Anglesey Sea Kayaking – August 2012

Cast: Mark Limmer, Julien Plant, Cliff, Ian, Christine, Victoria, Keith, Craig and Mandy (Welcome back Mandy)

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As I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes on sunday night after an exceedingly pleasant weekend sea-kayaking, I was initially startled that the bed was rolling. Rolling and swaying, pitching up and down, to the rhythm of the gentle sea.

Soon my conscious mind was soothed by this lullaby effect and began to drift over a series of images from the last few days, the uncharacteristically brilliant blue of the sky and the sea; the unexpected appearance of a seal’s head popping out the water to stare at us; the dorsal fins of porpoises breaking through the surf; the sparkling phosphorescence rocks within the dark sea caves; the gentle choral voices singing shanties back at the camp; and the magic of seeing my first ever flying sheep.

This was the third annual HalifaxCC-on-sea trip, and they just keep getting better. Last year due to the howling gale and cliff-battering swells we were confined to the Menai Straits, a delightful couple of days, but already on Friday evening the hardy souls back this year from more, were clamouring for more adventure. “Ahoy me hearties, Lets hit the high seas!!” was the theme of the wine inspired conversation of the night. But on waking the next morning and viewing the raging white horses off Trearddur bay on the south of Holy island and feeling the brisk offshore wind, spirits were a little dampened.

Nevertheless, anchors aweigh, we set off to Bull bay, on the north shore of Anglesey, to meet Roger and Barry, our perma-tanned guides for the weekend.

And there they presented, to our collective astonishment, with all the flourish of stage magicians, a calm sea. Immediately our trepidation turned to a faff-suppressing excitement – Today is going to special. A little bit of practice and re-familiarization with these strange sleek long pointy boats, remembering to edge them in a counter-intuitive manner in order to steer, and “chocks away”, we rounded the first headland. “I knew you brought us here on porpoise” cried the wag to a chorus of groans, but meanwhile all eyes were riveted to the spot where a pod of three of these cetaceans repeatedly broke the waves showing us their smooth bodies and beautiful fins. Up until then I never knew the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise, but it can be summed up as such: porpoises do not have the characteristic long snout of a dolphin, are smaller, live in small family pods of three or four, do not partake in showy aerobatic displays, are more timid and won’t come and swim alongside a boat as dolphins do. In short, porpoises are boring dolphins. Having said all that, seeing a large sea-mammal in the wild is a rare treat, even if it doesn’t spectacularly leap in a perfect arc over your boat, flip backwards on its tail, click and squeak like flipper, and squirt water in the face of the guide.

Our destination for lunch was a ruined brickworks further down the coast but first we negotiated our way round rocky promontories, into the sparkling sea cave, under stone arches, into tiny sheltered bays, and through narrow sea passages between rocks and the cliff where, if timed right ,the swell creates temporary sea slides, a fleeting thrill for the more iron-stomached. As we rounded another headland, a sheep leaped, Tom Daley like, off the top of the cliff and plunged into the sea. “Well, shiver me timbers, was that a sheep?” we cried, “No, it must have been a really woolly labrador”, but we raced onwards, to find yes, it really was a sheep and it was now standing on a tiny ledge at the bottom of the cliff with no means of escape.

Barry clambered out of the kayak in a heroic attempt at ovine rescue, but a soaking wet sheep is not easy to move. Fortunately our antics attracted the attention of some cliff top walkers, and a large man in an exceedingly lemon t-shirt hollered down “DO YOU NEED SOME HELP!!!”. A nod of affirmation from Barry was all that was needed, for this real life GI Joe to charge down the cliff ripping off his daffodil shaded vestment along the way.. Pectorals bulging, sinews rippling, biceps straining, the two men heaved the sheep to safety. But something intimate happened between Barry and that sheep in their shared drama, and the sheep cleaved to Barry, reluctant to leave her saviour. In fact when we passed by again 4 hours later on the return, there she was, bleating mournfully out to sea.

If all that wasn’t enough, the clouds parted and the sun’s soothing rays shone down on us whilst lunching on a pristine beach by the picturesque ruins of industry. Unusually the day just got warmer and warmer and allowed us to indulge in a barbecue (many thanks to Ian) and campfire that evening. We were joined by a charming man, Richard Wade, at first Vicky didn’t like the cut of his jib, but then they struck up a remarkable friendship, and for the rest of the night it was “Dickie this and Dickie that”. Nearby a musical group of campers were singing out the Chorus of the Hebrew slaves as the sun set spectacularly over the sea. And as the sky lit up in glorious technicolour Vicky and Dickie sang Jerusalem in beautiful harmony, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Day 2. Coffee, Strike camp, head to the north east corner of Anglesey, past Beaumaris castle, change, gear up, and on the water by 10.05, shipshape and Bristol fashion.

I don’t entirely understand it, but a combination of tidal direction, lack of wind and calm conditions, meant that paddling through the sea that morning was like slicing through the finest silk. We glided over the glassy surface with such elegance and tranquility,

such precision and beauty that left me, well, frankly staggered. Our destination that day was Puffin Island. Not named after the exertions required by the more senior paddlers to get there, but of course after joyfully billed birds. Sadly the Puffins had all flocked off earlier in the year and left a motley collection of black backed gulls, shags, cormorants, linnets and herring gulls. So as we rounded a western headland a spontaneous lusty chorus of West End Gulls by the Pet Shop Boys was sent bouncing out across the Irish sea.

The final seal of approval for the weekend came from a veritable harem of female seals living in a colony on the north of the island. Demurely they popped their dog-like faces out of the waves and peered at us curiously. And we returned the favour with awe and beaming grins despite the torrential rain falling on us. And then the father of the group stuck his meaty frame up and snorted territorially, his thick muscular neck even more impressive than citron clad hero of yesterday.

And so we headed home, riding the wave trains of passing tankers, breaking in and out of the eddy and flow behind an impressive tower lighthouse, slicing again through the silky sea, another pod of porpoises appearing to send us farewell wishes in their understated manner.

Many thanks to Mark for organising the trip, to Roger and Barry for guiding expertly and to all the crew for making this another weekend to remember. And as I fall asleep on sunday night all i can hear is Roger’s dulcet tones bouncing like a stone skimmed across the bay “Edge right Mark!”….”No, no, the other right”.