Archive for the ‘North Cornwall’ Category
It has been reported this week that basking sharks have begun to arrive off our shores already, this being relatively early; good news, given that they arrived in inexplicably limited numbers last year. Basking sharks (cetorhinus maximus) are the second largest fish on earth (after the whale shark), growing to ten metres long and seven tonnes in weight, and are frankly a wonder to behold close up. I’ve been lucky enough to paddle with them all over the UK’s Atlantic coasts, from Land’s End right up to Shetland. Canoe Kayak UK magazine have just posted up some excellent advice on encountering basking sharks. All informed advice sensibly suggests that kayakers and other water users should keep a good distance from basking sharks, but as these photos (taken near Cape Cornwall) demonstrate, the sharks haven’t always read the advice themselves; they have a disconcerting habit of coming over to investigate kayaks, even rubbing their dorsals on the hull!
A few notes on basking sharks, culled from my book work…
Basking sharks are actually harmless filter-feeders with miniscule teeth, posing no threat to humans.
Until 2003, it was speculated that basking sharks hibernated in winter. It is now known that they actually ‘go deep’ for much of this time, tracking plankton blooms for thousands of miles, up to 900 metres below the surface. The sharks arrive in the south-west in spring, travelling up the English Channel as far as Dorset, and the Atlantic coast as far as the Northern Isles and Norway by August. They cruise along the surface in sinuous curves at 3-4 kph, occasionally in ‘gams’ of up to a hundred. Hotspots where they congregate include the far west of Cornwall, the Isle of Man and the Scottish islands of Canna, Coll and Tiree.
From shore or boat on a calm day, you will spot the snout raised out of the water, followed by the dorsal fin and tail, all startlingly far from one another. The skin appears dark and leathery, being protected by ‘dermal denticles’, small sharp scales which also reduce drag. The mouth is easily visible underwater due to its enormous size; a metre in diameter opened out, flanked by somewhat primal looking gill flaps. The gills sieve up to 2000 cubic metres of water per hour through comb-like interlocking ‘gill rakes’, extracting oxygen and food. This giant feeds entirely on plankton, especially 1-2 mm long crustaceans called copepods. Buoyancy comes from the shark’s huge bi-lobal liver, making up around a third of its weight.
Basking sharks are occasionally less sedate; they have been seen breaching full length from the water! This behaviour is thought to be connected with either ridding parasites such as lampreys, or courting a mate.
Fistral Beach, Newquay, North Cornwall. Earlier on this day in 2007, I’d managed to launch out through clean 6-8 foot surf but (encountering steep 15-20 foot swell offshore) quickly realised that I was some distance out of my comfort zone. The problem was…now I was out there, how was I going to get back in?
I saved by bacon by working my way inshore to land at Newquay Harbour, which is tucked well away from the incoming swell, protected by Towan Head. There was still some surf here, though. I met a collection of fishing boats out back, waiting for the tide to rise enough to reduce the force of the surf break and give them a clean run at the harbour entrance. After advice from the fishermen, I decided to give it a try; whilst there was still enough surf here to keep me awake, all went to plan. On my final surf into the harbour entrance, I was joined on the wave face by a bodysurfing grey seal. I hadn’t seen that coming…
Also known as Ballowall Barrow, this elaborate multi-chambered tomb dates from the Bronze Age, or possibly earlier. It sits atop the cliffs overlooking the last setting of the sun in the far west of Cornwall, just south of Cape Cornwall.
In other news…
If you’ve somehow missed joining info about the South West Sea Kayaking Meet, it is here…
Nothing can go wrong.
It’s a beautiful sunny weekend, but I’m sprawled on the sofa under a blanket, trying to shake off a nasty bout of man flu. Mrs R is upstairs in bed trying to sleep off whatever the female version is called (whatever it is, it surely can’t be as bad). What a pair. This is pretty irritating and disappointing, as this weekend we were supposed to be down in Cornwall taking part in a triathlon and also going surfing.
To assuage my boredom, I’ve just cleared my mobile phone of photos, taken in random places over recent months. I’ve spared you drunken pub shots, but each here tells a small story…
This Catholic shrine is located beside the get-on to the Torrente Ayasse, a steep and frankly terrifying looking Italian river. We looked long and hard at this creek, whilst rain visibly brought the level up. For certain, if you were going to take on the section directly below this shrine, you would be needing to spend a fair amount of time beforehand praying at the shrine. We eventually decided to give the whole thing a miss, and ran away from the valley with our tails between our legs.
This is Pendeen Lighthouse in west Cornwall, late one evening back in February. We were staying in a Coastguard cottage beside the lighthouse for a week, pretending to get some work done. As offices go, it doesn’t get much better…
This is our most unusual wild camp in recent times. The river is of course the Thames, and we’re overlooked by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in central London. The location was an outdoor centre from which the London Kayakathon was to be based the following day. We’re not really city people, but as places to wake up go, you could certainly do worse…
The final pics are taken at Perranporth Youth Hostel in north Cornwall. I was there for a friend’s Stag Do. The choice of location was inspired; the Youth Hostel is a small building perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Perranporth beach. We enjoyed attempting to surf the waves by day, and then spent the evening chilling out with a beer in hand watching gannets dive. It’s also where H and I are meant to be surfing today, but no worries…the summer hols are coming soon.
H and I have booked the ferries for our summer hols; we’re going to be based off Scotland’s west coast upon various quiet Hebridean islands, trying to make serious headway with our writing work.
Of course we’re taking our sea kayaks, but we’re also planning to cart our new toys up north…we are now both proud owners of surf boards. We’re blissfully undeterred by having absolutely no clue how to surf (although I did stand up for a split second yesterday, before falling off onto a bedrock reef). We hope to base ourselves close to beachbreaks on the west coast of the Isles, and to hopefully figure it out as we go…
Nothing can go wrong.
Incidentally, the wave pictured above is breaking on the north coast of Cornwall, and that is as close as we wanted to get to it – viewing it from a cliff top.
A few pictures of the industrial wastelands of west Cornwall.
From South West Sea Kayaking…
Viewed from the water, the plethora of chimneys, engine houses, levels and tips do not jar. On the contrary, they are a hauntingly beautiful sight, blending as integral components of the landscape.
This weekend, I was down in north Cornwall for a friend’s stag party. Thankfully the weekend wasn’t all about beer and bad behaviour, as we’re all getting a bit old for that sort of thing. We spent most of our time at the beach. I hired a longboard and tried my hand at surfing, a first for me. I was pretty hopeless and spent most of the time falling off and half drowning, but…it was rather good fun. There were even a few brief moments when I managed to stand up on a wave, which was actually really something, as experiences go.
Of course I’m far too old for this sort of thing and I should be more sensible, but…later on, in the shop, I couldn’t resist. I had to have me a longboard of my own.
The long Bank holiday weekend (many thanks, Will and Kate) was spent in north Devon and Cornwall; the plan had been to make the open crossing to the island of Lundy, but strong offshore winds killed that. Instead we did various pleasant things based from the mainland, including this evening surf in 1-2 foot waves at Widemouth Bay.
Many thanks to CC, the photographer.
Surfers at St Ives in Cornwall on a cold grey day…
Cape Cornwall is England’s only cape. It used to be thought to be England’s westernmost point, but is actually 800 metres east of Land’s End, a few miles to the south. The chimney on the summit was part of a tin mine; after the mine closed down it was decided not to demolish the chimney as it served as a useful navigational mark.
This inhospitable promontory is Gurnard’s Head in west Cornwall. It’s so-named as it resembles the form of a gurnard fish. Gurnard’s Head is one of at least 33 identified ‘promontory forts’ in Cornwall and Scilly. Promontory forts were a style of Iron Age (‘Celtic’) hill fort which utilised the coast’s form to reduce the need for enclosing banks. Promontory forts can commonly be found along the length of Britain’s coasts, especially concentrated in the western Atlantic extremities. To give some context of timescale, these forts were in use from around 2600 years ago. In the case of Gurnard’s Head, earth banks cut off the narrow landward neck, buttressed by stepped drystone walls. As you can see, Gurnard’s Head is not an environment obviously conducive to comfortable living, and nor is it as effective a defensive refuge as might first be imagined. What was the real significance of these forts?
We’ve been moving forward with the book ‘Savage Shores’ and have started the long process of writing. I’m particularly chuffed as I’ve just completed my first draft chapter, on the relationship of our Prehistoric ancestors to the coast.
Greetings from west Cornwall. We’ve had a pleasant week walking and working, making a pretty good amount of progress with our writing. Atlantic wind, fog and swell have kept us out of our kayaks, but that’s the nature of the exposed north coast.
Anyway, early one morning we trudged through the mist to visit a grey seal colony near Godrevy Island. There are hundreds of seals in this colony, supported by the fish passing through a nearby tide race. When we arrived, the race was also crowded with hundreds of gannets, diving en masse in frenzied bursts. At high tide the seals’ haul-out is heavily battered by waves; one can only wonder what their experience is like in really bad weather…