Mind the gap

After a short gap, caused by stormy weather rather than any lack of will on Sarah’s part, she once again takes to the waves around Anglesey. She also tells us some news about her boat and, as we expect, reflects on life and its meanings.

*

My last sea kayaking trip on my birthday didn’t happen due to storms, and so I have been back in Anglesey, to go kayaking, but also having a delayed birthday celebration!

So my kayaking trip starts with cake! Thank you to coach Geth and family for the cake, and making me so welcome.

The next day me and Geth are out on the water, we have just had another storm on the west coast and there is some wind around, so we go up to Cemaes on the north coast. We’re also actively ‘filling in the gaps’ on my determined circumnavigation of Anglesey (so a circumnavigation but not in one go), and now covering all the bits of coast I’ve not mapped and paddled, .

Leaving Cemaes and the cliffs here show very clear zonation of seaweed – Geth says it’s like a carefully cultivated garden!

We’ve soon made our way around Wylfa Head to the nuclear power station, which is now closed and being decommissioned. It began operating in 1971, and it was located here to use seawater as a coolant. We pass the old discharge area, where warm water was put back into the sea – as interested marine biologists this is always a cause for concern when thinking about the impact on the environment.

The scaffolding here is where the inlet pipe was located, and sea water (and, Geth tells me, the odd seal) were sucked in to the power station. Wylfa’s reactors were shut down in 2012 and 2015, and already this scaffolding has an air of something ancient and disused, a sort of dystopian premonition of the future…. and I find it’s quite creepy.

We turn round here and head back around Wylfa Head, looking at seaweed along the way. We are approaching low water, a great time to observe the emerging marine life.

We land on a small bay to do some exploring.

Geth and I were both on a ‘Rocky Shore Invertebrates’ course last month in Pembrokeshire, which has increased our knowledge, but also our interest. Geth goes  immediately into ‘turning stones over’ mode to find lower shore creatures of interest to us both.

A cushion star and some sea squirts – these are both animals. I have developed a growing interest in seaweeds, as well as gastropods.

We are also both becoming very interested in barnacles….

And, me especially, lichens…

We reluctantly leave, it’s getting on for four o’clock and the light is fading, although we both say we’d happily paddle on into the evening.

Before we leave Cemaes we go up to St Patrick’s Church, right on the cliff at Llanbadrig – I’ve often seen it from the water on kayaking trips. Sadly the church is locked now (it’s interior is tiled with a Moorish influence, which I’d like to see one day), but it is a special place and I’m glad we ended our day here.

The next day is calm, as predicted, with almost no wind. Geth has said that we can go ‘anywhere I want’ as wind will not dictate our location today. I suggest Abermenai Point.

We begin our day at Caernarfon, just further along from the castle.

When we get out into the straits it is glassy calm. Quiet. Magical. I love the silence out here. The sort of silence that adds richness.

I have wanted to come here for a while. And I’m glad this day is so perfect to finally get here. Abermenai Point is the long thin spit, the very corner of Anglesey that forms the mouth of the Menai Straits. Opposite Abermenai Point, on the Welsh coast, is Fort Belan. I am calling the space between them ‘the gap’.

Before we enter ‘the gap’, we explore new waters (new to us) in the estuary by Fort Belan, where many cormorants are happily basking.

We then stop at Fort Belan for an explore. Geth has never been here either and is keen to have a look around.

Fort Belan was built in 1775 to protect the narrow passage (the ‘gap’) which is 35 metres in width, Lord Newborough was worried about attack due to the ongoing American War of Independence. The family added a small harbour in the 1820s for their own craft (like you do) – which is where we landed. The Fort was also used during World War II by the Home Guard.

Our explorations are rather limited by the ‘Private’ signs… I later find out that it now houses self-catering cottages and is a venue for weddings.  Our visit is short, and we return to the water.

Crossing ‘the gap’ by a ferry glide onto the opposite shore at Abermenai Point.

(Editor’s interjection: Sarah tells me a ‘ferry glide’ is where you cross a body of moving water by appearing to paddle away from your intended destination. The moving water itself, if you estimate it right, bringing you to where you want to go. Like, indeed, the Mersey Ferries do by never coming straight across the river.)

I like it here. Miles of sand and sand dunes. Llanddwyn island visible in the distance, the tide receding.

After lunch, we leave and set off up the shore, towards Llanddwyn, but knowing we won’t get that far today. 

Geth suggests we go out to a wreck he has recently visited for the first time. 

This is the wreck of the Grampian Castle, which ran aground in 1987. It is only a few yards from the buoy marking the clear passage. Now much appreciated by a lot of cormorants when it is out of the water on a  low tide.

Whilst looking for information for the name of this wreck I found the answer at this great blog which is all about Newborough and the surrounding area – link to the wreck post here. Newborough is one of my favourite places, it’s often overlooked as a kayaking destination and part of me wants to keep this place a secret. I love it here.

As you can see from the map above, once we are through the gap we are in a very open area of water…. it feels vast from the position of a small boat. I know we will be back, and today I am ready to leave here.

Regular readers of my kayaking adventures may be surprised to hear that for this trip I’m not out in my own boat, much loved as it was. No, I have sold my boat…. for logistical reasons involving storage and portage, and I was surprised when it came to it, that letting go was easy. I can and am borrowing other boats. And so it was easily done, the letting go, as it so often is. The simplicity felt right. So, no boat – but that’s fine, I can still do this, an activity that gives me huge amounts of pleasure. Although it requires planning and organising, it’s worth it.

Time to head back and here I am ‘minding the gap’….

I am grateful for what kayaking teaches me, and continues to teach me. Being out on the water has its own challenges and rewards. Breast cancer (and specifically my own diagnosis nearly 12 years ago) taught me about immediacy, and not planning too far ahead. Something I still do – and value and cherish. This immediacy, the attention, the being out in this open-ness is incredibly rewarding for me.

This reminds me of what’s essential. The demand that I clear time and space to do this. The ease of how I now do so makes me very happy.

We arrive back at Caernarfon to discover that our route back to our launch point is not accessible, we are just a few hours after low water and it is full of mud and wading birds.

We look for an alternative landing place, and don’t find one, and while we do this time passes, the tide continues to flood, and we are eventually able to land safely where we put on this morning.

And so ends our time together, for this trip. A trip of a great range – from seaweed and shore life to a big castle and amazing open views.

I’m looking forward to my next trip already.

Read more ‘Letters From Sarah’ about life and sea kayaking here.

One Reply to “Mind the gap”

  1. Thank you, Sarah. Really enjoyed reading all this – poignant about clearing time and immediacy and not planning too far ahead.
    Love this, “The sort of silence that adds richness.”

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