We went on our first ever family holiday with Charlie about a decade ago. He was less than 6 months old, and we’d only driven about 90 minutes to a camp site on the Gower peninsula in South Wales. We celebrated finally getting him to sleep with a glass(es) of wine, and dreamed of the future. It seems funny now, looking back at it, now that we have two boys. A 10 year old and an energetic 8 year old. We always expected them to grow up to be physically capable and confident boys, but I never dreamed they’d be so young when they started challenging my own physical abilities and pushing my own confidence boundaries.
So fast forward to 2016. Lou and I are planning a trip to Brittany, and the boys are helping us choose activities.
“SEA KAYAKING! Yes! We have to – there are SEALS!”
That was pretty much the end of the conversation. Lou and I were going sea kayaking on the real sea, to visit a colony of seals offshore. We’ve been out on the water with the boys before, but only on lakes or in shallow bays. The islands we were heading to were actually visible and named on a map, and the water was tidal. The evening before the trip, Lou developed a couple of ailments that would prevent her from donning a wet suit and I suddenly got all concerned about the weather. But the next morning, while we were standing on the beach looking at the kayaking kit, our boys enthusiasm and encouragement pushed our worries to the side, and we got cracking.
Our instructor had pretty good English, and we were the only non-French in the group. I’ve learnt some pretty cool ways to say ‘Oui’ from French cop shows on BBC4, so I was quickly bamboozling everyone about whether or not I was understanding the instructions.
We had double kayaks. Lou and Charlie in one, and Rufus and I in the other. It was obviously not a race, but inevitably we found ourselves competing to reach the next buoy, or ‘catch those guys’. But then the sea opened out. There were no more buoys, only the distant island on the horizon – which was happily taking its time to get nearer. The group spread out. The sound and the rhythm of the paddling faded in to the background, and we took in the view.
Before we knew it, we were sliding between a group of rocks, marking the entrance to the seal’s islands. My arms had just started to ache, and I was boiling hot in my full length wet suit. The water here was almost completely still, and the surrounding rocks protected us from the view of the shore, making it feel like we’d truly arrived at a wild destination. And then there were seals. Just ripples on the surface at first. But as we crept around the rocks, we were able to silently smooth our way over to small families of dozing seals. The instructor explained how their hunting habits were dependent on the tide, so we were lucky they were on the surface.
After all the excitement of campsites and playgrounds and ice creams and crepes, it was a real pleasure to see the wonder on Ru’s face as we got close to wild animals. At about lunch time, we landed on a larger rock and we all ate our packed lunch. There was no wine on this occasion. The boys found hermit crabs living in every other shell, and one kayaker used the opportunity to hunt for shellfish for dinner.
On the way back to shore, the instructor mercifully towed the slowest boat for 30 seconds, before wheeling back around and grabbing the next pair of tired paddlers. Fighting the outgoing tide with a day dreaming 8 year old was exhausting, so I welcomed the chance to be towed behind the power boat. We paddled the last 10 minutes. Soon the clear water was so shallow that we were anticipating to run a ground. But we kept on bobbing in on the little waves, until the water was ankle deep. The sense of achievement as we got back to our beach was fantastic. Ru was jumping with excitement and we both cheered as Lou and Charlie cruised their way back to the beach.
So that was that, three hours out to sea in a small kayak, we did it, and felt epic – albeit a little achy in the arms. We are planning more sea adventures, why not? We are obviously really experienced now!
Centre Nautique du Guilvinec
Collaboration Note: Thank you to Bretagne Tourism for arranging our trip out to see the seals. All words and opinions are by Dan Taylor with photography by Lou Archell.