South West is Best (1)

The following article by myself was published in Canoe Kayak UK magazine last Easter, to promote the launch of the book . Here is the first part …

South West is Best!

Sea Kayaking around Britain’s Sharp End

 

In 1997 I was living in Bournemouth, right beside the sea. This was a genuine novelty for me, as I’d grown up close to Meriden, England’s most inland point. I couldn’t stop myself from, well, just looking at the sea. It held an indescribable allure and mystique, and I knew that something had to be done about it. I bought a sea kayak and started paddling west along the south coast. Eventually, I could go no further west; I’d reached Land’s End. Hence, I took a right turn and headed up the north coast towards the Bristol Channel. By the time I finished my trip, I had paddled 400 miles but I had seen and experienced so much, that it felt like I’d been around the World and back. I was hooked on sea kayaking, and addicted to the South West.

Ten years later, I was asked to produce a guidebook to the South West! I had found myself invited to the launch of Andy Biggs’ and Jim Krawiecki’s book Welsh Sea Kayaking, a hefty guidebook to sea kayaking in …. well, you’ve probably guessed where. This fantastic book was published by Pesda Press. Whilst paddling around Anglesey’s stacks, Pesda Press’s boss Franco suggested that I do something similar for ‘my’ part of the world. I agreed instantly to research, paddle, photograph and write up the entire shores of the Isle of Wight, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. How hard could it be? What could go wrong?

Land’s End, Cornwall

 

Eighteen months later, I know the answer to both questions. It was quite spectacularly hard, and indeed it turned out that there is an awful lot that can go wrong! But I don’t mind, because I’ve actually had a truly fantastic time working on the book, South West Sea Kayaking. Large amounts of time have been spent slumped over a laptop tapping away at the keyboard, and I’m boring myself just describing it zzzzzz. Frankly though, that’s all okay as working on the book was mainly an excuse to get out paddling – a lot – in wonderful places, with good friends. Even the typing wasn’t all bad. The laptop lived in a padded drybag in the back of my sea kayak for weeks on end, and was dragged out to be used in a succession of fine seaside pubs. There are worse places to set up office!

I knew from my previous adventures that the South West had plenty of attractive spots. Even so, as I went back and revisited it all again, stage by stage, I was literally staggered by what I discovered. I’d forgotten so much, and clearly in 1997 I missed so much, speeding from headland to headland across open water. Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been around a bit) is right here on my doorstep in the South West, and there is just so much of it. Another thing that entranced me was the remarkable variety of the scenery and landforms that have been created by the region’s complex geology, in competition with the ceaseless battering of the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape’s beauty is only part of the picture, however. Every rock and beach in the South West tells its own story. The maritime culture and history is writ large wherever you paddle, in lighthouses, mine ruins, fishing ports, shipwrecks … this bigger picture means that paddling in the South West is an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

As you probably gather from my ranting, I’ve grown quite evangelical about the South West coast. While the charms of Wales and the West Coast of Scotland are well known and popular among sea kayakers, for some reason this part of the world is not well-frequented among paddlers. In 1100 kilometres of paddling during 2007, I ran into less than a dozen paddlers out on the water, and I already knew most of them! Although there are many keen and active local paddlers who are in on the secret, it would seem that most paddlers around Britain perhaps don’t realise what they are missing. Go there. See for yourself!

 

Land’s End, Cornwall

 

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