You've seen those worn paths which seem to snake their way through fields, parks and patches of grass. They don't seem to have any direction. These renegade walk ways are called 'desire lines' and are created by us. They show individuality and creativity.
I find the same when I'm on my board. Turning up at a skate park with no objective or goal, other than searching for that perfect line. And no matter how many times I hit that concrete, I still get back on my board and look for my desire line.
We leave town.
Past the rugby club.
No street lights to guide us now.
The moon helps.
The torch in my hand follows my running action.
Up. Followed by down.
Up. Followed by down.
Now and again we see a car.
Wonder where they are going.
Maybe a farmer.
Maybe a doctor on call.
Maybe someone going to London on business.
Up the hill.
Does anyone like hills?
There’s the bay to our left.
It’s there, honest.
We can hear it. We can smell it. Too dark to see it.
Head back home.
Back in time for breakfast.
Can’t wait for spring mornings.
The alarm goes at five AM. You haven’t slept much anyhow. Woken up on the hour, every hour, haunted by the LED. You've agreed to sleep in the spare room downstairs when there's surf, so as not to wake the babies when you leave. Before you laid to rest you’ve checked the chart to double check which way the swell is heading, then you checked the coastal observations to see which way the wind is blowing. Then, you try to sleep. At five you stumble around in the dark, flick the kettle on, and run through the checklist in your mind (if you're sensible, you'll have loaded up the car the night before). Here on the crux of England and Wales, in the far corner of the Bristol Channel, there are five surfing coastlines to choose from, all equidistant give or take twenty minutes. You don’t feel guilt burning all that fuel. You'll do all the things you’re supposed to do. You know the importance of the Earth's preservation, but if you can't drive, you can't surf, and it all ceases to mean much to you. You're giving up surfing for nobody or for no thing. Though there's five coastlines to choose from, in the winter months it’s usually the far West of Wales that works for you. For all the variables, all the vagaries of tide, ebb, flow and season, there seems to be something else that draws you there. But the main thing is this one spot.
It's pitch black and there is nothing on the road apart from the odd lonely lorry with glaucic headlights and tired haunches ploughing over the Severn Bridge. You pay the tax and push into Cymru, and turn off as soon as you can and head northeast toward Abergavenny. Deeper now inland there's a chaos of vowels in the dark, broody resonance of the names of the towns you pass, and these syllables blend in your half-awake, half-dreaming mind with the shipping forecast. There are whispers in the speakers of storm warnings in the North Atlantic; tempests in sea areas that bear the names of wind blasted headlands and naval engagements. Tyne, Dogger, Bailey, Fastnet, Rockall, Malin. You are living on an archipelago and as the radio fades in and out you picture in your mind the imagined symmetries of anticyclones that push lines of swell toward the cobbles and points and the beaches and though your mind flickers images of old, whiskered men with tartan flasks peering through the dark from the wheelhouse.
The old wagon knows the way. It's been through here a thousand times before and doesn't complain as the hills steepen around you and the road narrows and fades and cambers until there's no radio coverage left. All this lends the dark heart of Wales another aspect. You remember this is guerrilla country, that this is a place that could survive when the transmitters have stopped transmitting and when there's no one left toreceive. You coax the wheels of the wagon though the Brecons for an hour and down into the valleys though stoic towns were there are chapels that are still chapels and soon (though not quite soon enough), you're in Ceredigion and the sign says it's twelve miles to the coast. It's cold out there, and despite the excited knot in your stomach and despite the fact that you've pledged a great portion of your life to the beautifully meaningless act that is riding a wave, you contemplate, from that heated, wheeled cocoon, that perhaps you won't go in today, that perhaps pulling on that still damp sheathe of neoprene is unimaginable in this deep winter, and you think that little bit of Brian Wilson- generated romance that’s still lit deep inside you could do with a little bit of a stoke, and you wonder in all the world, how many surfers are paddling out in these latitudes, in these temperatures? You think you must be mad and you'right, and you think that you must move to somewhere tropical, and as soon as the thought occurs you know you never will because the ebb and the flow of things on this high, moonward side of the planet is too special to give up and there's a swell heading from way out in the Atlantic and there's no wind too for you to worry about.
The thing about this one spot is that it's easy to miss, though it's in full view of the road. The distance of the layby lends a strange perspective, and every time you arrive and look seaward, despite the predictions and the observations and other scientific arrogances of the Met Office, you think the waves are disappointing. If you don't arrive at the right stage of the tide you can miss it completely. Who knows how many visiting surfers have headed straight past and south to clamber with the crowds, when if they had waited a while, they would have these waves to themselves? But you know better. You sit out the full tide and try to stop yourself from daydreaming again of that perfect day, that perfect wave that exists somewhere over the horizon. Because you’re here, now, and that is perfect as it needs to be. Soon, but not soon enough, as the tide drops, smooth, tapered shoulders begin to appear, peeling from left to right from the peak. As the lines rack up and feather, you can see a faint glistening of spray that arches up and over and back forming a gallery of rainbows against the steel grey and brown of the sea and the sky that disappears as the sets lull and push and bend over the cobbles.
Now is the time. You pull on that wet wetty and it snaps shut around your shoulders and the smell and the musk of it comforts you as your skin bristles gainst the cold, and you jump out into the foam with a flock of butterflies in your gut and a headache from the shocking cold as if you've chomped a big glug of ice cream too quickly. There's a lonely surfer already out who’s been waiting for a wave and you catch his eye as you paddle. A set starts to show and you watch him turn and spin and paddle and drop in a low, crouching swoop and you contemplate the clean line he draws before the wave closes down and pushes him deep inside. You can't help that shameful feeling of schadenfreude, as you know now that it's just you and the next set. But there's another duck and another dive to make, but eventually you're here, now, in the elemental rawness of it all and it is good. It's bigger than you thought (it always is here) but it's also mechanically predictable and slow enough to allow you time to think and as the tide drops further, the waves begin to wall up to the right as well as left as they shoal on the boulder floor. You breathe and relax into that easy drop into a bowl and you compress and look down the line of the walling wave as you lean on your rail and climb back for a second drop. There's more speed and power now, as the wall steepens and hollows and you stay stalled in the pocket, grabbing your outside rail to stop it from sliding ass, and then it bowls again and you straighten your legs and step forward to speed and all is forward projection and lift and glide and silence.
At midday the sun is hanging weak and low in the sky. Your calves have started to cramp, and every time you stop paddling to rest your teeth start chattering and you tell yourself the story again. The wind is getting up and you’ve had your share and you start dreaming of what you’re going to eat and what you’re going to drink, and the people you’re going to see and what you’ll tell them of this frigid morning. Just one more wave. Never download, never turn your back on the ocean. It’s twelve thirty now and somewhere on the other side of the world, a surfer is paddling out at dawn and he’s probably warmer than you are. But here you are in Ceredigion and it is good.
The longboard in the garageThe longboard in the garage was my ride before I owned a car.
The longboard in the garage has tasted pavement on three continents.
The longboard in the garage has four battered wheels and a chunk out of the nose, courtesy of a curb in Amsterdam (it came off better than me).
The longboard in the garage made my legs strong and my lungs stronger.
The longboard in the garage hasn't been out for a ride since we had the twins.
The longboard in the garage will not be in the garage today.
Large tracts of the most natural, unspoilt and uplifting areas of space opened wide to the outdoorsy public. Maybe you’ve heard of them, the Lakes, the Peaks, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, North Yorks; maybe you want to go, maybe you already go or maybe you live there. If you’re a biker, climber, walker, paraglider or twitcher or just like to wander, you’ve never had it so good. In 2000 a big golden key called the CROW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way) opened up huge chunks of moorland, heath, agricultural land, forest, mountains, remote crags and fens across England and Wales,
which were previously unreasonably restricted
to the public.
So good news for the land lubbers.
In 2003 the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was implemented, basically Scotland’s version of CROWA. This meant some of the most remote and environmentally significant land in Europe, including Europe’s least densely populated area (NW Scotland) was made open access to all. The main difference being that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act isn’t just for the land lubbers. Surfers, canoeists, kitesurfers, divers, fisherman, open water swimmers, gorge scramblers, in fact anyone who has to change before getting back in the car, now benefits from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – a common sense piece of legislation
which allows all outdoor people to go pretty
much wherever they like.
So good news for the Scots.
For an island nation, our record of access to inland (non-tidal) water is pretty embarrassing. In 2000 a government sponsored report from Brighton University concluded that less than 4% of Britain’s inland waterways are openly navigable, that’s
about 6.4 River Severns. Which means there are around 186.3 River Severns with the door shut and bolted.* The reasons for this are as varied as the rivers themselves, but one of the most common barriers to access to rivers are anglers. Most anglers pay for permits to fish some of the world’s best salmon and trout rivers; canoeists don’t have that luxury. Launching onto the river would legally require the canoeist to visit the landowners and convince them to let them jump on and share the river with their existing paying customers. Ludicrous. Most rivers are ‘owned’ by private fishing associations in any case.
So good news for the fishermen.
In November 2000, the Environment Agency released a report on the effects of canoe sports on recreational fishing. The research found there is no empirical evidence linking canoeing with damage of spawning grounds and stocks. The environment agency also stated the need to protect and further navigation rights on inland water and stated that in most cases a lack of communication was to blame for failing to inform users of access agreements which do exist. But apart from our larger rivers, there’s not really a good day’s paddling without looking over your shoulder. Access agreements do exist, but in some areas they are little more than compromises, which compromise the rights of one group in favour of another. The problem isn’t just fishermen, and isn’t just canoeing, what is needed is a national standard for access to water for all, not just for canoeists, and a few more kayakers sitting in the House of Lords.
By Richard Strefford
* Brighton University (2000); Only rivers greater than 3m wide were included in the research.
On September 22nd 2007, one man and his bike took the 75.8 mile path of most resistance from sea to summit at Teifi Pools, one mile above sea level.
What follows is the high, low and twilight of his journey.
By Pete Kirby
Wake in London. Make porridge for Bess & Kate. Kiss and scarper. Cycle to Gabriel’s Wharf, Southbank. Fill bike bottle with River Thames water. Train to Carmarthen. Ride towards Cardigan up along Afon (river) Duad as test run for tomorrow. Mist turns to monsoon. Road is a bitch. Truckers cut me up. Stop. Thumb three white vans. None stop. Get back on and veer off to Hermon. Evil climb up to 283m. Back tyre loses bite every time I get out of saddle. Wind farms are rampant. 90% brake descent into Newcastle Emlyn for Star Bar & Lucozade reboot. Greet the Teifi with a nod. Glide down river to Gwbert. Hang sodden kit on towel rail. Red sky bodes well for climb. Three course feast, then recce beach in dark for swim. Empty Thames water into mouth of Teifi. Write sea sonnet under glare of moon.
Fidget sleep. Dream of punctures. Weather dry, but grey. 07.50 hrs swim in sea. Water warm-ish. Fill bike bottle with mouth of Teifi water. Find driftwood in shape of river. Fry up, herb tea. 75.8 miles to go. Make deal with handlebars: always take road closest to river. Big detour to Cilgerran. Pooh sticks debut – this will be a theme. ‘Beryl & Joan Thomas’ etched into stone bridge. Shout “Morning Teifi!” many times. Rain cranks up. Ask firemen best way to Lampeter, three different answers. Let them squabble. Study map. Find friendly contours. Route is not shortest or prettiest, but is the one the bike takes like a horse to water. Hug river high up along A484. Think: rivers are veins, capillaries, arteries. Rain eases up around Llandysul – best-kept small town 1990. Carved pelican watches over kayak poles. Geraniums in red canoe. Take D road past feral geese. Deep South couple give directions – she smiles, he sneers. Sign in porch at Maesycrugiau – NO WATER PLANT, YIPPEE! Second sign reads: NO LORRIES. NO BOTTLES. NO FACTORIES. EVER!! Llanybydder, sugar stop at Spar. Dead red kite in road, grieved by spouse kite above me. Two more hover over lamb abattoir. Pedals squeak on hills. Cadge WD40 from motor spares man. Chapel Brondeifi, chat with Mary, janitor. Blissful serenade with river for five miles to Llanfair. Cute shop crammed with Ecover. Buy bananas, Galaxy, water. Kids crash on bikes – no tears, just swearing in Welsh. Squirrel mourns dead lover. Dead fox. Dead hedgehog.
B4343 – wildlife needs an underpass here. Share Galaxy with horse on Riverhood Watch. Single bovine family by riverbank – Bullocks 4 Justice perhaps? Off-load weight at Talbot Hotel, push on two stone lighter. Cors Caron simmers a dead red – Kenya in a sulk. Sweating heavily, but no smell, such is genius of Merino. Aptly, sheep spur me on with bleats of chutzpah. Pass school of mural magic. Find McDonalds litter thrown out of car. Junk food, junk brain. Collect on way down and bin. Teifi Pools – right, and up, up, up. Hills really hurt now. Finally, at 1500ft, sun beats cloud in arm wrestle. Fuck, it’s beautiful up here.
Stash inscribed driftwood from beach behind stone slab, manned by curling black slug. Write summit sonnet. Empty salt water into source. Collate lake water in bike bottle for Thames deposit tomorrow. Strip to trunks and swim.
Fry up. Cloud to mizzle to sheet rain. Arrive Carmarthen drenched, in three hours. Oh, the joy of downhill. Replacement bus burns out on motorway. Wonder why engines fail and bikes don’t. Hit London as Freewheel car-free day ends – nice feeling. Coast down The Mall. Empty Teifi Pools water in Thames. A Holy Water Trinity.