I have always had a soft spot for the islands to the north of Jersey, in particular Herm and Sark. Over the last 40 years I have paddled to both on numerous occasions always enjoying their coastline as well as the atmosphere on shore.
Sadly they appear to have become islands of contrast. Sark appears to have deteriorated over the last few years with numerous shops closing and in places the island appearing uncared for. Herm on the other hand appears to have gone from strength to strength and would now be my Island of choice.
Every year there is an excuse to visit Herm in both June and September, the Herm Beer Festival. What could be better, stunning sea kayaking and the choice of 50 real ales. Last year we paddled from Jersey to the June event, but this year that wasn’t an option due to the fact that I was in plaster, following a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Gozo.
For the September Festival we decided to take to car to Guernsey and paddle from there. The alternative plan was if it was too rough to paddle across the Little Russell we could always get the ferry. We were determined to get to Herm!
The first issue was the cost of the ferry. I think that I am pretty tolerant but £330 for a car and 3 passengers from Jersey to Guernsey is pretty excessive. It’s only about 25 nautical miles, the crossing is about an hour. It’s always the problem when you are a captive market. We booked several weeks in advance but had to just bite the bullet and pay up.
We reached Guernsey and headed towards Bordeaux, our departure point. We had to stick to a schedule as it was the largest tide of the year so the tidal streams in the Little Russell were going to be running at a considerable speed. Selecting the appropriate tidal window was essential.
The crossing passed reasonably easily and we were soon putting the tents up before heading back to the bright lights of the Mermaid Tavern. The Herm Beer Festival is such a delightful event and we were fortunate enough to spend 3 evenings there as well as spending some of the days enjoying kayaking in the superb coastal waters of the surrounding islands.
All too soon it was time to head back to Jersey, but already thinking that next year we would be heading north once again to experience the charms of Herm.
Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic. This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams. The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef. The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots. There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef. Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived. We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress. At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.
In the middle of St Ouen’s Bay, on the west coast of Jersey is La Rocco Tower. Although I think it is pretty safe to say that just about everybody who lives in Jersey will have seen it only a small percentage of residents will have set foot upon its ramparts.
Last Wednesday we paddled from Ouaisne along the cliffs of the southwest coast before running north to La Rocco Tower. Our picnic spot for the day. The initial problem is deciding where to land, there are a couple of suitable locations, the exact choice depending upon the wind and swell.
There was a brisk northerly breeze but fortunately only a slight westerly swell, which meant that selecting an appropriate landing place was not too difficult. We did have to take into consideration that the tide was rising so launching may have been an issue but we managed to find two sites, which offered sheltered landings and it wasn’t’ long before we were heading into the walls which surround La Rocco Tower.
It was built in the last years of the 18th Century, at a cost of £400 and was the last of the towers of this design to be built, the later ones more accurately being described as Martello Towers. In 1801 it was named Gordon’s Tower after the Lieutenant Governor of the time. The tower was badly damaged and restored to its present condition in the early 1970’s. Popular opinion states that it was damaged by German artillery during the Second World War but this probably not the case. Possible a stray mine breached the sea defenses when it exploded and the sea did the rest.
Lunch was eaten in the shelter of the outer walls, protected from the north easterly wind. The same wind that was going to surf us back towards Corbiere, when we launched. It was an entertaining day, with our picnic in a location that virtually every resident and tourist has seen but very few have walked on. Just another reason why sea kayaks are perfect for exploring our environment.
The tower is one of a number which are administered by Jersey Heritage and are available for rental but due to the location of La Rocco Tower there are quite a few restrictions depending on weather and sea state. It is a great place for a picnic it must be amazing to spend the night there.
The first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was held in 1992 and there has been one pretty much every 2 years since then. The next one is going to be held in May 2019 and bookings will be opening at the end of September.
So what can you expect at a Symposium in Jersey? First of all some superb paddling, take advantage of the large tidal range, superb coastal scenery and in places swell rolling in from the North Atlantic.
Secondly, great accommodation. For many years we used campsites but now we base the event at the Highlands Hotel. Stunning sea views from most bedrooms, a swimming pool on the terrace, small gym, great food, a pleasant bar and very friendly staff.
Thirdly, a comprehensive kayaking programme, lasting up to 7 days. There are skills sessions run by some of the most respected coaches in the UK plus plenty of guided trips, including, weather permitting, to the offshore reefs such as the Ecrehous.
Fourthly, a diverse evening programme including lectures, a meal with live music, photo sharing, a quiz night and a BBQ in a Napoleonic guard house.
The event starts on the evening of Friday 24th May, with a welcome reception with the on the water action starting on the Saturday morning. At any one time there is normally a choice of at least 8 different workshops and paddles.
The event is based at the Highlands Hotel, which is really comfortable and very convenient for the paddling, which is available during the week. The options for the following day are normally posted at the hotel the night before, between 7.00 and 7.30, once we have an up to date weather forecast. If you choose to stay at a campsite or a different hotel it will still be necessary to come to the HIghland’s Hotel in the evening to ensure that you are able to select those sessions you are interested in.
The feedback from previous events has been really positive and we are sure that this will continue in 2019. If you are interested in receiving further information, about the Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium, please contact me at, email@example.com, so that I can add you name to the mailing list.
There are a few paddles in Jersey, which visiting and local sea kayakers, should aspire to complete. One of these is to paddle around, what is referred to as “The Towers”. This refers to two towers, which are located to the south east of the island, Seymour and Icho.
The Jersey Canoe Club has run weekly Sunday morning sessions for nearly 45 years and this week it was the turn of The Towers, to be the venue. Weather and tidal conditions were such that quite a few members had guessed the venue several days in advance, well before the WhatsApp message was sent out, on the Saturday.
Seymour and Icho Towers
Of the two towers Seymour is the oldest, being built in 1782, the year after French troops landed nearby, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Our initial target was Icho Tower, just over 1 mile offshore. Low an squat compared to the older towers, it is based on the design of towers found at Mortella Point, Corsica.
They probably contained a garrison of 12 soldiers and a sergeant, but today they are largely the preserve of sea birds. Today it was curlews and sandwich terns but some winters a spoonbill has started to call Icho home.
From Icho we headed virtually east towards Seymour, the final push of the flooding tide ensured that at times our speed over the ground was nearly 6 knots. Seymour Tower has been refurbished and is available for rent from Jersey Heritage, accompanied by a guide. Today a family was in residence so landing was not an option.
Instead we turned offshore to visit Karame Beacon, which is one of the many navigation marks in the area. The tide was flowing with a degree of speed around the rocks, which provided some enjoyment. From there it was a ferry glide in excess of a mile into the coast at La Rocque, a small harbour with signicant place in Jersey’s history. Baron Philippe de Rullecourt, landed here on the 6th January 1781, with approximately 1,400 French troops. The subsequent Battle of Jersey, in the Royal Square resulted in the defeat of the French forces.
Returning from the towers, we followed the coast back towards Le Hocq. Conditions were just perfect, in fact quite amazing for the beginning of September. Conditions were such that we had to stop and roll, as well as having a swim in the crystal clear waters. It will be possibly 9 months, before we experience such conditions again. Great memories to help us through the winter months.
After the fascinating talk by Sam Cook the Nordkapp meet continued on the Sunday in less than perfect weather. Bouley Bay was our venue of choice as it offered the best chance of protection from the southerly winds, which were forecast to increase to force 7.
Initially the winds were light and we were able to explore the headlands between Bouley Bay and Bonne Nuit, which are the highest in Jersey. Clouds were clearly building from the south and the wind increasing towards the forecast force 6 to 7. Certainly the paddle back into Bouley Bay was what could be described as entertaining.
Although we had hoped for a day trip when we planned the Nordkapp weekend, the reality was the morning paddle on the Sunday was the best that could be hoped for in the conditions.
Monday morning dawned brighter and slightly calmer so we were able to plan a day trip from the Jersey Canoe Club premises at St Catherine’s. Around the north east corner of the island and along the north coast, before hitching a ride back on the first of the flooding tide.
It was amazing over these two days to see such a variety of Nordkapp sea kayaks on the water, performing perfectly in the environment they were designed to operate in. In the mid 1970’s Frank Goodman designed a sea kayak, with significant input from paddlers such as Sam Cook in particular.
The first kayak was produced in February 1975 and in the following 43 years it has maintained its position at the forefront of sea kayaking expeditions. Last weekend was a celebration of the Nordkapp and in many ways the early years of the Jersey Canoe Club.
Paddling Nordkapp’s members of the Club completed the first circumnavigation of Ireland, a circumnavigation of the Outer Hebrides, the west coast of Spitsbergen and our own Nordkapp expedition to name just a few. This was in addition to ground breaking exploration of the Channel Island waters by sea kayaks.
Members of the Club continue to paddle at a high standard in a range of geographical locations but these trips are no longer the preserve of the Nordkapp alone. Times have changed but we still maintain our respect for this iconic sea kayak, which has contributed so much to the history of modern sea kayaking.
The Jersey Canoe Club Nordkapp meet got under way on Friday evening with a small reception and a photo opportunity at the Club premises at St Catherine’s.
There were 22 Nordkapp’s on showing, varying not just in model type but also in age. The oldest was an orange and white Nordkapp HM, which had been produced before the introduction of recessed deck fittings. This probably dates it to about 1977. The most recent kayak was a Nordkapp Forti, which was available for people to try.
The evening was an opportunity to look at kayaks, chat with friends about paddling and to meet Sam Cook, our weekend guest. In addition planning the paddle for Saturday, from Ouaisne around Corbiere and into the reefs near La Rocco Tower.
On the Saturday we were able to show Sam some of the most interesting paddling in Jersey waters, granite cliffs, tide races and lighthouses, offshore reefs and North Atlantic swells. A perfect backdrop to our Nordkapp meet. It was just amazing to see so many of the classic kayaks out on the water at the same time.
On Saturday evening Sam gave a talk on the 1975 Nordkapp expedition, which was fascinating. So many things that we take for granted came about as a result of that innovative trip:
Buoyancy aids (PFD’s) with pockets
Asymmetric paddle blades
It was a truly ground breaking expedition, which set the scene for so many more which followed. Without the Norkapp meet people would have not had the opportunity to experience and learn what an influence this sea kayak has had on modern paddling. There was still two days of paddling to go!
I was surprised to discover that the River Tay, in terms of volume of discharge, contains more fresh water than any other river in the United Kingdom. It shouldn’t have come as a shock as it has a catchment area of nearly 2,000 square miles, much of it mountainous. Downstream of Perth the river becomes tidal and it was this stretch of the river that we explored on Sunday morning.
The morning dawned damp and overcast. But we were keen to get on the water when we met in the small village of Newburgh, which is on the south shore of the River Tay. The tide had just turned and the plan was to use the ebb tide to carry us in the direction of Dundee and the famous bridges.
It was a journey of 11 nautical miles, a distance which slipped quickly past but didn’t seem to require too much effort. The tide seemed to be doing most of the work. I was surprised to see a number of seals. One in particular seemed to be enjoying his morning break, feeding on rather a large fish and in no hurry to move out of our way.
Coming from Jersey, I enjoyed paddling past relatively long stretches of wooded shoreline. An environment which is relatively rare on the island. The sight of deer running through the fields or walking along the shore was an added bonus.
The dominant feature of the paddle though was the Tay Railway Bridge. The original bridge was opened to railway traffic on the 1st June 1878. On the evening of the 28th December 1879 a violent gale was blowing. At 7.13 pm a train headed across the bridge but disappeared in the darkness. The exact number of people who died isn’t known but thought to be 74 or 75.
The events of that evening were described in the poem by Willaim McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” I remembering studying it for English A Level at school. So bad that it was shown to us as an example of how not to write poetry.
Paddling under the new bridge and seeing the remains of the old bridge, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events of that night, 150 years ago. It was a fitting place to complete our Sunday paddle on the River Tay. Thanks once again to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Piotr, the owner of Outdoor Explore.
Following the pattern of kayaking in cities, on Friday evening it was the turn of one of Scotland’s newest city, Perth. A quick search produced a number of options but we were really successful in that we selected Outdoor Explore, a relatively small company based in eastern Scotland.
We met the owner Piotr at The Willowgate, just downstream from Perth on the River Tay. Whilst we were waiting for Piotr, an osprey flew past, which we took as a positive sign. As soon as Piotr arrived we unloaded kayaks, added the final items of kit and in what seemed like a few minutes were ready to launch.
The plan was launch and head upstream towards Perth in the hope that we would see some of the beavers, that have come to call this stretch of water home. Sadly we didn’t see the beavers although we saw plenty of evidence of their activity. We did see plenty of other things though, which would attract the attention of kayak tourists.
Piotr was so much more than a coach, he was a passionate leader, his enthusiasm and knowledge about the river and its surroundings was infectious. Our journey through Perth was so much more than a paddle. We did manage to push the current and we were able to get through the arches of the oldest bridge to span the river, the return journey was so much easier!
The biggest surprise of the trip was that we were on the water for over two and a half hours, we only really noticed how long we had been out when it went dark! We didn’t paddle that far but what we saw and heard was fascinating and all within the boundaries of what is know as “The Fair City”, thanks to Sir Walter Scott and the publication of his book “The Fair Maid of Perth in 1828.
As many of you are aware the Ecrehous is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, sea kayaking destination. Visits to this delightful reef have been covered many times in the life of this blog. To gain a flavour of this small archipelago, approximately 6 nautical miles to the north east of Jersey have a look at some of these posts: Ecrehous Today. Ecrehous Sunshine. Ecrehous – First of the Year. Sunday morning at the Ecrehous.
To mention just a few.
Over the years there have been a number of articles published about the reef, but as far as I am aware only two books in English. The most recent is “Les Ecrehous” by Warwick Rodwell, which was published in 1996 and must be the considered as the definitive study of a small land mass. The information contained within the pages is amazing.
An earlier book was written by P. J. Ouless, “The Ecrehous” and published in 1884. This book contains five plates, which depict the reef in the second half of the 19th century. I thought that it would be interesting to take some modern photographs from roughly the same position to see how the reef has changed over the last 150 years.
So we headed out to get some modern Ecrehous pictures, trying to decide exactly where the earlier pictures were taken wasn’t always easy and clearly we must have had different size lenses! It was certainly an interesting exercise and encouraged us to look at the Ecrehous through new eyes.