Bam and I had been wanting to go kayaking for some time now, when a deal popped up on The Price is Wight website, offering an adult and child deal for something like £45 for two hours. Sold. [The deal is currently off but does appear from time to time].
We arrived at Freshwater Bay on a Wednesday evening into an empty car park. I asked the instructor – Matt – if there would be others coming. He said ‘yep, two more.’ He told me usually there were groups of 7-12 most days, and we were his fourth and last group this particular day.
And when the other couple turned up, I found – to my surprise and pleasure – it was an old friend of mine, Ian, and his wife, Lizzie. I wondered if having this relatively low number of people would affect our evening.
It did. In a fantastic way.
Matt’s talks and demonstrations were a lot quicker than they would have if the group had been ‘regular’ sized. As it was, we were wet-suited and booted, and had dragged our kayaks across the car park, across the pebbles, and down onto Freshwater Bay itself within twenty minutes. The conditions were perfect; calm water and clear air. The early-evening sun cooked us a little in our suits, but we cooled when we were knee-deep into the sea.
Getting into the plastic boat did prove troublesome at first. I told Bam to jump in and he took it literally. The kayak swayed side-to-side, almost dunking him into the water. It was a rocky start, and I could see he was already a little put-off after this wobbly start.
But we settled Into the kayak and both found a steady rhythm in rowing. I assumed I would do most of the work, but Bam took to it well, and often told me to rest while he propelled us along! We paddled out further from the bay. Bam asked Matt how deep the water was so Matt dunked his paddle in vertically. He could not touch the bottom. Bam and I laughed nervously.
The next part of the adventure was exploring the caves that littered the foot of the Freshwater cliffs. The openings looked small from where we floated, and they didn’t get much bigger when we neared them.
Matt asked who would like to go in first, and before I could think about it, Bam shouted ‘us’ and shot us onward.
Matt moved in first. The gloom of the opening sucked him in, although the sun was still high enough we could see his bright orange life vest. He waved us in.
Bam and I paddled forward, riding low waves toward the cave. A bigger wave caught us by surprise and threw us into the cave sideways. I shrieked like a little girl and Bam stayed silent as the surprise of the moment caught us unawares. After the initial shock it was a lot of fun, bouncing from waves that spun us around until Matt grabbed the front of our kayak and held us steady. We rounded a rock-formation which curved up and over our heads, sheltering us from the outside world. Emerging from the cave via another exit – this time into slightly calmer waters – allowed us to gently paddle out, and we waved at Ian and Lizzie to go in.
We bobbed on the sea and watched as they took their turn to explore.
“Are you enjoying it?” I asked Bam.
“Yeah,” he said. “Loads.”
The five of us regrouped and paddled further west along the cliffs. This time we entered a larger cavern with a dark mouth we rowed into, only to turn around once just inside. I asked Matt how far the cave went back and he said ‘not far’, but it was too dark to see the back of it.
Outside the sky dimmed, but there was enough light for us to traverse the bay and investigate the rocks on the other side. We took turns paddling and found ourselves ahead of the rest. I guessed it was because we were running 1.5 man power as opposed to the others who were in single kayaks. We reached the caves on the far side of the bay, and Bam volunteered us to enter them again first.
Matt led the way, stopping inside the cave and waving us on. We advanced, same as the last set of caves, allowing the waves to gently stroke us in. I glanced up from my rowing, trying to make sure I didn’t hit Bam’s paddle. For the umpteenth time. And I caught Matt’s face… his very concerned face.
A freak wave picked us up and propelled us at speed into the cave! We rose up and above the water crashing onto the rocks, and I saw the white and yellow shapes of huge stones beneath the waves as we rode white water into the cave. Inside we fared even worse as the tide took us in and to the left towards a low-hanging rock. It came at us so fast we barely had time to yell or react.
But I did. I raised my paddle, jamming it with both hands into the lip of the rock as Bam disappeared under it, his helmet bouncing off the stone. He raised his own paddle to push us off, and I was glad to see that he was OK and still moving; his helmet had done its job perfectly. Matt tried to help us, falling out of his kayak as he did so, his foot disappearing into a hole. He cut his hand as he fell, but still managed to grab hold of the nose of our kayak and pull us out from beneath the rock-face, all this without losing his own kayak. He was very impressive the whole adventure.
“That,” he said, letting out a breath, “was pretty exciting.”
We composed ourselves (as in I sweated like crazy in my wet suit while Bam laughed and asked to do it again) and paddled out the cave. We reached Lizzie and Ian and told them of what had happened, but it did not deter them, and they entered the cave themselves. Their trip was not as exciting as ours, Bam was pleased to discover.
Our group headed for the bay where we had dragged our kayaks into the water to begin with, but we stopped short of this, beaching our craft and exploring a small, stony area, where Matt gave us a brief – but fascinating – geology lesson on why the flint in the cliffs slants diagonally instead of horizontally… but I’ll leave you to find that out from him when you go kayaking yourself.
Bam picked up a lump of chalk and a stone with a perfect hole in it, and coerced Matt into carrying them back to base in his first aid kit. We ventured into a couple of caves above our heads, and Ian and I tried in vane to pull up a rope which disappeared into the ground beneath the stones.
It was time to go, and we pulled our kayaks back into the water. The sea was pink, the sky was pink, and the cliffs and tress were silhouetted black against the pink setting sun. None of us had ever seen a sunset like it, and Lizzie said she wished she had a camera to capture the moment.
“I think this is one of those moments you don’t need a camera,” said Ian, as we all floated into the bay, paddles across our laps.
And he was right.