Living as far ‘North West’ as I do it is almost a crime to admit
that I have not often paddled on the River Severn. In 2004 I joined a group
starting at Portishead and ending up 19Nm North in Sharpness. Since then
the murky waters of the Severn have not beckoned too much.
So 22 August Dave and I were back at the same slipway. It was High Water and we were now planning to head 15Nm south to an island called Flat Holm then ‘nip’ across to Steep Holm before heading back. The tide had just started to flow our way as we got on the water. Our plan was to head 270º and the tide would push us ‘southish’ – that IS a navigational phrase. There was a buoy called ‘Hope’ that we had to be west off if we had any chance of landing on Flat Holm, otherwise it was lunch at Lundy, another 60 miles further on.
The day was perfect, no wind, plenty of sun, doing just over 6 knots and almost no other water users. The heat haze made visibility a little tricky but I was glad when we did finally see the two islands way off in the distance. A buoy was spotted in ‘about the right place.’ The ‘about’ was because we seemed closer to Wales than England… We adjusted course straight for it with transits. As it drew closer it was obvious that this was a little larger than Hope buoy. It was actually Monkstone lighthouse and was marked on the chart a little further west than we had planned to be. It seemed that although the tide was assisting us to cross the ground at over 6 knots we had actually paddled quicker across the current so were slightly further west. This was a good thing though. It also meant that as we approached the lighthouse Flat Holm made an excellent transit mark 3 miles further on.
With the tide directly behind us our pace really shifted and as we hit the overfalls around the lighthouse it became interesting. Now instead of paddling on flat cocoa we were being stirred around in hot chocolate instead. Soon the bubbles were left behind and we focused on the beach at Flat Holm instead of being swept past. The landing was simple enough in a little area sheltered from the tide having covered 15 miles in 2½ hours.
Dave had mentioned that last time he was here there was a landing fee but it is often deferred for paddlers. As we grabbed our supplies we were joined by a young lady who had seen us heading in. She offered to help us get the kayaks up but with the falling tide we left them just 1 foot above the waters edge. Harriett had been on the island since May and was part of the temporary folks that look after the island during the summer months. As it was my first time on the island I jokingly asked “where is the pub?” To my surprise Harriett took us to the pub via other folks ‘in charge’. They had been expecting us, which surprised us as only our wives knew we were here. It seems another group of paddlers had phoned up the day before. Soon we were shown to the bar area behind the Visitor Centre – a sensible place to put it.
Lunch was taken on a picnic table watching the North Somerset coast 5½ miles away. We were then able to take a relaxing wander about the island and explore. There are plenty of fortifications long since left to decay and much of the island is quiet. The coastline has quite a lot of ledges and I’d imagine on a windy day it is a chilly place to be. Having strolled over to the fog horn with a pair of speakers that Metallica would be proud of we wandered back to the kayaks.
There were two other kayaks on the beach but no sign of the owners. The tide by now had really gone out so we had a long carry to the water. Steep Holm was 2 miles south of us so we used the last of the outgoing tide to make the crossing. Landing on Steep Holm is frowned upon so we started to head back to Portishead. Sadly the tide was against by about ½ knot but even so we were making progress. After 30 minutes Slack Water arrived then the assistance came soon after.
Despite moving at over 5 knots the bay at Weston Super Mare seemed to take ages to get behind us. Not long after this the continual sun took its toll on me as I developed a raging headache. Figuring this was dehydration I ended up eventually draining my enormous drink bottle with about 5 miles to still go. As the heat bore down the headache continued. Dave had some tablets easy to hand. With these munched my mind was soon able to focus on other things. As a large ship came past us I realised that the deep water channel came closer to our position and as I headed across I suddenly found an extra 3knots of speed! The last mile or so was covered at 9knots and having completed just over 33 miles we landed at the slipway.
The slipway was aptly named as the first 50 metres was covered in very wet, slippery Severn Estuary goo. Rather than risk slipping with heavy kayaks we used a kayak trolley to get the boats up the slipway and car 60ft above the sea. By the time we had them there it seemed we had more mud than Max Factor supply in a year.
Our average speed of just over 5knots seems slow at first but we had enjoyed some relaxing floating breaks as well as starting back a little earlier. A good day whilst most folks were at work. Thanks Dave, I just need to win the lottery to enjoy these quieter paddling days.