My first trip on the Upper Swale

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.

Green Field Beck and the Upper Wharfe

Flooding had been widespread the previous week, so we were expecting some highish levels at the weekend, but on looking at Aysgarth Lower Falls for a trip on Sunday, it was apparent that overnight rain had brought the level back up to higher than the comfort level of some potential participants (me, for a start:-). Thinking there might be more water still to come, we opted to hop up Bishopdale, over the top and down into Langstrothdale, pausing for a glance at Cray Gill en route (that needed loads more water).

We parked by the river in Hubberholme, and the Upper Wharfe looked to be at a nice level. We consolidated the boats onto a single car and headed up to Beckermonds, scouting through the car window on the way. Nowhere was it truly massive, but the highish level encouraged us to think about tributaries. Jim was keen to see if we could get on and paddle Green Field Beck which gave us 3km or so of flooded ditch from a layby towards the end of the public road (it’s actually public further than the sign might make you believe, but gets further from the water). There were a few odd low bits (a steel rail, an almost invisible single wire, and a pole, the latter just above a drop) to shimmy under, and one fence which required a portage.

Doug on the drop, Green Field Beck

Walking round this, we could see a bit of a horizon line ahead, so made a quick inspection of a drop which had not been seen from the road. There was quite a bouncy bit down to the confluence with Oughtershaw Beck at Beckermonds where the combined waters became the River Wharfe. A nice warm-up!

Having been able to see a large proportion of the rest of the river from the Langstrothdale road on the way up, we needed to inspect only one drop, which caused a couple of rolls, but no great difficulty. After rain, this stretch has almost continuous rapids, ledge drops and the odd sticky stopper, a well worthwhile bit of upland paddling if you can catch it at a nice level like this.

Pete on the drop which caused most upsets, Upper Wharfe

Thanks to Jim, Pete and Doug.