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…
The picture above was taken from the highest point of Exmoor, Dunkery Beacon. It was freezing cold and a raw wind was ripping through, so apologies for the quality. The indistinct blur seen top right is Steep Holm Island, where we’d both been paddling just a few weeks before. My friend and I had just explored a fairly obscure river on Exmoor, and afterwards waded through the snow to the summit.
And that…was pretty much all of my activity for the past fortnight. I then went down with flu which wiped out all of my energy, leading to four days straight laid out on the couch and also missing the big race I’d been training for – expensive and irritating. I’m still coughing, a week later.
My last adventure? No chance. But fatherhood has been encouraging me to make the best of any free time I have to get out and do ‘me’ things. I don’t think I’ll be going on any extended overseas whitewater kayaking expeditions for a while, but adventure can always be found if you look for it.
Rather conveniently, the weather has been outrageously wet over the last two months. I took advantage of biblical rain one day, to head to North Devon/ Somerset and explore a river valley that probably hasn’t seen a kayak previously. I was looking at a 3 km carry-in to the river; not such a big deal except that I kept getting blown over. Thankfully, after only a kilometre I found a flooded stream that I could launch on…this proved to be an amusing roller-coaster experience downhill, with the occasional sheep fence to duck or dodge. In due course I reached the main valley, and paddled down a surprisingly sizeable river, the Badgworthy Water. The whitewater wasn’t hard, but it was never dull and this is what whitewater paddling is all about for me…never knowing what is around the next corner. This rather stunning place is also known as the ‘Lorna Doone Valley’ after R.D. Blackmore’s novel which is set here.
In due course the river reached the road and became the East Lyn River, already well known as one of Britain’s finest whitewater trips. At these levels the whitewater was tending towards the challenging, and I hopped ashore and called it a day 2 km before the river flowed into the sea…soloing the final Grade 5 gorge wouldn’t have been the best idea, not for a new parent, at least! I went back this last weekend and paddled the lower sections down to the sea in more sensible levels (=photo of me paddling below, from Simon Knox).
In 2002-3 I spent a winter season researching and writing up the whitewater rivers of the South West for this guidebook. I’m frankly amazed that I missed this lovely little river, it gives me hope that there is more exploring to be done in this part of the world…
A friend recovers from a long mountain bike ride from the highest point of Exmoor (Dunkery Beacon) down to sea level at Porlock Weir in Somerset. Rest he might, as this was his stag weekend and he just has a few frantic weeks left to prepare for his wedding. I’d planned the ride, and promised everyone that it was ‘downhill’. Indeed it was downhill, except for the bits that weren’t. There was a certain amount of mutinous whingeing amongst the team, but I tackled dissent by constantly riding ahead out of earshot of complaints, and by maintaining secure possession of the only map.
One stunning feature of Exmoor National Park is the way that – despite consisting of high moorland – the sea is always there, a long way below. We’ve paddled the awesome coast many times, peering up at some of Britain’s highest cliffs. Riding atop them was a new and memorable experience, and I will certainly be back for more soon.
We paddled the splendid East Lyn River in north Devon this weekend, trying not to notice the bitterly cold wind blowing off the Bristol Channel and up the gorge. I was a happy man as it was the first time I’ve been in a boat since breaking a rib a month ago.
The East Lyn drains high Exmoor and falls steeply down to the sea at Lynmouth, amongst some wonderful coast. Whilst the East Lyn certainly deserves the title ‘Valley of the Rocks’, this name actually belongs to a bizarre dry valley perched above the sea nearby. Many geologists suspect that the East Lyn used to flow down this valley amongst the granite tors that characterise it.
We arrived after sunset and enjoyed the last light of the day there, communing with goats. There’s not much to do in Devon.
The Valley of the Rocks seen from the sea, 2007.
We spent a very pleasant and sociable weekend at the first North Devon Sea Kayak Meet, many thanks to Rob Mc for organising it. Met nice people, soaked up sunshine, enjoyed glorious scenery, ate burgers, watched dolphins jumping about. Splendid.
Wikipedia knows absolutely everything. So much does Wikipedia know and know well, that it is now entirely redundant to attempt to impart any knowledge at all in your own words. After all, Wikipedia will always know it better and explain it better…
‘At 7:52pm on 12 January 1899, a 1,900 ton three-masted ship Forrest Hall, carrying thirteen crew and five apprentices, was in trouble off Porlock Wier on the North Somerset coast due to a severe gale which had been blowing all day. She had been under tow, but the tow rope had broken. She was dragging her anchor and had lost her steering gear. The ship’s destruction was a distinct probability. The alarm was raised for the Louisa (the Lynmouth lifeboat) to be launched to assist. However, due to the terrible weather, it was impossible for the lifeboat to be launched. Jack Crocombe, the coxswain of Louisa proposed to take the boat by road to Porlock’s sheltered harbour — 13 miles around the coast — and launch it from there.
The boat plus its carriage weighed about 10 tons, and transporting it would not be easy. 20 horses and 100 men started by hauling the boat up the 1 in 4 Countisbury Hill out of Lynmouth. 6 of the men were sent ahead with picks and shovels to widen the road. The highest point is 1423 feet above sea level. After crossing the 15 miles of wild Exmoor paths, the dangerous Porlock Hill had to be descended with horses and men pulling ropes to stall the descent; during this they had to demolish part of a garden wall and fell a large tree to make a way. The lifeboat eventually reached Porlock Weir at 6:30 A.M. and was finally launched.
Although cold, soaking wet, hungry and exhausted, the crew rowed for over an hour in treacherous seas to reach the stricken Forest Hall and rescue the thirteen men and five apprentices with no casualties; but four of the horses used died of exhaustion. The Forrest Hall was towed into Barry, Wales.’
The empty glass cabinet pictured below used to house a barometer which was built to commemorate this incredible rescue. However, the small white label explains that some git stole it, back in the 1980′s.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan
Whilst Coleridge was first writing down the words of Kubla Khan, which he claimed to have composed whilst in a laudanum-induced trance, he was famously interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’, causing him to forget much of the verse.
Porlock is on the Exmoor coast, east of Lynmouth and over the border into Somerset. We visited Porlock for our first time on Monday. It turned out to be very nice…
After our glorious day of paddling along Devon’s Exmoor coast, we woke up to strengthening winds and choppy seas. As the tide was against us, we spent the morning walking the cliffs and seeking out a rather pleasant Sunday roast at a nearby pub.
When we did finally launch, it was just for the short hop to Lynmouth. The coast just west of Lynmouth is dominated by the Valley of Rocks, a dry valley which might once have carried the flows of the nearby Easy and West Lyn Rivers. The valley is peppered with weird and wonderful rock formations, including granite stacks which tower above the sea.
As we arrived at Lynmouth, so did the rain and the forecast strong winds. It made for a miserably wet night…
The high plateau of Exmoor National Park meets the Bristol Channel rather rudely and abruptly, with an average drop-off of around 300 metres down to sea level. Sometimes the height is lost in steeply wooded slopes, sometimes in England’s highest cliffs. The effect down at kayaker’s eye level, is that everything appears to be fairly big.
We planned to paddle from Woolacombe to Minehead over this Easter weekend, but the lousy turn in the weather beat us, and we only completed half of the trip, as far as Lynmouth. What we did paddle was fantastic.