Verity is a rather large sculpture by controversial artist Damien Hirst; she looms tall over the quayside in Ilfracombe Harbour in North Devon. What the photos don’t show well, is that her seaward side is cut away, revealing her innards and unborn child.
I have no idea what any of this ‘means’, but I like Verity…as do most local folk, seemingly.
Minor cause for celebration today; I spent it at the keyboard and finally finished a job which has been hovering around for months. I’ve researched and assembled the South West section of a whitewater guidebook, ‘English White Water’. Actually, I did this over a decade ago, but a second edition is now imminent. I’ve increased the amount of whitewater trips described in my region by 50%; partly through input from other paddlers, partly through spending last winter paddling obscure ditches.
Working on guidebooks is always fun; they take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise have found the motivation to explore, and they get you out with friends, doing the thing you love. Hopefully they help others to do the same…
By way of celebration, here are a few pics to show the wonderful diversity of great whitewater paddling we are lucky enough to have in our part of the world. All of the pics are mine except the awesome one above, from Ali Marshall; I’m always too preoccupied on the River Plym to think about using a camera…
Enjoying a paddle with my little girl, in North Devon last weekend.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Heather, Ellen and myself to all of our friends, acquaintances, readers and followers. What an incredible year it has been.
Below, somewhere in Neolithic Dorset, and the west coast of magical Lundy Island.
Ten years ago, I researched and wrote the South West section of the guidebook ‘English White Water’. I recently learned that a second edition is in the offing. I have dug out the old guides I wrote to see what needs updating, and I’ve also pored over maps of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset in search of possible whitewater I might have missed first time around. So, this winter I have an excuse to indulge one of my favourite passions; exploring tiddly tree-infested ditches by kayak.
On Saturday evening I set out for Somerset and North Devon, with a few likely ditches in mind; I was hoping to utilise the heavy rainfall to catch some rarely paddleable sections. I only got half way before being stopped by flooding, and spent the night sleeping in a parking lot in the back of the car. By early morning, the floods had subsided enough to allow me to get to Exmoor, with a few detours. There was a slight problem in that I had no friends to play with (they were all busy doing not-young-any-more stuff like being married, doing DIY, raising children and in one case, actually giving birth) but I was happy enough to paddle alone. Paddling solo had its rewards; for instance, along one wild section of river I was followed closely by a herd of deer for several miles. Walking the shuttles was a bit more tedious.
In the afternoon, I hopped onto the well-known and classic East Lyn River for a quick blast downstream. Halfway down, I was lucky enough to run into the guys in the images here, who let me join them…this made the difficult final gorge less scary than it might have been, I was grateful for their company.
This post does pretty much what it says on the tin. The ruins are remains of administrative buildings for the long defunct Lundy Granite Company, the distant horizon is North Devon and the high moorland of Exmoor.
Why am I not out paddling today, given the gorgeous autumn weather? Because my gorgeous girl (shown below, camping on Lundy) isn’t feeling too well, so nobody in this house slept much last night…
Lundy Island’s Old Light was built atop the island in 1819, but proved very ineffective as Lundy’s high summit plateau was regularly obscured by cloud and fog. In 1861, a fog signal battery was built halfway down the western cliffs; the idea was that cannons would be fired intermittently to warn shipping of Lundy’s proximity. Various methods of alerting shipping were trialled with varying success, including firing actual cannon balls (what could go wrong?), firing gun cotton, discharging explosives, ringing bells and blowing whistles. However, by the late nineteenth century it was agreed that new lighthouses were needed; these were built low down the cliffs at both the north and south end of Lundy.
Today, the site is well preserved; you can visit the remains which include the ammunition store (built with thick walls and thin roof, to release explosions upwards), the gun platform, and the houses of the keepers. With the Atlantic below and around, at the bottom of a very long steep set of steps, it’s quite a location.
This epic granite slab on the west coast of Lundy Island is known as The Devil’s Slide. Climbers get quite excited about this sort of thing. I myself get nauseous even just looking at it.
Lundy Island’s South Light overlooks the landing stage and a major tidal race known unimaginatively as ‘The Race’. Above, the restored castle stands guard over the southern approaches to the island.
Full size Lundy panorama here.
The 21 mile paddle to Lundy Island is not as bad as it sounds…strong tidal flows help you along your way. It certainly shouldn’t be underestimated however; there is an awful lot of empty open water around you if anything goes wrong, and there is also a credible chance of totally missing Lundy if you misjudge your ferry glide angle.
I was quite keen to try a crossing which would arrive by night, having done it in daylight many times. We kitted up and loaded up our boats on the shore at Lee Bay in North Devon…however, as high tide was reached just before sunset (our planned departure time) there was a slight problem; ocean swell was smacking into (and often reaching over) the sea wall we were supposed to be launching below. We made some abortive attempts to launch a kayak, but realised that the only practical option was to wait an hour or so for the tide to drop. Trouble is, that would mean darkness from the start of our paddle, removing any safe ‘early abort’ option. After discussion, we realised that it wasn’t going to happen. We lugged the boats back up the launch ramp and slept in our cars, launching early the next morning instead.
Despite no wind, the paddle across was rough enough in the first half to make all of us sick or nauseous at some point…but then it completely calmed, allowing us to relax and enjoy the Manx shearwaters endlessly circling us at water level.
When the time came for the paddle back, the weather wasn’t great at all. We achieved the crossing using Plan #B.
Built in the nineteenth century, the tall lighthouse atop Lundy Island was soon found to be impractical…sitting 500 feet above sea level, it was frequently obscured by cloud. It was replaced by much lower lighthouses at the north and south ends of the island. Today, the Old Light is open to wander in at will.
This week from the top we chilled out and enjoyed clear views of distant Cornwall, Devon, the Gower Peninsula and Pembrokeshire. There is nowhere better to sit and enjoy the sun setting into the Celtic Sea.