access, this pristine beach must be the locals‟ best kept secret.

Fowey and Gribbin Head crept past slowly in conditions calmer than any for the rest of the trip.
Having not found any tidal assistance to speak of, St. Austells bay looked industrial and
uninspiring. With the china clay slag-heaps dominating the horizon behind St. Austell I decided to
cross to Mevagissey and try to catch up on time lost yesterday. After about 2 hours paddling I
reached Chapel point and Mevagissey twenty minutes later. Mevagissey is hugely popular, and I
shared the morning with plenty of motor craft. As I neared Chapel point I found the first hints of
tide on the trip, and a couple of the boats that had come out from Mevagissey were on fishing trips,
and there were definitely plenty of mackerel in the tide out on the point.
By the time I got close to Gorran Haven, I saw my fist Cornish seal of the trip, but was stopped
from playing with it by some fool in a speedboat coming too close. The rock type (metamorphic
shale) this side of the Lizard produces the same cliffs and steep, inaccessible beaches as are found
on the North Pembrokeshire coastline in Wales. Here, as Pembrokeshire, the Atlantic grey seals
favour isolated pupping beaches with as little human contact as possible.

                                                                             Grey seal pup, St. David’s head.
I arrived at Gorran at high tide, with the tourists packed as tight as sardines on what sand was left
above the high tide line. I was wilting in the heat and needed to get in some shade, so popped in
for a pasty, a cheap pair of sunglasses and a water bottle refill in the bakery. Having paddled in the
windless silence all morning, the clamour of ice cream fuelled children and overheated pils
quaffing parents, I was in a hurry to leave. I paddled round the corner to Vault cove, and kayaked
slowly over the beautiful rocky reef that stretches the length of this bay. By the time I landed, I
thanked that someone above that was looking after me, since I had remembered to pack my
umbrella, a habit from paddling in Patagonia. It acted as the shade that I needed and I fell asleep
in the heat to wait for the tide to turn in my favour again. Christa and I were here earlier in the year
with her sister, Anna, Dan and their kids for a blissful long weekend camping on Dodman Point
with weather as good as this.
                                            Back then, I was unaware of the naturist tendencies of
                                            many of the people who frequented this cove. Waking
                                            in a daze, I became acutely aware that the naturist
                                            population is made up of a particularly high population
                                            of fat old men, who appeared to find me fascinating.
                                            After a couple of awkward conversations I couldn‟t get
                                            back on the water quick enough. When I got to
                                            Dodman Point I met a group of sea kayakers heading in
                                            the opposite direction. It was tempting to go back to
                                            spend a night camping in friendly company, but
                                            decided to push on and get to Falmouth which would
                                            keep me on schedule. The weather was forecast to
                                            come in from the South west by Wednesday. If I could
                                            get round Lands End by then I would have a tail wind
                                            for most of the North coast. After Caerhays the coast
                                            looked a bit drab, so I headed straight for Nare Head to
                                            make the most of the tide I had been waiting for.
                                            Disappointingly little tide pushed me forward- perhaps I
                                            had been expecting too much from these neap tides.

Anna and Tallulah at vault cove

The overfalls I had been told to watch out
for were, as yet, not forthcoming. I was
lucky to have been getting half a Knott‟s
assistance across to Gull rock, where I
pulled out my radio for the shipping
forecast. Another brilliant day forecast for
tomorrow. With the sun directly ahead of
me and dropping quickly, I was feeling heat
exhausted and headachey. These cheap
sunglasses were not doing the trick- what
was I expecting for a fiver? I paddled into
the sun for another eye-blistering hour till
rounding Zone Point at the entrance of
Falmouth. The lights at St. Anthony‟s
Head, the setting for the Kids programme
Fraggle Rock, stood out strikingly as the
sun set. By the time I got out of the boat, I
was whacked. I pulled the boat up into a
cave, boiled some water and ate looking out
over Falmouth. It was another glorious
bivvy spot, with tiny Pipistrelle bats keeping
me company over the cave mouth as the
sunset.                                                                The lights at St. Anthony’s Head.

Tuesday 16th August

I knew I had pushed it too hard yesterday, but I wasn‟t prepared for how sore I was going to be. It
was another 5.30am start to a glorious day, but the soreness and the cold made it difficult to get
going. This morning I was hoping to link the ebbing tide from the river Fal with the minimal tide
down through the Manacles and around the Lizard. It took 2 hours to get myself out of the dark,
damp cave that was so appealing last night. I got going and finally set a line for Porthallow.
By the time I was in line with the Helford I was just about awake, but still exhausted. I decided I
must be dehydrated and took on a litre of water, and made a mental note to drink more today. The
Helford is flooded river valley; a remnant of the sea level rise after the last ice age. Its also a
                                                   magical waterway. At high tide the trees
                                                   overgrow many of the smaller arms of the river
                                                   and beautiful new views await you around every
                                                   slow meander. Due to the size of the tidal
                                                   range here way out West, at low tide the
                                                   Helford becomes far less navigable. The family
                                                   Bean- Christopher, Dylan and Lorna keep their
                                                   boat, the Lady Hamilton here and supply some
                                                   of the more forward thinking Sushi bars in
                                                   London with their morning‟s catch of mackerel,
                                                   Pollock, Gurnard and even Wrasse.

A family Bean fish-box sprouting grass at the St. Martins bakery!
At the far reaches of the Helford, Gweek seal sanctuary attracts many tourists and is beautifully
positioned to look over the river. To complete the local line-up, John Marshall at his family ran the
Gweek boatyard during the 80‟s and produced the innovation below, by pouring concrete over a
wreck of a boat, increasing the size of the tiny quay.
My shoulders were burning from yesterday‟s sun, and I had been sweating since 8.30am. I had
expected exposure to be an issue, but not exposure of this type! I toyed with calling Tracey and the
Tripconey tribe from Newtown St. Martin, but decided against it and left them to their beds. The
ebbing tide pulled me past the notorious Manacles. Whilst the tide was minimal, the shoal was still
impressive. It didn‟t take much
imagination to see why this two
km line of angular rock would rip
the bottom out of anything
unaware of the danger and with
the tide around here capable of
three Knott‟s or more, shoddy
navigation could send even the
most experienced seamen to a
watery grave. By the time I got to
Black head I gave in to the
sensation of paddling through
treacle, reduced the work rate and
remembered that this was a

                                                                                       Gweek Quay.

I lost two of my best spinners but caught a great big bass dragging a line off the back of the boat.
Exhaustion gave way to self-satisfied smugness as I planned a relaxing 2 hours cooking and eating.
I pulled over into a bay unnamed on my maps, east of Spernic cove. It was another bay with
difficult access and a sagging rope off the edge, which would put off all but the most adventurous
locals. Seams of Serpentine ran in its snake-skin pattern up the cliff after emerging from the sea.
This rock is the reason for the name of this headland, though I have it on good authority that the
Lizard is so named because the locals are so inbred they grow tails!
Whilst I was exploring round this gorgeous bay, another group of youngsters came in on a small
boat with the same idea as me, and brought their mackerel onto the beach for a fire. We clubbed
together, gathered what flotsam and Jetsam that would burn and put all the fish in tinfoil. We split
what we had, which was more than enough for the five of us. I crawled into a spot of shade from
the merciless heat and fell asleep to wait for the tide to give me some advantage around the next
stretch of coast. I woke at about 2.00pm and realised that I had already drunk five of the six litres
of water I was carrying this morning. I would need to get more water down my neck if I was going
to get any real distances done on this trip. Today I had been slacking, with only 20 km done before
lunch. That left me with another 30 km to do before dark. If I was going to get around Lands End
by tomorrow night, I still had a lot to do. I paddled round the corner to Kennack sands to refill my
water bottles. This beach is split by a beautiful rock garden at high tide, and the fishing here
looked great. The beach itself was heaving and there was the first surf I had found on this trip. It
was a reminder that I was moving off the South coast. Having negotiated between the boogie
boarders and the big ol‟ sunburnt mommas I filled up my water bottles and had an ice cream. After
20 minutes of leaving Kennack I realised I had forgotten to buy the pain killers I needed. The
shoulder muscles I had neglected for months were now making me painfully aware of the abuse I
                                                                             was suddenly putting
                                                                             them through. That
                                                                             and the rocky sleeping
                                                                             arrangements     made
                                                                             for       a     potent
                                                                             combination      when
                                                                             added to the stabbing
                                                                             eye pain as my brain
                                                                             began to fry in the
                                                                             heat. There was little
                                                                             time for self pity
                                                                             though. The scenery
                                                                             was stunning as big
                                                                             weathered       granite
                                                                             cliffs rose up around

Surf at Gwithian.
 I couldn‟t help mentally following the lines of climbs up the vertical cliffs, imagining the feel of hot
rock and sweaty, trembling hands on crux moves. The shoal of the end of the Lizard Peninsula
rightly gets the respect it deserves, with the lighthouse here being considered one of the most
important on the English coastline, due to the amount of traffic in the shipping lanes offshore. The
jags of rock stick out of the mirror calm sea like rotten teeth in no particular order for a couple of
kilometres. Shouts of encouragement came from the walkers on the footpath above as I paddled
slowly past, whilst seals, having become accustomed to the maddening crowds above, seemed to
take no notice of me.
Rounding the Lizard brought me the most spectacular scenery of the trip and is undoubtedly some
of the finest coastline I have ever had the pleasure to paddle. Kynance cove appears as if by magic
amongst sea stacks and islets and is popular with obvious reason. After wolfing down a pasty and
filling my water bottles again I hurried back down onto the water. The sun was going down
quickly and there were still miles to go. Heading up into St. Micheals bay, the only thing
disturbing the millpond like surface were thousands of silvery fish, excitedly gathering in shoals
and acting as a massive sieve, filtering on the surface for food with mouths open wide. Predatory
bass could be seen occasionally hunting in small groups just beneath the surface, whilst the
pilchards flickered away en masse when every stuffed seagull lazily flew by to disturb them. It was
an amazing display of the seas wealth, and I spent a frustrating half an hour trying to catch one of
these fish, stopping only after I had clobbered an unlucky seagull with the weight at the end of my
line, as it flew in the path of one of my casts.
I passed close to the impressive harbour walls at Mullion, not even making an attempt to sit
offshore to gain some advantage from the tide. Testaments to the 19 Century architecture sit in
pride of place along much of the Cornish coastline, and Mullion is no exception. These vast
summer houses seem painfully at odds with today‟s planning law, particularly in Mullion, where so
much of the coastal strip is owned by the National Trust.

                            Alex (steering) & James, training for the Isle of Wight trip (in background), Christchurch.
The shingle bank of Porthleven sands glowed red in the setting sun and was literally a sight for
sore eyes. I stopped in the first possible place. Four lads were fishing from a tender that was
listing heavily in the calm waters of Gunwalloe cove. All 4 rods were pulling pilchards out of the
water like there was no tomorrow, and it was obvious that the boat had fish deep to its gunwales.
Getting out of my little boat always feels great, but having been on the water for about 12 hours
today and still not being in the kind of condition needed for this kind of paddling, I was not
looking forward to carrying the boat to above the high tide line. By the time I had grunted and
groaned my way up the shingle, I was almost too tired to cook. But those of you who know me
know there‟s never a bad time to eat. I boiled some water and watched the sun set over the bay.

Just as the last rays of sun lit the clouds fiery red, something caught my attention in the corner of
my eye that I could swear hadn‟t been there two minutes before. A large smokeless fire had started
West of Porthleven, somewhere near Rinsey Head. It looked to be a strip around 300 yards long
and spreading. With what little reception I had on my phone I called 999. When we agreed on the
location of the fire, (which was difficult since it was dark by then), the fire brigade told me that they
had received a call five minutes earlier and that it was being dealt with. Sure enough, by the time I
had got off the phone, I could see the lights of two or three vehicles making their way across the
field. Interested as I was to see how the fire was dealt with, I couldn‟t keep my eyes open, and
nodded off as I was watching.

Wednesday 17th August

The morning started very slowly. Unusually, I had slept through the most important three minutes
of the day, the Shipping news. I woke intermittently and watched the dawn send fingers of warmth
slowly across the shingle beach. There was no way I was going to rush when I was this sore.
About now I was wishing I had done some more preparatory exercise prior to the trip. Not being
fit meant I was making heavy weather of this paddling, even in these great conditions. I made
breakfast by about 7.00am and watched a middle aged man make his way down to the high tide
mark in the same old red tractor that had pulled the pilchard fishing boat out of the water last
night. For the hours that I was there and probably for many hours after I left, this man back-
breakingly shovelled shingle into the barrow behind the tractor. Tom Pryor, one of Christa‟s school
friends has told me of the local use of this shingle to make „Gunwalloe block‟. His whole house
near RAF Culdrose is made of the stuff. This mans‟ methodical activity left little mark on the
environment, and the holes he left would no doubt be washed away and be filled in on the next
high tide. His perseverance and frenetic activity made my challenge seem like a walk in the park,
and acted as a counterpoint to my slow start.

                                                    Godrevey Island, from Virginia Woolfe’s ”To the Lighthouse”.

Consulting the charts over breakfast confirmed what I knew already; that I should have made an
early start again this morning to make the most of the tides. Although this whole week had been
neap tides, in a kayak you can never afford to miss a tide going in your direction. If the tide isn‟t
going with you, it‟s going against you. Typically late and bloodyminded, I set off on another day of
flat seas, both the sun and the gentle winds from behind me. As the bow of the Legend slid into
the water, an early morning walker split off from his family and came over for a chat. His dream
had been to treat Cornwall as an island by using the inland waterways and circumnavigate the
county by doing just as I was, then from the short canal at Bude, carrying his vessel the 200 meters
to get to the upper reaches of the Tamar. It‟s then a simple matter of letting the river take you all
the way down to Plymouth. As soon as he told me of his years old plan I could tell he regretted it.
I told him it was a great idea but that I didn‟t have the time, and he seemed very relieved. I
suppose sometimes its better to never have a dream become a reality if its not you that achieves it.
 I let the breeze take me slightly off
shore, away from Porthleven and aimed
from the still smouldering fields above
Rindsey. It looked like a farmer had
been burning back gorse on the cliff top
and things had become out of hand.
There were still four fire engines there,
but nobody was rushing around or
looking too worried. By the time I got
to Praa sands, it felt like Lunchtime. I
was never going to make it around
Lands End at this rate! The beach was
packed with emmets, and I ate a
hamburger that tasted like it was made
from horse flesh. Moving on as quickly
as possible, I passed Prussia cove and
was reminded of how good Christa‟s
mum, Vicky, is with local history. She
had told me before that Prussia cove
was so named according to legend by
one of the Carter brothers. As toddlers
playing on the beach the youngest asked
the eldest about what he wanted to be
when he grew up. The eldest brother is
said to have stood up proudly and
proclaimed he was going to be the King
of Prussia. Whilst perhaps not making
it to the dizzy heights of Royalty, the
influence of the brothers can still be
seen after 200 years, where the wagon
wheel marks can be seen cut into the
bedrock after the repeated carrying of
contraband from the beach below.
                                                                               Tin mine on CuddenPoint.
There was even said to be two permanent canon fittings in the cliff above placed there by the
smugglers for use against the revenue men. So began the fine history of the Cornish anti-
establishmentarianism. As I daydreamed about bygone days, another era of Cornish history about
which I know very little was emerging. At Cudden point, the first of the major Cornish tin mines
was standing in ruins. Battered by wind and waves, these mines had provided Cornwall with its
most significant export, putting it on the map during the Bronze Age, when tin was first used as
part of the amalgam with the copper from Ireland. The rock in the cliffs that I passed is still
stained green by untapped seams, and the hand carved passageways still extend hundreds of
meters down and out in the bedrock under the sea, as a permanent testament to the bravery of
those miners and the value of the ore.
From Cudden Point I took a bearing and aimed across St. Michaels Bay. Whilst it wasn‟t too
misty, a fine gauze of fog had settled over the whole of the bay, so I couldn‟t see the eight
Kilometres across it. I could, however, see St. Michaels Mount, which being three Kilometres away
told me I would be able to see Mousehole within about half an hour of paddling. Sure enough, as
the island fortress came over my right shoulder, the line of land over my bow became more
apparent. Impressive as St. Michaels Mount appears from Penzance, the perspective you get as the
building rise from the steep sea cliffs is quite daunting. This point was not lost on the architects of
what was originally designed to be a maritime defence. The same daunting view from sea is
probably true of its French counterpart across the channel at St. Michelle.

My head was still thumping during the crossing and I knew that if Mousehole was even half
pleasant that I would have been tempted to stay the night. I‟m pleased to say that the car parks,
screaming kids and overflowing
pubs that I could see from my
cockpit all put me off before I
landed. Instead I opted for the small
island 200 meters offshore.       St.
Clements‟ isle is a low lying crag of
rock with an unusual carpeting of
well maintained lawn. The guano
lovingly left behind by the resident
Cormorants obviously played its part
in nourishing the soil, but St.
Clement must also have been a keen
gardener in his time! Adding to the
bizarre nature of the isle was a tent
plopped right in the middle of the
grass. Exposed to the elements, it
had probably been put up by some
locals for a laugh.
                                        Mousehole & St. Clements isle from the helicopter service to the Scillies.
It had been filled with rocks to keep the wind from ripping it from the ground, and had become a
little ragged around the edges. It reminded me of the luxury I had left behind in favour of a lighter
and hopefully faster boat, so I climbed in to get out the wind and sun and must have fallen asleep.
I awoke with a start, and looking at my watch realised that I had slept too long. The sea breeze
that had been with me all day, finally taking the edge of the suns heat had all but disappeared. The
Cormorants could no longer see me inside the tent or sense my intrusion into their life, so a silence
descended on the island. Surrounded by silence, I gathered my thoughts sluggishly. I had left
myself only four hours of light left to paddle at least 25 Kilometres before I could reach a landing
spot, and that could only be reached after hours of committed paddling around Lands End. Simply
saying the words Lands End brings to mind exposure and wilderness, so I needed to be
determined if I was going to get round it this evening. I hurriedly consulted the charts and made a
plan. In anything but ideal conditions I would not have attempted this paddle alone and in
descending gloom. But these conditions were perfect, and the tide had finally turned back in my
favour. I hate to worry my parents about my kayak trips, but someone has to be able to put a call
out to the Coastguard if things go wrong. Wherever Christa was I wasn‟t able to get in contact, so
with a broken phone reception, I called my dad and told him I would be in contact before it was
dark; next stop Sennen cove. After passing the rocky bay of Lamorna Cove, the intricacy and
beauty     of    the
coastline began to
show itself. Basalt
pillars rose cleanly
through          the
gathering sea mist
as sunset neared. A
low      groundswell
surged against the
cliffs, larger here
than anywhere on
the trip thus far,
reminding me of the
distance     of  the
nearest land
West of here.

                                                                        The small lighthouse at Tater-Du.
 With the prevailing winds that we get here in the U.K, storms get the chance to build uninfluenced
by land mass way out in the Atlantic. Cornwall picks up the biggest swell this side of the West of
Ireland due to the direct force of Atlantic low pressure systems on this coastline and something out
there in the big blue was beginning to kick up some swell. I had been racing a low pressure system
and the Westerly winds that were expected for tomorrow to this most Westerly point. If I could just
make it around Lands End I would benefit from the winds behind me up the North coast and
finish way ahead of schedule. The crashing of surf against the cliffs and somewhere further out,
the slow chugging of a diesel engine were the only sounds to be heard above my paddles slipping
into and out of the water. A seal took particular interest in my boat and followed me most of the
way to Porthcurno, where the Minak theatre is. The diesel engine that I had heard over my left
shoulder nearly the whole way from Mousehole had been slightly offshore form me and was
departing as I arrived. It was another ex-fishing boat that converted to gain from the lucrative
tourist trade.
I have come to recognise and relish the surprised expression of obviously uncomfortable people in
big boats when they see someone looking quite comfortable in a boat narrower than their toilet
seats at home. My favourite was the previous year on a sponsored kayak that started as a drunken
bet with Rik. The general gist of the bet was that we couldn‟t get around the Isle of Wight in 48
hours. The conditions for the trip weren‟t perfect, and on the second day we crossed Hurst
Narrows back to the mainland with wind against tide in unpleasant conditions. The Coastguard
helicopter and Ribs were out trying to rescue the crew of a capsized yacht only two miles from us
and two weekend fishermen were heading back in on a 15ft Dory, making heavy weather of the
conditions. Having crested a wave, the two fishermen caught sight of Rik smiling sweetly up at
them. Ill never forget the white knuckles I saw on the steering wheel pocking above the cuddy
windows and the look of horror on their faces at seeing us paddling unperturbed in the opposite
Back on board the tourist boat off Porthcurno after the initial surprise, the expressions on
everyone‟s faces were replaced by smiles and much needed shouts of support as we passed each
other. In the Minack open-air theatre a play was about to start and hundreds of expectant people
were facing seaward. Whilst I‟ve been walking on this stretch of coast a few times before, it has
always been out of season so I‟ve never caught a performance before. However, the clever
designers did leave a surprise for my return visit by sea. Just like St. Michaels Mount, the Minak
reserves its full glory to those approaching by sea. With palisades and minarets carved right out of
the sea cliff the Minak looks less like an open air theatre and more like a petrified medieval
Sad to turn my back as the play was about to start, I was very tempted to leave my kayak at the cliff
base and climb up for a sneaky peak. I decided to crack on and get the rest of the days paddle
done. Rounding Gwednapp head I knew I was as close as I was going to get to the Scilly Isles
before marrying Christa in three weeks time. At 40 km‟s, the paddle from here out to the Scillies
will be challenging, but I‟m looking forward to it at some stage in the future, but preferably with
company! Sean Morley, a policeman I met after his record breaking kayak crossing from Ireland to
Wales, has done the crossing to the Scillies, though he is in quite another league to my more
modest standards. The tides running off the end of Cornwall make it very possible to completely
miss the Scillies in a vessel with only a four mile view to the horizon from the cockpit. In my soon
to be married bliss I may allow myself the luxury of the Scillonian ferry to carry me and my kayak
across the notorious waters to the group of islands, and save my energy for exploring once I‟m
there. If there‟s anyone reading this that‟s up for the challenge, come find me before middle aged
spread and Christa‟s good cooking completely ruin my chances of making the trip.

                                                                 View across to Tresco from Bryer, Scilly Isles.
The mist had been coming down steadily so I wasn‟t able to see across the five Kilometres to the
Longships lighthouse, though I could hear its eerily high-pitched fog horn piercing through the
growing darkness. The coastline between Gwednapp Head and Lands End is indescribably
beautiful. The mist and dropping light only added to the sense of splendid isolation that I had
come to enjoy on this coastline, allowing me the solitude to saturate myself as the scenery
unfolded. The cliff line here is wonderfully intricate, with sea stacks rising majestically out of the
deep turquoise calm. The birds nesting on the cliffs above me were clamouring for their space and
circled frantically before settling down for the night. Its evenings like these that are untouchable
and no photo album can do justice to the memories that you can savour for many winter nights to
come. It‟s a testament to the splendour of the scene here at dusk that I almost forgot about my
eyeball piercing headache. Also allowing me to enjoy this section of the trip was the fact that I‟d

finally found some tide to speak of. The last of the tide ebbing from the English Channel and the
start of the flooding tide filling into the Bristol Channel combined to pull me around Lands End,
where the last few climbers were packing up their ropes and hardware. The wreck of a cargo ship I
had paddled past only two years ago had been abandoned to the elements once the shipment had
been removed. Fragments of the splintered vessel had been left to be driven up onto the cliffs,
crumpled like pieces of waste paper. The sea mist cleared as the air temperature dropped, the
Longships foghorn had stopped its noise and as I lazily reflected on the power of the sea. Just at
the wrong time a couple of large swells surged underneath me as I back paddles crazily, crashing
                                                                      against what was left of the
                                                                      massive wreck and shaking
                                                                      me out of my reverie. Now
                                                                      was      not    a    time    to
                                                                      complacency. I was tired and
                                                                      had let myself get far too
                                                                      close in to the shallows under
                                                                      the cliff and had risked holing
                                                                      my boat, if not worse, to get a
                                                                      photo in the dwindling light.
                                                                      The swell and the tide acted
                                                                      as a reminder that I was now
                                                                      moving into a far more
                                                                      critical stage of the trip,
                                                                      where the sea state was going
                                                                      to play a far greater role as
                                                                      Spring tides were fast
RMS Mulheim, driven up under the cliffs at Lands End, 2003.
Sennen has always been my favourite surf beach in Cornwall and I was looking forward to a
familiar watering hole. As I pulled in I watched the harbour boys winch the last of the boats out of
water, seemingly oblivious to the rocks and coarse sand that must be damaging their boats
underbellies. On closer inspection, all the inshore fishing boats I saw here had reinforced metal
keel strips. As I slowly got out of the boat, stretched my limbs and pulled the boat above the high
tide I dwelt on the difference in practices between Wales and here. Granite is slow to erode in
comparison to the sedimentary rock of Pembrokeshire. It made sense down here where the
villages are on such steep slopes and the harbours so dry on low tide to pull the boats out of the
water on chains. That in mind, I‟m sure the harbour boys in Tenby would roll over in their bunks if
they saw how badly the boats down here were treated! After a phone call home and some glorious
pub grub I was more than ready for bed. I crawled warm, dry and full, not to mention a little drunk
into my bivvy bag and tried to stay awake for the Shipping forecast. No chance. Who would have
though a harbour wall could be so comfy?

Thursday 18th August

The last forecast I had heard the day before gave a wet and windy turn to the weather, so I was
pleasantly surprised to wake dry and warm next morning. Consulting the charts over breakfast, I
couldn‟t help but think that they were wrong in indicating the start of the flood tide up the North
coast. Not that I was complaining yesterday, when it gave me a welcome helping hand, but today I
needed to know when I could start making forward progress without being hampered by a lot of
water moving in the opposite direction. In essence paddling into the oncoming tide is like walking
the wrong way up an escalator. With little local knowledge of my own and armed with my charts

and tide table I went over to ask the harbour boys. My question about the tide set the cat amongst
the pigeons and as soon as I got a decent answer from one of them, another would come over and
contradict it. Soon there were half a dozen of them in a small rugby scrum around their own tide
table. Oily, hard working fingers began flying around in accusation and I decided it was time to
take my leave. I agreed with the one I had first spoken to, that the tide did start running North
earlier than the charts said. The Admiralty in their flotillas and massive vessels are not particularly
interested in what the tide is doing close inshore, so its often the case that as a small boat you have
to extrapolate from the larger scale charts to determine what‟s happening within a couple of
kilometres from land. What it all boiled down to was that I needed to be on the water and moving
as soon as possible to make it up past St. Ives before the weather turned sour. So much for a slow
start today.

Passing the two small islands, the Brisons, I thought that I had started too soon, since there was
very little tidal movement to speak of, but within 20 minutes as I arrived at Cape Cornwall I became
                                                        more sure that the charts were wrong and
                                                        the fishermen and I were right. There were
                                                        small but significant overfalls building that
                                                        needed my concentration at the Cape and
                                                        Pendeen Watch, with tonnes of water being
                                                        forced northward every minute as I pitched
                                                        further round the coast. Overfalls are area of
                                                        standing waves where the current throws
                                                        water skyward as it becomes compressed
                                                        over shallows or around promontories. The
                                                        cloud layer thickened and lowered
                                                        oppressively in the last 24 hours as a long,
                                                        slow oily swell surged in from somewhere
                                                        west of me. Last nights fog was back with a
                                                        vengeance, still without a breath of wind to
                                                        help the cloud lift. The fog horns blared at
                                                        Pendeen Watch and everything was pointing
                                                        to the change in weather that had been
                                                        predicted by the forecast I got at Sennen
                                                        coastguard station. This was another stretch
                                                        of coastline that required commitment, since
                                                        there were few exits before St. Ives, 30
                                                        Kilometres away. The tide pushed faster
                                                        and faster and the next few hours flew by in
                                                        enjoying the magnificent scenery.           The
                                                        nearer I got to St. Ives, the more little tourist
                                                        boats appeared, looking for the seals lazing
                                                        around in the Carrack shallows.

Gurnards Head.
By the time I got to St. Ives the mist had changed into drizzle, then into a fairly convincing
downpour, but the beach was still dotted with undaunted die-hards. Rounding St. Ives head, the
full tourist bonanza was exposed. Up and down the high street folk wandered around stripped to
the waist with their brollies up. The great British summer was being washed down with soggy
pasties and cans of lager. God bless the British stiff upper lip!

The wet weather coincided with an RNLI show day, which was probably why these pretty little
streets were awash with tourists. I pulled the boat up, bought two pasties the diameter of a
football and settled under the harbour wall arch to watch the scene unfold. The RNLI put on a
great show for us all. The always impressive pick-up and drop off of crew from a moving boat was
sharper and more precise than normal, perhaps due to the high skill level of the helicopter pilots
from RAF Culdrose at Goonhilly. Feeling suitably bloated from the pasties and safe in hands of the
Cornish coastguards, I paddled away from the bustle of St. Ives to find a place to set up camp.

The rain was still coming down and was blending with the ever-thickening mist. Having set a
course for Godrevy Lights, I lost my nerve in the impenetrable gloom after 45 minutes and came in
closer to run parallel with Gwithian beach. It could have been my imagination, but it seemed as
thought the low oily swell was building, giving three footers onto this fine surf beach. The only
people moving in my vision were the bored lifeguards, cliff jumping for kicks. Having reached the
end of the towans, I still couldn‟t see Virginia Woolfe‟s lighthouse. The poor visibility and the
gradual worsening of the weather over the next day or two meant that if I was going to be stuck on
land, I had to be near some fresh water and a phone. I decided against pushing round Godrevey
Point, which was bound to have a heavy overfall around it, though I still couldn‟t see it. In this
kind of visibility overfalls need serious consideration. Instead I punched through the surf onto the
beach and made my base in the sand dunes. By pushing hard on the first few days of the trip I had
managed to get ahead of the weather front that now seemed imminent. With further good luck,
and the low pressure playing nicely in the Bay of Biscay, I would have south westerly winds
blowing me all the way up this North coast. To top this off, the tides had been building in strength
over the last few days. At their apex, starting tomorrow, I would be a full three knots faster than my
flat water paddle speed. In combination with a strong tail wind, I envisaged myself hardly
touching the surface over the next few days. The Gods were with me now, nothing could stop

Friday & Saturday 19th/20th August

How wrong I was. The next two days brought strong winds in from the North west 4-5,
occasionally 6. It didn‟t take much to put me off further paddling on those two days, since a good
3-4 foot of surf was pounding up the beach all day.

With a better view of Godrevey race it was clear that the wind whipped up good sized haystacks as
it ripped the tide against itself, sending up fingers of spray. Sleeping, eating and borrowing surf
gear from friendly tourists took up most of my time, with what little time there was left to write this
journal. It was a well deserved rest and I finally felt I was in the kind of physical form I needed to
be in for the trip. It was nice to spend some time with Christa‟s mum and Max, who lived in
nearby Hayle, and I sneaked a much needed shower into the bargain.
I had raced this current low pressure system to this point in the vain attempt of getting a tail wind
for the rest of the paddle. The five day forecast showed another, deeper low pressure coming down
from Iceland by Wednesday, which would most likely be the end of the trip, whether I reached
Hartland Point or not. All that was left for me to do was to sit and wait for the conditions to come
good. The shipping forecast gave dropping winds by Sunday and by dusk on Saturday, we were all
treated to the infamous Gwithian sunset, heralding the clement weather that I needed.

                                                                                     Sunset at Gwithian

Sunday 21st August

I endeavoured to have everything packed before the shipping news at 5.35 AM. The forecast was
for dropping winds, backing counter-clockwise to westerly three to four occasionally five. I was
again back into the routine of early starts with midday breaks whilst the tide swung from the
North, preventing me from gaining much headway during the middle of the day. The fog that had
settled over Godrevey towans chilled the air before the sun rose and sent me scuttling back fully
clothed into sleeping bag after packing up camp. By the time the sun rose at 6.30 AM the mist
quickly lifted and revealed a beautiful start to the day.

The tide ran strongly at Godrevey and Navax point and by 8 AM it had turned and was running
against me. I pulled in close under the cliffs at Hells mouth and began hopping from eddy line to
eddy line, like a river kayaker has to when paddling upstream. Rounding Godrevey point, the rock
type changed from the granite of St. Ives and Lands End to the metamorphic shale that I saw
around the south coast before the Lizard. The seals seem to love this kind of territory, and I
watched laughing out loud as one particular seal endeavoured to clear its ears of water.
With a dry cough identical to that of a human, this seal vigorously shook its head before sinking
under the surface to see if the blockage had cleared, before bobbing back up to repeat the process.
It was so engrossed with the ordeal that it didn‟t notice as I passed quietly behind it.

                                                              On the way back from our trip to Durdle Door.
Sharp, angular islands rose defiantly out of the booming, ripping swell in the bays that I passed,
with names more fitting in a Tolkien story. I took a leeward passage past Samphire Island and
Ralph‟s cupboard in an effort to get out of the brunt of the still powerful swell. I whiled away some
time at Portreath with a pasty and chips, waiting for the tide to turn. The RNLI were raising
money on the beach with a book sale so I bought a Cornish story by Daphne De Maurier. Are
there any other kind? I strolled down to find out about the sand castle competition I could see
going on. Large groups of people were digging their hearts out in an effort to “beat the tide.” The
aim was to build a sand castle that everyone digging could stand on. As the spring tide came in
that afternoon, the last group standing would win the prize. Looking down the length of the beach,
there were going to be at least 70 people swimming for shore before the winners were decided. The
lifeguards were going to have a field day this afternoon. Before they got too busy I asked for a
hand getting my boat back in the water. Helpful as the Aussie lifeguard was, he reminded me
about the great white sightings that had been reported in national Murdock press. Whilst no one
pays much attention to the tabloids, this guy did grab my interest with news of recent local
sightings. As I paddled away he cheerfully smiled, and I couldn‟t help thinking what a tasty morsel
my boat would look like from the depths below.
Twenty minutes later I was paddling past Porthtowan. In close to this beautiful bay there was
enough surf left to send me on long diagonal runs across the sparkling waist deep water, pushing
me further northwards. Each time I surfed across the bay I would gain another 100 metres or so.
There was then a minute between swells to turn the boat to face out to sea to paddle furiously out
past the next breaking wave before it tumbled down on top of me. This cat and mouse game saved
time and kept me happily occupied for a kilometre or two. However, each time I caught a wave
waist high or more, the bow of the boat would burrow itself deep into the flat water ahead of the
wave, requiring me to work energetically to prevent the boat rolling end over end. This was not the
way the legend normally responds to swell and must have been due to the way I had distributed the
weight of the food and camping gear. At the end of the Porthtowan, near Tubby‟s head I got out
and rearranged the weight more evenly, something I was to very grateful for later on.

Reaching St Agnes head at low water I waved to a brave soul scrambling down off the coast path
with all his scuba gear. I could see why he would struggle down under all that weight since
exposed at this lowest of astronomical tides were large swathes of cold water sponges being
exposed to air for one of the only times of the year. Though the swell was bouncing me around,
there was no sand nearby to be disturbed and affect the crystal clear turquoise water. The visibility
for diving must have been great. The tide had begun to turn in my favour again, so I headed about
four kilometres offshore and passed outside two islands, the Bawdan rocks. The Westerly wind
began                  to pick up and form small wind waves but I was very comfortable eating up
                            the miles far from the crowds at Perranporth. Being a little offshore
                               gave me the chance to have a good look at the massive dune system
                                that Christa manages for Bourne Leisure in association with the
                                 Ministry of Defence. As a site of special scientific interest,
                                  Perranporth is famous for the arrival of Cornwall‟s first saint, St.
                                  Pirran. In her book, Eileen Carter brilliantly describes the history
                                 of St. Pirran who floated to Cornwall on a millstone from Ireland.
                                 The Cornish are justifiably proud of their mining history and St.
                                Pirran, is credited with discovering Cornwall‟s tin. According to
                             legend, one night as St. Piran was preparing his dinner, his rectangular
                         hearth cracked under the heat of the strong fire. The black rocks became
so hot that he noticed shining white metal in the shape of a white cross appeared among the black
ash. This was the discovery of the smelting process which St. Piran taught to the Cornish. The
colours and shape of the Cornish flag are now testament to both St. Pirran and tin mining.
In the end Tin mining has done the community at Perranporth more harm than good. Over the
centuries, the dune system at Penhale sands always encroached on the village‟s further inland, as
the South westerly gales blew exposed sand over the local hamlets. The local villagers have
retreated under the steadily encroaching sands. Only the steady flow of a small river acted as a
boundary to the enveloping dunes. Ironically, the developing tin mining industry required the
redirecting of the river, leaving the villages unprotected from the sand. Whole communities were
swallowed up on the dunes march Eastwards and St. Pirrans small church was amongst the
buildings that disappeared. During Victorian times St. Pirrans oratory and church were
rediscovered by archaeologists, but after vandals and pilgrims had taken their share of trophies, a
concrete cap was placed over the buildings to prevent further human attrition. Excavation of one
of the churches is set to begin in September and I‟m very proud of the work Christa has done in
maintaining the fragile balance of this area.
With the tide really pushing me on, I shot across to Penhale Point. Holywell beach looked
beautiful with loads of caves exposed at low water. From Pentire Point I could almost make out
the heaving throngs on Newquay‟s beaches, so I decided to stay four or five kilometres out from
Watergate bay. As the land heated up, the onshore sea breeze picked up and easily became the
Westerly force five that was forecast by the Met office and things became a bit lumpy. Treating
Watergate bay as a 15 Kilometre open crossing was beginning to unnerve me in these conditions,
so I turned due East to Park Head. With the wind and swell coming from behind me it was a wild
ride, surfing waves 30-40 metres at a time. These waves were twice the size of those on Porthtowan
beach and would easily have created problems had I not reorganised my gear this morning, so that
there was more of the weight in the back of the boat. Surfing this far from shore was exhilarating
yet worrisome, with even the slightest twitch of the hips ending with the boat upside down before
you knew what had happened. Having subluxed both my shoulders previously rolling in heavy
seas, it has always been my main worry that I could dislocate a shoulder miles from land whilst
getting back upright. It was even more likely being fatigued after 40 Kilometre paddle today.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed rocketing down the front of waves in what was to be the most challenging
sea conditions of the trip thus far.
I would soon be eating my words however. Nearing Park head, the sea became much more
confused. Having to negotiate its way around this promontory on its steady push North, the tide
was squeezed, so becoming faster and turning, creating a massive and unexpected counter current.
Waves coming in from offshore were pounding into the bottom of the cliff, then rebounding and
charging off tangential to the cliff face. Blinking the water out of my eyes, I tried to stop to observe
this phenomenon in an effort to work out the easiest way through. However, kayaking is like
cycling- you‟re only stable when you‟re moving. Without speed you can‟t steer, so my boat quickly
turned beam to the swell, leaving me lurching around in a big mess of breaking waves coming
either from off shore over my left shoulder, or bouncing off the cliff to my right. From either
direction the waves were about shoulder height, with peaks overhead, making it difficult to see the
problem in front of me. My paddle blades were constantly required for support strokes, preventing
me from capsizing. Too late I realised I was actually being sucked into the troubled water that I
was trying to get a good look at. Echoing in my mind were my last words to Christa on the beach
near Plymouth; “I promise I won‟t do anything dangerous.” What was I thinking, with my first
child only months away?
Without much thought, I paddled hard to get in close to the headland, where there was less white
water. After a couple of frightening minutes balancing atop rebounding waves with paddle blades
spinning wildly, I entered the more placid waters of Constantine Bay. Known as one of the best
surf beaches in the U.K, there was still plenty to contend with as the wind continued to come in
from my left and increase. The beam seas made for lurching paddling through the wave troughs
until I came to Trevose Head. As a land mark the headland protrudes wildly into the Atlantic and
appears to be the start of the accelerating tide that bottlenecks its way up the Bristol Channel. In
essence, the same size body of water tries to fight its way into the lower reaches of the Avon, but is
progressively squashed by Wales on one side and North Devon and Cornwall on the other, creating
the second largest tidal range in the world.
Rounding Dinas head, a small promontory before Trevose, the wind finally started to come from
behind me. With an uncontrollable yell, I congratulated myself on finally being in the right place at
the right time to get the maximum benefit from the wind and tide. The rocks off Trevose Head
were being lashed with swell as I began to hear a sound like steady thunder that rose above the
cresting wave‟s as they crashed around me. Something approaching a jet engine in volume
appeared to be coming from around the corner at Trevose. Again, the poor visibility from my
cockpit unsettled me. Fast approaching Trevose, I finally saw what was making the noise as
rearing up before me was the seas ultimate reminder; if you are going to use spring tides to your
advantage, you had better be able to pay the price. The end result of all the tidal compression was
a line of magnificent three metre tall haystacks, looking and sounding like an express train
rumbling Northwards. Quickly pulling anything off the deck that I could and stuffing it inside my
cockpit, I built up my forward speed and punched into the front line of standing waves. Whilst
twice the size of the waves I had floundered in only 30 minutes earlier at Park head, these waves
were the product of an overfall and were much more predictable and organised. After only two or
three minutes of being buried chest deep in oncoming waves I managed to break out of the main
flow, and with some relief settled into the calmer waters of the eddy line. It was still too rough to
get my camera out, but after casting my eyes around the boat to survey the damage, realised that
everything was intact and nothing had been washed off the deck. Compass, maps, spare paddles,
water, flares, tow line and hand pump were all in their correct position.
Pausing for a pee stop at the nearby lifeboat station, it occurred to me that in three hours time, as
the tide turned against the wind, this whole area would become a maelstrom. I envisioned myself
tucked up quietly in the Camel estuary by the time the tide turned. Back in the boat I toyed with
the idea of going on to Port Isaac and getting a lift to Sarah‟s house in Boscastle. Having done 50
Kilometres today, I would happily paddle another 20km just to sleep on a sofa! During the last half
an hour however, the skies had darkened and a fine drizzle had started to fall. The last two hours
of adrenaline pumped paddling began to take their toll, and I took this turn in the weather as a bad
omen. I had already broken my promise to Christa about not doing anything risky more than a
handful of times today, and challenging the foreboding skies to another few hours on the water felt
like tempting fate. On ever lumpier seas I headed towards Stepper point and the Camel estuary.
With the tide flooding up the estuary and Polzeath over my left shoulder, the next ten kilometres to
Padstow flew past. The infamous Doom bar, a shifting sandbar at the mouth of the estuary was
almost central in the channel, making negotiation for deep draught vessels complicated. This
whole stretch of coastline is legendary for shipwreck. As the saying goes;
                                                      “From Padstow Bar to Lundy light, a sailor‟s
                                                               grave by day or night.”
                                                     Just before I got to get to Padstow, Hawkers
                                                     and Harbour cove were calm and crystal clear,
                                                     reflecting the murky skies above. I met an
                                                     interesting couple as soon as I landed and was
                                                     pleased for the instant distraction, as well as
                                                     another pair of hands to help me lift the boat
                                                     above the high tide line. Steve and Lorna
                                                     were down on their holidays and as hungry as
                                                     me, so as soon as I could get into some drier
                                                     clothes we all went into town for some pub
                                                     grub. Walking into Padstow in the rain, it was
                                                     somehow relieving to immerse myself in other
                                                     people‟s lives and forget about kayaking. The
                                                     day‟s tension rushed out of me as we chatted
                                                     happily about the couple‟s city life. I had
                                                     forgotten how much like solitary confinement
                                                     solo paddling can feel. I was also looking
                                                     forward to meeting up with Ruth and Rob, a
                                                     couple of friends who were working on
                                                     Padstow over the summer, but couldn‟t get
                                                     through on their phone. As we approached
                                                     town along the flooded river valley a big brass
                                                     band could be heard starting up adding
                                                     surreal pomp to this miserable night. By the
                                                     time we got into the town centre it was dark
                                                     and raining hard. The band were giving it
John & The Mathew at Lundy Island.
heaps despite the rain, lifting the spirits of weary shoppers What I couldn‟t believe was that it was
absolutely heaving with tourists. At 10 PM, people were queuing out of shop doorways just to get
an ice cream! Peering through the misty windows, I could see money being taken in tills as fast as
hands could pass it over. No wonder Ruth and Rob plied their summer trade on these busy streets.
My only concern was for their sanity. Steve, Lorna and I found a pub still serving food and I
carbohydrate loaded for another day of paddling tomorrow. The beer went down well too. After
parting company, I wobbled back to the boat through the drizzle and crawled into my bivvy bag
under an overhang of rock. Sleeping in wet clothes and being covered in sand didn‟t bode well for
a good nights sleep and I missed the shipping forecast. With only two days of paddling left, the
end was in sight. Poor weather was still forecast for Wednesday and weighing on my mind was the
fact that I would need good weather for the next two days to get the trip finished.
Monday 22nd August

After a damp and gritty night curled up under my umbrella, the next day‟s weather boded badly.
Looking directly out over Doom bar, the churning mass of white caps made me feel that I wasn‟t
going to get on the water today. The wind seemed to be coming Northwest force five or six, but
further out of the estuary away from the strongly ebbing tide the sea state still looked lumpy. The
low cloud layer had remained from yesterday and the wind was almost humid. I caught myself
looking out at the sea state and realised I was trying to convince myself to get out there. This was
entirely wrong; I usually have to convince myself not to paddle if the conditions are a little on the
edgy side. Perhaps I was still a bit daunted by yesterday‟s conditions, or tired from a lack of decent
sleep. Was caution getting the better of me? If so, it would be a first. This was meant to be a
holiday, and this trip was overwhelming me! Grumpy from a lack of sleep and having resigned
myself to a day on land, I walked into Padstow for a strong coffee and a chat with Ruth and Rob.
Padstow, or as the locally affectionately call it, Padstein, was abuzz with tourists. Half of the
waterfront seems to be owned by the famous T.V chef, giving the town a bizarre mix of local-yokel
and celebrity. The combination didn‟t sit well in my mind, but thousands here seemed to be
lapping it up. It didn‟t take long to find Ruth and Rob sitting out on the harbour front hair-
wrapping. Whole families were queuing up for the multicolour threads to be platted into their hair
amongst the fortune tellers, portrait artists and jugglers. The whole group were working the
passers by with a quiet determination. It was the end of a tiring but rewarding season and the
street workers had obviously taken their fair share from the tourist feeding frenzy. There wasn‟t
time for much more than a brief chat before I made a plan and jumped on the ferry across the river
to catch the bus up to Boscastle to fetch my car. After the bus trip and the drive back down to
Padstow I had the frustrating task of carrying my boat and gear up to the car. Looking out over the
estuary again, the sea was still lumpy but the wind had dropped off. Having not paddled today, I
had to resign myself top not finishing the trip before the bad weather really came in on Wednesday.
I think I had probably been on the water enough in the last week such that I wasn‟t really bothered
by not finishing the paddle. All I wanted right then was a good bed and fresh food. I‟m sure in the
cold light of retrospect I will kick myself, but what else did I expect myself to do?
Getting back to Boscastle I caught up with Sarah and her boyfriend. We went for a beer further
North up the coast at Crackington haven, and I had the satisfaction of looking out at a sea state
that would have made for difficult paddling today. Sizeable chunks of water were bouncing of the
400 foot cliffs, with short, sharp waves that came in no particular rhythm, waiting to snag a tired
kayakers paddle. Neither Sarah nor her boyfriend could believe I would even consider going out in
these conditions, and again I was reminded of the normal conception of sea kayaking. I didn‟t try
and explain the conditions from the day before, for fear of looking like a liar or an egoist. Pooped
and ready for bed, I left them both to a folk night in a nearby pub, and slept the deep sleep you can
only get when you‟re warm and dry indoors.

Tuesday 23rd August

Waking early today full of expectation, I soon became crestfallen after calling the coastguard for a
forecast. The bad weather expected for tomorrow was in fact forecast to come in early, with gale
force seven to nine expected that evening. This didn‟t tally with what I could see out of the
window, and weather at this time of the year is far more stable than during and after the autumn
equinox. All the experience I had of the weather comes to nothing in comparison to the centuries
of records kept by the met office, so I had to take their word for it. After some quick calculations I
told the coast guard that there would be a change of plan. I would be travelling backwards to
Boscastle from just North of Bude at Duckpool. This would mean that I would be travelling in the

opposite direction, from North to South, in the direction of the morning tide and able to get off the
water before the serious weather came in.

                                                                            Looking South from Boscastle.
With a 4 PM coastguard cut-off time and just over 30 kilometres to do, I had to get moving quickly.
I ran down to the harbour at Boscastle to get a good look at the sea state. The swell was still
running heavily, with white water frothing around at the cliffs and islands. A short chop lay on top
of the underlying swell, which would make for a strenuous paddle. To top it off, the wind was
blowing in from the Northwest a steady force four or five. This was the make or break moment.
The conditions hadn‟t changed much since yesterday, but I was rested and was annoyed at myself
for yesterday‟s inertia. Packing my paddle gear quickly, I drove past Bude and started the paddle
in the small bay at Duckpool.
From Duckpool, the cliff line ran directly North to Hartland point past which sat the magnificent
Lundy Island, halfway out in the Bristol Channel between Devon and Wales. After paddling round
the Isle of Wight early last summer, the paddle out to Lundy with John Kelly two months
afterwards had been trouble-free. To add some spice to the outing, we were determined to climb
some of the most famous routes on the island, and had a great weekend kayaking and route
bagging. Our trip coincided with some filming on the replica of John Cabot‟s Mathew. Cabot, a
merchant venturer, was sent by the papacy to discover the New World in 1497 in an attempt to
match Columbus‟ empire building. Both the original boat and the replica were built in Bristol
docks. By the early 1500‟s, thousands had set sail for Cabots New-Found-Land.
Directly left from Duckpool, the waves crashed over a low reef. The sea was immediately in an
unforgiving mood and required concentration and commitment, just to get out past the surf. Once
I was out in the clear water, the set lines indicated a long, massive wavelength. The result was
breathtaking. The approaching low pressure was deep enough to produce swell consistently double
overhead, and I yelled in fear more than once as the approaching waves looked large enough and
steep enough to crest, wreaking havoc on anything between them and land. I simply have never
                                                                      Leading the 1st pitch of Devils staircase, Lundy Island.
been exposed to swell like this in all of my years of paddling in Wales. It took twenty minutes of
this consistent swell before I felt sure that these waves were not about to crest and rip me from my
boat. Twenty minutes after that, I felt sure that this final day of paddling was to be the crowning
glory of the trip. Bracing deeply into these waves, each wave reared up over my right shoulder,
only to leave me teetering on its peak, each one ramping me six to eight feet higher than I had
been only seconds before. Things calmed down to a more comfortable four to six feet for a while,
only to jack back up as I neared Bude, nicknamed „the Bondi of Britain‟ with good cause.
Just offshore from Bude, with things Antipodean on my mind, I spotted two dorsal fins heading
lazily in my direction. Too small to be the large local (thankfully vegetarian) basking shark, I was
at a loss as too what these creatures could be. The national press told of sharks from foreign waters
and local sightings had confirmed the presence of these new sharks, but these fins were almost
floppy, and nothing like the dorsal fins of sharks I had seen on wildlife programmes. With all the
surface commotion of large swell, these two animals were unaware that I was approaching and
made no move to dive. At about five meters distance, I caught sight of my first sun fish. Whilst it
looks strange at first, the sunfish is harmless and is, in essence, just a flatfish swimming on its side.

                                                            The set lines continued to sweep past me as I made
                                                            my way south, and by Widemouth bay I had found
                                                            slightly calmer waters three kilometres offshore. The
                                                            kayak was empty of most of my camping gear and
                                                            food, making the boat as buoyant as a cork and fast
                                                            through the water. Crackington Haven past by in a
                                                            blur of paddle strokes. Next up, the strangles, a
                                                            horribly named stretch of rocks that claimed 23
                                                            vessels in a single year in the 17 century. I avoided
                                                            the shoal completely by staying offshore and
                                                            watched the waves rip apart as thy passed over the
                                                            outcroppings of sharp rock. The cliffs here are the
                                                            highest in Cornwall. At more than 700 feet, they
                                                            dwarf the cliffs I saw at Crackington Haven last
                                                            night. As Boscastle appeared on my left, I decided

Sunfish, courtesy of the marine conservation society, Portsmouth.

that a short extra bit of paddling would be worthwhile, as Tintagel was only four Kilometres away.
I came inshore for this last hour of paddling and glided between the islands and headlands, in
turns being pushed through the narrows by swell wrapping round the cliffs from behind, and
fighting through swell wrapping in from the front.
Tintagel is renowned for its association with the legend of King Arthur. Local tradition, founded
largely on the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century claims this is the birthplace
of Arthur, from where Merlin took him to be fostered in secret. The ruins of the castle, dating from
the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, are too late to have anything to do with the real Arthur. The
magic of the association is captured by the remnants of the castle, which the steps I could see
overhead must lead down to. From the sea at least, I could make out little of the buildings.
Originally the castle was attached to the main land but due to erosion over the years a bridge had
to be built. Added to this the original castle was split in two by the storms, leaving little to help me
visualise how impressive the castle might have been at its prime. Finding nowhere to land and get
out of the boat and feeling slightly disappointed, I made a mental note to come back to Tintagel by
land and turned my kayak northwards again.
Glancing South, I could just about make out what I thought to be the headland before Padstow. It
was only twenty Kilometres and I was tempted just to continue on and complete the trip. Added to
this was the fact that if anything, the wind had decreased in strength over the course of the
morning. I had become accustomed to the size of the swell, but I wasn‟t in the mood for another
three or four hours of anxious paddling. If the weather was about to change for the worse, anyone
who has been out on the sea in a real gale will tell you its no place to be in a small boat.
The return to Boscastle and the bus trip out to my car was a mixture of relief and frustration… but
mainly relief. Though I hadn‟t completed my paddle, the trip was finished. I felt I still had only
scraped the surface exploring Cornwall and its past. I‟m already looking forward to making the
return journey, to join the dots for the bits I failed to paddle this time around. I missed Christa and
was looking forward to seeing again and heading up to Wales for a weekend of partying at
Ferryside before starting work again. Thanks to everyone that‟s supported me through this trip. A
big thanks goes out to all the students and staff at the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic
that supported this project. If you think my challenge has been worthy of support then it‟s never
too late to make a donation.

Fundraising Office Telephone: 01962 843513
Please make cheques payable to Naomi House
Registered office: Naomi House, Stockbridge Road, Winchester SO21 3JE
The Wessex Children‟s Hospice Trust is Charity Registration No. 1002832


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