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.
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.
The image shows the normally tiny stream which trickles through the village of Corfe Castle, transformed into raging torrent by extremely heavy rainfall, on the back of many concurrent weeks of wetness. Half an hour later, it had risen high enough to flood across and close the main road through the village.
I’d just returned from a failed paddling trip; I’d headed early this morning to Dartmoor with a friend to paddle some of the steeper rivers, but no paddling took place. We hit monsoon-like rains in West Dorset and East Devon, and encountered numerous flooded roads. Various rivers in the SW hit their highest recorded flows this morning, and we blundered right into the midde of it. Most impressive was a steep uphill road which had rocks flushing down it…I don’t recall that in the Highway Code! The Police turned us around eventually, saying that all roads heading west were out of action. The drive back was a nightmare, as of course the roads we’d passed were now more flooded. I made it back home after a five hour trip starting and finishing at my front door…
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.
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…
Yesterday happened to be the hottest October day ever in Britain.
We had all sorts of plans for things to do, which for various reasons fell to pieces (e.g. traffic jams, friends’ vans breaking down, etc) but still managed to fit in a cooling evening surf at Bantham, south Devon. We certainly missed the empty line-ups of the Scottish islands, but it was fun.
We slept atop the cliffs with the van door open and sleeping bags unzipped.
This morning at dawn, I walked down to Soar Mill Cove to visit some friends who were paddling the south Devon coast (I would have been with them, had I got organised) and another baking day commenced.
The planet is broken.
An 8 mile walk from Seaton (Devon) to Lyme Regis (Dorset) through the Undercliffs National Nature Reserve, on this muggy hazy March day. This remarkable and forbidding landscape was created by a series of major landslips, most famously the Bindon landslip of 1839; a huge chasm formed within the Undercliff, with a corresponding (and shortlived) wall of rock appearing out to sea. The Undercliffs have since become heavily overgrown and are effectively a wilderness ecosystem, with only one narrow path running through the 300 hectare reserve.
Evening dinner of Thai green curry, using fresh Lyme Bay prawns. All good.
The article which Canoe Kayak UK featured about the 2010 South West Sea Kayaking Meet is now available to read online, here. Many thanks to the magazine Editor and author of the article, Jason Smith.
A little excitement whilst rockhopping the South Hams coast, during the South West Sea Kayaking Meet earlier this month. The great pics were supplied by Glenn and Anne. No kayakers were harmed in the making of these pics. Much.