Autumn sea kayaking off Skye

The Black Cuillin is the heart of Skye, but it is surrounded by fabulous paddling – here heading to Elgol

Andy, Mary and Sarah Waddington, with Ann Jones and Kim Ball, spent up to five days sea kayaking off the coast of Skye in September. A week and less out, the forecast looked bleak and we were fully expecting to be doing training exercises cowering in sheltered spots with easy road escapes. In fact, the weather forecast improved, and the actual conditions were pretty consistently better than forecast. From practising contact tow rescues in the tide race under the Skye Bridge we progressed to a trip round the Strathaird peninsula, visiting a big sea cave with better formations than we normally see on Caving Section trips, then more underground exploration under Wiay in Loch Bracadale. Dodging the crowds of seals in the sun was the issue in Loch Dunvegan, and we finished the trip with more caves and tide races, going east to west round Skye’s most northerly headland, Rubha Hunish. Did I mention that the place is positively infested with Sea Eagles ? We saw seven, and that’s assuming every one we saw within a few minutes was the same one that had gone out of sight earlier… There were definitely three at once at one stage. Overall a very fine place for a week of day tripping.


Staying at the Skye Boat Centre at Strollamus (a few miles beyond Broadford as you come form the mainland), we started out fairly local with a bit of navigation in sheltered water with tide movement – under the Skye bridge (which runs up to 3 knots at springs, which this was, although we were after the peak flow). The interesting feature of the tide here is that it runs at very different times depending on how close to springs, and can change by large margins with low pressure, heavy rain, or S/SW winds. We found it running pretty much to the schedule given by the Pilot which is as we’d expected given the calm weather. We soon found that we could use eddies behind the bridge pillars to get upstream, and ferry across to the mainland side. As the slight breeze was with the tide, everything was fairly calm and we played at various techniques for breaking in and out before the flow started to drop off. Various low-lying islands towards Plockton then provided a visually confusing environment to navigate, but we soon established the speed at which the group were paddling and used this to keep track of where we were, so arrived at the Black Islands pretty much where we expected to find them. Unfortunately, the sandy lunch beach was still below the waves, so we found a more shingly beach right below the railway on the mainland. On the return, we had a bit more breeze, but still found time to look about and spot various starfish and crabs below the water.

We met quite a stiff headwind as we headed back to the bridge, and as this was now opposing the tide heading into Loch Alsh, there were waves to surf. The tide was running maybe two knots under the bridge, so this seemed like an interesting place to practice some rescue techniques. We were soon paddling into the middle of the channel, catching a wave and then throwing away the paddle to await assistance. Three of us all got a go at being paddle-retriever, rescuer, and rescued, using a contact tow technique which is very quick to set up and works very well for the short distance out of the tide race.

Ann Towing Mary towards the mainland shore

One thing that became apparent is that a rescuer in a long boat towing someone in a short boat has an easier job than vice versa, as less of the victim’s bow is in the way of the rescuer paddling. With boats of the same length, you need to be careful not to get the pointy end bumping in to your paddling arm or shoulder – not a problem as the breeze dropped off again, but more of an issue if the water was rougher.

With one hand on the deck line and one on the stern, the victim keeps the bow as close to the rescuer’s cockpit as possible.


Sarah has not done that much sea kayaking, so we were avoiding getting committed to any long distances – today we put in on the east side of the Strathaird peninsula to paddle round to Elgol on the west. On the way, we knew that there was a spectacular cave, but there are few landmarks and although buildings are marked on the map, these are hidden from below the cliffs, so we had to keep very careful track of where we were to be able to find it. I decided that as conditions were very benign, I would start out using a Greenland paddle. I’d struggled previously to get the angle of entry right and found the paddle would flutter under power, which is very disconcerting. However, Kim knew exactly how to grip the paddle to get the angle right without needing to watch it every stroke, and this proved to be the key to the paddle feeling quite natural and fairly efficient within just a few minutes. I was back to my usual rock-hopping within a short distance, though this did prove that the GP is perhaps not quite as robust as fibreglass – this would be why Inuits tipped the blades with bone to resist the rocks !

Paddling SSW from Kilmarie

The weather was glorious for September, and the low cliffs of eroded sandstone (with occasional dykes and sills) were continuously interesting in the sunshine, as well as providing boulders to paddle round and behind.

Mary rock-hopping
Mary rock-hopping along the Starthaird coast

We found just enough landmarks to keep ourselves pinpointed, and found a very deep geo at just the right place. We landed here, and followed it 100m inland to where, hidden behind fern-draped man-made walls, the cave headed off left under the hillside. This would be quite a difficult place to reach from above since sheer walls guard all sides.

Inside, the cave was high enough that those without helmets were at no risk of hitting the roof, and to my surprise we quickly came to a great ramp of flowstone with microgours. This was a steep climb to quite a height, and very well decorated towards the top, where the roof was still very high, and water dripping from that height had created cave pearls in the gour pools.

Spar Cave

A further climb went down to a deep clear pool, and more passage lay tantalisingly on the far side, receding beyond the range of even my photon cannon, which was, however, providing plenty of light for shooting UHD video. Having no rope for assistance, and mindful of the potential for embarrassment if unable to climb back up, we left the further reaches for a future visit. The climb down to return to the boats also looked more intimidating from the top, but, whilst flowstone can be slippery, microgours are actually pretty grippy, and much as for the improbable friction on Skye’s gabbro mountains, walking down was possible pretty much without needing handholds. Perhaps we should have gone for the continuing passage…

Climbing down the gours in Spar Cave
Climbing back down – this is a video frame, not a flash photo !

Back at the boats, sitting in the shade of the geo seemed a tad chilly on such a sunny day, so we headed a bit further to round the tip of the peninsula and find a warmer spot for lunch. Then round the island of Eilean na h-Airde it was just a short way to the slipway at Elgol where, by now, the tourist crowds had mostly dispersed, so we could get the cars down to the boats with relative ease.


A somewhat longer drive took us to Loch Bracadale and Harlosh, where we put in for what would prove to be the dullest weather of the week, with a bit of drizzle at times, but very little wind. We headed out SSW, soon crossing to Harlosh Island, where we hugged the SE coast, finding various caves on the way. The plan was now to cross to Wiay, but visibility wasn’t brilliant, so we carefully established the direction we needed to head, in case we should lose sight of the destination. We wanted a specific spot, to land for lunch, but aimed some way to the left, so if we hit the coast in a fog, we’d know to turn right to find our beach. As it worked out, the shower cleared away and visibility ahead got better rather than worse, and we were soon enough eating sandwiches on damp rocks at the back of Camas na Cille. From here, fortified, we set off anti-clockwise round the island, heading for the SW tip in a low swell. This can be quite an exposed bit of coast in typical southwesterlies, but today conditions proved almost ideal for poking into geos and caves. We explored both ends of what proved to be the same rift, which, in a few thousand years perhaps, will split off a new island at Rubha Garbh (rough headland). Further east the map had promising words like “Geodha nan Faochag” and “Natural Arch”. I soon found that in the narrow recesses of a long cave, the swell rose up to form breaking waves, and was glad to have entered into the dark zone backwards, so I could see these coming…

More caves and geos were scattered along the south and east coasts, though we were distracted from these by the sight of sea eagles soaring above the cliffs, coming and going from sight. Tearing our eyes back to the paddling in hand, we found a particularly fine arch soon before we started our crossing back north.

We next headed to the southern tip of Tarner Island, as this offered a break in the crossing back towards Harlosh, and a bit of rock hopping up its west coast. We landed again on Harlosh Island for a quick snack before retracing our route up the coast back to Harlosh and the cars at Camas Ban.


Sarah now left us to do some photography and to have a day to recover before heading for the Wet West Paddlefest where she would meet Michael, Peely and a cast of thousands… We, meanwhile headed back on the same road as yesterday, but a bit further, to Loch Dunvegan. Far fewer cliffs and caves today, but this was made up for by the huge numbers of seals, all of whom were quite used to people in the vicinity as a tourist boat was bringing visitors past at regular intervals. We headed SW, away from our eventual destination of Stein, to cruise round in the sun, watching the wildlife. When we eventually crossed to the east, looking for a lunch stop, I found that breakfast had run out and had to stop and wrestle with the day hatch to gain chocolate. I struggled a bit to catch up and after lunch I elected to dawdle round the south end of Iosaigh looking for the abandoned village and doing some fishing whilst the others padded round the north end and back down to meet me. By this point I had recovered my energy and we set off briskly to cross past Sgeir nam Biast (I was still towing my trolling line behind). About halfway across it became apparent that I had caught something, as my line went taut and the stern of the boat swung rapidly left. Whatever it was, it had a lot more pulling power than the Pollack we’d caught in Lofoten and I was looking forward to an impressive supper when the line went suddenly slack. Pulling it in, it became clear that my sea monster had the better of my monofilament, and had made off with my spinner, so that was the end of fishing for the day.


As there is now an embedded video, I’ve moved this last paddle to its own post.

Trying out the Nomad

While I’ve been paddling the Stomper quite happily for a while now, it did get split, and has been welded. The issue is that there’s another deep gouge that I think will split soon, and I can only take one creek boat to the alps – if that splits I will have a problem. So one solution that presented itself was to both weld and fibreglass the H2 (now eleven years old and getting a little thin) whilst the other was to take someone else’s boat. Most of those I wouldn’t fit, but a bit of trial showed that I did fit in Sarah’s Nomad. But would it have enough volume to cope with my weight in alpine water ? The only place to find out, in summer, was going to be the Upper Tees.

Dropping in to the top of Dogleg

The first run of Dogleg was not quite the line I’d want, though I did stay upright and didn’t have to do anything frantic to achieve that. I didn’t get stood on end, though it did feel as though the trim wasn’t quite right. I went a bit more left than ideal over the middle drop, so went back to see if I could get a better line.

Second time over the middle drop – a bit more to the right

Further right gave me a bit more time between the middle drops, though I didn’t get enough punch to get across the boily pool and make the eddy here. The second drop was a bit messy, too, but I wasn’t heeled as far over as on the first run, and it only took a couple of strokes to line up to the right of pinning rock. Two runs seemed enough, so we headed on down. This is all fairly easy stuff, but one little drop is quite a good indicator for turning the boat going off the drop – if all goes well, you end up tight into the eddy on the right, badly and you hit the rock or have to eddy left.

The little drop that needs a boof to the right is a good test

That landed me good and tight in the eddy right. Horseshoe is just a matter of being on line at the top, and then straight down, turning only as soon as needed to avoid Jacuzzi Chute. No problem. So Low Force is the boof test. It wasn’t rock bottom levels (which is good – I still haven’t quite got the hang of avoiding being kicked right by the rock lip on the left when it is very low). The camera on a pole is very good for showing the line and timing of the boof stroke (and you can see when the paddler has got his weight forward properly). All three runs worked well, though I failed to get my weight back forward quickly for landing on the third.

Straight down the water avoids the rock on the left, leaving the boof stroke to kick the boat out into the middle of the pool

It wasn’t really wet enough to carry on down to Newbiggin, but there was enough water to take the right-hand line on the drop before Wynch bridge. Getting there on line is a good test and this went pretty well.

Heading down the promontory to boof past the stoppers, Wynch bridge

So, the boat seemed to do the job (and will be going to the alps). The other test going on here was a new version of the GoPro on a pole behind the paddler. This was a bit less successful – the means of attachment to the boat was fiddly and didn’t look likely to cope with a lot of use. Video from the camera was distressingly wobbly – though still frames (as seen here) all seemed good. These were using one of the Hero 3 cameras (a Hero 4 being used for headcam) at 1920x1440p48, which gives only just over 20ms between frames, and can be used for x2 slow motion if combined with the 24 fps footage I was taking on the headcam. Unless I can make the pole a bit stiffer and the attachment mechanism a bit more usable, I think I won’t be using this system in the alps. Probably not a bad thing, as I do have a bit of a record of failing to roll with a pole-cam on the boat… This was also the first time I’d tried out paddling with elbow pads (potentially a good idea when it’s warm enough to paddle in a shorty cag). I wasn’t sure how much these would prove awkward or distracting, so I was quite pleased that once on the water, I hardly noticed they were there.

Totally eclipsed by clouds

Well, not quite – in fact thin cloud made it possible to look at the sun and moon, at least briefly. Photography was a little less successful as all my really long lenses are from old Contax cameras, with Canon adapters which don’t provide autofocus. The two shots here were taken with a really good quality zoom – Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm, and a rather lower quality 500mm mirror lens from Centon, combined with a Canon x1.4 teleconverter. Manual focus whilst staring at something really quite bright is not ideal, and the tripod was perhaps not as rock steady as these sort of lenses need…

210mm f/32 1/200

The best of the photos with the Vivitar was taken with the smallest aperture, f/32

700mm f/8 1/1600

Like any mirror lens, this one has a fixed aperture, in this case f/8. The “real” aperture would be f/11, since the teleconverter knocks it down a stop (the diameter stays the same, but the focal length goes up).

Evading the issue

We’ve just had circulated a load of minutes from what is now apparently “British Canoeing”. Most of this is taken up with their rebranding exercise. This seems to be a response to a perceived need to change from the “BCU” name which is now regarded as too polluted by car stickers like this:

So, rather than trying to become relevant, or not be a monopoly of competitive sport governors purporting to represent recreational paddlers, for whom they have achieved very little during my lifetime, they just find it easier to change the name so that the stickers don’t work against them. As if that will do anything to make the cynics hold them in higher regard. It’s the non-paddling members of our club committee (the walkers, mountain bikers, climbers, cyclists, orienteers, cavers, skiers and so on) that seem to favour affiliation to a “National body” and indeed some of these sports do seem to have useful ones, unlike the paddlers. Most paddlesport is recreational, not competitive, and it is wholly unreasonable for a body purporting to represent recreational paddlers to style themselves a “governing body”. The adoption of that term was one of the main reasons for my leaving the British Cave Research Association when it transformed into the British Caving Association (and adopted its divisive and immoral insurance scheme – the main reason why I resigned from affiliated clubs). The British Mountaineering Council have a much better model – they reluctantly became the governing body of competitive climbing not because they embraced its ideals, but to be able to stop it from moving onto natural crags and destroying their character (in much the way that slalomists invade natural rivers…)

If we had a body to represent recreational paddlers’ interests which actually promised some sort of progress on things we care about, then we might accept that it could have a role in keeping competitive sport in its place, but to be “governed” in any way shape or form, is wholly unwarranted and unacceptable. Whatever the brand.


We were rather expecting a bit of a scrape, but levels had been rising since the last EA gauge updates and we found the Wharfe moving pleasingly fast to save all the flat paddling on this mostly fairly tame section. Slightly too fast for one person on this beginners’ trip, but an exit was made very quickly, with no great distance to retreat to the cars. Loup Scar rapid had some quite boily eddy lines, but straight down the middle would have been very straightforward. There’s little else of any note on this section, except for Appletreewick Falls, which is an easy portage for those who had no intention of going anywhere near what the guidebook describes as very canoeist-hungry stoppers. That proved, in fact, to be everyone except me. I’d already been declared the expendable probe for this trip, but here I was merely expendable, since no-one needed the results of a probe.

Keep hard left on the right hand side of the island

We’d already looked and decided that the left hand side had no navigational difficulties, but led unavoidably into a big stopper with boxed in ends, so that looked a bad option. The right hand side had a fairly easy line that led, if you got it just right, to a bit of a tongue through the even meatier stopper. The trouble with that line was that there was more than one horizon line, and no landmarks, so hitting the tongue would be a little hit-and-miss. A line in at the left hand edge of the right channel could catch a big eddy, or just stay left of the main wave train, and then continue close to the island, hitting a much smaller stopper and hopefully avoiding any terminal consequences even if that stopper wasn’t hit with much speed. This was the “safe” line, though it did end a long way from bank protection (Don with my 30m throwline, river right).

Taking a look at the stopper on the left hand channel

The others all put back on to run the two smaller rapids below the main fall, both of which proved even easier than they’d looked from the bank. After that it was but a short way on the flat to the take-out at Bardon bridge where we thought the river had dropped somewhat since we’d shuttled.

I’ve always thought of this bit of the Wharfe as being a lot further away than the Upper and Middle, but, since the approach is via the A1 and then the Ripon bypass (the same way we’d go to the Washburn) the travel time proved to be not much longer than going to the Washburn – well under an hour and a half even with A1 roadworks. There’s a another section downstream of this that I’ve never done, so perhaps there will be a return to tick that off, too.

Blink and you’ll miss the water – North Wales midweek

Having returned to Bangor after a visit to Aberystwyth university, Michael and I were cheered by overnight rain, which brought up the Nant-y-gwyryd to a decent level. Nicky knew the lines and, most critically, the take-out for the portage of the unpleasant grade 5 fall midway, so we ran without inspection. It’s fast, steep, narrow and gives one some idea of what it might be like for a ball in a pinball machine !

We took out above the last drop and inspected from the bridge. The left line is a bit sketchy, so the way down is on the right, but boofing left to stay in the pool and make the eddy on the left. Then a slot drops into the left channel, thus avoiding the low overhanging branches in the right-hand channel. Looking at this from above, it looked marginal to make that eddy, and terminal to miss it, so I walked whilst Nicky and Michael ran it.

Having picked up another paddler from Plas-y-Brenin, and heard that the Ogwen was still too low to run, Nicky and Mike went back for a second run, whilst I shot a bit of bank footage. Having dropped down the river right bank at the last fall, I realised that the pool was bigger and making the eddy not as difficult as I’d imagined. Rob ran the drop first, and didn’t bother with the eddy, dropping down the right hand side and easily making another eddy before the overhanging trees. So that was safer than it had seemed too. As if to rub it in, he then ran the rest of the right hand channel, finding that, at this level, one could simply sneak under the branches. Nicky and Michael repeated their line, giving me the opportunity to take footage from river right, which certainly gives a better view of the drop.

We then adjourned to the Siabod for lunch, before heading down to Bethesda to look at the Ogwen which was now runnable, if a little low. We shuttled and spoke to two lads who had just done the run, which gave us even more confidence that we had enough water. Last time I’d run Bethesda gorge, there was barely enough room to get under the bridge at the put-on and we had a lot of swimmers. Mine was early enough to mean that I didn’t actually see the meat of the gorge, so it was interesting this time to notice just how early I’d swum last time, and what was lower down that had given so much grief to the others.

The river then eases up for a while – we took out towards the end of this stretch last time, so the next section would be all new (it was epic grade 4/5 last time, and even the group who stayed on and knew the river well lost gear). The first rapid under the bridge gives a flavour of the gorge and if this is a bit much, there is a big eddy right and still time to run away. We didn’t.

At this level, the whole run is technical with a lot of manoeuvring between boulders, but not so powerful that a missed line is guaranteed terminal. Fortunately, Nicky knows the river very well indeed (it’s virtually on his doorstep) so no inspection was required. I cocked a few lines up, but never badly enough that I couldn’t recover quickly and stay upright. There are eddies to make, but a lot of the time it is better to maintain forward speed until one of the rare flatter bits gives time for a breather. At 23m/km, it is not quite as steep as the Onde, but is a much bigger river with far more choice of (potentially bad) lines… I was challenged !

The video is my first shot entirely in quadHD, but youtube only has it at 1080p24 (ie. full HD). I’m hoping to drop the 3.2 Gb UHD version on for a while and will add a link if I manage to upload that. The video is ten minutes, which is a lot for river that took under an hour to paddle, but it really was almost continuous fast and furious action with no let up and no time to stop and inspect (we didn’t have enough daylight left to do anything other than paddle, anyway). I was very pleased to cope all the way down until the gradient started to ease back. Eventually I cocked up one last line and had to roll, but it was pretty snappy and a single stroke got me back facing the right way and on we went ! Mike, of course, had no trouble at all, but at least he was never bored.

Pennine Atmospherics

We’ve been doing a few local walks lately, but this one was a little further afield as we decided to revisit High Cup Nick. It was a cold sharp and sunny day at home, but almost as soon as we started heading west, there were rolling banks of fog, though we could see the blue sky just above us whilst we were east of the Pennine watershed, so thought it would burn off soon enough. West of Stainmore, however, we descended below what was now a layer of overcast and we started to have our doubts.

Heading NE out of Dufton, we got some way up the hill before entering the cloud layer. We were following the bridleway that (eventually) leads to Garrigill at the top of the South Tyne with the intention of dropping into High Cup from the moor above which would be a more dramatic way of seeing it than coming on it gradually from below. A couple of steep zigzags very much reminded me of the Sani Pass and I was fondly imagining emerging from the top of the cloud to find the highest Pub in Africa… The track soon got quite snowy, then the sky started to look blue and I found I had a shadow – this was looking good. A zephyr took the mist away and the sun burned down fiercely for a short while.

By the time, Mary, Chrissie, Tully and Fern arrived, however, a more prolonged bit of breeze had drawn the clouds back and we turned south onto the trackless moor in very poor visibility, though the top of the cloud was obviously not far above. Looming through the mist, we saw a big cairn, and from there we could briefly make out the trig point a little further south. Again the sun penetrated the fog, and had we been above a drop to our north, we would have seen brockenspectres. As the ground was level, we just got the top half of the halo, but this was quite impressive and distinct.

From the trig point, which was on the edge of the plateau, just above a drop-off, we picked up a better, though at times indistinct, path, with less snow, so made rapid progress south. As we approached the drop-off into High Cup, the path turned more eastwards and we knew we wanted to drop down to meet the Pennine Way. But every time the cloud thinned a little and gave us a view we seemed to be looking down steep snow slopes into impenetrable depths, so we continued to follow the path along the top of the edge. Eventually the fog lifted briefly again and we could see that the way down was straightforward, if rather boggy. The GPS said we were quite a way east of where we’d hoped to cut down, so we wasted no time, dropping back into the cloud, now with a cold breeze in our faces. A quick snack and an additional layer added, we headed along the path which materialised and soon grew more distinct. But no views. As a scenic excursion to one of the Pennine’s more dramatic bits of scenery, the trip was a bit of a flop. But the dogs enjoyed it…

Deflation hits Teesdale reptile population

Every picture tells a story. Not quite sure what story these ones tell, though…

Inspecting Salmon Leap

I can almost imagine someone trying to run Dogleg on an inflatable crocodile in July or August, but November ? And what happened to the people who were driving these air-filled reptilian toys when they got punctured ? Did they survive ? Someone must have, as the herpetological basket cases were placed well out of the water, both on the same bit of rock. Anyway, it seemed irresponsible to leave such litter by the riverside, so I rescued them.

Heading down Salmon Leap having rolled on Dogleg

Well, OK, I say “rescued”, but the less torn one had its tail rolled up and stuffed up the front of my buoyancy while its head got a good view of proceedings from the top of my spraydeck. It may have taken exception to being taken down Dogleg like this, especially as I had to roll…

Wrestling the Croc at Wynch Bridge

The crocodile proved no obstacle to a run of Horseshoe or Low Force, but as I sunk the boat in a stopper on the Wynch bridge drop, it started to look as though I was running it with just the toy…

Doon and out to the Nith

Just ten years ago this coming Thursday, we were in Dumfries and Galloway looking for water. We were not having much success, but took a look at the River Doon, which is supposed to run on the compensation flow from the dam. We walked away, and found water in Carsphairn Lane which was being released from the other end of the dammed loch. We’d wasted so much time driving around that we finished that run in the dark, with ice forming on our buoyancy aids.

This weekend was shaping up to be very similar, as despite huge levels on Friday, we found no water in the first two rivers we’d gone for. So once again we found ourselves at the top of the Doon, on its 2½ cumec compensation release, with only a couple of hours daylight left. A check had shown that Carrick Lane would also run, but the forest road was closed. No-one fancied either a 2km walk-in or the risk of benightment on the river, so this time, we decided to put on the Doon, which a quick inspection of the first few hundred metres showed to be a reasonable proposition.

Over the horizon line running blind in full confidence – guidebook grade 3…

Grade 3, the guidebook says, and with comments like “this guidebook tends to overgrade things” we set off expecting a technical but not too demanding run with the main hazard being odd bits of timber. It soon proved steeper than we’d expected, and quite narrow in places with plenty of rocks to get hung up on. With a group of seven and small eddies, we made quicker progress than might be expected, with a few odd pins and some drops not done entirely elegantly. A footpath followed the left bank, providing us with spectators who also thought it an entertaining day out… and did provide some scope for inspection or setting safety

Mary on the only actual drop on the Doon.

The gorge ended soon enough, and the river opened out, flattened out and became a little tediously shallow in places, with even more overhanging branches. The final part was deeper water but very encumbered with willows before we came out into a shallow loch with plenty of wildfowl and just about enough daylight to get the the take-out bridge at the far end.

Just like the trip ten years ago, we elected to head for the Nith on Sunday. This was just over two feet at the Drumlanrig bridge gauge (0.75m on the SEPA gauge) which is a fine level – enough water to keep moving well and provide a few boils, but quite technical in the gorge.

No-one seems to have told them it isn’t a Boater-X !

We met up with the other SOC group putting on just ahead of us, having done the same trip the previous day with a foot or so more water. We soon overtook them, intent on a mission to see if we would have time for the Border Esk as a second river.

Only brief stops for playboating tricks at the start of the gorge…

The gorge proved to be read-and-run all the way, with the tree that blocked the entry rapid last time we were here (in low water at Easter 2013) nowhere to be seen. Mary had a successful roll, and we were at the end well ahead of the other group. However, by the time we’d shuttled (still only 12:30), enthusiasm for a second river had waned somewhat and we got changed.

Midweek on the Greta

After such a dry start to the paddling season locally, it was great relief to get some rain. I’d been offered a chance to paddle the Upper Swale, but I thought it would probably drop off too soon, and I possibly hadn’t done enough paddling recently to be confident of paddling at that level, so I declined. Shortly afterwards, Sarah phoned to say that she was looking for a trip with friends from Leeds and the Tees Greta seemed to be coming up. It was to be a late start owing to lectures and travel time, and by the time we got on, the river was at 0.6m (top end of “low”) and starting to drop off. However, showers kept it up and possibly it rose a little towards the end.

Perhaps a bit far right running in to the slot drop

A lack of recent floods and a certain amount of riverside tree felling means there is quite a lot of small timber in the river (an ever-present hazard in such a wooded valley). Pretty much everything can be sneaked, and the big tree which was right across the river shortly before Hell Cauldron last year has been swept aside and is now easily passed. But one branch on the left of the first island caused us to stop and do a bit of clearance work.

This newish tree is just before the bend and island-crossing heading down to the footbridge at Brignall Banks

We made pretty rapid progress, as I’ve done the river thirteen times before, Sarah had done it before in bigger water and all were happy to read and run. At this level, visibility ahead and plenty of eddies mean that there were no surprises coming up at speed…

Lots of boulders to flare off at this level

Hell Cauldron itself, and the run in, seemed to have more water than we’d expected from the rest of the river experience, but the section down to Greta bridge seemed low again, so maybe this is just a fault of my memory for the levels.

The water seemed well up on the run in to Hell Cauldron