This post was one of the first that I wrote when setting up the original blog in 2010. At that time we were managing to go sea kayaking in Brittany on a regular basis. In fact most months during the year we would travel to northern France and generally go paddling. In recent years our kayaking interests have been in different geographical areas, 2108 sees a welcome return to this area though with a Sea Kayak Symposium being held near Paimpol in April next year. As soon as booking details are known I will post them here.
This section of the Brittany coast has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in France, if not in northern Europe. It is well known from the tourist brochures and guide books and each year attracts significant numbers of visiting yachtsmen.
My favourite departure point is from Coz Pors at Tregastel, the paddling in either direction is memorable but last Saturday we decided to head east towards Ile Tome, an island of approximately 35 hectares whose spine runs north south. Situated off Perros Guirec, it has been uninhabited since the Second World War and the last few years have seen an active programme aimed to rid the island of rats to allow sea birds to breed, and so far it appears to have been successful.
The Cote de Granit Rose is that stretch of the Brittany coastline, which is much loved by visiting British yachtsmen, and land based tourists. Although the inhabitants have French passports they are regard themselves first and foremost as Bretons. The coastline is deeply indented as a number of ria’s penetrate the countryside of Cote D’Armor and these inlets provide shelter during the periods of unsettled weather which can sweep across the region. Along the coast a number of small bays and harbours are virtually enclosed by the large granite monoliths, which are widely spread providing a unique and dramatic seascape. Against this background there is some superb sea kayaking.
It was an early April morning that we met at Ile Grande, the early season meant that car parking was not a problem. Our destination for the day was the Triagoz lighthouse, about six miles to the northwest. The tides in this area can run with a speed that can catch people unawares and to approach Triagoz meant crossing the tidal streams so we had chosen a neap tide to minimisz the effect of the flow.
As we paddled out from Ile Grande, along one of the many channels, which run in between the surrounding reefs it, became apparent that there was a swell approaching from the west. As the swell began to feel the shallower water they steepened rapidly before crashing forwards in a surge wall of white, the unleashing of such power emphasized the need to steer clear of the reefs.
Triagoz lighthouse was built in 1864 and its light, 30 metres above the sea, is visible from 14 miles away. On this day the early season mist, which hung over the water meant that the light wasn’t visible from 5 miles away and so, we headed out on a compass bearing towards an unseen destination. After about 1.5 miles the Bar-ar-Gall west cardinal mark slipped by to our left and we entered deeper water. The mean depth changing from under 20 metres to over 60 metres with a result that the swell settled into a more regular rhythm. This was a swell, which had travelled from the open ocean, and there was a feeling of real power as we rose and sank a couple of metres at a time.
Eventually the lighthouse started to emerge from the haze and its face glowed gold reflecting the local rock from which it had been constructed. The defensive ring of reefs was fringed white as the Atlantic swell was halted in its progress east. We had hoped to land and to briefly explore the area surrounding the light, no more internal visits though, this light became automatic in 1984. Unfortunately the ever-present swell prevented this happening. We could have landed but this was not an emergency or a sea kayaking assessment, no need to risk the kayaks so we remained in deep water, savouring the atmosphere and taking photographs before turning east towards a known landing spot.
Les Sept Iles were six miles to the east but we had some tidal assistance for this section of the journey. Barely visible in the distance we were being drawn towards them both by the tide and by reputation. Located 3 miles north of the Breton coast they are a superb paddling destination in their own right. Numerous vedettes travel backwards and forwards between the islands and the mainland but it is only possible to land on one of the islands, Ile aux Moines, the others are all part of the nature reserve.
The bird life in the area is truly spectacular. On Ile Rouzic there are thousands of pairs of gannets, the most southerly colony on the eastern side of the Atlantic. For the majority of the boat travelling tourists though the most exciting observation would be of a Puffin, which breed here in small numbers. I would doubt if hardly any would become excited at the passage of a Manx Shearwater, which also breed in the area. As we approached the archipelago a few of these birds passed close by and to me they embodied all that is interesting in a bird. Complete mastery of their environment with a freedom of spirit to roam widely across the ocean. As they glided past on stiffened wings there was the occasional tilting of the head as if in disbelief as to the type of craft they could see on the water. The most common bird was the gannet, numerous individuals flying past on their regular commute from Ile Rouzic to the more distant fishing grounds. Their numbers increasing dramatically during the last few hundred of metres, even if it was thick fog it would have been apparent that we were about to make a landfall.
As we approached the reef it appeared as if there was a line of mist across the rocks at the western end of the reef. It quickly became apparent that this fog was in fact spray being unleashed from the exploding swells. Clearly as we bore down on the islands it was going to be necessary to exercise a degree of caution to ensure that we weren’t swept into a maelstrom of exploding waves. Le Cerf was the first landfall that we made, more of a large rock than a small island, we skirted north avoiding a number of dramatic reef breaks until we entered the calmer waters inside the reef. We knew that there was a seal colony and were not disappointed when a number of inquisitive individuals swam out to accompany us on our exploration of the reef.
We landed on the northern side of Ile aux Moines for lunch, basking in the early April sun and savouring some of the delights of the Breton cuisine with a number of local paddlers. Clearly a huge amount of military building had been undertaken in the past but for me the most dramatic man made feature was the lighthouse. Its construction was started in 1854 and its powerful light is a key feature when approaching this coast.
We circumnavigated the two largest islands, Ile aux Moines and Ile Bono, encountering a number of the nesting birds, which have made these islands such an important ornithological site. Time was pressing though and it was time to cross the channel towards the mainland. On spring tides the streams run through the channel at speeds of up to 4 knots and with an adverse wind a significant sea can be generated. Fortune smiled on us that afternoon and the ferry glide towards the perched granite boulders of the shoreline was carried out in flat calm seas. We skirted the outside of Ploumanac’h, possibly the most picturesque harbour on the north coast of Brittany, and passed close to Tregastel, so popular with tourists during the summer months.
We threaded our way through the reefs back to Ile Grande, from where we had departed six hours and 20 nautical miles earlier. Some of the French paddlers concluded their day with a number of celebratory rolls but I was more interested in remaining dry. As we changed in the car park the full implications of the day’s paddle began to sink in. We had visited two of the major lighthouses of northern Brittany and seen a diverse range of wildlife in a dramatic natural environment.