Stacks and Skerries

 

In her second sea kayaking post of June 2018 Sarah sea kayaks through the place that first inspired her to want do this, South Stack off Anglesey:

‘In June 2013 I looked down from these cliffs to see a group of kayaks in the sea and said, ‘I want to do that.

Many adventures have followed, and the frustrations of learning something new too…. but I knew that one day I would like to be in a kayak, paddling under the bridge past South Stack lighthouse. And – five years later – I am.’

Here then is the story of Sarah, paddling through and beyond her dreams and then out to the far islands where that beautiful red and white lighthouse is waiting.       

*

I am back on a kayaking trip, this time on what I now think of as ‘my’ home paddling area – Anglesey. I have two days with coach Steve Miles. Conditions are very fair – no swell, and very light winds – so we have plenty of choice about where to go. We decide on ‘The Stacks’ for our first day.

Just out of Porth Dafarch and we meet Richard Janes on the water – one of the team from Sea Kayaking Wales. I will be out with them in July on their weekend ‘Exploring Marine Diversity by kayak’ .  As usual we pause whilst kayaking banter is observed, and then we are on our way  up the north coast – where I have not kayaked before, to South Stack and North Stack, or ‘The Stacks’. This north coast of Anglesey is particularly interesting from a geological point of view – and all I can do is be amazed, without the knowledge to describe what we can see here!

We arrive at Penryn Mawr (Steve explains that this means ‘big headland’), and is well known for the fast tidal races and big seas that happen here on the flood tide. We are here just after slack water, on the flood, and there is a small amount of movement in the water. Today we take the ‘chicken run’ on the inside and continue north.

Observing seaweed on our way.

Lots of long brown seaweed – known as thongweed, sea thong, or sea spaghetti (its scientific name is Himanthalia elongata). The disc or button-like growths are the beginning of its growth, and the long fronds are its reproductive parts. I am fascinated by seaweed, and love being this close to them. (More about this seaweed on The Seaweed Site, a fantastic resource for seaweed fans!)

We continue to make our way up past the rocky coastline to the first stack – South Stack.

We are now approaching South Stack – and I have been here before a few times, but not by kayak. I’ve been here walking on the cliffs – to see the lighthouse, to look for puffins (who breed on the cliffs, along with thousands of razorbills and guillemots). And in June 2013 I looked down from these cliffs to see a group of kayaks in the sea:

And said, ‘I want to do that.’

I didn’t consciously not pursue the sea kayaking. Life happened, as it does – and it wasn’t until May 2016 that I got myself (finally) into a sea kayak, and found that I did like it, a lot. Many adventures have followed, and the frustrations of learning something new too…. but I knew that one day I would like to be in a kayak, paddling under the bridge past South Stack lighthouse. And – five years later – I am.

So this is a ‘Very Significant Moment’, and one that I was glad to be sharing with Steve, and also lots of razorbills and guillemots.

We continue on, in and out of caves and up past North Stack… and arrive back at Soldier’s Point.

A good day – as so many of my days on the water have been.

We’re continuing to have sunny weather and the next morning I am not going out my kayak, so I enjoy my new tarpaulin shade which I have put up over my tent.

Steve, who’s from Anglesey and knows the area well, has suggested a walk to me. I visit Church Bay first and then head up to Fydlyn in north west Anglesey, part of the island I’m not familiar with.

I would never have found this without a local guide, and it is a beautiful place – and you can see on the horizon the islands called ‘The Skerries’, which is our destination for tomorrow.

A stunningly beautiful place to sit and watch the sea, as the afternoon burns on.

Driving here today through the lanes and the hedgerows I found myself feeling completely content, thinking that it was a perfect moment.

I have felt this way before on Anglesey and loved it as much. On 8 June 2013 I wrote:

‘The sun shone all day, the sea sparkled golden and blue, hedgerows fit to burst in blue, pink, yellow and froths of white. I think heaven must look like this.’

I do think heaven must look like this.

Too soon time to return home and get ready for my next day on the water.

The next day – Monday – Steve and I have made plans to go to The Skerries, if the weather forecast is OK, which it is. I always enjoy being out on the water on a weekday, imagining job holders securely at their desks, while I am enjoying a very special kind of freedom – known only to the self-employed.

We meet up at the Truck Stop near Holyhead, our start venue of choice, and do our tidal planning. Although The Skerries are only a few kilometres off the coast, the tide here is very fast moving and careful planning is required to get there safely, and also without missing them! I am introduced to vectors, my first lesson in what feels like advanced marine navigation.

We begin our trip from Cemlyn, a pebbly beach just round the corner from Wylfa nuclear power station, buzzing in the quietness of the day.

This is the first time I’ve paddled on a bearing, using a compass on my deck – and I find there’s rather a lot to think about! Keeping on course, looking at the compass, and the chart, checking various landmarks, and also being aware of what the water is doing.

Although this looks peaceful enough, I can assure you this water is moving pretty quickly, so if you stop for too long, you’ll get carried off course. As I pause to take these photos Steve shouts, ‘Keep paddling Sarah!’…. Then we are at our destination, right on course, as planned, in 50 minutes.

And look.

Welcome to The Skerries.

Steve has told me that this is a special place. And it is. We are greeted by seabirds and seals. Puffins in quantity…. this is such a special place. Lucky me.

After we land we make our way up to a rocky outcrop for our lunch. There are mats of this purple flower everywhere. I later identify it as Red Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra). Note the petals are shorter than the sepals, and it has slightly fleshy leaves, it is a salt tolerant plant – it needs to be here.

There is rather less of this flower, Scarlet Pimpernel (Amagallis arvensis), which thrives on light soils, the flowers only open in bright sunshine.

Three kayakers were just leaving as we arrived and now they are paddling away, and the terns fly up, the noise is amazing.

These islands are particularly important for seabird colonies, and there is an RSPB warden here during the summer. Two species of tern nest here, the common tern and the arctic tern – both are very defensive of its nest and young, and will harass anyone who is near their nesting sites.

Steve tells me that it’s OK for us to walk up the steps to the lighthouse, as long as we stay on the path, away from the birds’ nests – if we want to. I fancy it – and soon realise why Steve isn’t joining me. The arctic terns in particular are very aggressive! They swoop down on me. I have experienced this before up in Bernaray, there were a few terns there, but there are loads here!

I sit at the top of the steps and take some photographs of the terns. But I don’t stay too long, as they obviously don’t really like me being there.

I make it back with only one tern having actually pecked at my hat, but I don’t mind as it has been a real privilege to be so close to them. Arctic terns are strongly migratory, seeing two summers each year as it migrates along a convoluted route from its northern breeding grounds to the Antarctic coast, yes Antarctica, for the southern summer and back again about six months later.

The long journey ensures that this bird sees two summers per year and more daylight than any other creature on the planet.

We have some time to spend here, as we are waiting for the tide to be right for our return trip.

Time to leave this special place.

We’ve seen plenty of jellyfish whilst out on the water today – the orange lion’s mane ones are around (they do sting), and there are the lovely moon jellyfish. This prompts the question, from me, of ‘Where do jellyfish go in the winter?’

The tide is low now and we also see red seaweed – possibly Dulse (Palmaria palmata)? More about this seaweed on The Seaweed Site.

Goodbye to the terns, puffins and seals. And thank you.

Our route home is navigated by aiming for West Mouse, assisted by the flooding tide.

And we arrive back at Cemlyn, and pack up. I’m then ready to leave for Liverpool by 6pm. I think briefly of the job holders…. and reflect that this is one way to beat the rush hour traffic. A great day.

Thank you to Steve for both days on the water, and especially for helping me make my first trip to The Skerries.

See all of Sarah’s adventures at Letters From Sarah

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