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Ynys y Moelrhoniaid

Cemlyn to The Skerries – 25/3/18

According to the oracle that is Wikipedia, a ‘skerry’ is ‘a small rocky island, usually too small for human habitation. It may simply be a rocky reef. A skerry can also be called a low sea stack. It also may have vegetative life such as moss and small, hardy grasses. They also, in some areas of the world, are rested upon by animals such as seals or birds, though usually not inhabited. The term skerry is derived from the Old Norse sker, which means a rock in the sea. The Old Norse term sker was brought into the English language via the Scots language word spelled skerrie or skerry.’

Rob and Zoe on departure...

To me, The Skerries was the name of the pub next door to where I used to work - I didn’t do any sea kayaking back then. I remember the pub having a lighthouse on the sign above the door but not a lot else as I never actually went in for a pint. However, I did know that the island off north Anglesey called The Skerries (or Ynysoedd y Moelrhoniaid in Welsh – Islands of the Bald-headed Grey Seals) was a haven for nesting seabirds, particularly Arctic terns but also puffins, kittiwakes, and occasionally a few Roseate terns. I’d always wanted to go and have a look, and last weekend I finally got my chance…

Having 2 highly experienced companions to accompany me and an almost flawless weather forecast, conditions were ideal for my first taste of The Skerries. Getting the tidal flow right is absolutely crucial when thinking about this trip, as is the angle you point your kayak as you come out of Cemlyn Bay for the ferry glide across. Too shallow or steep and you can miss the island altogether! This is definitely not a trip for beginners.

Approaching The Skerries...

We soon arrived at the first of 2 Cardinal Markers en route. These markers indicate which side of them shipping should pass to avoid shallow water and hidden rocks; there are numerous shipwrecks in this area that demonstrate how hazardous it can be. However, on this bright early spring day the 7km trip across was uneventful and took us about an hour and a quarter with help from the ebb tide.

Lunch stop

On arrival, the Welsh name for the islands made sense - there were grey seals everywhere. These large and inquisitive mammals are disturbed easily when resting on land. It’s the end of the moulting season at the moment, so we tried to give them a wide berth. The UK harbours roughly 40% of the world population of Atlantic grey seals so we have an important responsibility for their long-term conservation. We were too early for the terns; they will be arriving very shortly to nest on the relatively safe ground of these isolated rocks (seasonally wardened by the RSPB). I wanted an excuse to return anyway…

As we finished our tranquil scenic lunch sat by the lighthouse a group of 12 jetskis arrived from Holyhead - now I know how the seals feel! The flood tide was now building, a tide race visibly forming on either side of the islands. After playing in the flow round the south-west corner of The Skerries, we headed via the shallows called the Platters to the tide race at West Mouse (in Welsh ‘Maen y Bugael’ – Shepherd’s Rock) to practice moving water techniques, rolling, and a few rescues. This was the most tiring part of the day, but the most rewarding in terms of improving skills and gaining confidence. We returned to Cemlyn via the coast, tired but exhilarated.

Having now finally been there in a kayak, the name ‘The Skerries’ means a whole lot more to me! Go to our YouTube channel to get a taste of the journey for yourself…

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