I had walked along the stretch of coastline between Lee and Bull Point numerous times, yet from my current vantage point it looked entirely unfamiliar. Rather than exploring the coastline on foot – my default means of venturing along the South West Coast Path – today I was enclosed in a bright red sea kayak looking up at the imposing cliffs and craggy outcrops west of Lee Bay. Opting for this alternative mode of human-powered transport had clearly knocked my sense of place out of kilter.
For too long I’d looked down enviously from the coast path at sea kayakers far below in their brightly coloured kayaks, rhythmically moving their paddles from side to side as their narrow boats gracefully sliced through the water. It always felt like another world down there, and one seemingly out of reach to a walker with no kayaking experience and no access to all the kit needed to head out on the water.
But as with most outdoor activities there’s always someone, somewhere willing to share their expertise and provide all the necessary equipment in exchange for some cash, which is precisely how I found myself on a Saturday morning in early May sitting in a sea kayak looking at a usually very familiar coastline from a different perspective.
For me that someone was Rob McIntyre, the owner of South West Sea Kayaking, and the somewhere was a remote bay a few miles from my home in North Devon. With the spring weather in our favour – dry and sunny with only a light breeze – I headed to Lee Bay for a one-day Introduction to Sea Kayaking course. The schedule was simple: in the morning it was all about basic skills and safety, in the afternoon it was all about exploring and in the middle we’d have a lunch break on the beach.
I knew I’d found a like-minded instructor when moments before launching my kayak on my maiden voyage, Rob stopped me and pointed towards the horizon. “Look, a gannet – it’s about to dive.” Circling above the water, clearly visible to the naked eye, was a large, white seabird with distinctive black wingtips. And sure enough, just as I’d focused on the bird, it plunged into the sea.
From that point on Rob made my sea kayaking introduction more than just about kayaking; it was a day spent experiencing being on the water in a sea kayak whilst also learning tidbits about the environment and the wildlife from a passionate and enthusiastic outdoorsy type. One minute we’d be mastering rescue training, the next we’d be bobbing in our kayaks scouring the cliff face for a peregrine falcon, its distinct call stopping Rob midway through his instruction.
Our afternoon of rockhopping – exploring hidden caves and secluded beaches only accessible from the sea – was interspersed with commentary from Rob about navigation methods, ways to read the tide, efficient paddling techniques and enticing tales of paddling to Lundy Island.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with sea kayaking. Many aspects of the activity appealed to my nature – I was drawn to the physicality of using my body to seamlessly move the kayak through the water, as well as the unique experience of observing the natural world from a watery vantage point.
With Rob’s tales of adventurous sea kayaking expeditions and close encounters with cetaceans I was left in no doubt that I’d found a new (albeit expensive) hobby. And I’d clearly added another slow-paced, human-powered mode of transport to my “slow adventure” repertoire.