2011 – Around Anglesey in a Kayak

The plan was to start and finish at a very picturesque spot on the Meni Straights called Y.Felinheli. Enjoying the hospitality of the Porth Dinorwic sailing club. And so we did, meeting on Saturday morning and going through the song and dance of making enough food, cooking kit, clothes, tent, and sleeping bag and so on fit into the sea kayaks. This whole business was accomplished easier by some than by others. Mainly by the complexity of diet and taking more clothes than was necessary, I never have any space left on these trips, but even I surpassed myself on this trip having to leave stuff behind and beg space in another boat. I seemed to spend this time getting steadily stressed trying to squeeze the last bit of cake into a ridiculously small space, transforming a splendid bite to eat into a squashed mess, all the time convinced my boat will sink to the bottom under all the weight. It never has but there is always a first time.

We launch at 1.30pm heading north, after much discussion about the tide and weather and how it will affect us, our plan is to circumnavigate Anglesey in an anticlockwise direction. So that in a couple of miles we would reach the Swellies, a stretch of the Menai Straights where the flow is constricted, causing an amount of broken water. We arrive here just before slack with the last of the flow against us. This was not a problem; we made good progress close to the right hand bank in a back eddy. Shortly after the suspension bridge the tide turns in our favour and with the wind behind us we surfed our way along the remainder of the Menai Straights, past Beaumaris. The tide now moving at a fair lick taking us on to Porth Penmon a disused quarry. This would be our first camp and a very pleasant camp spot it is with good views across the Straight and the mountains beyond. It was about this point Pete discovered he had punctured a tube of condensed milk making his food bag a slippery mess. No doubt a result of the mornings pack.

Day two dawned fine and dry with a pack not dissimilar to the first, despite my attempt to eat as much as possible and revaluate which stuff was and wasn’t important.

Once on the water we were up to the headland in no time and decided we should paddle around Puffin Island before heading on our way. The tide now against us and streaming through the gap, we had to ferry glide across before heading around the island. Sadly the Puffins have already left, but the sea birds were worth the trip, so close you could reach out and touch them. We left Puffin Island heading west with the tide against us, a situation that wouldn’t change until lunch time. We pass Red Wharf Bay without heading in, now picking up what appears to be a back eddy.

Lunch was had at Traeth Bychan. Camping that night was at the back of Lligwy Bay on a small strip of sand left by the high tide. It was a lovely spot backed by bracken and the coast path, just right for an evening walk.

Day Three was once again fine and dry, with fairly heavy dew, which tends to make the sand stick to everything. Never the less it was a great view from the tent across the beach, a view which would command a high premium in any hotel. You would think by now the boats would be getting lighter but despite my attempts to eat my way to a lighter boat the carry down the beach, with the tide now at its lowest state was a fairly arduous task. Once in the water these boats are relatively easy to paddle and actually sit better in the water loaded and are less prone to windage.

Heading north now, we took advantage once again of the back eddy helping us on our way towards the point. This part of the coast has a remote feel to it, with not many landings other than steep pebble bays. We expected a reasonable flow against us at the point but in fact it wasn’t a problem and we had a very pleasant paddle around Lynas Point and along to Trwyn Penwaig a small harbour tucked in on the north facing coast, with the intentions of a lunch stop. This proved not to be possible without landing on a concrete slip (not a good idea in composite boats).

After carrying on a bit and enjoying some caves we landed for lunch in Bull Bay, next to the slip on the last bit of beach left at high tide and the opportunity for a tea shop stop. After lunch we did a short stretch to Porth Wen and the disused brickworks. This was an interesting place to camp, in amongst the brick kilns, in what must have been a very busy place in its day. All the buildings are now in a dilapidated state with huge cracks running up the walls. I can’t help thinking, it won’t be long before Health and safety steps in and the whole place will be off limits, which would be a shame, it’s a great place to camp.

Day four dawned with a change in the air, the forecast wasn’t particularly good. With a head wind set to increase through the day, with this in mind the decision was made to set off without delay and try to clear the next two headlands before the worst of the weather hit.

Paddling out of Porth Wen and the safety of the bay things appeared calm. In contrast rounding the first corner called Torllwyn and into Hell’s Mouth an aptly named stretch of water, we hit the full force of both wind and tide. At different spots along the coast, strong tidal races touch the headlands making over falls accentuated by the wind.  This was one of those moments that requires you to dig in and punch the waves to get around and into safer water. I remember thinking this would make a great photo, sadly my hands were fully employed holding the paddle and could not be excused long enough to reach my camera, so you will just have to take my word for it. Rounding Llanlleiana Head and another punchy set of over falls , we spot Porth Llanlleiana, a small pebble beach with what looked like a derelict  mine at the back. With not much enthusiasm to continue punching the tidal stream and the wind, the decision was made to stop in what turned out to be a picturesque spot.

Camp was made and an afternoon walk was had instead.

Day five the weather was much better, with less wind and although the tide would still be against us and not changing until after lunch, the sea had settled considerably, so we were off.

Our first stop was just around the corner in Cemaes Bay for water and an ice cream. The paddling was much easier today.  Passing Wylfa Head and Trwyn Cemlyn with Harry Furlough’s Rocks on our way to Carmel Head. The coast along here is particularly lovely, with many outcrops of rocks to paddle through. Only marred slightly by the presence of Wylfa Power Station, which was quickly passed.

Lunch was just around Carmel Head at Porth Yr Hwch and a particularly fine set of caves, with many entrances which justified exploring. With lunch over we are back on the water now in bright sunshine and the only opportunity to go without a cag all week. Heading south a pleasant afternoon passed with no discernable tide or wind, until we landed and camped at Porth Penrhyn a fine beach with sand below high water and reasonable sized pebbles above.

Camping on pebbles (these were about 70mm diameter) is not too bad with an air bed but would be uncomfortable without. The wind had all but gone now and we settle down to a sunset, with much talk about if the  weather would hold long enough for us to go around Holyhead Island and when exactly the tidal flow would change and go in our favour.

North and South Stack are not somewhere you would wish to be in a blow, with wind against tide or indeed with it. This part of Anglesey is classified in the tidal charts as a tidal gate with strong currents flowing around North Stack, South Stack and Penrhyn Mawr, a favourite spot to go and play on the tidal races, when the weather is favourable.

Day six dawned slightly overcast, but settled. Holyhead Island was on! We left the beach in good time and crossed Holyhead Bay, paying special attention to the ferries, entering and leaving Holyhead harbour. On approaching the port buoy, marking our side of the channel a ferry appeared on the horizon, the decision was made to stop at the buoy and wait for the ferry to pass, it took just eleven minutes for the ferry to travel from the furthest visible point to the end of the harbour wall, not long enough for us to make the crossing safely. Once the coast was clear we made the crossing landing on a small beach just outside the harbour breakwater. Our next landing would not be for several miles.

We edged up to North Stack thinking the tide would be against us and we may have to wait. When we arrived we found two people in kayaks practising breaking in and out of the current, they said the tide seemed to have already changed, ahead of time and was already going our way. Armed with this news we jumped on and were around North Stack and into Gogarth Bay before we knew it. This is a splendid place to kayak, great sheer cliffs with tremendous sea caves. Not surprisingly we weren’t on our own, there were many other sea kayaks enjoying this wild place. Directly after North Stack there is a big open cave with a pebble beach in the back called the parliament house, we had been told the previous day, it was possible to camp here. Though I suspect opportunities for the toilet would be less than private. Before long we were round South Stack and enjoying more towering cliffs and exploring numerous caves. The weather by now was drizzle but it didn’t detract from the day.

We landed for lunch at Porth Dafarch with a public toilet and a van selling hot tea, bacon rolls and burgers. It seemed too good to miss especially in the heavy drizzle. In the afternoon we paddled across Trearddur Bay and on down to Rhoscolyn Head and a small group of Islands called Rhoscolyn Beacon, before heading now east to Silver Bay and our camp for the night, within spitting distance of R.A.F. Valley. A lovely sandy beach backed by sand dunes and fir trees. The forecast for the next day was not to promising with a south westerly strengthening through the day. We decided to get up early and get as far as we can before the wind drives us off the water.

Day seven an early start and not too windy at first, unfortunately I have been suffering all night with what I assume to be food poisoning, possibly from the burger, I had been so pleased to have the previous day. Now feeling week and facing a paddle with an increasing head wind, Thanks Very Much! Everyone was very good and agreed to stop whenever I needed to.

We launched early and crossed Cymyran Bay and Passed Rhosneigr and on to the headlands of Tnys Meibion and Braich-Lwyd, by now the wind had increased significantly with white horses now appearing. After rounding the last headland we headed in and landed on Aberffraw Sands with only small surf.

Feeling tired and with the wind increasing we decide to camp. Dave and I decide to pitch our tents in the sand dunes. Pete and Alan defer the decision until later. So we all walked into Aberffraw. This just about finished me off and I slept most of the afternoon. By mid afternoon the wind had increased to a forty mph. Blast, creating a sand storm and a wild looking sea. Pete and Alan had decided to pitch their tents on the beach and were, being buried in the sand. The sand got in everywhere; I awoke in the afternoon, in my sealed up tent to find a layer of fine sand covering my sleeping bag and the tent being shaken by the wind.

Day eight another early starts with the forecast again promising a brief rest bite before the wind once again increasing later.

So we set out in to Averffraw Bay and headed south past the last obstacle Llanddwyn Island before Abermenai Point and the start of the Menai Strait. After rounding Llanddwyn Island the surf appeared to be breaking on a sand bar acting as a reef and protecting us in shore. By the time we rounded Abermenai Point the sea was calm and for the first time in several days we had the wind and tide going our way. We passed under the gaze of Caernarfon castle and on up the Strait back to where we started, Porth Dinorwic Sailing Club for a very welcome shower and a splendid roast dinner  courtesy of the sailing club. So I would like to say a big thank you to a friendly and hospitable Porth Dinorwic Sailing Club.

It often surprises me how quickly you can go from being completely at home in the wild to being back in the “Rat Race” with the weeklong trip fading into the memory. It has been a good trip with great scenery, exciting seas and good company. I shared this trip with Dave Puttick, Pete Hewett and Alan Tuckey.

Here’s to the next one

Paul Shearman

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