Photo by Paul Cooper
Lord Nelson, apparently, considered the Menai Straits the most treacherous waters in Britain; so treacherous, he trained his sailors here, reasoning that if they could navigate the straits, they could navigate anything. They haven't got any less treacherous since then. The stretch between the Britannia and Menai bridges, which connect Anglesey to north west Wales, is known as the Swellies. As recently as 1953, HMS Conway, a naval training ship, ran aground here.
Where better to learn to sea kayak? Philip Clegg, 42, has been leading paddlers here for the past 18 years as the owner of Sea Kayaking Anglesey (seakayakinganglesey.co.uk). As we head off, he tells me that when things go wrong on the rivers "they go wrong quickly and they're sorted out quickly. With sea kayaking, things go so wrong slowly and it takes a long time to sort them out."
In Clegg's hardy kayaks, however, it's difficult to go wrong. Clegg is affable, capable and admirably well-stocked: the gear includes not only the sturdy kayaks but also a spray deck, which seals your waist into the kayak so water doesn't get in, and a fleece-lined poncho that allows you to both preserve your modesty while changing in the car park and dry your feet when you get out of the water.
Together we paddle from the slipway towards the Menai Bridge. The tide is coming in quickly and we are fighting the current. Stop paddling even briefly and this current will swing the nose of your kayak from a 12 o'clock orientation to 9 o'clock within three seconds. “A bit of a workout,” says Clegg.
I'm glad to be doing this with an experienced instructor. In this sort of kayak you sit with your knees nearly akimbo, and my hip flexors have felt unpleasantly tight ever since we pushed off. We disembark on a sandy shore where, at Clegg's suggestion, I stretch my hamstrings by touching my toes. Clegg produces from a sealed storage unit in his kayak a flask of rooibos tea, and by the time we're back in the kayaks my hip flexors are as quiet as lambs.
We press on. Clegg shows me Ynys Gorad Goch, a private island with a whitewashed cottage, a fish trap and a smokehouse. We angle ourselves around it and ride the current back to the slipway. As we pick up the kayaks, we see someone else start paddling into the water: the man who holds the record for the fastest kayak trip around Anglesey.
By Tom Ough