Paddling the Largs Coast – SUP Diaries
There’s one thing we kept saying on the drive down to Largs.
“God, I hope we see some porpoise.”
“Wouldn’t it be so amazing to see porpoise?”
“Imagine we actually saw a fin come through the water.”
And, as we came over the Haylie Brae, swallowed by the expansive view of Arran, Bute and the glittering Clyde, I thought it was little more than a dream. I was later proved wrong.
We launched our boards from the slip next to the marina, sticking right to avoid the worst of the slippery algae. This beach was surprisingly flat, and although I was paddling with two Largs locals, we were all raising our eyebrows at the shallow sands that just kept going.
It was perhaps 20 metres before the water started to deepen, but underwater rocks adorning limpets and barnacles still broke the surface near the Pencil Monument. The others lead the way, moving comfortably into the sunset as it settled onto the Isle of Cumbrae.
We moved past the first little bay, where I’m told the locals stand to watch the annual fireworks, and then to the second and third, stopping around Castle Bay to admire the kelp forests and large starfish beneath us. A seal, ever curious, followed some distance behind, it’s sleek-black head peering above the waterline.
The sun was low in the sky by the time we reached the ferry terminal, the swell from the last sailing still slapping saltwater against our boards. Swathes of people populated the promenade – old couples walking hand-in-hand, dogs pulling along their owners and children pulling along their parents. It felt special to watch the evening go by from the water, our presence scarcely noticed by those on land.
I understood, then, the peering of the seal. I understood why it watched us from the comfort of the water, and why it slipped beneath the waves whenever we got too close.
Somewhere in our drybags, watches clicked forward past 8 o’clock. We turned back towards the pencil, sunset now turning from a brilliant yellow to a more subdued and smouldering red. There was talk of stopping at The Fish Works for a supper, with all the bells and whistles to fill our hungry stomachs. We contemplated gravy and sausage and freshly battered haggis, all washed down with an ice-cold can of juice. We kept talking, laughing, exchanging dinner ideas and order combinations, stopping only when we saw the first fin.
It barely cut the surface of the water. A rounded, slight fin, looking so much like a wave that we second-guessed ourselves for a moment.
“Shh, they’re here,” one of us called. “Stop paddling.”
One fin became two, and then four, and our ears tuned in to the quiet puffs of their blowholes above the water. We watched them – boards drifting, paddles stiff – as they moved alongside us and down towards the marina, only leaving the surface when a yacht came powering around the island.
We sat down on our boards, waiting for fins to resurface, tracking ripples and bubbles on the water, and it was while we waited for the porpoise that we noticed something else.
“Jesus, look at the water.”
There were jellyfish. Hundreds, thousands of them, all pulsing through the water and bobbing with the tide.
“That’s crazy,” I said, almost to myself. “This is like something off Nat Geo.”
“The great jelly migration,” Shona joked.
The others paddled on but I, for a moment, felt stuck. Having grown up in the mountainous village of Aviemore, I was not used to the sea and it’s movements. I hadn’t, in all honesty, given too much thought to the possibilities of what might go on beneath that glittering surface. I reached my hand into the water, cutting the same surface that fins had just moved through, watching jellyfish pulse around me, and feeling the fresh sting of cold Scottish water seep into my fingertips.
We ended our paddle at the marina carpark: Sian, eating rice cakes in her flipflops; Shona, packing fast to make the chip shop before it shut; and I, peeling back my wetsuit and still keeping one eye on the horizon in search of another fin.
Time Spent: 2.5 hours
Shore Access from Water: 4/5
Beauty & Wildlife: 500/5