Water is not my most comfortable element, though I have found myself to inhabit the places and spaces of many a coastline in the later times of my life. From a high vantage point of my current dwelling, you can see Holyhead, and even out to Ireland, here on the tip of the Llyn Peninsula in Northern Wales. Nearly an island itself, surround on three sides by that vast green blue deep. It was only a matter of time, and the right prospects until I found myself floating over it, without a motor. Thus, I was lucky to borrow an old kayak from a fellow Welshman, and haul it down to the sea and throw myself into the fishes bath. I had only paddled twice in my life, in Canadian beaver rivers, without current, and a much calmer environment. Actually, the openness and wildness of the seas and the oceans are somewhat intimidating to me, which is another reason that I felt the instinctual need to remedy this psychic constriction. Though with a fair respect for it’s liminal power of course.
Day the first, I went out with an English friend living on the commune I stay at, and we launched our kayaks into the Bay of Aberdaron and paddled across the shallows first. Then maneuvering out further away from the beach, and navigating along the shell encrusted cliffs, oyster catchers crooked on the ridges looking below, poised for diving, biding their time, a few gulls alerted their squadron of human presence. We were looking for some natural arches in the rocks, bored out by the corroding salt and blast of the hard waves. Dark clefts came into view and we stroked the oars through the brine in horizontal hourglass spirals, and found them approachable. Soon I could touch the walls of the cave and float in, drifting slowly inside where the lights went out, as the kayak scraped and rocked within. Moments of quiet, and dank cold air. I backed out of the hollow and took up the paddle again, my companion followed and we strode further from our breachings. Inches below our safe watery cocoon, jellyfish mingled in the hundreds, perhaps further down, some basking sharks and mackerel, the wind was still calm, and kept the drowners off our wetsuits, for now. A couple more caves cut into the rocks, old smuggler coves, of salt thieves and brandy pirates, they went far beyond I could navigate without a torch. Locals repute some of them to end in underground cellars of farmhouses far in land. Going in and coming out of these unforgiving fissures is not an experience I would call simple, and I could understand why caves could be associated with the ancient feminine.
The natural arch tunnel eventually came into view and we both stay floating in it’s reservoir laid back for a rest, the gentle tide keeping us in equilibrium. Exiting the tunnel, and following the way of the headland further, we were nearly a mile out by now, and took a horseshoe turn around the point, the late spring sun still illuminating the way in the eight of the evening. We rocked our kayaks up to a black monolithic stone and portaged them over the slanted edges to find ourselves pushing out into another archway with an interesting floor of rocks making for an interesting slalom back into the open seafront. It seemed natural to row back now, so we cut a route due west back through the arch we had made a one way passage through. Now the cliffs were on the right, I squinted my eyes to the golden red sun, setting over Aberdaron, and not twenty feet ahead of my oars, a curious seal held himself up in the water, we exchanged a stare, and acknowledged each others presence, it submerged and escaped back to some submarine place then. I forced myself to go fast, took off on a course alone, and tried to imagine the hardiness of those whose the sea was a natural road, not simply leisure. The Vikings, and the Native Indians would have done this almost daily, for days and weeks on end, it made me appreciated with greater admiration the sense of strength we as humans once had, it was quite taxing on the upper body. I thought too of the epic adventures initiated by many a feral man and woman, set out on their own journeys. We reached the sands, the salts dripped off my body, and I wrung out my hair, a chill finally began to set, and I gazed to that distance I had just come from. A well night out, better than the pub anyday, and I vowed to fare out again before leaving these Welsh shores.
It was yet a couple ales later and a proper sleep that the next day, I was out with another friend, on a much heavier swell. This time in Porth Neigwl, refuted for the copious amount of ship vessels belched onto it’s dunes, but there was nothing in the folklore about kayaks. We rowed out a similar course, southeast went the irish sea all the way to Pembrokeshire, it would be a long way if drifted off course. Somewhere in there, a tangle of stinging filaments, leathery kelp, dolphins and crustaceans knew their home. A world I had hardly spent time above, let alone within. It was hard going trying to keep the water out of the vessels, as these were slalom kayaks, meant for rapids, not the thin gracile fiberglass forms for cutting the big water. We tore into breakers and were swept up in caves, sometimes almost without the will to enter. They went in quite far yet again, and left me wondering if they would eventually come out at some distant coast far on the other side of the peninsula. I dare not try, I could be under there for hours figuring it out. I felt less apprehensive this day, and was happy for the company, my inner compass seemed to be disorientated on the floatation device. The new sensation of being taken off ground, where I could not simply sit in peace, and stay still, and the humbling effect that I was also connected to all the oceans and rivers and lakes in the world. I could connect back to here wherever I went. We entered several caves and brought the kayaks up onto the rocks for a couple of them to explore on foot, though they were not dry caves, they were shallow enough to wade. Masses of the translucent invertebrates clouded the waters, huge white jellfish, small blue and brown varieties, and the corpses of crustaceans ebbing back and forth. A few fish scrambled in the shadows, and one particular giant crab guarded the back grotto of one, letting the tide bring in its meals.
We did not find much in the way of arches, but interesting hides from the rage of the ocean, where we could rest our ours and rock for awhile. A couple times we perched the boats and flipped out their cavities half full of water, which made it extremely hard to paddle when they became bogged down that way. I spotted a pair of black guillemots with the sun on their back, looking quite stark in silhouette, I thanked them for accepting us. We pushed through a sharply strewn rocky course near to the high walls of the cliffs. No puffins out here sadly, and I’ve still yet to see one wild. I was egged on further, always further to see what was around the next corner. It became wise to turn back before too long, the headland was much further than I expected, and we would have the torrents coming at us, on the return journey. I could see now why the Norseman had such broad shoulders, rowing through the Atlantic in stormy seas. I felt this was the least of tribute I could do to my Northern heritage and kept on with determination. It took almost nearly fourty minutes to paddle back and I ran up the beach in a state of exhilaration, then went back in for one final submersion. The salt filled my mouth, and I spat it back out on the sand and whipped my hair around. It the chaos of grounding I lost my precious Thor’s Hammer, this hand forged bronze mjolnir which had hung round my neck for two years, lost now in the brine. A sad poetic justice, it had slain many giants. I long for it’s metal around my neck again, maybe the next one will have even more of a story behind it.