The Upper Swale rises and falls very quickly, so catching it at a paddleable (but not ridiculously scary) level is difficult. The result is trips thrown together at short notice with whoever is available, often midweek, and often a mixture of club and non-affiliated paddlers. 21st December 2011 saw the Swale quite high, having dropped but with some more rain bringing it back up. A phone call from Dave Peel, with three other paddlers from Durham (Rory Woods, Sandra Hyslop and Rob Parker) offered a trip (it’s always easier to run a shuttle with two cars) with the level heading up towards 1 metre.
I later learned that a lot of folk consider 1m to be quite a chunky level, and maybe a bit on the high side for your first trip, but I didn’t know this at the time, so jumped at the chance. We dropped a car at Keld and put in at Hoggarths Bridge, to give us a kilometre or so of warm up before the first of several waterfalls, at Wainwath. At lower levels, a lot of groups will put on here, which means they get a good look at the line. Without that luxury, I misunderstood the instructions and was trying to get further right than is actually feasible – the result being that I ran over a slot into a big stopper that was probably about the worst spot I could have picked. Already somewhat nervous, the sound of the fall drumming on the hull of the boat convinced me to bail out without waiting to see if I would wash clear for a roll up – not an auspicious start. However, after that things only got better. At Park Bridge we could see the gauge was just on 1.00m as we passed (and the EA gauge graph shows it was peaking around the time we ran).
I got a fairly good line on Rainby (the first fall given grade 5 in the guide) and rolled up first time. “The rapid” which followed shortly looked unforgiving of mistakes, so I chose to walk round it. I was a little off-line on Catrake Force, but survived the first drop, paddled round a bit choosing a point to run the second drop, and caught the edge of a ledge on this – but again rolled up first time. There’s lots of good paddling apart from the drops, but soon we were at Kisdon, where I was very pleased with my boof over the left-hand side on the Upper Falls. Inspecting the Lower, and seeing a scary run slightly off line by Sandra, I reckoned discretion was the better part of valour and chose not to run this on my first trip. The video below shows the drops and a lot of the paddling in between so gives a pretty fair picture of the river at this level. Enjoy !
The video was shot in HD, so watch it on youtube for the full 1280×720 resolution.