St. Bees Head

For many members, the west coast is further away than venues like the Farne Islands, and offers fewer interesting places to paddle. However, when the North Sea is angry, the Irish Sea can provide paddling and St. Bees' cliffs have plenty of wildlife as well as rock-hopping among the boulders.

Tides are not strong until well up the Solway Firth, but it is still as well to use what flow there is, especially at springs when the tide is high in the middle of the day. In such circumstances the best trip is probably a launch from St. Bees itself, paddling north with the flood to somewhere like Whitehaven, and returning with the ebb. Here's a map of one such trip, with both put-in and take-out at a high enough state of the tide to make the carry quite short. The trip is about 20km all told, and we allow about two hours each way, although with tidal assistance, and poor weather deterring most playing about, we took more like an hour and a half on the 2010 trip.

With high tide at other times, a similar trip in the reverse direction, or a one-way trip with a shuttle may be more sensible. We've used Parton (2 km north of Whitehaven) as both a put-in and a take-out on trips in the past (but watch out for the low arch under the railway getting to the shore car-park). We also put in at Nethertown, 4 km south of St. Bees on one occasion. Both these locations offer the advantage of payment-free parking, whereas St. Bees was £3.30 for a five-hours-plus stay in 2010, and free parking near the shore may be impossible to find in Whitehaven, too. On a one-way trip, the shingle beach at Fleswick Bay between North and South Heads is a nice lunch spot.

Fleswick Bay on a trip from Nethertown to Parton

St. Bees seems better for wildlife a bit later than the islands off the east coast - there's not been much apart from Kittiwakes on trips late April and early May. In mid-June, there are a lot more razorbills and guillemots (including black guillemots) and in 2010 there was a solitary Gannet who seemed to be finding good fishing (if it caught anything, it did better than me:)

Kittiwakes on ledges on North Head in April

If coming from the north towards St. Bees, beware that with a prevailing SW wind, the coast north of St. Bees Head in Saltom Bay may be relatively sheltered, but the head itself and the cliffs from there to St. Bees may be rougher, with surf on St. Bees beach. With a bit of swell, paddling in close to the cliffs can be entertaining, but there are a lot of big boulders underwater at high tide, which can produce a confused sea with suddenly breaking waves - it might be sensible to wear a helmet and be happy with your roll !

Dodging among the boulders on a trip north

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