Cardigan Bay is renowned for it’s marine life, it’s scenery and it’s beaches. And quite rightly so. Pretty much anywhere you choose to put in, you’ve got a chance of seeing seals and dolphins (Cardigan Bay was one of the first protected marine zones in the UK thanks to the Bottlenose Dolphin Community), and you will be blessed with slate cliffs, craggy outcrops, inlets, caves, hidden coves and stunning beaches.
The coast can be a little exposed on the prevailing westerly breeze, with an unforgiving wind chop testing your balance and rhythm. But get it on the right day, there is no better place to explore.
Today was not the right day, but it also wasn’t a bad day. A cool north easterly breeze kept things fresh on the beach, but thankfully it was only a light breeze. Still, enough of a breeze for the odd white horse, and for a wind driven chop to contend with.
After having parked at the National Trust car park at Penbryn, and after avoiding the temptation for a cake and coffee at the lovely café, I carried the board the short distance through the stunning woodland walk to the beach. Warning – this walk has a steep descent and ascent, and if struggling with a heavy board on your back, you can walk the beach road to avoid the traverse of the valley. But you’ll miss a stunning walk and miss the lovely waterfall.
With the cold wind and chop, it wasn’t a day for a McConks family paddle – as comfortable as the boys are in the water, a swim today in the cold waters could have put them off for a while – so I set off on a solo paddle on the McC0nks 10’8 Go Anywhere, with a single fin setup and bamboo/carbon paddle.
Heading off into the wind (always recommended – that way you know you can always get back when tired!) I set off for what looked like a pleasant bay on Google maps. Hugging the coastline to hunt for seals, I couldn’t help but wish I was on the McConks Go Explore. The Go Anywhere was coping admirably, but the longer and narrower Go Explore would have managed the 2 foot windchop and headwind with more aplomb.
As I rounded the first headland, I focussed on technique and balance to keep driving forward – short strokes, bent knees, stroke, glide, repeat, and decided to keep going past the first sandy bay – I hadn’t earned a rest yet. Up ahead in the distance I could see the outcrop at the end of Morfa Bay, and could also see what looked like seals hauled out. Scared of missing the seals, I upped the cadence and got a sweat on. This was a good workout, and a welcome and effective way to burn off the usual indulgences of a holiday (good food and good beer) and easter chocolates.
As I approached the bay, the seals gradually turned into lichen encrusted seal head shaped rocks. But to offset the disappointment, I found a sea cave in the rocky headland to explore. Hearing the waves crash through the cave, I could tell it had an opening into open water, but could not yet tell whether it would be possible to paddle all the way through the headland. Dropping to my knees to save brain cells, I paddled into a small cavern. And although I could see the channel through to open water, the channel was too small to paddle. There only one way around this; ditching the McConks by tying the leash to a handy rocky outcrop, I dived into the (icy) water and swam through the cave and into open water. After scanning the horizon for dolphins or seals unsuccessfully again I swam around the headland and back to the board to head back to Penbryn.
The downwind run was more challenging than expected. Although some of the peaks on the windchop were two foot or so, they weren’t rideable. And they were unpredictable. At least on the upwind run, you could see the peaks and power into them or adjust for them. Heading downwind the waves were faster than me, and so it was a veritable roller coaster of a ride as peaks of different height past under and across me.
What’s so amazing about the Ceredigion coast is that it was the Easter holidays, I was out on the water for an hour or so, and I didn’t see a single person whilst paddling, not on land nor on the water. The last time I paddled on the south coast I must have paddled past two dozen paddlers, and the scene is the same in Devon and Cornwall. Call me anti-social, but I love the fact that you can still get away from the crowds in Ceredigon. And getting away from the crowds also means you are that much more likely to stumble across the Dolphins and Seals of Cardigan Bay.