March 4th had up to eleven people signed up for a trip on the Duddon in the SW Lake District, and the forecast suggested enough rain Friday and Saturday to make it a good trip. One found an alternative very early. Friday’s rain was minimal and we waited anxiously to see what Saturday night would bring – answer, not a lot. The online EA gauges saved us a wasted drive and we met up at Bowes car park at 9 a.m. to look for alternatives. One pair had already failed, as their boats were temporarily locked up in Durham awaiting the arrival of a critical key (they went to the Upper Tees instead). The Kent looked runnable but very low, and the Levens was further away, and, being lake-fed would not come up quickly. After some debate we decided to try the Lune which runs south from Tebay by the M6. Another pair (who’d paddled this recently) cried off at the rumour of this choice, whilst two more applied Mary’s rule of not paddling if it was below 4 degrees at 9 a.m. ! So we were down to just four.
We knew it was six inches above the lowest we’d run it, and the morning’s awful weather (rain, sleet on the A66, snow on the tops) had brought it up to an almost ideal level. Those who eventually assembled at Low Gill viaduct were lucky with the weather, as the rain abated before we got changed, and a vicious sleet shower kindly waited until we had finished and just completed the return shuttle before blotting out the scenery.
Whilst we did the initial shuttle, Low Gill had come up, but was still not quite in condition to save us walking down to the put-in. The main river, however, was up enough to avoid scraping (checking later showed it was 0.7m on the Killington gauge). Once we reached the first gorge it was playful and boily with lots of sharp eddy lines and waves to play on – enough to require one roll, at least ! At this level the gorge seemed to last longer than usual, but, soon enough, we were passing under the jumping bridge and onto flat water for a while.
Crowders Leaps is next – a rapid which varies a great deal with level, from a narrow awkward slot to a big fast and turbulent rapid. At mid-levels like this, it’s usually quite easy, but you do need to get a reasonable approximation to the right line into the top to avoid being tipped hard on edge at the start. I hadn’t done this in the playboat before, and didn’t have quite enough speed to get where I thought I was going. At least it’s easy to roll, although I did seem to come up in a very funny position, as if mid-way through a rock splat 🙁
An “interesting” line down a shallow channel on the left proved to be a daft idea, and to compound it, people followed. Only Andy persevered right to the end… must be trying to delay the main event – the Strid. Again, this is at it’s most technical when low, and at this level is relatively easy, though always a little intimidating and the waves tend to chuck you about towards the rock walls which are passing quite fast !
Pete hitting a good line on the Strid
We all made it down this upright, but in the cold water, no-one seemed to fancy a second run to try to improve style. A short awkward slot leads on and into the second (Killington) gorge, shorter than the first, and perhaps a little less playful at this level. This ends with a rock, which, in warmer conditions, is good for jumping off. Richard must have more blubber than me, as he considered it quite warm enough today !
We had time to get changed and debate tea-shop options, then do the return shuttle before the weather turned really nasty, with wind-blown heavy sleet across the moors driving back to Tebay. Overall a better day than had seemed likely at the start, so thanks to Pete, Richard and James.