Hidden Gems of Lower Thames

We paddled down the Thames countless times, day time or night time, we would go with the tide marvelling at how wide, fast, and exciting the river is. 

This time however, we set to do something different. We joint our friend Ian, who has done this trip before, and relying on his local knowledge we approached the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide with good faith. 

We started by the Diver. We’ve seen him many times before when returning upstream from Gravesend, always handing there, partially submerged in the water or mud. The concrete barges have been here even longer, since 1953, as an extra protection during floods. Amazing structures, once floated, used during WW2. 

We launched and crossed to the other side, the south side. This time we decided to stay very close to the shoreline to explore. We didn’t need to wait for long, as we passed the yacht club in Erith, strange heaps of mud came into view. But of course, it wasn’t mud, it was what the heard about some time ago, the petrified forest, thousands of years old. We could see few tree trunks  and many root balls. We will definitely be back at even lower tide for closer inspection. 

Our next stop was the mouth of the river Darent, tributary to the Thames, we paddled as far as the tidal gate surrounded by walls of shiny mud, supervised by a turnstone (according to Ian). Sadly time was pushing us, and if we wanted to get to our planned destination, we had to turn and continue downstream. 

We wanted to visit Broadness Harbour, a little tidal harbour on the tip of Swanscombe peninsula. I never heard of it, but few times while going past Broadness Point to Gravesend I glimpsed some boats stationed there. The creek leading into the harbour was dry but mud was firm enough to let us land and go on shore. What an amazing place: highest pylons in the UK, Met Office weather station. The wind moving through long grass with ramshackle houseboats and huts behind reminded us of Aleutian Alaska. 

We crossed the Thames here and turned to go upstream with the tide. At Purfleet we briefly peeked into the mouth of river Mar Dyke, but the flood gate threatened to open any time, so we decided to proceed. However we spent some time admiring the remains of the old quay. In the late 18th century this place was used as a natural harbour, and a quay was built to land gunpowder for the magazines in Purfleet.

From here the wind and tide pushed us back past the Coldharbour Lighthouse back to our launching place.

Wipe out memory

There are times when facebook can be quite useful. Like now, it just reminded me about our last year trip to Cornwall, I realised I never posted anything about it on our blog.

I like to take seakayak into surf and that Saturday the forecast for Sennen was looking amazing, I just couldn’t resist. As it was the beginning of half term holiday, we decided there was no point to try and leave London on Friday afternoon. The following morning the alarm went on incredibly early, luckily the drive although long went smoothly and we were at Sennen carpark just before 10am.

Surf was looking great with clean barrels rolling towards the beach. Natalie looked at them and said that I had one hour. Then we were to go for paddle…

I quickly changed and ran with my new Pace Action to the water. This was the perfect opportunity to try how well it surfs.

After a quick warm up I started to look for bigger waves. I was running out of time, one hour slot was almost gone and I was convinced I could see clean exit on main wave. So I went for it! Well, I went for it twice…


So here we were, about eighty kilometres from the finish or starting line, in Arklow, sleeping on the floor of the Rowing Club. The last date of our trip, Lindsey’s back to work date, was fast approaching, yet, the weather decided to tease us a little bit.

We knew we wouldn’t paddle on Thursday, and thoroughly enjoyed the day off. Eamonn and Gina from the club took us out for breakfast, which was very nice, and I n the afternoon we met more people going rowing. We politely declined the offer to join. No no, thank you, we do like to see where we going rather than the other way round.

Then, we had to make the decision, it was obvious that this time, for once, the forecast wouldn’t change. Friday continued to be windy, gusting six, for the first half of the day, promising calmer afternoon. The swell forecast was still quite high. To go or not to go, take a chance or not, finish Saturday or Sunday, these were the options. In the end I left it to Lindsey, as she was the one who had deadline, both Zoe and I had more time to spare. Lindsey gave it a thought, and made the right decision of not going, the paddle would not be enjoyable, there wasn’t a point of ruining the trip in its last days. She decided to call work to explain that we were close, but depended on the weather. Her boss must be a very wise woman, she assured Lindsey, that all was fine. And so we had two days off in Arklow.

Finally we launched again on Saturday, I was smiling, going to Howth or as close as. The day was great, headwind and tide against us to start with, but so what. The first stretch to Wicklow was full of surprises, little beaches, lots of greenery, some rocks.

Wicklow Head stood high, waiting, the tide race could be seen, however by now the tide was with us and carried us through. We decided to stay away from the shore to make the most of the flow as we had a long long shingle grey stretch to follow.

Yes, apparently the 25 kilometres of the Strand is the most boring paddle here in Ireland. I like monotone, so enjoyed watching the three individual white houses appear on the horizon, then get closer, then pass, then disappear into the distance behind me. There and now the train passed next to the shore, and planes were landing and taking off from an airstrip close by. Lots of things to be entertained by.

We were going to Howth, and eventually the headland came up on the horizon. Soon it became clear that we would get there the next day.

In the meantime we finished the stretch of the coast, went through Dalkey Sound and turned into Dublin Bay the scenery changed to line of many different houses, rather big than small with private landings. We found ours in Sandy Cove, small beach, bit of grass, benches and a leafy residential area all around.

On the last night of our trip we were met by Zoe’s friends, went to pub with great music, then slept in the Thousand Star Hotel as we say in Czech Republic.

Sunday was our last day, not only we wanted to get to finish, we also wanted to get the ferry back to Holyhead. We woke up early, at 5am, and soon we were surrounded by crowd of people. Wow! This social media paddling is amazing, one would think, so many people to bid good bye to us.

But no, the beach we chose to land on yesterday, was selected for a breathing swimming workshop that morning. While people sat on the beach breathing in and out guided by a drum, we were packing, eating breakfast, and disappearing behind rocks, all at 6am.

Eventually we left them to it, and started into the headwind again. We had Dublin Bay to cross. And as we went quite in to avoid the area where it splits into two lanes, the wind then pushed us back out to Howth.

I remember Howth as a small rainy dark slipway with nothing much around. To my surprise it turned out to be a beautiful headland with the last lighthouse of our trip, and fairly impressive harbour busy with people, sailing boats, fishing boats, kayaks, diving boats, police boats, RNLI boats.

However, the main thing for us was, that there were people on the slipway waiting for us. We made it Howth, left to go north, arrived from the south. Are we there yet? Yes, we are.


Although the title might be misleading, three zeros were seen just past the Carnsore Point. We left Kilmore Quay to continue our journey around Ireland. We had the most southeasterly point to go past, Carnsore Point. There isn’t much I can say about this only that instead of planned nuclear power stations it had wind turbines on.

The point itself provided some fun seas, and a slushy smelly short stop. We entered St George’s Channel, which connects Irish Sea and Celtic Sea, by now we paddled through both.

Our spirits were high when we discovered that each and single one of us has a zero on their compass. Yes, we can say it now, we started our last leg towards finish. Yet, nothing is straightforward, and with Lindsey’s back to work day (Monday) fast approaching, the weather seems to like to keep us in the unknown in terms of when the finish will be.

The coast settled into a long line of beaches, which some may describe monotone, but I like long unchangeable coastlines as much as I like cliffs, islands, and anything else.

We made stop in Rosslare for ice cream, and tea-coffee, before continuing with another tide later that evening. We are committed to distance once again. Sadly this resulted in beach camping, but at least this stretch made it into another film “Saving Private Ryan” this time.

The following day, apart from surf launching, brought another long stretch of beaches. However this time regularly broken down by views of smaller and bigger villages, a harbour or two, and eventually some mini cliffs.

Done with surf landings and launching, which I like as much as camping on sand, we were heading to Arklow, big harbour.

Big harbours aren’t easy for camping, yet we were lucky, and ended up staying in Arklow Rowing club for two nights while the weather settles down.


We were on a mission to cover distance and distance again. So far so good, but ahead of us was the Hook Head, not the most fearful of headlands we paddled past so far, still it needed some caution.

The chart showed a tide race called Tower Race, and in my experience, if tiderace has a name, it needs to be approached with caution. We started our journey on Bunmahon beach, where we spent two nights. We were on the copper coast and this little village used to be big mining town with about 1500 people living here at some point. Hard to believe now, but the reminds of the mines could be seen on cliff tops. The coast was again spectacular, stacks and arches, if only the swell allowed us to explore. This time we were not alone on the sea, and actually met and exchanged few words with random kayakers, from Bristol, and local ones, too.

We passed the Metal Man statue on a headland just outside Newtown Cove at Tramore. Built in 1823 instead of a lighthouse, his right hand is pointing away warning passing ships to stay away from dangerous rocks.

We landed in the harbour of Dunmore East for tea-coffee, amazing lemon drizzle cake and to think of where to next. We had good wind behind us all day, but the forecast was showing force 5 at Hook Head. Some of us were reluctant to go. In the end after much sitting, thinking, and mulling things over, we decided to paddle across the bay to be closer to the Hook the following day. However, the landing places were a bit unsure, so we decided to pick one closest to the head hoping it would be sheltered enough to land that day and launch the following. Then we decided that we might as well see if we can go past the headland. Best decision ever!

As we approached the other side we could see that landing isn’t great, oh well, we had to paddle past the head, which actually looked better than expected. And that was great, as I really wanted to be done with it. The Hook lighthouse stood high overlooking our evening paddle. We decided to continue towards Baginbun Bay.

Baginbun Bay was the place where Normans landed in 1170, they chose wisely as it is very sheltered bay. And although I absolutely hate beach camping, it was one of the nicest beaches we’ve seen so far.

Sadly we didn’t really have time to make the most of this beautiful place, and while some people enjoyed a swim late in the evening, we were heading to bed, as we decided to get up in the dark and be on the water before sunrise. And no, it wasn’t because we wanted to embrace the whole ‘see sunrise on the beach’ idea, we wanted to make progress before the wind picked up later that day.

We had an offer to visit our friend’s cousin in Kilmore Quay, and with forecast promising another non paddling day the following day we were keen to make it.

Little did we know this leg was turning into a small journey throughout history. We passed the world’s oldest lighthouse built some 800 years ago. We landed where the Normans did. We rounded headland which stood at the origin of the “by any means” phrase. There are many theories of its origin, but I obviously like the one acclaimed to be made by Oliver Cromwell to take Waterford by Hook, on the Wexford side of Waterford Estuary, or by Crook, a village on the Waterford side in mid seventeen century.

We had no idea then that the family we were to stay with, Anna, Jim and Jack were from Butlerstown Castle. Their family came to live in the area when they had to leave England after being on the wrong side during the Civil War.

And that’s how we came to stay at the castle for two nights. I have seen many Tower Houses around the coast of Ireland, but this one I could actually visit.

We had good rest among woodlands and flowers, the furthest inland we ever got to. Our boats stayed on the beach in Kilmore Quay, as always, we believed that people are good. They were, even in Kilmore Quay, and the person, who went through our front hatches didn’t take anything more than my half empty bottle of whiskey.


We had a lovely weather day off in Ballycotton. The following day the forecast was suggesting an early window before the wind goes to F5 or F6 or F7 depending which forecast we checked. We made the plan of getting up at three in the morning, start to paddle with the first light, then finish early in the day as the wind picks up. We decided to go step by step bay by bay depending on the conditions.

It wasn’t that bad getting up so early, and soon we were paddling, later enjoying the sunrise.

We rounded first headland at Knockadoon Point, and landed for breakfast. I have to report that the best portaloos in Ireland are to be found here. Open, clean, and having not just one roll of paper in the dispenser, but one free standing one, as well as two yet unopened packs of four rolls each. It’s small things that make us happy nowadays as well being important to us.

From then we went towards Ardmore. The sea was calmer than we thought and the wind mild. I never tire of looking at the coastlines, cliffs, beaches, but thought for those, who do, I will not include any landscape pictures for once. Ardmore was great, we managed to get tea and coffee and ice cream.

Then off we went past Mine Head with a stop on the beach past Helwick Head. Here, late in the afternoon the few hours of sleep we had, the early start and the distance started to show up. Luckily, Lindsey could get a bit of quick canine therapy and was good as new to continue.

I don’t like the idea of finishing paddling landing on potentially surfy beaches in areas that are exposed in weather that is unsettled, so we agreed to aim as far as we can, preferably to a harbour just west of Annestown. And definitely I wasn’t going to finish on Bunmahon surf beach. But obviously, sometimes these things just happen, and when the wind finally picked up some 12 hours since we started paddling, and raised the sea to quite a wavy one, we had to get off.


The weather has been favourable to a point that Lindsey would check forecast and almost sight that there isn’t a rest day to be seen. And that is good as we felt we were ready to put some miles in. The weather forecast didn’t always deliver the promised low winds but we enjoyed the occasional headwinds nevertheless. Well, most of us.

Our flight started with crossing from Bolus Head in county Kerry just short distance south of Portmagee to Dursey Island. Long crossing with the possibility being broken off by landing on Scarrif Island. Sadly the swell was lively and we could not make landing on steps apparently carved in cliff by monks long time ago.

We had quick break on the water on the south side of the island and continued towards Dursey. We spent two days in Portmagee as we were waiting for conditions to improve for this crossing. If we had doubts the day before, we were happy with our decision as the calming sea changed significantly the closer to Dursey we got. We surfed into the sound and looked for place to land. We decided to land on mainland side of the sound. With the only Irish cable car over sea water overhead we made to the slipway.

Zoe approached the slipway first, but suddenly started to slide back into the water. I wanted to help her, so approached the slipway, jumped out, and only as I started to slide back into deep water I heard warning of it being very slippery. Zoe had drysuit, I had dry trousers, my cockpit filled by dumping wave, yet I managed to jump back onto the boat before the water reached my waistline. I was floating on top of my boat, Zoe was swimming to the shore, Lindsey landed on steps in almost civilised way. People fishing on the pier had no idea of the evolving drama. Fortunately eventually Zoe reached the non slippery part of slipway, my boat drifted to shore, and Lindsey came to help to recover casualties. After coffee, tea and ice cream from the cable car car park we were ready to launch again and push toward White Ball Head.

We left White Ball Head into a calm sunny morning, ahead of us was a long crossing across Bantry Bay followed by Dunmanus Bay, we decided to go straight for Mizen Head. The sea was flat and we settled into a rhythm which will be broken by sips of water, snacks and occasional closing and opening of drop seats, we had twenty kilometres to do. The views were great, Bear Island, Sheep Head, Mizen Head, lighthouses, sky, occasional yacht, then the dolphins appeared.

Several different pods, coming closer to us, some of them jumping high out of water, some going right under our kayaks. Where crossings go! It was one of the most pleasant ones. Mizen Head came and went, but with nowhere to land we had to continue further choosing Gully Cove as our late lunch stop.

In the end we didn’t make it quite there, and landed in dead seal tiny cove. As the dead body was floating closer to us on the shore, we decided to bring our lunch to early end, and paddle off. Gully Cove looked very inviting, sun, campsite, probably coffee and tea, too. Unfortunately it was a bit too much inshore for our liking, so we decided for another almost twenty kilometres paddle across to Cape Clear.

We were in luck, wind and tide were helping us on the way, Isiah coast passed by changing on the left, the Fastnet lighthouse staying constant on the right. Cape Clear harbour was basking in afternoon sun enjoying late Saturday evening.

The following day we started into headwind and tide, yet eventually it settled behind us and we paddled one of our longest day all the way to Long Strand at Gully Head.

There isn’t much that is worth to report on from this leg, maybe the state of our lunches. We started with one little dry bag. But suddenly Lindsey was pulling dry bags, number of tupperwares and random bits claiming this all was lunch. Lindsey does carry our food. It’s good really!she paddles slower that Zoe and I but if we want to eat, lunch or dinner, it is in our best interest she gets where we get to, and too far behind us.

We landed on a beach, not great, a bit surfy, but closest to our next target the next day. The sign said no camping clearly, fortunately coming from the sea we couldn’t really see it. We went to hide in by the river, yet there happened to be quite a community of random sleepers, some in vans, some of us in tents. We ended up with a bottle of rose.

Surfy beach is a surfy beach and in the morning we put our helmets on hoping it would be only this one time on this trip. We had another long day ahead as far as we could go. Yes, at the moment distance is our main focus. Progress was slowed down by headwind again, and we ended up rounding the magnificent headland of Seven Head and arrived to a beach. As often we didn’t know the name but that it was camping kayakers friendly. Someone was watching us landing, we were worried it was someone on whose land we would need to pitch. To our surprise, later a man called Pat turned up welcoming us on Blind Strand bringing us beers. I think we like it here.

Blind Strand was also an important place as we could meet Chris, who used to paddle with us in London, currently based in a Cork, but suddenly turned into support crew. We happened to be reduced to one tiny gas stove, both petrol MSR and gas one giving up on us. Chris brought us new stove, more gas, and a surprise Swiss Roll. Amazing.

The Old Head of Kinsale was our next target. In our hastiness we only realised it was time to say good bye to Atlantic about five kilometres before it. We read in the guide book that apart of several different tideraces running alternatively on the west and east going tides, it also had some tunnels through. And since we were paddling against tide since early morning we decided we were going through them.

What an experience! Not really sure of the actual distance, but we were surfed through a very narrow darkish space for at least 100 metres, and emerged in Celtic Sea. Wow!

What followed was one long day, the longest by hours spent paddling, almost 13. We seen a lot of coast passing by, stopped in Man of War cove, then crossed Cork Harbour.

The last stretch to Ballycotton was a trying and tiring one. We were pushed by tide and wind, yet, it just felt very very long. Eventually we arrived.

It was hald past nine in the evening, we were hungry, tired, all we wanted was to have food and go to bed. Yet, when expeditioning it’s never straight forward, the boats need to get above the high water line, the tent needs to be pitched, the food needs to be cooked. Important is to keep the spirits high.

Pitching in busy harbours in biggish places is challenging, we were lucky to find a patch of ground to squeeze ourselves on. We already knew we would be here for two nights.

Ballycotton is a former fishing village. Very often our trip is not really about places we see, but people we meet. Towards the end of our weather day Lindsey met Clare, local artist and volunteer at RNLI station. Lindsey bought a lovely picture, and we all ended up having a shower in the art gallery slash hallway slash artist’s home.

One more information to add. Ballycotton has a view of a lighthouse on Ballycotton Island. We saw plenty of lighthouses, but this one is a black one. There are only two black painted lighthouses in Ireland, we passed the other one weeks earlier when rounding the Slyne Head.

Do we go or do we stay?

We arrived to Portmagee and already we knew we would spent at least a day here. Camping was ok, short carry, two flat patches of ground between high water mark and a fence, most importantly just outside the town.

Already on arrival to Knights Town on Valentia Island we found out that due to cut cable internet was down in the majority of the county, fortunately we scraped enough cash to have dinner, leaving shopping for the next day. Days off could be as busy as paddling days. Pleasure first, that was a nice breakfast, then duties. We had to hitchhike to Carsiveen to withdraw money and do shopping. However they had a leisure centre, so long soak in the pool, jacuzzi, and shower was great, followed by more coffee and ice cream later. Even if we had to hitch back again, it all went ok.

Portmagee used to be a small fishing village, now it’s a gateway to Skellig Michael. The place from Starwars as known to most people. The island where monks lived in beehive huts for others. We settled for local sights.

The following day we had to make decision to paddle or not. The wind looked all over the place, the swell being blown up by day of high winds. We had cliffs to paddle past, then long crossing towards Dursey Island. Go or not to go. What will we gain by going, maybe ten kilometres past the cliffs. We probably won’t be crossing. But would we be able to paddle the following day, when the forecast is still showing as being unsettled. Some of us wanted to go, some not, the decision process can sometimes take time.

In the end we decided not to go, and spent the day exploring the Kerry Cliffs, from the land. Splendid, we could see as far as Great Blasket island, Puffing Island, and Skellig Michael with Little Skellig in the background. And of course we could see the whole area of Portmagee sound with Valentia Island. And no, is does not derive its name from Spanish town of Valencia, it comes from Irish and means “island in the mouth of the sound”, and that’s exactly what it is.


We spent a night in Brandon, a small village on the other side of Kilbaha across the Shannon Estuary.

We have done many crossings, not super long ten to fifteen kilometres long. The low visibility of the past few days saw us following coast on a bearing, covering 35 kilometres before a quick landing, before continuing further.

So when Great Blasket came into view after rounding Sybil Head, we decided it to be our home for the night.

Upon arrival we saw that we arrived to a great holiday island. People were lounging on golden sandy beach, the island itself was green with white washed houses on a hillside. The old village basking in afternoon sun, it’s clochans standing magnificiently.

What’s more, there was a big sign saying Caife – and tea and coffee we had in mind, when we decided upon this destination. The evening was so warm that we went for a swim, and true to holiday place swam with seals. For once the jackets stayed in their dry bags as we could actually dry off by the tents in our swimming costumes. It even had a donkey dressed as Chewbacca from Start Wars. It just could not be nicer.

Even the departure from the island had a holiday theme, only this time one of the more unfortunate nature. The following morning we had Dingle Bay to cross, about 20 kilometres across, the longest crossing Lindsey done so far. We knew we had some current against us to start with, but the headwind joined in as well. The crossing was long. I enjoyed it, but then I always liked long repetitive tasks. However for most of the team it felt like the return from great holidays when you plane just isn’t there, and you have to spent 20 hours at the airport.

However, we can say we saw a whale. A whale!


If you were to drive from Inishturk to Kilbaha, it would take according to Google about four hours and distance of at least 267 kilometres. It would also require taking a ferry from Inishturk to Ronagh Quay, and to go on few motorways. If one was to walk this route it would be about 206 kilometres, with one ferry to Ronagh Quay, and then one from Rosaweer to Inishveer and from Inisheer to Doolin. We did go from Inishturk to Kilbaha, however obviously not by land but by sea. I don’t know how many kilometres that really was, yet it seemed to be a long way over few days.

We left Inishturk after nice evening in local community centre. We liked Inishturk, it has been inhabited since early times. We stopped in the harbour of Port an Dun, a natural harbour used by first settlers and many after. During our stay here we met here a group of people from Inishbofin, who liked it here as well and came for a day trip. They told us that if we were to pass Inishturk on our way south, we should stop for tea in their house by the flagpole.

We paddled over to a Inishbofin and indeed happen to land next to a flag pole, which actually ended up being the flag pole. We visited Rachel and Malcolm, who live here, and their friends. What a great stop this was, Lindsey got tea, and ai got coffee. They also came to help us with the boats as tide was running out of the bay quickly. We were quite worried about having to carry them long way after our stop, so declined any offers of longer stay, so

Rachel prepared cheese sandwiches for us, all wrapped up for our long journey. We launched, waved, turned around the first set of rocks, and once out of view ate them all at once.

The sandwiches were so loaded and delicious that they gave us enough power to cross straight to Slyne Head, one of the many headlands on our way south. The day turned hot to the point that at lunchtime I couldn’t resist a swim, the sandy bay just looked too inviting. We continued further, we were on a mission. Rachel told us about the most amazing banana cake to be had on Inishmaan, and we wanted that. We flew past Connemara, made a brief overnight stop, and next day crossed to Aran Isles. Our plan was to lunch on the first one, have cake on the middle one, and perhaps quick stop on the smallest one. However, we ended up staying on Inishmaan, the middle one. Two days Lindsey and I were entertaining ourselves with the idea of banana cake on Inishmaan, it helped us to paddle late into the evening, to cross, to continue to the east of Inishmaan.

Only when we landed we found out that the cake shop up is shut on Thursdays. Never mind, at least we were in good position to cross the following day towards the cliffs of Moher and beyond.

Cliffs of Moher, up to 214 metres high, but we didn’t see any of that starting our crossing on a bearing only due to fog. The day was long, we passed the cliffs, crossed several bays, passed Morton Island. That one had a impressive napoleonic lookout tower on. Our landing wasn’t the most exciting one, but in the end the steep single wall provided straightforward haul of the boats up beyond high water mark, and launch, and in the end the shingles once we removed the big boulders were quite comfortable to sleep on.

Our next and final leg of this mission was today. We wanted to get around Loop Head ready for Shannon the following day. According to Oileáin, the Irish Sea kayaking guidebook, this stretch is the most committing one on the West coast. Yes, it looked like tens of kilometres of cliffs with a headland at the end. And for us, the weather had something special, it decided we have to do it on a bearing mainly hiding the cliffs behind low clouds. At the start especially, then they were appearing and disappearing until the head itself.

On the other side it was different story, swelly turbulent sea was replaced by smooth waters, clouds by sunshine. We pushed all the way to Kilbaha mainly for its name, but the promise of a pub, too. It is time for tea and coffee after all.