My first trip around The Stacks – Penelope Coneybeare

 Amy Goolden

“So what’ve you been doing, Mum?” This is younger daughter. She’s washing up while she chats.

“Well I went to the dentist and…”

“No I mean what Interesting stuff have you done?”

“Well”…a moment’s excited hesitation ”..we paddled the Stacks…”

“Is that interesting?” And I can hear she’s bored.

“Well… there were some climbers there. We were in this big cave and there were loads of climbers. Tiny climbers. On a massive wall”

“Yeah?” Still bored.

“Dreaming of white horses? Or something.”

“A Dream of White Horses?” She explodes “But that’s an icon! That’s just one of the best climbs in the world!”

Well, so is paddling the Stacks. If Anglesey is recognised as one of the finest sea paddling destinations in the world then the Stacks are “the jewel in Anglesey’s paddling crown…North Stack, South Stack, Penrhyn Mawr. Names that trip off the tongue like honey.”  That’s according to the UK Rivers Guide. Paddlers go quiet and reverential as they talk of muscular tides, gnarly tide races, massive overfalls. This is where only the big boys and girls can go.

The first time I’d hoped to paddle the Stacks was in July 2016. I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of women attempting to circumnavigate Anglesey with Justine Curvengen.  Justine was awesome. We all made lasting friends and developed as paddlers. But the Wind Gods were very fractious. We didn’t circumnavigate the island and we didn’t “do” the Stacks. The next attempt was to have been in May 2017 with Geth Roberts. Would have been good but the wind was humungous. And then illness struck and my horizons shrunk to what I could see from a hospital bed and then from my sofa.  The Stacks started to feel much, much bigger than me. Amanda and Anne Marie, my friends from the Justine trip, had done it but I never would.

But, thanks to Richard Janes’s coaching and confidence in me I got back off the sofa and into my boat. I found I could do more than I had ever thought. The Stacks started to be somewhere I could dream of once again.

Thanks to many a Wet Winter Wednesday with Paul Williams and Richard I have found that surfing is not actually beyond me. I always loved being out in big wind and sea but now I know how to use my body to better effect, how to connect with my boat, how to paddle assertively and how to read the water and understand why the wind can seem to maliciously change direction as you make it round a headland. Whoever would have thought that wind flows and eddies, just as water does.

When Richard, Amy Goolden, Lyn Mellina and I set off from Porth Dafarch for this iconic trip it was a quiet blue day. A silken sea merged into a soft blue sky. In the distance the mountains of Snowdonia were cushioned in sea mist. Penrhyn Mawr offered a little playful distraction, that’s all. Not so much a wild beast, more of a kitten. At Richard’s insistence we took it slowly, very slowly, soaking up the landscape. In these conditions the kayaker’s privileged view of the drama of the ancient folded rocks is heightened. The story the rocks tell unfolds before you. The folded fine silvery green cliffs between Porth Dafarch and South Stacks, described by the geologist Edward Greenly as “unsurpassed in Britain”, are simply enthralling. And then South Stacks itself with guillemots thronging the layers and galleries of the rocks and making impetuous mass forays into the sea around us.

 Penelope Coneybeare

And then, in silence, we floated in a cave with the massive proportions of a cathedral watching tiny climbers dreaming of white horses. The light cascaded though majestic arches into pearly green depths. It was, quite simply, awesome.

I am so very grateful that my first experience of the Stacks was on this blue day and shared with such company: Richard, Amy and Lynn. Would I take the chance to paddle it gnarly? Well yes, of course. But only in the right company.

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