North Penwith Cliffs

A mid-summer sea kayak micro adventure along the north coast of Penwith.

It has been a while since there was a dedicated sea kayaking post, so in an effort to rectify that situation here are a few snaps from a recent micro-adventure along the wild north coast of Penwith. It’s a long, exposed stretch with few safe exit options, so opportunities to explore this stretch in an intimate manner require tidal planning, and are limited by the frequently  heavy Atlantic swells. On this occasion a weather and tide window presented itself, together with the excellent company of a couple of friends from the west Cornwall paddling community, for a spot of light mid-summer mini-adventure.

Perfect late-afternoon conditions among the more rounded granite cliffs between Gwenvor and Cape Cornwall
Once east of Cape Cornwall the cliffs become steeper, and more rugged…
… with many gullies and rock gardens to explore, should the swell permit.
Days with virtually no swell here are very rare indeed.
Late afternoon ‘glass-off’ below the ruins of the Crown Mines engine houses at Botallack.
This part of Cornwall is historically famous for tin mining, and as an area that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, exported its mining expertise all around the world – I’ve met families descended from Cornish miners in places as far afield as Argentina and Australia. Not for nothing is this part of Cornwall a World Heritage Area. The mines here have tunnels extending out to sea as far as 800m or so, to a depth of about 500m below sea level. The Crown Mine closed in 1883, leaving behind the distinctive engine houses, of a form common with so many local mines of the era, that used to house the winding and pumping steam engines that kept the mine running and tunnels free of water.
In places the clifftops are covered with old mine tailings; run off from those leaves some fantastically colourful mineral staining on the rocks below.
A quiet spot. The evenings are drawing in again now, just. Still colour in the sky around 11pm however.
At this time of year, with the Cornish coast under enormous pressure from disrespectful tenters and camper vans, it is more important than ever to be discrete, respectful, and leave absolutely no trace bar footprints. It’s not hard but seems to be a principle beyond the grasp of so many. I’ve found it a hard call to make, whether or not to try and have a little camp out somewhere during the summer months. As Cornwall becomes busier each year I feel an increasing degree of, in part self-inflicted, pressure to restrict such activity to the winter months.
Morning brought grey skies and a freshening breeze with rain forecast for later.
On the water I use my old Fuji X100s in a housing; not because it’s well suited to this kind of photography but rather because I have it and am not inclined to spend money on a dedicated outfit. The fixed 35mm (equivalent) lens can make it hard work; it’s important to try and anticipate opportunities in advance, and work hard to position my kayak without getting in the way of my paddling buddies or putting myself in too much danger. A zoom could be useful but on the other hand hard work often rewards and the wide lens is good for “kayak in the environment” contextual images, and the image quality is orders of magnitude better than anything the popular waterproof compact cameras are capable of.
Something strong in the foreground works well, like this “shark tooth” of a rock. Once the camera is in the housing I am unable to change the aperture or shutter speed; with the wide lens I’ve found aperture-priority mode with an aperture of f5.6 gives adequate depth of field, and with the ISO set between 200 and 600, depending on weather/overcast, gives a high enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur and capture interesting details in moving water, such as here.
It is similarly tricky to adjust the exposure compensation so when in dark places, such as this gully, I generally just try to expose for somewhere between the dark rock and bright sky. It would be fun, once in a while, to go paddling with a more versatile setup and have my friends paddle where and when I tell them, but that’s not the point… the point, for me at least, is just to try and capture something of the journey without my friends even noticing I’m doing it.

2 thoughts on “North Penwith Cliffs

  • Good to see Mike, it’s been a while but The girls and I have also finally started adventuring again, with some fabulous seaward exploring on the north coast last weekend too. Fair winds!

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