A Day Trip to Lundy

Iíve wanted to sea kayak to Lundy ever since I went there on a climbing trip a few years ago. Itís a granite island in the Bristol Channel about 5km long by 2km wide - about 20 nautical miles West of Woolacombe in Devon. My ideal scenario was to take climbing kit, camp there, climb the ďDevils SlideĒ, a 400 foot easy angled granite slab, circumnavigate the island, then paddle back - probably over three days. Unfortunately, logistically, that was quite a big ask. it would need at least one other competent sea kayaker, ideally with some climbing experience. It would also mean booking the camping well in advance (camping is strictly limited on Lundy), and would mean taking at least one day off work. Most irritating of all, if the weather was not good on the day, it would all be for nothing. Due to these reasons Iíd left the trip on the back burner for the past few years.

A few months ago one of my mates announced that he was getting married in Cornwall. As the date got nearer, I decided that it was too far to drive down just for the wedding, so I thought that Iíd spend a few days in the South West and do some climbing. I also started to seriously toy with the idea of going to Lundy. It clashed with the LCC trip to Scotland, so that ruled out most of the sea paddlers that I know, but one or two of my mates showed an interest. I even suggested that it could form a memorable part of the stag do, there was some initial enthusiasm for this, but it didnít last.. I did manage to persuade Alison to go down to the South West for a few days cycling/climbing though, and I started to consider perhaps just going to Lundy for a day.

A few days before the trip, and planning was already at an advanced level, I had ruled out buying a chart, as they were expensive, but I had found a website with a small diagram of Lundy and the North Devon Coast, and Iíd borrowed a laminated map of Britain from Keith - I now knew that Lundy was roughly due West of Woolacombe. Even better, the tide times were just about perfect, if I went on the Wednesday, on the way down to Cornwall, I wouldnít need to get up early to catch the ebb, and if I paddled quickly I should even get back to the mainland before dark. The general consensus seemed to be that this plan was a little optimistic, but I decided that the thought of floating around on the Bristol Channel all night would probably motivate me to paddle harder if necessary.

I went up to the stag night in the Lake District on the Sat, Sun and Mon - I then had all of Tuesday to finalise the plans and drive to Devon. The first thing I thought that I ought to do was thoroughly practice self rescue, as Iíve never tried to get back into a sea kayak in rough water (thinking about it, Iíve never tried to get back into any type of boat, in any kind of water). My back garden wasnít the ideal place to practice - but I compromised and watched a short video clip about it on You Tube (having watched it, I also made a mental note to stay in my boat at all costs). I found some co-ordinates for the landing beach at Lundy, for Woolacombe and for Lee bay (a couple of miles West of lifracombe) - and stuck them in my GPS. I then thought Iíd try and calculate a bearing taking the tides (nearer neaps than springs) into account - adding 10 degrees, then a bit extra (or is it less?) for magnetic variation. I figured that, as in anything other than flat calm Iíd be lucky to stay within ten degrees either side of any bearing it didnít need to be too accurate. The weather forecast was still good, the only downside was that the surf forecast was pretty high, there had been a couple of days of high winds, and a swell of six to seven foot was forecast at Woolacombe.

We drove down to Woolacombe that afternoon, arriving just before dusk, we could see Lundy out to sea, not far from the setting sun - it didnít look that far away at all... I got up early the next morning, had breakfast and then we drove down to Woolacombe beach. I started to unpack all my kit, sorting it out and sticking it into dry bags etc. The surf looked pretty big (a good six foot), but I thought that I should just about be able to get out OK. There was no sign of Lundy, but I knew that it generally wasnít visible in the mornings. By 09:50 I was nearly ready, but the bay was now full of surfers, I started to think that if I did get caught by a large wave, and side surfed back in to the beach, Iíd take quite a few of them out - and from memory they donít react very well to that. So, a quick change of plan - I stuffed everything back in the car, tied the boat on to the roof again and drove to Lee Bay. The sea there was as flat as a pancake. I tried to phone the Swansea coastguard to tell them my plans - but no reception - I delegated that task to Alison, then quickly got ready and paddled off towards Morte Point.

I soon passed the lighthouse, keeping well out to sea, as there was a big swell crashing on to the rocks. I amended my planned bearing slightly, as I was now a couple of miles further North than I had expected, and paddled steadily off, seemingly into the middle of the ocean. After a few kilometers I noticed that in my haste to set off Iíd clipped the far end of my deck pump on to my deck lines just out of reach. After a few athletic contortions I accepted the fact that it definitely was out of reach, but consoled myself with the thought that in a sea large enough to need to usc it, I probably wouldnít be able to stop paddling anyway. The sea was pretty empty, I saw a couple of lobster boats a few miles away but little else, after about 10 or 12 km I saw a slight shadow in the cloud on the horizon - perhaps it was an island, perhaps it wasnít? I saw a few gannets, several small groups of guillemots and razor bills, and then a couple of pods of dolphins and/or porpoises, which all helped to relieve the boredom. The island slowly became bigger, and occasional glances at my GPS confirmed that it was indeed getting nearer. The tide seemed pretty negligible until the last kilometer or so, when I had to paddle reasonably hard to cross the tidal race that runs to the South of the island, but I was soon across the main flow, and then paddled into the small bay, which is often the only reasonably sheltered landing place on the island.

It had taken me three hours and fifty minutes to get there, I now had a couple of hours to kill before the paddle back. I unpacked my dry bags, took off my wet kit, hung it to dry on a boulder, then wandered up the steep path to the cluster of houses where the majority of the inhabitants and visitors stay. I noticed from a signpost that the landing fee had now gone up from £3.50 to £5.00 (ouch!). Nevertheless, I thought that I ought to go into the islandís pub, the Marisco Tavern and pay the fee, as I could then sign the sea kayaking visitors book that is held in the bar. After waiting for about twenty seconds in the empty bar, my frugality overcame my desire for immortality in the visitors book - I had tried to pay after all... I then wandered through the small campsite towards the old disused lighthouse, as I remembered that you used to be able to climb up to the top of it, and sit in a deckchair where the light used to be. You still could, so after climbing the granite stairs I sat up there for a while and took a few photos. I also phoned the Swansea coastguard to let them know that Iíd arrived and would be heading back at low tide. All too soon I had to start walking back to the boat, to eat my butties and then be ready to paddle back. Walking back to the landing bay I realised that there was actually a strong Easterly wind blowing, strangely I hadnít noticed it when it was behind me. Great! - that should allow mc to savour the paddle back even more...

Just after low tide, I put on my paddling kit again and dragged the boat down to the sea, at least I could see the Devon coast in the distance, so I didnít need to worry too much about bearings. The first part of the paddle seemed to go relatively quickly, even though the island steadfastly refused to get much smaller whenever I looked back at it. In the middle of the crossing though, the North Devon coast hardly seemed to be moving past me at all, but at least I could glance at my GPS every so often, just to prove to myself that my destination really was getting closer. I had decided to land at Woolacombe as opposed to Lee Bay, as I figured that it should be easier to get in through the surf, rather than out through it, and that there should be less surfers (or at least less body boarders) around after 20:00. More to the point Alison was probably more likely to happily wait there for a couple of hours, rather than at the very quiet Lee Bay. As I paddled in to the bay the surf was still pretty big, and dumping, and there were still quite a few body boarders. Ah well, I was committed now... I found a relatively quiet spot, smiled politely at the surfers, who didnít seem especially keen to share the waves, and waited for what I hoped was a calm spell. After one or two false starts, quickly followed by some energetic back paddling, I reached the beach, still pointing forwards and hopefully without unduly alarming too many surfers.

I dragged the boat up the beach a little and quickly got changed, as it was pretty cool now. The paddle back had taken 4 hrs 26 mins, the GPS showed that I had traveled over 69km, of which I guess about 3km was walking on the island.

No sign of Alison, so I found my phone and gave her a ring just to get an automated message saying that the phone was turned off. Hmmm, not exactly what I was hoping for ó the tent and campsite were about six miles inland. I dragged my boat up towards a couple trying to have a romantic evening on the beach and asked them if theyíd mind looking after it, while I wandered round the car parking spots in Woolacombe. Fortunately I soon found Alison wandering along the path overlooking the bay, she asked where Iíd come from, as she had (allegedly) been looking out for me for at least the last hour. I decided that it was probably best to make no comment on that, at least not until after she had helped me carry my boat up to the car... Soon the boat was on the roof, the car was packed, and the sun was setting over the sea, not far away from the island.

A grand day out!

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Dinny Davies


Back to Contents page