The tides around Mont St Michel are described as rising at the speed of a galloping horse. I am never sure whether this is true but clearly at times there is going to be a significant amount of water moving and this has the potential to create a tidal bore when it enters a river estuary.
Obviously a Spring tide is required to ensure that the bore works and we selected a Thursday morning when there was a tide with a co-efficient of 109. We hoped that by choosing a Thursday morning just after dawn there wouldn’t be that many other people turning up to surf the wave.
The first problem was try and find the departure point. We arrived on the evening ferry to St Malo and in the dark had to navigate our way through the narrow lanes of eastern Brittany, looking for somewhere near the Pointe de Rochtorin, where we could park up and sleep in the cars. Eventually at about 23.30 after a number of false tracks we eventually decided that we were in the right place and settled down for a night of luxury on the front seat of my car.
We were up before first light, preparing equipment and still not too sure that we were in the right place when suddenly a couple of stand up paddleboarders arrived and ran off down the path. Confirmation that we were in the right place. We followed quickly and selected a place for launching with the minimum amount of mud to wade through. In the soft light and calm of early morning we then headed downstream unaware of what we were going to find.
The first indication of something approaching was the flocks of birds taking flight, then there was the unmistakable roar of water when suddenly a wave appeared around the corner. Not particularly large, between 30 and 60 cms high it stretched right across the river and was flooding the exposed sand banks. As regards time it was now about 40 minutes before high water at St Malo.
We were soon on the face of the tidal bore and surfing upstream, the 6 of us in sea kayaks and the 2 people on SUP’s, were joined by a long board surfer and a paddler in a general purpose kayak. That was it, 10 of us on the wave, a complete contrast to some of the carnage we had witnessed, on some of the films we had watched beforehand.
We surfed up stream for 5 nautical miles and were on the wave for 40 minutes, a couple of us rolled and one person swam but was surprisingly easy to rescue, it hadn’t occurred to us that the whole of sea was moving upstream behind the wave. This meant that if you dropped of the wave for a rest, it was pretty straight forward to regain the face when you felt like it.
The French clearly knew where the tidal bore was going to finish as they had their cars parked ready. The wave just disappeared so we pulled up on the bank had a quick coffee and within 20 minutes the flow had reversed and we were heading back to the cars and a well earned breakfast.
This was one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I have had sea kayaking in recent years. Surfing the tidal bore or the “mascaret” as the French call it is a unique and highly recommended activity.
One of the highlights of my year was a visit to the Spanish Symposium, a sea kayaking event, which is held in the small town of Llanca, just south of the Spanish – French border. It was something we had thought of attending several times over the years but 2017 was the first time that it really possible, and we weren’t disappointed. A more friendly, well organized event would be hard to find.
The format was very simple but very effective. Virtually everybody camped in the grounds of the local secondary school, we did have to wait for the end of term before putting the tents up. Every morning members of the local kayak Club prepared a superb breakfast, which was always delivered with a smile.
The first 3 days of the event were based off the beach in Llanca, every morning several hundred paddlers would gather on the beach looking for coloured signs, which represented the various workshops. From what initially appeared like chaos, emerged order and a variety of sessions, which were all well received. Despite the variety of nationalities attending there always seemed to be a way of communicating, although my French was tested at times!
Following the 3 days of workshops there were 4 days of paddling when we were able to explore the surprisingly spectacular coastline of the Costa Brava.
The final day was particularly memorable as we headed north across the border to the French border town of Cerbere. We took advantage of the ice cream shops and I reflected on the fact that a few months earlier I had arrived in this town on my bike, having riding across France from Jersey over 2 weeks last September.
The Spanish Symposium was a memorable week, the organization was smooth and the members of Club who volunteered their were incredibly friendly. An event of this size makes considerable demands on the resources of a kayaking Club so it is not an annual event but start planning for the 2019 Spanish Sea Kayaking Symposium, you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get a place.
It was another day cycling various routes around the Island, mainly on routes 1 and 3, with a few other lanes thrown in as well. Often when we are out and about we focus on the big picture, looking at the dramatic seascapes or photographing towering cumulus clouds whilst missing out on some of the small features. Bikes are the perfect vehicles to allow us to view these smaller features, which are often missed whilst driving.
We headed into St Helier and whilst cycling around the harbour my eye was caught by a riot of colour at the base of a wall. It was a plaque to commemorate those Islanders who served in Burma from 1941 to 1945, and had been unveiled the day before. Amazingly as we stood and considered the information that it contained we were joined by two other people, one of whom was the son of the first named person on the plaque.
After a stop in Gorey for coffee and cake we decided to head back west on the Cycle Route 3. This is one of a number of cycle routes, which cross the the Island, further information about the routes is available from Visit Jersey. Cycle Route 3 is one of the hardest options as it goes straight across the Island, up and down numerous valleys. Just over 14 miles in length with nearly 2,000 feet of ascent.
As you follow the route you come across some features, which are almost unique to Jersey. Many of these would be missed if driving or they are in places where it would be difficult to stop and examine them in greater detail. We came upon this Parish Boundary Stone at a road junction.
This toad made me stop and look in Waterworks Valley. It has been developed by Michelle Caine and Alcindo Pinto, working with the National Trust for Jersey. I had been away from the Island when the project was launched therefore it came as a complete surprise, and I thought I knew may way around the Island pretty well.
The final surprise was a rather old everyday object. A Victorian Post Box! Post Box No. 45 was made between 1861 and 1871 and still has a collection at 09.00 Monday to Friday, although I do wonder how many letters are posted here each day.
These are just a sample of the interesting features that can be encountered when cycling around Jersey. We are already planning a different route for next week.
By default I found myself arranging the Jersey Canoe Club Sunday morning session. Considering tide and weather I chose Greve de Lecq, a delightful beach on the north west corner of the Island. In actual fact it would have been possible to go almost anywhere but I hadn’t been from Greve for some time, a fact which helped to influence my decision.
You are spoilt for choice at Greve de Lecq, heading east and west there are sections of cliff, interspersed with numerous caves whilst to the north are the Paternoster’s, one of the reefs which are located around Jersey. Today there were some large clouds around with the possibility of thunderstorms so we selected the coastal option, heading east.
The great thing about this section of coast is that almost immediately there are numerous caves waiting to be explored and today the lack of any significant swell meant that we could wander almost anywhere.
Besides the caves there are numerous narrow channels waiting to be explored. Just over a mile to the east of Greve de Lecq is Ile Agois, one of the most dramatic physical features on the Island. Separated from the headland by a narrow channel the surrounding cliffs produce an almost totally isolated stack. Excavations in the 1950’s and 70’s of the summit area uncovered a significant amount of iron age pottery, plus the remnants of some small huts. It might also have provided sanctuary for a small community of monks. It is likely at that time the stack was joined to the headland, otherwise it would have been a very challenging place to survive.
I have fond memories of paddling in this area in the 1980’s with Derek Hutchinson, who at the time was probably the best known sea kayaker in the world with his televised expeditions as well as his crossing of the North Sea by kayak in 1976, when on a 31 hour paddle they were out of sight of land for 30 hours.
To the east of Ile Agois is another significant coastal feature, Devil’s Hole. The scene of a shipwreck in 1851, when the French cutter, Josephine, ran aground. One of the crew was drowned whilst the other 4 were rescued by Nicolas Arthur, the owner of The Priory Inn at the top of cliffs, plus a friend. The figurehead from the ship was washed into the bottom of Devil’s Hole, from where it was rescued, before being carved into the shape of the Devil, before being put on display, hence its name.
Before returning to Greve de Lecq we explored the narrow channels towards Sorel, coming across the rather strange breathing rock. A couple of hours on a Sunday morning is a great time to explore the Islands coastline with the Jersey Canoe Club and today didn’t disappoint.
It was all so straightforward. Paddle out of Pakitsoq, camp on the slabs at Anoritoq, have an evening meal in Oqaatsut and been in Ilulissat in time for lunch. It just about went to plan apart from the evening meal bit.
There was no rush in the morning as our calculations indicated that the best time to pass through the narrows was at around 10.30, on this particular morning high water at Ilulissat was at 09.38. It turned out that our calculations were pretty accurate and although we needed to do a bit of ferry gliding we escaped into the outer part of the fjord with very little effort.
Our campsite for the evening was close to the slabs at Anoritoq, which is probably my favourite place to stay along this section of coast. An easy landing, plenty of flat space for tents, a great stream and a never ending range of glacial features to explore.
The following morning the wind was blowing offshore and packing up was put on a temporary hold. A temporary hold, which stretched in 22 hours. Bit by bit the wind increased in strength until it was blowing offshore at about 50 mph. There was clearly no way we were paddling in those conditions.
The consequence was that we had to miss out on our stop in Oqaatsut, and were still quite concerned about the possibility of strong winds but when we got up at 05.00 the storm of the day before had abated, so in perfectly calm conditions we headed south for the 13 miles back to Ilulissat.
Landing just after 11.00, we unloaded our kayaks for the final time, we had been out for 19 days. At times strong winds created challenging conditions but our journey through northern Disko Bay had been truly memorable.
It has been a couple of weeks since I had been out on the bike and I was keen to get a few miles in the legs. A quick circuit of some of the western parishes, with lunch thrown in for good measure seemed like a good idea. It is interesting just how many good cycling routes on Jersey, particularly if you know where to look. We started along the Railway Walk, surprised how many people were out walking. It appears that the Island is managing to attract a reasonable number of active visitors during the autumn months . The Railway Walk is such a great resource for visitors and locals alike.
The cycle route turns north at Les Quennevais and skirts around the Airport, where there was still some activity after yesterday’s Battle of Britain Air Display. From there we cycled through St Peter’s and down the narrow lanes into St Peter’s Valley so that we could ride on the recently opened cycle track.
The track has come in for some criticism from some people in the media but it is a valuable addition to the islands network of cycle routes. Hopefully there will be many more developments to come.
One of the great things about cycling in Jersey are the number of narrow, virtually traffic free roads, which are available to be explored including the Green Lanes. Around the Island there are about 50 miles of roads where the maximum speed limit is 15 mph and priority is given to cyclists and walkers. They were designated from 1994 onwards, and are perfect for cycling along.
Once we had cycled up La Dimerie we had regained the higher land of St Mary and passed through the village with its lovely parish church.
Our destination was a little know feature alongside one of the roads in the parish of St Ouen. There aren’t that many places on the island where it is possible to see whale bones.
After the excitement of whale ribs we were in need of some food and chose the delights of Plemont Cafe, with its extensive views of the other Channel Islands. Features were particularly clear as we were under the influence of Polar Maritime air.
From here it was a particularly easy run along the west coast of the Island, passing the St Ouen Millenium Stone on the way. 25 miles of varied cycling, mostly on designated cycle routes or virtually traffic free lanes.
After the winds of the day before it was a pleasure to wake to a calm morning. Breakfast was a very pleasant affair as we knew that we would be heading south, towards Pakitsoq, after the delays of the last 24 hours and could start to relax, with a good forecast for the next few days. We were quickly underway and our first stop for the day was Kugssuaq, where we knew that there was an easy landing and a good stream.
I have crossed Pakitsoq 13 times in the last few years and on every single occasion have seen whales. This year was no exception, although the views were rather distant. The first indication of whales in the vicinity is when you heard their breathing or saw the spray from their breath rising above the surface of the sea. Our focus though was ensuring that we managed to enter Pakitsoq safely, through the tidal narrows.
I have always found that the safest way to enter Pakitsoq is to arrive at the narrows early, whilst he tide is still pouring out. Then either sit and wait or play in the tide race, until the outgoing flow has slackened enough to enable you to paddle through the narrows with a degree of control and in relative safety. We managed to enter, with a bit of uphill paddling at 17.30, this was on a day when high water at Ilulissat was at 21.05 and low water was at 14.18. The tide times are available here.
Once you are inside Pakitsoq a totally different world is revealed. The biggest difference is that there are no icebergs, so camping and moving the kayaks is much easier. There is no longer the need to have the kayaks 10 metres above the high water mark, just in case a large berg should roll over. Just as no bergs will make it through the gap because of the narrow water and the tides the same probably applies to large marine mammals so don’t expect to see whales swimming around in here.
One thing to take into account is that the two daily tides are unequal in height. The evening tide is normally quite a bit bigger than the morning one, so take this into account when deciding how far to lift the kayaks up, the last line of wet seaweed is probably not far enough. On the day we entered the evening tide had a height of 2.6 metres, which seems to equate to a Spring, whilst the morning high water was only 1.8 metres.
Once inside there are a number of options available but we chose to paddle the southern arm, which is much narrower and to explore some of the small islands scattered around the bay.
Overall a very enjoyable day and made that much easier by the fact we didn’t to pack and unpack the kayaks. A day paddling an empty kayak is almost like having a rest day. The evening was spent relaxing around the campsite, admiring the view and rejoicing in the fact that there were no insects to bother us. The only negative feeling was a growing realization that in the next couple of days the trip would be over. Greenland was once again casting its spell as a truly special sea kayaking destination.
The east coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland is a truly spectacular stretch of coast but it requires detailed examination of the maps to truly appreciate the height of the cliffs. Usually they are viewed from the coast opposite when heading north from Ilulissat. In places they rise almost vertically for about 2,000 feet, a feature which is clearly going to attract kayakers. At first the cliffs were not unlike other areas that we have paddled, in size, but as we headed north the scale shifted significantly. The size of the cliffs alters your perception so at times you thought I’ll just nip across this inlet. That inlet could be several miles across so if you are not careful you find yourself paddling offshore for an hour or so, rather than exploring the base of the cliffs, which was the focus for the day.
I had only paddled these cliffs once before, late one afternoon about 9 years ago, it was memorable but not like this time. Paddling them in the morning ensured that the sun was in the perfect position for highlighting the physical features and accentuating the texture of the rock. We considered stopping for lunch at the base of the cliffs but there was no protection from any potential stone fall, so we took the sensible option and paddled the 3 miles across to the mainland.
The lunch spot turned out to be rather pleasant and so we decided to stay there the night, something we were really grateful for as the wind increased significantly overnight and we ended up remaining there the following day. I have visited Greenland regularly in the last 25 years but this summer was without doubt the most unsettled weather wise. We lost 2 whole days due to strong winds plus had several late starts or early finishes. Other years I have been able to complete a 3 week kayaking trip without having to modify our plans because of unsettled weather.
Although today’s paddling had been spectacular it had been rather short, about 13 miles and so after lunch I took advantage of the sheltered bay to practice some rolling. Although we didn’t see any other kayakers this year on previous trips we had always seen other paddlers and I was amazed to see people not wearing dry suits. Many of the French, in particular, seem to avoid wearing dry suits, something which I consider to be rather irresponsible considering the water temperature and potential survival times. I did one roll, no problem, on my second roll I exclaimed about the pain in my head and after my third roll I was unable to speak and needed to hold my head. It was difficult to understand just what it would be like if you were in the water for any length of time. Once I had warmed my head and hands I thought a re-entry and roll would be a good idea, I am not sure anybody else thought it was. I was pretty quick and wearing a dry suit but I still found it rather challenging temperature wise, swimming after a capsize without wearing a dry suit just doesn’t bear thinking about.
For me the highlight of the campsite was a father friendly Arctic Fox cub, it didn’t seem in the least bit concerned by our presence. Returning several times during the time we spent at the campsite, clearly ignoring the advice of its parents who were calling from the hillside above. I just hope that he makes it through its first winter.
The following morning the calm of the previous day had been replaced by a significant wind blowing from the south, we clearly weren’t going anywhere soon. One of the tings that has improved in the last few years off the west coast of Greenland has been the mobile phone coverage. Although rarely have a signal when you land, walk uphill a bit and you can be quite lucky. Just remember to brief friends or relatives about what information you need in a forecast before you leave.
A half mile walk put us in a position where we could get a faint signal and the information that we received back was all very positive. Light winds, no rain and reasonable temperatures until we arrived back in Ilulissat. As we settled do we for the night little did we realise just how wrong that forecast was to be.
The hoped for settled weather failed to materialise and we woke to a day virtually without colour. Low grey skies, settled on a the grey screen covered hillsides and were reflected in the grey sea. Somehow packing in those conditions seems to take longer but we still managed to be on the water just before 09.00.
Heading out from the shelter of the islands we picked up a slight northerly wind, which certainly assisted our journey south. The ice bergs were largely offshore so we were able to relax. At one point we did have a couple of whales submerge about 100 metres directly ahead of us only to resurface behind, you hope that they are aware of your presence but I am never too sure.
Landings along this section of coast are few and far between so we didn’t have lunch until we had finished at the end of the day. The relatively early finish meant that we were able to make full use of the substantial stream to wash both ourselves and equipment before having time to walk up the large valley behind the campsite.
There is something exciting about wandering across terminal moraines, identifying a roche moutonnee and pointing out hanging valleys. Having a basic understanding of glacial processes can only add to the enjoyment of your time in such a spectacular environment. The wind was still blowing relatively briskly which meant that all of these activities were an insect free experience. Something which had been all too rare so far on the trip.
We woke to find that the grey skies of the day before had been replaced by a virtually cloudless sky, unfortunately the wind had increased somewhat and the waters on the outside of the bay were flecked with white horses. We obviously weren’t going anywhere straight away, so we had an enforced, relaxing morning waiting for the wind drop, which it did just after lunch.
Soon we were heading south before rounding the southern tip of the island. The plan was to paddle under the huge cliffs of the east coast the following day. A couple of miles along the east coast we found some ideal slabs, suitable for landing on with flat land for camping on behind. Perfect. The only thing that could make it better was a couple of whales, whilst we ate our evening meal. As it was we only had one humpback whale but what a spectacle we experienced for over an hour. It is evenings and days like this that make you realise why sea kayaking in Greenland is such a special experience.
Arve Prinsens Ejland is a large island, which dominates the views of north east Disko Bay and offers some fascinating kayaking. Although we only had a short day planned there was plenty of variety, with a number of stops planned.
Our first target was a small Bay where I know that there is some excellent evidence of a former settlement. We had first camped here in 2008 and it was here that I really thought about the similarities of modern recreational kayaker and generations of former Greenlanders. We travel through the environment at the same speed as the Greenlanders did hundreds of years ago and our needs are almost identical. An easy place to land a kayak, a flat area for tents and a stream for water. As soon as I realised that we had identical needs and knew what to look for almost everywhere we camped we could identify signs of former human use.
As we approached the small bay it was clear that there were quite a few local fishermen in residence and it looked like most were still in bed, so we avoided landing there. We carried on pottering along the coast with the next target an area where Brunnich’s Guillemots nested. En route we passed a couple of very confident White Rumped Sandpipers. Quite an amazing bird, which is one of the greatest long distant migrants in the world, some individuals traveling from northern Canada to Patagonia. On their way north to breed they are thought to undertake non-stop flights up to 2,600 miles in length.
Brunnich’s Guillemots are a species which you are likely to encounter in the U.K., as they spend their lives in areas where the sea temperature remains below 8 degrees Celsius. So it’s always a pleasure to seem them on their breeding grounds. We weren’t disappointed today with quite a few individuals flying around in addition to variety of other species.
Our destination for today was just to the north of the abandoned settlement of Agpat, which is on a small island just off the west coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland. It is somewhere, which is always worth exploring. After landing Louis, headed back out to test his new fishing kit. As he headed back to shore it seemed that he was making hard work of what should have been a short paddle, it was only as he entered shallow water that we realised he was towing 4 Greenlandic cod, each of which would provide enough food for 7 people. 3 were delicately released whilst the unlucky 4th fish was on an open fire with 10 minutes of leaving the water. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
The evening was spent exploring the old settlement. This was my 6th visit and it is sad to see how the buildings are deteriorating over the years. Amazingly it was also the first time that we haven’t seen other people there. Some of us carried on exploring the village whilst several decided to walk to the highest point on the island, which was marked by a substantial cairn.
A great day but we went to bed in the knowledge that the following day we were heading south along quite an exposed section of Arve Prinsens Ejland. All we needed was weather like we have had for the 6 days and life would be great.