Plymouth – perfect for paddling
A huge breakwater protects Plymouth Sound from winter gales and offers lots of protected water. It is perfect for paddling all year round. The waterfront provides a unique environment for sea kayaking. Why not start right next to the Mayflower Steps in the historic Barbican? This is where the Pilgrims set out for the new world of America in 1620. The Hoe provides a beautiful grassy backdrop to the seafront. Here, Sir Francis Drake finished his game of bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Once into Plymouth Sound you are spoilt for choice. The Devon (eastern) shore is picturesque and tranquil. You’ll find small sandy coves protected by rocks and reefs. The cliffs are clad in greenery with waterfalls tumbling into the sea. Caves and gullies provide fun challenges and Fort Bovisand guards the eastern end of the breakwater.
The Cornwall (western) shore is equally beautiful but more rugged. There’s often some swell along this shore which makes for a great playground among the rocks. A proper tidal race develops between Drake’s Island and the mainland when wind and tide are opposing. Once you’re past this section there are many small coves where landing is possible and the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand are within easy reach. Continue on along the shore to Penlee Point and see what you find!
Of course, one of the best trips is along the northern shore. There are bathing huts, Tinside Lido and numerous waterfront attractions to keep you occupied. Keep an eye out for swimmers! Staying close to the shore will keep you away from most other water users. Check out the big red and white striped lighthouse above you. This is Smeaton’s Tower which was originally built on the dangerous rocks and reefs known as the Eddystone found nine miles south of the Breakwater. When a new, taller and more powerful lighthouse was constructed to replace it, the tower was dismantled stone by stone, brought back to the mainland and reconstructed on Plymouth Hoe. Only the stump of the foundations remains out on the reef. It’s now the defining image of Plymouth – Britain’s Ocean City.
Passing between Drake’s Island and the Brittany Ferries terminal, Devil’s Point sticks out from the Plymouth side and creates a strong back eddy. You might have to nip in very close to avoid strong currents and naval traffic here. Look to your left and admire the stately home at the top of the sweeping lawns. This is Mount Edgcumbe – Cornwall at it’s finest. The sweeping bay is called Barn Pool and is the setting for the annual Southwest Paddlefest. You couldn’t get a better venue. Look to the right and marvel at the Royal William Yard. Until recently this was still the supply centre for the Royal Navy. The buildings still bear the names of the functions they performed. It’s been transformed into apartments and piazzas full of bars and boutiques, including the well-known River Cottage.
Tip your hat to the statue of “King Billy” as you paddle past the fascinating wharves of Devonport Dockyard where you’ll see modern warships and submarines. Don’t get too close though – the Ministry of Defence Police will guide you away if you do! Take care not to impede the chain ferries crossing between the two shores. At peak times there are three of them and you will need to time your passage carefully. Paddle on up the main river or branch off to the left and ride an incoming tide up to the village of Millbrook. The creek is full of boatyards building traditional and modern craft.
The estuaries – left or right?
If you’ve decided to give Millbrook a miss, continue up the Tamar and you’ll find a divide. To the left is the wooded and tranquil Lynher estuary. You will pass Rat Island on your left before coming to Jupiter Point Seamanship Training Centre. Watch out for fast boats in this area – the Royal Navy learn to drive here! Beyond this point, the river is yours to discover – there is very little habitation and it’s a natural paradise. This is my “back yard”.
Branching right is the mighty Tamar. Ahead and above you are two huge structures. The famous Royal Albert Bridge was built by designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The first train crossed into Cornwall from Devon in 1859 and it’s been in use ever since. The Tamar suspension bridge (1962) carries the A38 trunk road and a constant stream of traffic.
Once you have passed underneath, the calls of estuary birds signal the start of more peaceful paddling rich in wildlife. The river widens and narrows through meadows and steep wooded hills. It’s a long paddle all the way to Calstock but there is a great pub and pretty scenery all the way.
Out to sea
Beyond the breakwater a rugged and picturesque coastline stretches out to the east and west. If moving water, tidal races and surf are your pleasure you’ll find them here. Studded with sandy beaches, wooded estuaries, fishing villages and tiny coves, the coast is picturesque and unspoilt. The sea along this coast is often smooth but sometimes really rough. Whatever the weather, you will always feel the underlying restlessness of the Atlantic Ocean when you paddle here.
Finding British Sea Kayaks
The base for British Sea Kayaks is set in a tranquil location just minutes from the historic waterside borough of Saltash. There are numerous places to launch with minutes, all with easy parking and a variety of conditions on offer. This is the perfect place to try a new sea kayak.
Rick says “I’m proud to call Plymouth my home port. It’s Britain’s Ocean City and it’s a fantastic place to live and visit. I love it here, and think you’ll love it too.”