Minor cause for celebration today; I spent it at the keyboard and finally finished a job which has been hovering around for months. I’ve researched and assembled the South West section of a whitewater guidebook, ‘English White Water’. Actually, I did this over a decade ago, but a second edition is now imminent. I’ve increased the amount of whitewater trips described in my region by 50%; partly through input from other paddlers, partly through spending last winter paddling obscure ditches.
Working on guidebooks is always fun; they take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise have found the motivation to explore, and they get you out with friends, doing the thing you love. Hopefully they help others to do the same…
By way of celebration, here are a few pics to show the wonderful diversity of great whitewater paddling we are lucky enough to have in our part of the world. All of the pics are mine except the awesome one above, from Ali Marshall; I’m always too preoccupied on the River Plym to think about using a camera…
Enjoying Dartmoor’s River Erme, this morning. I haven’t paddled this classic whitewater run all winter, as I’ve been focussing on paddling lesser known and obscure sections as research for the upcoming guidebook. It was great to be reminded just how good a paddle it is, and why it’s a classic. With the guidebook in mind, we also explored the following stretch down to the sea, which turned out to be a surprisingly decent easy grade whitewater trip.
Sunshine didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the Erme…we also squeezed in a quick blast down the (also classic) upper River Dart, afterwards.
I’ve been doing a lot of work over half-term week for the second edition of the Pesda Press guidebook ‘English White Water’. I researched and wrote the South West section a decade ago, it’s been interesting to seek out, explore and write up many new sections of river over this last winter.
My favourite river remains unchanged, however. The Dart has truly given me the best of times and the worst of times, but I will never stop paddling it and enjoying it. I was sorting through my photos of the Dart a few days ago…here are a few favourites which I picked out. Some because they show the character and beauty of the river, some because they remind me of good times with good friends.
A waterfall in north Wales, somewhere in the Berwyn Mountains. We spent New Year with friends; paddling steep ditches, walking and getting soaked by constant rain. All good.
In other news…
…my New Year’s Resolution is to try and clock up two thousand and thirteen miles by human-powered means in 2013; in my case, that will mean hill running, mountain biking, kayaking and swimming. First challenge to get me motivated is a double-ultramarathon I’ve entered in one months’ time…oops, guess I’d better actually leave the house and do some running, seeing as I haven’t done any at all since last autumn.
…research and writing for the new edition of the guidebook English White Water continues; I’ve been motivated to seek out and discover a few new whitewater runs in Devon; great to know that there is still new whitewater waiting to be explored.
…the new edition of Canoe Kayak UK magazine (published on Jan 6th?) includes an article and photos by myself about the awesome Land’s End peninsula. Hope it’s of interest.
The photo above shows Start Point Lighthouse in South Devon. It was taken yesterday, about 48 miles into a 50 mile Adventure Race.
It wasn’t a boring day. A few friends and I took part in this great event, which started outside Princetown Prison, high on Dartmoor. We warmed up with a 2 mile run up to 1800 feet (with a great view of the sea, miles away…) and then hopped onto mountain bikes for a 25 mile ride across the moor and down to the River Dart estuary. We hopped into sea kayaks and a 9 mile paddle later, reached Dartmouth. All that was left was a somewhat murderous 14 mile coast path run to the finish near Start Point. The total climb through the event was somewhere over 6000 feet.
I certainly didn’t participate competitively – for evidence, I’d offer the leisurely ten minute toilet visit at one changeover, the time spent trying to help a guy fix his bike chain, and the interminable period when I got lost offroute on the bike section – so was chuffed and amazed to learn that I’d placed 12th overall. Surely not bad for a middle-aged lifelong slacker.
Anyway, the main thing is that – somewhat improbably – it was fantastic fun.
Pleasant bimble today, on my favourite river, which gave a National Park its name. I will never tire of it.
Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton were out after dark yesterday searching for some overdue paddlers (whom I understand turned up safe), and they were out training river crossings today on the upper reaches. They do great work for paddlers, please consider supporting them. Which reminds me, I have to go out and run now.
I just enjoyed a great start to the Christmas holidays with friends on my favourite river, the glorious Dart.
Paddlers judge the water level at ‘The Ledge’, a bedrock slab located just upstream of Newbridge. The Ledge is the put-in for the Dart Loop section (forgiving Grade 2 and 3) and the takeout for the Upper Dart, an outstanding section of Grade 4 in a deep valley.
In the past two decades I’ve paddled the Upper Dart hundreds of times, at levels ranging from ten inches below the ledge (bump and scrape) to 3-5 feet over (frankly terrifying). Today the water was exactly level with the ledge, which equates to a pleasant low-medium level with just enough water to pad out the rocks nicely.
After Saturday’s race, we headed to Devon and – party animal that I am – I was fast asleep by 9.30 pm. On the Sunday, I forced my aching legs into a creek boat and had a quick blast down the upper Dart River with friends. I then joined Heather and others on the easier part of the river, the classic ‘Loop’ section. I haven’t been on this section for a while; it was great to bob down the simple but engaging rapids whilst chatting with old friends and soaking up the tranquility and scenery of this lovely valley.
A great day paddling on the Dart. In the evening, I watched a presentation by some teenagers (some of whom pictured here) who just took part in an expedition to kayak India’s Zanskar River, the incredible ‘Grand Canyon of Asia’. I was more than ten years older than these guys when I took that particular trip on.
I hate to admit it, but today’s youngsters more skilled, fitter and more confident than my generation were at the same point. Time to retire and buy a zimmer frame…
A lurvely weekend on our favourite South West moor. The girls went off to one part of the moor and (presumably) did girly things, we blokes met up on another part of the moor and did (relatively) manly things. The River Dart was rather low on Saturday, but is always fun, and I appreciated a gentle paddle as my skills have suffered from only sea paddling recently.
This morning a friend and I attempted to make a MTB crossing of the moor. It was great fun and a stunning day (incidentally, I have no idea why my camera was set to Black and White), with spectacular views over the blue waters of Plymouth Sound and the south Devon coast. This venture did however involve pushing and carrying the bikes through about a zillion deep bogs. Dartmoor is lots of things, but it isn’t mountain bike Nirvana…
Pasted below are a few documents which will hopefully offer some insight into where all the money went from this year’s South West Sea Kayaking Meet. Each participant donated £30. The only outgoing cost from the money donated was that used to hire the the nasty stinky toilets. I donated £10 a head to the National Trust for each person who camped in their field. I did not realise this at the time, but it would seem that they intend to use this money to provide paddling facilities in the area (see letter below). The rest was donated to the RNLI and Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton. These are both charities who have offered direct assistance to kayakers in difficulty, in recent years.
National Trust: £750
Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton: £1000
No personal profit has been made from the event.
I hope that all makes sense; please get in touch if you have any further queries.
I do not intend to organise any further South West Sea Kayaking Meets, but I do think that they have been a success. Whilst there is clearly a market for high profile ‘Symposium’ events where paddlers pay significant monies to be led by famous coaches, low key low cost events like the SWSKM demonstrably also have a role to play in enabling paddlers to meet new peers and develop skills to paddle on their own initiative in safe group sizes and conditions. Sadly there don’t seem to be many such events at present; I really do hope that others will grab the baton and organise similar events. It’s honestly not that hard…pick an area with a range of paddling possibilities and good parking/ access, find a camping field, get some sensible mates to paddle with small groups, et voila! If you can raise some money for worthwhile causes along the way, all good.
Most of all, thanks again to all who participated and helped this year. I hope that you will be satisfied with where your donations have gone.
Back in December I injured my back (ironically, picking up a kayak) and have been a bit creaky ever since, on the road to recovery. The occasion of the accident was a white water kayaking event in Devon. Unable to paddle due to the pain, instead I popped a few painkillers, stuck a load of camera gear into a backpack, propped myself up on trekking poles, and hobbled into the upper Dart gorge.
It was a productive walk. The conditions were grim for photography (overcast damp fog and ice) but the resulting photos were good enough at least to pay for the weekend; some were used to fill a few pages in Canoe Kayak UK magazine, last issue. More pertinently, it wasn’t unpleasant to sit and reflect in this incredible Dartmoor environment. Not all of my memories of this place are happy ones, but the overwhelming majority certainly are.
Happy Birthday incidentally, to Canoe Kayak UK magazine – ten years old this month.