The plan was to camp at Newgale (easy to find and opposite a surf beach) for a period straddling school and holiday time. It worked well with five of us till the weekend and then some left and others arrived. Eleven paddlers explored parts of this stellar coastline, at different times.
Day 1: Strong NW winds so we went to Stackpole Quay south of Pembroke town where the sea was relatively sheltered. Great cliff lines of limestone and sandstone with sandy beaches and caves. Lovely cafe and National Trust facilities. Just 9km going to Freshwater East and back to Stackpol Head
Day 2: More strong winds forecast so off to Saundersfoot for a longer coastal trip down and round Caldey Island. It was 22km and we could use our sails. Ian took a dim view of this unethical behaviour (but has since bought a sail). The tide turned at Caldey, the wind dropped and we romped back. Some good through caves at Tenby under St Katherine’s Island. Fish and chips on return. The only down side was my error of wading through mud in the harbour.
Day 3: One of the most popular challenges of Pembroke is Ramsey Island and five set off at high tide from Porth Clais inlet. Crossing Ramsey Sound we could look north to see the waves of the Bitches tidal rapids and feel the pull of the tide towards them. Reaching Midland Gap we found the hidden passage through, which was a mess of tidal race and rebounding waves. Doug exuded adrenalin in surviving the run and we were happy to all be upright still. The Island has impressive cliffs and tidal races up the west side. We were soon round the island and having a break near the jetty, just below the Bitches. As the tide lessened we were able to get past these and return to Porth Clais, having completed 17km. Gianni’s ice cream shop was visited to celebrate. (This became a daily occurrence)
Day 4: With less wind we were able to take on Strumble Head, from Abercastle to Fishguard harbour. The trip is normally done the other way as the water always flows west along Strumble but the tides made the reverse trip the only daylight option. The sails gave us a welcome push, with Ian using Clive’s boat and sail. Clive missed out here due to a chest infection and sadly had to return home over the weekend. A fine paddle round a challenging headland, at 20km.
Day 5: Mario and Doug headed home but Adam and Sally had arrived, plus, Mike, Stewart and partner. Ian, Adam and Pete planned to do the Bishops and Clerks circuit, perhaps the test piece of the region. This was 27km which passes south of Ramsey and out to South Bishop Lighthouse, ferry gliding across the tide. Then turning north the route negotiates some chunky tide races past the ‘Clerks’ and up to North Bishop island where we stopped for a break. Saw three puffins and surprised a mother seal which was singing tunefully to her pup, until she noticed us. We returned via the Bitches and this was designated ‘best day trip ever’. Meanwhile, Clive organised one of his intro easy paddles for Stewart and Mike, covering 20km together with climbing over the substantial pebble ridge!Day 6: Ian and Adam planned a circuit of Ramsey, completing 17km in one and a half hours (normal time scale is 3 hours) The rest of us did some local exploring from Porth Clais in a fresh wind and covered just 8km.
Day 7: There was a general exodus, leaving Pete and Stewart with newly arrived Sarah and Jess. We discovered the nearby port of Solva which is sheltered, has good water access at most stages of the tide plus a cafe and loos. We spent time on rescue techniques and leadership skills, having first advised the Coastguard we would be creating some ‘dramas’. Towing, recovery from rocky zawns and leading groups created quite a few laughs. Pete played the tame idiot. (Easy)
Day 8: Weather was more clement and tides were on neaps so a good day to do the 17km Ramsey circumnavigation. Flows were less and it was a nice cruisy day, with lunch on the west facing beach.
Day 9: On our last day we returned to Solva to work some more on rescue and self rescue. The paddle float was a revelation. We landed onto and launched from a rocky shore, practiced rolling and re-entry and roll. The ‘cowboy’ rescue proved too difficult for most but was entertaining as well as strenuous. We came away agreeing that more and regular practice is essential. More laughs to come then.
In all a great trip which advanced all our knowledge and experience. Where next year?