Calm Waters

28/10/17

Further south, still enveloped by the pine forests of the Landes region of France, is a purpose built resort with the rather long name of Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains. Part of it’s attraction is an artificially created lagoon which lets in sea water at high tide and has sluice gates to control the exit of water; this gives people the option of the surf beaches of the Atlantic or the calmer waters of the lagoon. Even though we had set off early we still found it incredibly busy when we arrived, it was Saturday and very sunny after all. The two aires were near to capacity and there was a constant flow of people arriving, we queued up behind a couple of other vans to get in and I went to look for possible parking spots while Paul helped them to get through the airlock style barriers (the trick was to get close to the ticket machine as the front barrier wouldn’t lift unless your van was close enough to the sensor). We wedged ourselves into a spot in the sun on the southern side of the lagoon and hooked up to the electricity, at €7 a night for a pitch plus electricity within a stone’s throw of the lagoon, it didn’t seem like bad value.

Looking over the Vieux-Boucau-des-Bains lagoon

We had a quick stroll around the end of the lagoon watching the fisherman who were lined along the outflow from the lagoon. We decided that the calm waters were too good an opportunity to miss and we should get the Kayak out and enjoy a spot of paddling and fishing. It was easy to launch the kayak from the shore close to the aire and we started with a gentle paddle around the lagoon gliding over long strands of green weed waving in the gentle currents of the lagoon. We could see fish jumping as we approached, darting out from their shelter in the weed, but despite best endeavours weed was all we caught.

Looking down the channel that leads from the lagoon to the sea

We circled the lagoon again, closer to the island in it’s centre this time, and pulled up a couple of times to explore it’s beaches. Here we paddled in the shallower waters looking at all of the life, hordes of hermit crabs in their stolen shells crawled across the sands, starfish nestled in the weed and small fish were well camouflaged against the sand. The waters of the lagoon were too weedy, and the bottom too muddy to tempt us in for a proper swim. We gathered a few clams from under the sand to make ourselves a starter for dinner, but they were too gritty even after a few hours being purged and the juices in the pan were grey with silt. Luckily we had cooked up some pork and roasted veg for a main course which kept hunger at bay.

    

Mackerel

23/08/17

We decided to move to New England Bay the following day. There is a large picnic area here right next to the beach and we had seen people wild camping in tents as well as campervans on the previous day’s bike ride.

I did have a concern with using this as an overnight spot because it is right at the entrance to a campsite, in fact you drive through the picnic spot to get to the campsite. One of our guidelines for choosing an overnight wild camping spot is not to park in direct line of sight of a campsite, this avoids bad feeling from campsite owners who might feel they are missing out on trade and can often be the driving force behind a lot of the unenforceable but off-putting ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs.

Getting ready for kayaking at New England Bay picnic area

We agreed that we would go out fishing and then decide what to do. In the end we decided to stay at the campsite because we still had a lot of the day left, it was pleasant weather and we could do our laundry and hang it out to dry. This was our first campsite for over a week and was a Caravan Club location. We are members of the Caravan Club but I’m not a fan, the main sites are pretty expensive and overly regimented. However it was in a lovely location and had all the facilities we needed. We kept the cost down by asking for a non electric pitch which came as a surprise to one of the wardens who asked us twice whether that was really what we wanted – they only have a couple such pitches and didn’t seem to believe that we could cope without it.

We launched the kayak from the shallow sloping shingle beach in front of the picnic area and paddled out into the bay, trying to gauge how the wind and current would move us. Ideally we would paddle out and then fish as we drift, which worked here with a few corrective paddles to stop us from floating out into the centre of the bay. We could see cormorants, gulls and gannets diving for fish, so we knew there must be something around. And there was, mackerel, lots of mackerel. Luckily mackerel is our favourite eating fish, but we couldn’t get through the mackerel to catch anything else. We decided to limit our catch to 6 large mackerel, but we must have caught and released 50 or more small mackerel in our efforts to catch something else. There were plenty of other fishing boats, including some kayaks, in the bay and I wondered if they were having the same problem. A bass would have been nice for a bit of a change.

View from the Kayak

Most sport angling boats in the Bay of Luce go out tope fishing but I don’t have any interest in tope a) you can’t eat it, because they have to be released, and b) they are too big. I have seen pictures of kayak fishermen who have caught tope and wrestled them onto their kayak for the trophy photo. I entertained myself by wondering what I would do if I inadvertently ended up with a tope on my line. I decided that I would probably panic and then capsize, or possibly be dragged out to sea never to be seen again.

After a couple of hours or so of catching mackerel the wind started whipping up white horses on the water and my legs were starting to goose pimple so we called it a day and paddled back in, feeling happy that we had managed to catch something after our (Paul’s) disappointing record so far.

I cooked up all of the mackerel that evening, simply wrapped in foil with butter and lemon. What we couldn’t eat that day went into our rolls for lunch the next day. Full of Mackerel and with our laundry clean and blown perfectly dry by sea breezes we were two happy people.

Up the Estuary

As we headed for our next stop – Fairbourne, just across the estuary from Barmouth – we had to pass through the lower slopes of the mountains of Snowdonia. Beautiful scenery, but all of that rock around means that instead of hedges the roadsides are mostly walled – slightly less forgiving if you need to pull in tight to let another vehicle pass. We had a few ‘breathe in Bertie’ moments but only one point where we met another motorhome and kissed wing mirrors, not too bad. 

Fairbourne, like Borth, is a seaside village with long sandy beaches, dunes and a golf course, but the Mawddach estuary has a cycle trail and kayaking and that’s why we were there.

View up the Mawddach estuary from Bertie’s parking spot

The parking spot at Fairbourne has a no Motorhome sign up, which we were assured we could ignore so long as we weren’t the type of person who leaves litter behind and dumps their toilet waste on the side of the road (who would?). It was also the busiest motorhome parking spot we had stayed at.

Bertie amongst many other motorhomes at Fairbourne

The weather had been very windy for the past couple of days – so much so that it was starting to drive us slightly nuts, one of many reasons why I could never be a lighthouse keeper. But we knew that the forecast was for the winds to drop and a spell of very warm weather to arrive. Plus the tides were ideal for kayaking with high tide in the early afternoon.

The plan was to head up the estuary a couple of hours in advance of the high tide, stop at the pub in Penmaenpool and then turn around and head back down to Fairbourne on the outgoing tide. The estuary is very shallow with numerous sandbanks and dead end channels so trying to navigate at low tide is pretty difficult.

We set off at 11:30 from our launch point, nice and close to our overnight parking spot so we didn’t have to carry the Kayak far, and navigated our way up the estuary. Behind us were three other paddlers – two Canadian style canoes and one sit-on-top kayak like ours. The paddle up was mostly easy – with only one Laurence of Arabia moment where we had to get out of the kayak and find our way across the dry and arid sandbar that seemed to stretch on forever in order to find the channel that we should have taken. 

‘Resting’ on a sandbar

We stopped for our pint at the George III inn before heading back. Route finding on the way back was easy, but fighting the strong breeze that was pushing us back up the estuary was a lot harder – we both had achy shoulders by the time we got back. 

We didn’t get round to cycling the estuary trail  the next day because it became really hot, too hot to do much except for escaping to a campsite where we could put the awning out and escape from the sun.    

When the sun shines

It’s still raining as I write this, but I thought I’d share the sunny side of the last seven days, as there was quite a bit of sunshine and it might cheer me up.

Our first spot was Martin’s Haven, a National Trust spot at the end of the Dale peninsular. We drove down to the car park through single track lanes early in the morning to try to avoid meeting any cars coming in the other direction (this was where we picked up all of those pesky seeds that we had to clean off in the rain) and got parked up for free courtesy of our National Trust membership. However there were clear signs prohibiting overnight parking, and although we would have got away with it so long as we had left early the next morning before the parking attendants turned up, we decided not to chance it. We don’t really like early mornings.

While we were there though we took a walk around the peninsular to the village of Marloes (where there was a pub of course, for a quick pint). The views from the peninsular of Skomer Island were beautiful and the currents around the headland made for fascinating watching as they clashed and formed whirlpools. In the many inlets we saw seals bobbing about in the foam, just their dog-like heads poking above the water as they took shelter from the wilder waters of the open sea.

View to Skokholm island from the south of Dale peninsular
Boats taking shelter in the bay between Dale and St Davids Headland

We could have launched the kayak from the sheltered beach at Martin’s Haven, but after our walk we were a bit tired so we contented ourselves with watching a couple of other motorhomers in their sea kayaks (which are lean and efficient for cutting through the waves, unlike our fat but stable sit-on-top kayak).

Our next potential spot for a bit of Kayaking was Dale, a free parking spot just before the village next to the lagoon which sits behind the bay. We drove from Martin’s Haven the short distance to Dale. This time we weren’t so lucky in the narrow lanes and met a local bus service, the ‘Puffin Shuttle’, head on. The bus driver was very friendly though and reversed up to let us pass – they must get used to it. This was our first encounter with the Pembrokeshire coastal bus services which are a fabulous service for walkers as well as locals, covering the majority of the coastline of Pembrokeshire and enabling you to do walks in one direction rather than having to go there and back again. A single ticket is only £1.70 which is a bargain. We quickly learned to check their timetables to avoid meeting them in difficult spots.  

When we got to the carpark near Dale it was low tide and the water was a distance across mud and sand, so we didn’t know how great it would be for launching, but we made our dinner and watched the shore from Bertie and gradually the tide came in and covered the bay. As the sun set, we could see the lights of the industrial facilities at Milford Haven twinkling in the distance. 

View from Bertie across Dale bay at low tide

We kayaked around the bay the following day, zig-zagging across the bay in search of the perfect fishing spot, but no luck with the fish. We stopped on the beach at Dale village itself to watch other people indulging in various watersports; kayaking, sailing, SUP and fishing. No one else was having any luck with the fish either so at least we weren’t alone. By the time we got back to our parking spot about four hours later my arms were aching, Paul often compares my arms to those of a tyrannosaurus – of no known use for anything (how insulting), but I agree I relied on him to do a lot of the hard work.

Because we hadn’t caught any fish we cycled up to a nearby house where they were selling lobsters and crab from an outbuilding in the garden, and picked up a couple of crabs for tea, yum.

We’d now had four nights of wild camping on the trot and the toilet was getting dangerously full, we had obviously made more use of public toilets last time. So we booked up a campsite near St Davids, we also knew that the rain and strong winds were due in so felt more comfortable hunkering down in a campsite.

When we got the campsite there was still an afternoon of good weather to take advantage of, so we walked around the coast from St David’s searching for good fishing spots. This time Paul was fishing from the rocks rather than the kayak, and he had a bit more success, but still no Mackerel for my tea, just a couple of launce and a small pollack that had to go back in the water.

At least it was something, even if it was just a launce

Our last spell of good weather and our last couple of days on the Pembrokeshire coast were spent walking, the first day we walked along the coast from Abereiddi through the pretty villages of Porthgain and Abercastle before getting the coastal bus back, the second day we walked around Dinas Head. The coast between Abereiddi and Abercastle has many relics of the slate mining industry; old quarry sites, including the blue lagoon where a school group were having fun (I think that’s what the screams were) jumping into the deep water, ruined mine buildings and the harbours which had at one time been important transport links and are now quiet pretty villages that seemed to be mostly holiday lets or second homes. Dinas Head on the other hand was wilder and we sat on the edge of the cliffs watching the sea birds on their rocky islet, gulls and guillemots sat on the rocks or bobbed up and down on the waves and a solitary gannet made it’s spectacular plunging dives into the sea.

The white markers once used to guide boats into the harbour at Porthgain
Buildings in Porthgain harbour, relics of the mining era

As you can see from the photos, we had plenty of good weather in between the rain, and that’s one thing our extended journey allows – we can take advantage of those good spells. Now we’re leaving the Pembrokeshire cost behind us as we head inland for a bit of a change.