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.

A wander around Ynys Gybi or Holy Island, 23 June 2018

A solo trip report written by Richard Janes – Photos by Geth (from a similar trip)             

Richard (right) on another summers day at the Skerries

 

High Water Liv. (Gladstone): 0813 (8.1M)

Wind: NW F3-4

Sunny (ish)

 

Saint Cybi was a 6th-century Cornish Bishop who worked in Wales. The Island is called

‘Holy’ due to the numerous religious sites on the small island and are a source of much interest.

However, the island’s history has not only been one of Religious tranquillity. The bustling Port and Town of Holyhead will have had it’s share of ‘Sporting’ events with ‘Home’ and ‘Away’ games, possibly started by Cadwallon Lawhir (‘Longhand’), who defeated Irish Pirates on Holy Island (c.500)

 

What to do on a Saturday when all your Mates are working, on holiday, doing domestic stuff or don’t fancy an early start?

 

The Circum navigation of Holy Island includes fast tidal streams, paddling which ranges from shallow water over sand/mud banks to massive exposed cliffs, great wildlife, busy harbour and Port, two tunnels and a precise tidal ‘gate’. All in all, an interesting way to spend a Saturday Morning!

 

The tidal gate for this trip is Stanley Embankment where the water rushes  (floods) into the Inland sea and then drains (ebbs) to the North East.  After around half an hour the water is travelling much too fast to paddle against and forms dangerous stoppers. The plan is to be there just before the turn of the tide. My plan was to paddle anti clockwise around the island to make best use of the tides.

 

My starting point was Porth Dafarch . The origin of Dafarch was probably from a persons name; ‘Tafarch’ but I prefer to believe the less likely origin, ‘Dau Farch; two stallions. Especially when considering the tide races of Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack!

I set off at 0530. Probably around half an hour too early but I’m like that. Besides, it was a stunning morning and the temptation to launch with an early sun and oily smooth sea was simply too great!

Having the West Coast to yourself is an extraordinary feeling but far from lonely. I enjoyed stunning displays from Shearwater and the occasional fly past from Fulmar with their silent, knowing stare. Paddling South towards Rhoscolyn Beacon was a joy. Whilst the flood was still running, I took a  landward line and stayed in close down to the start of the Cwmyran Straits.

The paddle through the Cwmyran Straits to Four mile bridge is a peaceful delight! Heron, Egret and all sorts of wading birds within an environment which ranges from salt marsh to rocky shore. Getting lost is a real option here and another reason for my early start. The sea and air was mirror calm and the tunnel or what felt like a big drain to enter the Inland sea was surprisingly noisy. As my kayak took the drop, I seriously thought it might ‘ground’ but there was plenty of water followed by a wave train and tidal rapid.

Excitement over, it was a short paddle to Stanley and a long wait (over an hour) for the tide to turn and allow my exit from the Inland Sea. Stopping for a drink, I also felt hungry. Sadly, the soft sand of Porth Dafarch and a hungry seagull had earlier consumed my lunch. So I waited. And waited for what seemed like ages. My phone said about an hour, my broken watch said longer. A few times I tried to take the flow by storm but uphill paddling never was my thing and some stray pieces of rope dangling down gave me the ebegeebies, by the thought of getting tangled in them. Eventually, the flow gave up to my persistence and allowed me through.

The view now broadened to include the Skerries to the North East and my target, Holyhead harbour to the North West. A little further and I was talking to Port Control on VHF Ch 14. All very formal. I noticed he called me ‘Sir’, not been called that since I was teaching when I was called many other things besides. I had a good time window until the fast ferry was due but crossing the Harbour does make me feel strange. This is the World of proper big boats. Boats which don’t see you and with big propellers and stuff. So I paddled hard. Stupid hard, breathing a sigh of relief as I past the lighthouse on the end of the pier. Port control said they had been watching me on camera, so I waved. You can be a bit silly on your own. I’d already said ‘good morning’ to several seals and I’m sure the pretty one answered?

Phew! … Back on more familiar water, North Stack was a bit white and feisty. I tried surfing a few waves but they were too broken for whoops of joy. South Stack race was smooth. Oily, sexy smooth but not big enough for my enthusiasm. The cliffs and birdlife hereabouts are simply magnificent. The sea was littered with rafts of Guillemot, Razor bill and a good number of Puffins. I stayed offshore using as much push from the ebb as possible. Penrhyn Mawr came and went. A sleeping Stallion before his stable door would be opened?

Very soon Porth Dafarch came into view along with some good friends on the water (Steve Miles and Sarah) where I stopped for some of our usual intellectual discourse. And so back to the beach and a heavy, hot carry back to the van. I think it was about lunch time but my watch said the same time as when I left.

Biggest decision of the day. Sensible cup of tea or a cold beer. What would Cybi have done? What would Longhand have done…. and he did see off the Irish Pirates, after all!

 

 

 

 

 

Barra, Mingulay & the Bishop’s Isles Expedition, 2018

Richard Janes and Ed Loffil
The Bishop’s Isles are a small archipelago of islands and the Southernmost of the
Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They lie south of the island of Barra and historically so named because they were owned by the Bishop of the Isles. The group consists of nine islands and numerous rocks. The main islands and named going South from Barra are Vatersay, Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and finally  Berneray or Barra Head. After which, there is nothing more going South for a very long way!

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Beautiful islands, separated by Sounds of fast tidal streams and open to the full force of Atlantic wind and swell. Remote, committing and with such a fabulous name, Mingulay has been high on my dream list for many years. I first paddled to Mingulay in 2017, a highly challenging trip where on the West Coast our total focus was on the dynamics of the water rather than the Geography!  I describe here our visit in June, 2018 which was our second visit.

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The starting point for this trip is Castlebay, Barra at the Southern end of the Outer a Hebrides. A beautiful spot which is quite easily accessible from the South. A ferry runs from Oban. We left a vehicle in Oban and used trolleys to carry our laden kayaks onto the boat. The five hour journey to Barra is a delight! A cruise up the sound of Mull followed by Ardnamurchan point with views of the Small Isles, Treshnish, Coll and Tiree. We enjoyed a fabulous display from a large pod of Dolphins and sightings of Basking Sharks. The launch pad for the kayaking trip is a slipway and a very short trolley from the ferry.

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At the tail end of a long period of high pressure we launched at 7pm. Close to the longest day, it barely gets dark at these latitudes. We paddled South on a smooth sea with evening sun and very gentle air in ‘shorty’ cags. Stopping only to take pictures the gentle sussuration of wavelets on rock, punctuated by the evening call of so many seabirds created an idylic scene. We passed an otter about his evening duties. Crossing the Sound of Sandray, our
target for the night was Pabbay and we landed after nine Nautical miles on a pristine beach through turquoise water and camped on a perfect pitch of machair. Our bay was on the East side of the island but even here the  Westerley swell was enough to create sufficient surf to demand care when landing. We chose an exposed spot overlooking the sea but the still air brought out a few midges! Seals swam by at regular intervals and a porpoise was feeding. We must have been near a Tern’s nest, at least that was our explanation for the frequent attacks to my head by these beautiful birds!

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The next day was overcast but the High Pressure was holding. We paddled South across the Sound of Mingulay and down the East side of Mingulay. I started to feel apprehensive as we approached the Sound of Berneray. We had been paddling on smooth seas but from our previous visit, we knew the West Coast would likely be very different! Rounding the South East corner of Berneray we were on new waters for us. And what a place! Massive cliffs, topped by Barra Head lighthouse. Barra Head Lighthouse marks the southern entrance to The Minch, roughly halfway between the Eilean Glas and Rinns of Islay lighthouses. The 58 foot stone tower, built in 1833, stands on the west side of the island, at the top of a very steep cliff, making the light the highest in the UK with a focal plane of 682 feet above sea level. There is no shallow water west of Berneray to break the blow of the Atlantic storms and small fish are sometimes thrown onto the grass on the cliff top.

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We were now on the Wild West side of the islands and being lifted by swell and thrown around by the very significant clapotis. The West side of Mingulay is truly amazing. The cliffs rise to 700 feet and with major sea stacks, caves and so many sea birds a total joy for sea Kayakers! We paddled close to the cliffs but the constant swell prevented any ‘rock hopping’ in caves. Besides, this is not a place for error. Totally remote; flares, VHF and phone are useless. We carry PLB as a ‘talisman’. We followed the Coast of Mingulay through the Sound and landed for lunch on the beautiful Mingulay Bay on the East side of the island before paddling North to our starting point on Pabbay. With fourteen amazing Nautical miles under our hulls, sleep was very easy.
Day three and decision time! Where to next? The forecast held good but a brisk North West wind was forecast for later in the day. From our camp on Pabbay, we paddled West through the Sound of Mingulay past Sandray and its islands, Vatersay and then followed the West Coast of Barra North and into the Sound of Barra. Another magical area, the Sound of Barra is surrounded by more fascinating islands and islets. We camped on a tiny island between Gighay and Hellisay. We had paddled with some effort to beat the start of the adverse wind and we made it! The breeze kept the midges away and the 21 NM day ensured another good sleep.

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Day four. Sunshine and the wind (mostly) behind us meant a glorious cruise down the East side of Barra and return to Castlebay in warm sunshine. A fabulous end to a spectacular trip with a good friend.

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We paddled a total distance of around 60NM over four days. The distances are not great but the environment hereabouts is huge, in every way. It is rare for Westerley swell not to be an issue. The water is very deep and the reflected (clapotis) waves are significant. This creates turbulent water which may then be further confused by tidal streams and ‘wind against’ conditions. Not a place to be taken lightly..

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Of course, this was not the end of the trip. Sipping cold beer in the sunshine, looking South to Vatersay and beyond was a time for reflection. … “Slaintte mhath, Matey”; “do dheagh shlainte, …. your round!”

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Beautiful Mingulay
A heart so bright, living and warm,
Genesis of my dreams.
Hewn by Nature’s might,
Anchored in a sea of swelling, brilliant silver.
Swell surges to massive cliffs
Rolling energy, harbinger of life!
Sliding with water,
Running away as time.
Expressions of immeasurable force.
Ancient beauty
Sobs to the bruising, blunting wave.
Dark rock,
Dressed by natures hand
Studded with whirring birds,
Screeching for their future and lifted in spume
Above the boiling black of the ocean.
Stunning, savage, powerful place!
Living , changing and timeless.
Fragile life of Mingulay,
Pictures of our now and yesterday,
May your ancient rock hold fast
To remain our keeper of forever.

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The first SKW Biodiversity for Kayakers Course, Anglesey

On Saturday 28 April, Sea Kayaking Wales welcomed, to Bodorgan, Anglesey, its first Biodiversity delegates – Sue, Dave and Catherine.  The day began with sharing fresh coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat as we got to know one another.  This was followed by a classroom presentation/discussion, led by Geth and Richard, to formulate what we understand about Biodiversity and how it differs from marine to terrestrial environments.  We then practiced using a Field Studies Council “Rocky Shore Biological Key”, for species identification, on pre-collected seaweed and invertebrate animal specimens.  Our chosen goals, for the kayak trips, were to understand/explore tidal zonation in coastal ecosystems, identify a range of algae (seaweeds) and find as many of the main 28 animal groups as possible.