Three go around Anglesey on neap tides by Catriona Hare

Three go around Anglesey on neap tides by Catriona Hare

We all set off at about 4:00 in the morning to get to Gallows point in time to leave at 6:30 and catch the tide down the Menai Straits. Well nearly, one of us was a wee bit tardy and we finally set off at 6:50. I suspect there may have been some contingency planning in the start time.

The straits looked magical in the early morning sun and the near absence of any other boat traffic gave a rare calmness for the start of the paddle. It made me realise the straits should not just be a bad weather option. We made good time towards Abermenai point where the tranquillity was disturbed not for the last time by speed boats. Here we picked up the flood tide, before heading to the beach south east of the light house on Llanddwyn Island, for a well-deserved second breakfast; or one of Keith’s many elevenses stops which I have learnt means eat a proper meal, because it might actually be our only stop for hours. There were a lot of small dead fish on the high tide line, and we spent some time speculating about the cause, much more productive than actually knowing the reason for the phenomenon, well….

After this we crossed Matreath and Aberffraw bays to reach the church on the rocks, a day too early for the 3rd and last service of the year. Here we had another elevenses and applied more suntan lotion. It was hot, even Ian was paddling in a T-shirt.

To make the most of the flood tide we paddled across to Roscolyn Head. Along this stretch we were harassed by Smokers, numerous jet skis and speed boats creating the feeling of post apocalypse Waterworld. They seemed to get as close to us as possible without giving any indication that they knew we were there, and to approach from multiple different directions simultaneously to ensure the boat wakes merged creating unpredictably messy waves. Where is Kevin Costner when you need him?

Things quietened down a bit as we paddled onto Porth Rufyydd to the east of Penryn Mawr, where we eventually lost the tide and decided to stop for the night. Just as well as I was a bit broken by now. After eating, our tents were up and I was thinking of going to sleep, all be it only 7:30ish when a family arrived on the beach with 4 children and 3 dogs. One of the dogs found Ian threatening and barked and attempted to nip him, one of the others decided to investigate tents, food supplies and kayaks. Luckily the owners more or less took control of their pets before at least one tired grumpy kayaker lost her temper.

We woke up the next day to sea fog, which was really useful as the beach had an absence of suitable toilet rocks and the vegetation at the top of the beach consisted of heather and gorse bushes. We broke camp at about 10:30 after a leisurely breakfast, unfortunately I broke a tent pole at this point, which prompted a wide-ranging discussion on tent design between Ian and Keith. I learnt what was wrong with mine but reached no conclusion on optimum tent structure.

We set off round Penryn Mawr, then took a bearing into the fog towards South Stack. Keith and I headed due north, Ian took a different bearing from his compass to go in the same direction, so he was made to go at the back. We heard south stack before we saw it, although by the time we got there the sun had almost appeared. We stopped for an elevenses in parliament cave, before giving Holyhead harbour a wide berth. We had another uniformed discussion about whether the big catamaran still ran, and the size of the wake it created. I was happy to paddle quite quickly. We continued to make good progress in the tidal stream and rounded Carmel Head at mid tide, which was lumpy and good fun. By now we had been paddling for several hours without an elevenses and we took a detour into Cemaes bay for food, water, ice cream and a well-earned rest. We then used the remaining tide to head round to the brickworks in Porth Wen, which was heaving with yachts, motorboats, kayakers, tents and BBQs. We decided to camp on the beach at the south of the bay, after all some of us might need lots of beauty sleep. Keith and Ian helped fixed my tent pole and put my tent up; it wasn’t well designed for stony beaches before it broke, and now required careful attention. I was very grateful, the offer of Ian’s bivy bag as an alternative had not appealed very much.

As the sun went down, we watched one of the small boats return from land to its mothership. The engine went putt, putt, splutter, stop the oars came out and the boat continued downwind beyond its destination. It continued to head out to sea when they managed to get the engine going again. Steering control was given to a small child, the boat went around in circles, the engine stopped again, the oars came out and it headed further out to sea. We had some half-hearted discussions about helping but my tent was tied to our kayaks, and I thought this was a really bad idea.

After the petrol stove debacle in Lofoten, and Keith’s petrol stove not working well on this trip either, I had been feeling quite pleased with myself for only owning a gas stove, well at least until today. The self-seal valve failed to self-seal when I removed my stove from the gas bottle this morning. Keith found this very amusing, Ian thought he could set fire to it and I might move a bit quicker. Anyway, we set off before the tide was with us and eddy hopped along the coast to Port Eillian, for an elevenses. Keith insisted it was my turn to make the brew, luckily my gas bottle had stopped leaking and I had enough gas to complete the task, and I could feel smug again.

Before I had agreed to come on the trip, I had checked we were not going to go around any of the sticky out bits in conditions I might find scary. Time for more ridicule, about expected crashing waves round Point Lynas; needless to say, it was flat calm. Having agreed that a direct crossing to Puffin Island was a bit long, we set off towards Moelfre via Ynas Dulas hoping to pick up the tide. We saw lots of seals and porpoises on route but didn’t find the tide. However, Keith and Ian seemed not to notice this and seemed to cover the ground at the same speed as we had for the rest of the trip; I had to paddle quite hard to keep up.

We reached Moelfre where we had a short break to stretch our legs before heading directly to Puffin Island. We had now found the tide, but Keith and Ian didn’t let up on the paddling and I continued to paddle quite hard. We were making really good progress, getting on for 10km/Hr. Ian reckoned if we paddled a bit quicker we could cover the whole distance in just over an hour, Keith said he was in holiday paddling mode so this was not necessary, I suspected Ian was trying to break me. We made it just round Trwyn Du for a another very short leg-stretch before heading down the straits back to Gallows Point. There were lots of boats, Keith and Ian discussed staying in the right part of the straits to keep the tide and avoid the speed boats. I was really quite tired by now and just concentrated on paddling, so I have no idea what line we took or why.

We reached Gallows Point to find a couple of angels on the beach, with cake and an unexpected but greatly appreciated enthusiasm for carrying other people’s boats up the beach. Nikki and Martin had after all had a whole day of rest, as they had managed to paddle round the island in just two days.

We headed off to the Gazelle Hotel, where I trusted Keith to guide me into a parking space, my left front wheel was mm away from falling down a steep drop, when I applied the handbrake. All five of us stayed for an “interesting” meal before heading back home.

My thanks to Keith and Ian for their company and support and making it a thoroughly enjoyable if exhausting weekend.

More Photos…….