Kayaking (La Coruna): The River Sor and Estaca de Bares
This works either as a family outing or as a high-sea adventure to Spain’s northernmost point. The river Sor is the perfect setting for a leisurely paddle (the big kayaks take two adults and a small child), up or down the stunning river and stopping to swim and picnic. Alternatively, there is a shoulder-burning workout that takes you out to the cliffs at Estaca de Bares. There are also plenty of other options within the estuary with its large selection of coves and beaches.
The river Sor is the natural divide between the provinces of Lugo and La Coruña, running out to sea at Spain’s northern tip at Estaca de Bares. The Sor estuary has been declared a natural protected area and, nestled in a sheltered corner of the estuary is O’Barqueiro, a minute but active and very pretty fishing village, where Estaca (group running the excursions we recommend) is based. The river Sor is well known for it’s fishing (clams, bass, and trout in particular) and the Sor valley for its fruit trees, while just up-stream from O’Barquiero you will find the largest camellia farm in Europe. Most of the kayaking takes place on the lower 6km of water but, when conditions are right, the Sor is navigable from 40km up-stream and longer trips can be organised. The lower part of the river, where you are likely to be paddling, enjoys a micro-climate, hence the abundance of rich vegetation, and your excursion will take you past apple and pear orchards, forests of eucalyptus and oak, and abandoned magical gardens running down to the water’s edge. At low tide, you will pass massive sand-banks, on which you are likely to see what appear to be groups of legs with trouser rolled up to the knees. These are in fact professional clam-pickers (marisqueiras) bent double collecting one of the river’s most famous products (see food recommendations below). Beware of collecting clams yourself: they can be picked under license only and there can be heavy fines if you are caught taking a bucket home for dinner! You will also paddle past the Island of San Martín, home to one of the first convents in history, which disappeared in the fifteenth century. There are plenty of spots to stop for a swim and to picnic, and for much of the journey the transparent water (depending on the tide) may only be knee deep over a sandy bottom. Ask your guide (or before leaving if you choose not to take one) for the best places to do this.
The canoes and guides that we recommend are based in O’Barquiero and all excursions start here (40-minute drive from Cedeira), either casting-off from the quay or in the minibus if the tide requires a downstream paddle for example. On a falling tide, the minibus will drop you and the kayaks at your launching point upriver. The kayaks used are self-draining and non-sinkable, which basically means that they are more stable than the more streamline traditional canoe. There are 1-man and 2-man versions (the latter can also be used with a small child between two adults). The kayaks can be quite comfortable if you take the time to adjust your seat (basically a back support crossing the width of the kayak), so make sure you do this before setting off, and you will find that it is not difficult to adopt quite a laid-back paddling position. These are kayaks that you sit on rather than in. The excursions on the river (as opposed to the estuary or open sea) are, generally speaking, suitable for most ages and levels of fitness. After all, there is no race: if you go without a guide you set your own pace, and if you choose to take one (recommended as it will only cost €2/person more and they can advise you on the best spots for stopping), they will adapt to your pace anyway. Wind is your worst enemy in a kayak, and there are stretches of river, particularly as it widens out downstream, where a head wind can turn even a gentle river trip into reasonable exercise. However, this is easily overcome by giving some thought to your pairings before setting out (perhaps avoid putting both grandparents together for example!). Having said this, you can also swap and change along the way, as there are plenty of places where you can stop on the shore.
Dos Xtremos recommends……..Estaca, an operation run out of O’Barqueiro offering a wide selection of kayaks and canoes, and a variety of excursions (with or without a guide). You can rent kayaks for 2 hours, half-days, or whole days (see link below for price and more information). The river trips are most definitely for the whole family but some of the excursions, for example to Estaca de Bares (Spain’s dramatic northern tip), require a reasonable level of fitness. For this particular trip, for example, the guides will also provide up-to-date advice over the phone regarding weather conditions.
Open sea excursion to Estaca de Bares
The excursion to Estaca de Bares, for example, is rated "intermediate", although the day I made this trip the wind and swell were definitely enough to warrant a "high" rating in my opinion! The stiff offshore southerly wind was much appreciated on the outward leg (although it also meant an early wet bottom for the man in the back) but it took some effort and co-ordination to head back into it on the way home (on this leg the back seat was certainly preferable, so if you do this and start in the back –as I did- don’t make the mistake of swapping halfway through!) However, canoeing in a considerable swell off Spain’s northern-most point is a highly recommendable experience. The sound of the sea thundering up against the base of the cliffs and reverberating back is awesome, and losing sight of the other canoe (your monitor!) in the next rough, while a little disconcerting at first, is all part of the adventure; everything these sea-faring kayaks lack in streamlineliness they gain in stability, and they are, I am told, virtually impossible to capsize. The trip was thrilling without there ever being any real sense of danger. The monitor, Fran, makes these excursions pretty much all year round and knows the local conditions well. In addition, Estaca have a large zodiac on hand if there are any problems or if anyone gets tired. The boat checked on us just as we turned back into the wind, but we were glad that we chose to take on the tough homeward paddle as the experience of surfing down the swells into a head wind was not to have been missed.
We docked at the sleepy fishing village of Bares. There is little left these days (except a nice sandy beach that sweeps up-river and a good quality seafood restaurant), but this was once a prosperous port. If you marvel at the perfectly rounded boulders that make up the sea-wall that protects the village’s handful of fishing boats and wonder how erosion could have done such a precise job, this is because the sculpting process has taken some 1500 years; these stones were part of the original sea-wall, probably built by the Phoenicians.
Icing on the cake….to top off your day, eat at La Marina on the quay at O’Barquiero. Good quality, cheap, local fair: try the tortilla, the veal cooked in the oven, and, of course the seafood (one day I ate the best clams ever here). And then a siesta on the beach at Celtigos (15 minute drive on the way back to Cedeira).