Mostly West Cornwall

A round-up of snaps of a sea-kayaking flavour from the west of Cornwall... mostly.

When I’m out paddling with friends, old and new, and am spotted mucking about with a camera I’m often asked if I post the pictures anywhere… while I do put many of them up on this blog, they’re quickly buried. In essence then this post is just a place to put up a few favourites from over the years that I can point people to should they so desire.

Most of the below are from my local area, it’s a very fine place to paddle after all, and most are from my trusty old Fuji x100s in a housing. A fixed 35mm (equiv.) angle lens isn’t always the easiest to work with afloat but it’s a simple setup that is reasonably easy to handle, produces excellent image quality, and, given its age (9 years now) I’m unlikely to cry should it end up at the bottom of the ocean. I persist with it also because I’m not a fan of the super wide angle “lucky dip” flavour of picture taking that goes with GoPro, and similar, cameras.

The irony around sea kayak photography is that the conditions most amenable to handling a camera are the least interesting photographically… calm seas and light winds. Dull as the proverbial dishwater. It’s the reason I don’t have so many images from ‘classic summer conditions’ – they all start looking the same and I lose interest; also why there have been precious few on-the-water posts of late. I’m going to try and make more of an effort this winter.  In the meantime however… those pictures. Not always the most technically accomplished but they’re in this collection for reasons other than that. None of them are staged either.. by way of not being annoying while out padding with friends I just have to try and anticipate a possible picture opportunity and position myself and my kayak appropriately.. it can be really very challenging when there’s a lot of movement in the water.

Off Lizard Point (from the Cornish ‘an Lysardh’ – the ‘high court’) one summer’s day. The most southerly point of mainland Britain, the multitude of reefs, strong tides, and exposure to the full force of the Atlantic make it a fantastic spot to paddle, on a relatively quiet day that is. I included this picture simply because I like the dynamic feel of it.
The same area, but in October. It’s rare to be able to paddle here much later in the year – as the huge winter swells roll in from the Atlantic conditions are frequently just too heavy.
A mate in his SKUK Explorer one bright winters day, gully-hopping below the towering cliffs of Dodman Point. I’m not sure how I managed to capture this picture without stuffing my kayak on the rocks, it was quite tight and there was a lot of movement in the water. Dodman is the highest headland on the south Cornwall coast, and having grown up nearby, and made many memories in the area, it is much more than simply a geographical landmark for me. Whenever I see its distinctive profile on the horizon, whether I’m in the far west, or the east of Cornwall, it stirs a deep feeling of ‘home’ inside of me, and I am frequently drawn back to it, whether by sea or by land.
It’s hollow… there are a number of caves in the granite of the Penwith Peninsula… this one is a favourite and while the picture is ‘soft’ (long exposure, handheld in a kayak.. it was never going to be sharp) I like the motion in the paddler and the way the light is filtering in from outside.
Winter again.. but south Devon this time.. Steve of Whetman Equipment finding some fun on what was generally a quiet day.
East Cornwall, somewhere around Looe.. we’d launched out of Fowey in quite a thick fog… as it began to lift later in the day conditions were briefly magical.
Also magical… approaching Mounts Bay from the west one summers day. The brightish lump above the bow of the kayak is St Michael’s Mount. I suppose this make the words in my preamble around summer conditions being dull a load of rubbish really…
Winter on the eastern side of the Lizard, near Porthallow. I simply like the hazy light and the jagged silhouettes of the rocks here.
A cliff of steel. One day a huge Hong-Kong registered bulk carrier parked herself well offshore in Mounts Bay… we paddled out for a look..
Summer evenings, parked on a beach somewhere after a day afloat.
It’s a wonderful way to travel… and far less restrictive in terms of comfort (carrying the odd bottle of wine basically…) than travel by bicycle. I have a feeling that in the coming years there is likely to be more of this and less of that as the desire to drag my arse across high mountain ranges in bitter cold and oxygen-depleted environs, fuelled by sardines and crackers, fades.. assuming it does fade of course…. sooner or later I imagine age will probably have a say too….. I suppose..
Lizard again.. I included this one because I like the drama of the contrast between the dark serpentinite cliffs and the dynamic white water we were enjoying. It was a bouncy day and difficult to photograph so after this it made sense to forget about the camera and simply enjoy the fabulous conditions.
Weather approaching.. it had been a fine day off the far west when this squall rapidly developed to the east. It grazed us with nothing more than a few spots but the view was spectacular.
Also weather… another day that started out fine but rapidly broke down as unexpected thunderstorms developed locally…
Happily nothing bad happened as we scuttled back to base that afternoon… carbon paddles and thunderstorms are probably not a particularly great combo…
Sideways off Lizard Point… again. Lots to play with out there.. springtime if memory serves, the sky was fabulous.
A few years ago the club teamed up with the Penlee Lifeboat for a training drill. With the enormous growth in water use during the summer holidays the RNLI were keen to link up and get some practice handling potential incidents involving sea kayaks. I couldn’t take part directly being somewhat limited mobility-wise thanks to an injured leg, collected as a result of a re-entry and roll in violent conditions in the Longships tiderace a few weeks earlier.. instead I was asked to make myself useful by taking pictures. The full piece is here.
Speeding around Lands End… after 4 days of paddling down from Plymouth we enjoyed fantastic conditions for the very final leg.. a fresh easterly, a following sea, and favourable tide. We scooted around the end, surfing the swells with enormous grins, at an average speed of 11knots. A day I’ll not forget.
A peaceful spot for the night.
Another boring summers day… ;-) Below the cliffs of Lands End, an early light mist as often happens when summer begins to turn into autumn.
This isn’t the greatest picture, the lighting was harsh but for whatever reason I like it. Conditions were “popply” .. a very short wavelength windchop reflecting off the cliffs made for an amusingly bouncy time with some white-knuckle gully surfing and rock-hopping to keep the reflexes sharp. I also included it because it is the only picture I have of the Irish Lady; this distinctive rock sits near the headland of Pedn-mên-du just west of Sennen Cove and, like many spots in west Cornwall has its own legend. It is said that once upon a time Irish seafarers were shipwrecked here and all perished bar a single woman who clung to this rock while watchers ashore tried to save her. Their efforts were to no avail and she slipped into the sea and perished. Since that time sailors  have reported seeing a woman with a rose in her mouth sitting atop the rock during periods of stormy weather. Sir Humphrey Davey wrote a poem based on the legend of the Irish Lady: “Where yon dark cliff o’ershadowa the bltte main // Theora died amidst the stormy waves // And on its feet the sea-dews wash’d her corpse // And the wild breath of storms shook her black locks…” You can read the full text here.
While this is mostly West Cornwall, here’s a peek at the other end of the country.. crystal clear waters off the Isle of Mingulay. There are loads more in this set here.


10 thoughts on “Mostly West Cornwall

  • Thanks Mike for the opportunity to return to Cornwall and to kayaking through your text and great images. It’s an early wet morning here in WA and I’m about to head out in to the ocean for a dip. Close to shore is covered in a blanket of seaweed these days and getting out beyond the waves is always a blend of pushing through a jungle of tangled marine foliage while holding on to goggles and caps as the waves come crashing in.
    Be well

    • hey, thanks for the feedback, you’re too kind :-) re wet mornng.. it’s so dry here at the moment, I would quite welcome a wet morning at the moment although I shouldn’t say such things since 95% of mornings are wet come winter… enjoy the dip.. do you think the weed growth is due to warming oceans… agricultural fertiliser run off and the like?

  • Nice pics, they transmit that feeling of freedom that activities like kayaking or cycling offer. Now that you are soon coming to Spain, did I mention to you that you can kayak around Menorca in about 7-10 days? Every night one feels like Robinson Crusoe sleeping in those deserted beaches…

    • hey, cheers! I’m looking forward to the freedom of the bike again.. it’s been a weird summer. I was just about to sit down and do a spot of route planning for the first couple of weeks… so I have a question.. should I turn east at Santander and head your way for a beer before I turn west again? :-D

      A mate has paddled around Menorca and Majorca too, pretty nice apparently…

      Hope you’re both keeping well!

  • Hi I just exchanged a few messages with Ruben and Eneko and the three of us will be thrilled to have you around… so feel free to come this way, east before going west. September is a great time to be in the north of Spain, because the weather is mild and sunny, certainly not as hot as in the south. In any case, it depends, if you want to continue West all the way to Santiago as a proper pilgrim :-) or come East to the basque country. You could cycle East along the coast and then cycle West along the French way to Santiago… Either way you will have fun. FYI, on the 25th of August I’ll be away for a week or so with some mates on a motorbike trip in Spain and later on, on the 10th or 12th of September I’ll be going to the Pyrenees on a trekking trip…
    Oh, and Eneko says that if you go along the coast he’ll have a camping spot for you

  • Absolutely stunning photography & as someone said before….. absolute freedom. Thank you for the amazing set up & explanations…. Pure magic.

  • You’ve done it again, Mike. Fabulous pictures. Those I sent them on to agreed, but added they would die of fright if they were in a kayak heading for rocks. Most figure the paddle boats at County Fairs are as far as they would go. Except one friend who often sailed solo across the Great Lakes in her 33-feet Vanja which, built in Denmark for off-shore ocean cruising, was an excellent heavy-water boat. The water seen in your photos, with cliffs close at hand, in a tiny kayak, is in a place she would never go – she’d freak out.

    So, Mike, you brought us pictures like we would never have seen before. Thank you.


    • Hi Alma, lovely to hear from you and thank you for the kind words :-)
      Thing is .. a sea kayak is such a seaworthy, manoeuvrable thing (in the hands of a competent paddler) that the experience is so vastly different from boating that I think people do look at the pics and think the situation is more freaky than perhaps the reality. Also, spending time in those kind of environments, you build a sense of how the water moves around the rocks and reefs and can use it advantage… still necessary however to keep your wits about you at all times..!

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