reasons to be grateful: a day at the anglesey races

The 6:30am alarm drags from me from my sleep. I head to the kitchen, prepare breakfast and check the forecast:
a light west wind, a slight sea state from yesterday’s breeze – warm and sunny, the promise of  perfect conditions afloat.

I check the tides: a small spring range, early afternoon HW on the west coast of Anglesey. I consider the enticing option of linking three tide races: Penrhyn Mawr, North Stack and South Stack – our Kayak Essentials rough water skills group have struck it lucky!

Matt is outside already, loading the trailer and filling the van with our kit for the day. By 8am we’re rolling down the A55 towards Holyhead, en route to our rendezvous at the excellent Anglesey Outdoors centre. 

Passing the Holyhead Truck Stop, we see a trailer of sea kayaks in the car park – Geth, Rich and Paul are meeting their Sea Kayaking Wales group to plan adventures over steaming mugs of coffee.

Calling in at the Summit to Sea kayak shop, Pete greets us with wit, wisdom – and the extra boat we need for today. Pete has a demo weekend to organise, with Ali taking the clients for a test paddle and some coaching in Trearddur Bay’s rocky inlets.

We stop at Asda to collect extra food for the day. A handful of roof-racked sea kayaks are scattered around the car park, their owners also stocking up for a day afloat. The huge SKUK van sits outside McDonalds, too large to navigate the drive-thru – Nigel emerges, clutching a coffee before joining his group.

We meet our team at the centre, Penny and Snowie welcoming new arrivals as Rich kits out an Activity Adventure coasteering group. We head to Porth Dafarch, where we share the car park with James whose Adventure Elements paddlers have similar goals for today. He greets us with a smile – we discuss likely conditions, compare plans and chat about the day. We’ll be in the tide races together, but there’s plenty of room for everyone!

Roger is here too, with a Coastal Spirit team embarking on a leadership training day towards Rhoscolyn’s islands.
Zoe and Sue are also setting off for the headlands, to coach an introduction to tide race paddling – Penrhyn Mawr’s inner race will be perfect today. 

As we complete our preparations, Nigel, Kay and Alwena arrive for a Snowdonia Canoe Club trip to explore the South Stack rock gardens, a skilled and capable team to look after the less experienced members.

Afloat, the underlying sea state and light winds offer friendly warm-up conditions as we head along the coast towards ‘Mini-Mawr’, the rocky islet en route to our first tide race. Bouncy circuits through the channel are an ideal preparation for the challenges ahead. 

Approaching Penrhyn Mawr, a 4-knot tide gushes through the scattered rocks at the end of the headland. It’s tempting to thread an inshore route, but the waves in the middle race are friendly, and offer the advantage of a simpler line with easier group management decisions. We dance through the lively water, eddying out on the right to survey our options. Setting up a play circuit, in pairs and with agreed safety plans, the team spin and surf in the tide race as the wave trains surge and froth. If you can see South Stack lighthouse, you’re too far downstream!

Steve appears with his Anglesey Adventures group, his relaxed air and quick grin matching his obvious skill and familiarity in these dynamic waters. Playing briefly in the waves, Steve’s team continue towards Abraham’s Bosom for their planned rocky rescues session. 

As the flood dies away, we continue towards the cliffs under South Stack, weaving among huge rock stacks, zawns and sea-caves as the impressively contorted metamorphic rock soars overhead. We pause for lunch on a tiny shingle beach beneath the highest cliffs while Phil and Stu cruise by, exchanging cheery greetings as they guide their Sea Kayaking Anglesey team on a well-timed journey from Holyhead. Through judgement and planning, their group have enjoyed the exposed commitment of Gogarth Bay without encountering a single breaking wave. 

Onwards through the narrow gully beneath South Stack bridge, we eddy-hop against the building tide as guillemots and razorbills wheel noisily through the air, gathering in floating rafts offshore.

The spectacular rock architecture of Main Cliff dominates the view ahead, as Eila’s team of Sea Kayak Life paddlers lead us towards the North Stack tide race. Paddling through the cathedral grandeur of Wen Zawn, we crane our necks to admire the rock climbers tiptoeing up ‘Dream of White Horses’. We gaze at each other, all marvelling at ‘those idiots up / down there’. 

As we pass Parliament House Cave we spot Wayne, Huw and John enjoying a Plas Menai instructor reunion. We press on around the headland to the next turbulent tide race, where Holyhead Bay empties out past North Stack. We whoop and shout in the standing waves,  while a cluster of grey seals observes us curiously from the eddy. John flies by in his rocket-powered Performance Sea Kayak Taran, en route to another fast Holy Island circumnavigation. 

It’s soon time to head home, a free ride downstream through the offshore tide race that sweeps in an arc towards the lighthouse. The steep green waves of the Holyhead Race look perfect today – we catch them on the fly, surfing the cleanest faces of the trip out beyond Anglesey’s most westerly point. We make upstream moves to regain the top wave, and savour the moment. Jan, Mark and Gary slide gracefully through the waves, three talented locals timing their arrival in the tide race to perfection. 

We continue with the last of the ebb, staying offshore to avoid eddies in Abraham’s Bosom. Adam appears from behind South Stack, guiding his PyB team home from their explorations. We paddle onward, laughing together about shared waves and capsizes. Penrhyn Mawr is in benign mood, the last of the ebb barely rippling its waters. We catch a glimpse of Rich at Porth Rhuffydd, his Mon Active first aiders practising emergency scenarios among the rocks.

We return to Porth Dafarch as Jimski’s team of NW Sea Kayakers float into view, back from a trip to Rhoscolyn Head. There are Rockpool kayaks in the fleet and Mike appears on the beach, eager for feedback. Liverpool Canoe Club,
regular weekend locals, celebrate the conclusion of their Trearddur Bay adventures with a rolling session in the bay.

Ashore, Andy of B-Active Rhoscolyn is loading kayaks onto a trailer, surrounded by families delighted with their first sea kayak journey, as Giles organises plans for the next day.

Savouring ice creams in the sunshine, paddlers gradually drift away to rinse kit, congregate at the Paddler’s Return or the Sea Shanty to plan another adventure tomorrow – the Skerries? North coast? the Menai Strait? – so many choices, and all excellent. 

We take a detour to the White Eagle for an early evening pint. Zoe arrives too, after an excellent Rhoscolyn day with her visiting team of Zoe Newsam Coaching students. And there’s Olly too, sipping a Cappucino as he reviews his
Rock & Sea Adventures students’ day.

Dave’s Acwaterra group wander back towards their tents at the serenely peaceful Outdoor Alternative centre,
happily weary from their kayak surfing session.

As we drive home, the setting sun paints the Snowdonia peaks in light and shadow. It’s been a wonderful day – and far, far more fun than a real job…

Reasons to be grateful?
I love Anglesey’s sea cliffs, tide races, beaches and islands; I love its resident seals and porpoises, its visiting terns, guillemots and puffins. I love its changing beauty, forever revealing new perspectives on familiar scenes; I love its rich Celtic history and its enchanting secret corners. 

Reasons to be grateful?
I love the positive and inclusive community of sea kayakers that energise this island paddling scene. I love the relaxed easy friendships, the mutual support, the honest advice, the shared experiences – we can enjoy a drink together, colleagues more than competitors. I love meeting former clients enjoying their own independent adventures, paddling friends afloat.

Reasons to be grateful?
I love that despite the island’s popularity, it’s never crowded on the water – and that visiting paddlers become part of our community, each creating their own special relationship with Anglesey’s remarkable coastline. 

Anglesey belongs to everyone and no one; it doesn’t matter if you’ve been here five, ten, twenty or thirty years.
There’s room for us all, and long may it continue. Come and join us in this wonderful place when we are free once more to travel, to congregate – to be together, afloat and ashore.