To the north of the Cote de Granit Rose in northern Brittany lies the delightful archipelago of Sept Iles. In 1912 these islands received protection as a bird reserve and today the variety and numbers of birds are one of the major attractions for the paddler. They lie about 3 miles offshore and landing is prohibited on all except Ile aux Moines, which is easily distinguished by its lighthouse. The crossing of the channel from the mainland requires planning because of the speed of the tidal streams.
There are two obvious departure points, Ploumanac’h and Tregastel. Ploumanac’h is a delightful anchorage a couple of miles to the west of Perros Guirec and every effort should be made to visit it, if you are in the area. The water level is maintained in the harbour by a man made sill, so if the tide is dropping a short portage may be necessary. Ile de Costaeres, with its distinctive chateau, guards the entrance to the main channel into the harbour but beyond lie Sept Iles, the object of the paddle.
The tides run through the channel between the Cote de Granit Rose and Sept Iles reaching speeds of four knots on spring tides. Overfalls can occur close to Basse Meur and Basse du Chenal but crossing over at close to slack water will help to avoid the rough water, unless of course you are looking for that particular brand of excitement. The east going stream begins at about 4 hours before HW Roscoff and the west going starts at 2 hours after HW Roscoff.
Crossing over to the islands it is inevitable that numerous gannets will be wheeling in the vicinity of the kayaks. Ile Rouzic, the most easterly of the islands, is the site of France’s only gannet colony, with thousands of pairs cramped onto the steep slopes. Other birds may be seen such as Manx shearwaters, shelduck and the delightful puffin. A number of these birds are on the southern limit of their range.
I tend to head towards Ile aux Moines, where it is possible to land for lunch. On the western end are the remains of a fort commissioned by Louis XIV but not completed until 1729. It was manned by a small garrison until 1873 and then again briefly during the Second World War by the Germans. Today it remains disused as do the buildings on the northern side of Ile aux Moines, close to a slipway, which is probably the most suitable place on the island to stop for lunch. The pools to the north are a popular haunt of the grey seals which frequent the islands.
The lighthouse on Ile aux Moines was built in 1854 although it was destroyed on the 4th August 1944 by the retreating Germans. Reconstruction started in 1949 and the light was switched on again in July 1952. Today its light is visible for 24 miles and is one of the major navigational marks of northern Brittany. It marks the dangers presented by the seven islands of the archipelago.
The most westerly of the islands is more of a wave swept rock than an island; Le Cerf is exposed to the full power of the Atlantic swell. Swift tidal streams run between the rocks and can provide entertainment for those paddlers who seek pleasure in such areas. Ile Plate, slightly to the north of Ile aux Moines often provides a green backdrop to the lunch spot. The largest of the islands is Ile Bono, which is joined to Ile aux Moines at low water, rising to a height of 53 metres, it is the largest of the islands. Its whaleback ridge provides a spectacular backdrop as one threads a path through the reefs on the northern side of the island. The southern slopes drop far more steeply into the water.
It is in the vicinity of Ile Bono that Puffins are most likely to be encountered. As in so many other areas the puffin population has suffered catastrophic decline. It was estimated that there were 7,000 pairs present in 1950 but by 1990 this had dropped to 170 pairs. I would suggest that this is probably an optimistic number as I have never seen more than a handful in my visits. In contrast the gannet population has undergone significant growth. The first breeding was in 1939; by 1990 the population had risen to 7,700 pairs and then more than 15,000 pairs by 2003! One thing is certain; a paddler visiting these waters will encounter large numbers of these majestic sea birds.
To the north east of Ile Bono lie the smaller islands of Ile de Malban and Ile Rouzic. The latter is the gannet colony. Care needs to be exercised when approaching these islands in order to avoid disturbing the birds and landing is prohibited at all times. Human disturbance is the main threat to the diverse birdlife in the area although in the past the menace has arrived in a more unpleasant form. The black tide of an oil spill affected the islands from both the Torrey Canyon (1967) and Amoco Cadiz (1980).
All too soon the need to cross back to the mainland arises. Unless six hours are spent on the islands then one of the crossings will have to be made when it isn’t slack water. The ability to ferry glide, use transits and increase forward paddling speed if necessary are essential skills for a safe crossing too and from the islands. There are numerous pleasant bars in the coastal villages in which to savour a vin rouge or a pression after a great day on the water and to plan the next paddle. What is certain that one visit to Sept Iles is probably not enough to satisfy the demands of the discerning sea kayaker.
Coz Pors at Tregastel. Probably my favourite departure point for Sept Iles.
Heading across the channel. Sept Iles are clearly visible. What is not so obvious is the speed of the tidal flows.
The western end of Iles aux Moines. The lighthouse is a significant feature along this stretch of coast.
A great lunch spot. Seals are frequently encountered in the pool behind the paddlers.
Approaching the gannet colony on Ile Rouzic. Large seabird colonies are always an amazing sight.
Pete enjoying one of the many of the days that we have spent around Sept Iles over the last 20 years.