Saturday, January 11, 2020

Festive Fairbourne

Once the excesses of Wigilia, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were consumed it was time to head off in search of adventure and some gentle exercise. A small group of us rented a cottage in Fairbourne at the mouth of the Mawddach estuary in North Wales.

After settling in to our accommodation we began to explore the local area for a short walk. From Penmaenpool Andy and I crossed the toll bridge and took the steep path up through the woods to the Precipice Walk. The views over the Mawddach Estuary are spectacular!

On the following day, having got our bearings we decided to head up into the valleys for a canoe adventure on the river Dyfi. We started near Aberangell and we were soon weaving our way along tree-lined river banks and between beams of golden winter sunlight. Its a pleasant and easy paddle with gentle rapids and views of the broad valley beyond.

Another day brought on more exploration of the area around Fairbourne and Barmouth. We made our way along the coast path towards the timber rail and footbridge that leads across the Mawddach Estuary to Barmouth. This bridge is a popular crossing. People seem to come from miles around to experience this pilgrimage. The beach and the shops at Barmouth were busy for a winter's day and I wondered if I had got the seasons wrong somehow.

Our route back took us along the Mawddach Trail and away from the crowds. It was nice to finish the day on the wild side enjoying what nature has to show at this time of year.

For most of our stay the weather has been mild but the strong winds kept us off the sea. Eventually on New Year's Eve the wind dropped and we set of on a dawn raid on the Mawddach Estuary. We laughed soon after sunrise on the shore opposite Barmouth and took the flood tide north to Penmaenpool. At times we had to be cunning to dodge the sandbanks but it was worth it for the views up the valley in the morning sunlight. After snacks and mulled wine we made our return to Fairbourne with ease helped by the wind on our backs.

After a hearty New Year's Eve supper washed down with a generous glug of wine we headed off to the beach to see in 2020 with a beach bonfire and the waves crashing beneath our feet.

I'd like to express my thanks to Chris, Dawn, Andy and Michelle for their company on this wonderful festive trip!

Friday, December 27, 2019

December on the Ribble

The river Ribble is one of the few rivers that flows from Yorkshire into Lancashire. The upper reaches are popular with white water kayakers with grade 3, 4 and 5 rapids.

The lower section between Clitheroe and Ribchester is a pleasant and scenic canoeing river with a generous helping of easy grade 2 rapids.

Most of the river is broad with open countryside beyond the banks. We spent plenty of time playing the water and surfing small standing waves.

The river becomes a little more lively at Dinckley Gorge with steep wooded banks and rocky outcrops.

The finish at Ribchester has a delightful view up the valley towards Pendle Hill. I'd like to express my thanks to Andy and Chris for their company on this trip.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Around about Lancaster

The paddling trip known as 'The Lancaster Round' is an old favourite of mine. It starts at Glasson Dock where the Estuary of the river Lune is broad and windswept.

A ride upon the flooding tide can bring a keen group into Lancaster in an hour or so where the modern flood defences hide the historic riverside buildings from would-be seaborne invaders like recreational kayakers.

On a bulging spring tide you can paddle right over the weir at Skerton without even noticing it. Otherwise it's worth taking the opportunity for a rest, brew and snack before portaging on to the fresh water beyond.

The Lancaster Canal crosses the Lune by way of the delightful Lune aqueduct. It was designed by John Rennie and built by Alexander Stevens in 1797. An even more exhausting portage is needed to continue the round and paddle south the heart of the city of Lancaster.

The canal weaves and wanders its way through the city, suburbs and then the countryside. The tree-lined deep cutting that leads south gives the feel of paddling through a leafy river gorge.

More open scenery leads to Galgate and the Junction with the Glasson Branch. Ahead lies just 4 kilometres, but 6 obstacles in the way of locks (to portage) in the final battle to return to Glasson and the car park where the journey began. In the winter months this battle is fought and won (or lost) in the hours of darkness!

I'd like to express my thanks to the company of North West Sea Kayakers on my most recent trip on the Lancaster (merry-go) Round.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Canoeing on the River Spey

The lure of experiencing Autumn from my canoe has been increasingly difficult to resist and this trip to Scotland was to produce a couple of firsts for me. I had never paddled on the river Spey before, nor had I done an overnight camp with all my kit packed into a canoe.

We began our journey at Newtonmore which is higher up the river than normal. Easy water on the already broad river took us through pretty scenery. However, brutally cold headwinds sapped our strength and slowed our progress towards our first night stop at Loch Insh.

Feeling the bitter cold of a Speyside November evening, we were glad to have booked into the hostel at the Loch Insh Watersports Centre.

By morning there had been a sprinkling of snow. As we launched our canoes onto the loch the temperature had not yet risen above freezing. We were thankful that the wind has eased and that the river flow had gained pace, but there was no escaping the cold. As we made our way down river there was more snow on the banks. Our feet grew numb.

At the end of our second day we reached Boat of Balliefurth. We found a patch beneath some pine trees which was clear of snow. I made a hot drink, got into my tent and thawed my feet in my sleeping bag.

After supper, we kept ourselves entertained by getting a small fire going...

The morning brought even lower temperatures and a biting chill. The river began to drop more steeply with more exciting rapids. As the sun rose gently into the sky we encountered the named rapids of the 'Washing Machine' and then 'No-can-do' (at Knockando).

We eventually washed up at Craigellachie to camp at Fiddich Park. This evenings entertainment was to be in the Highlander Hotel Whisky Bar.

Our final challenge was to paddle from Craigellachie to the sea at Spey Bay. I started the day by easing my way into my frozen drysuit which had taken on a cardboard like form. The morning chill seemed to intensify as we made our way downstream.

As we left the rolling hills and sandstone cliffs behind us we were greeted by a more open landscape. Shingle braids and banks of pebbles led the way; and although we could sense that the ocean was near, the water was still powerful and challenging.

We reached Spey Bay feeling cold weary and hungry, which is the sign of a good trip! My thanks go to Chris, Dawn and Andrew for their company on this wonderful journey.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tyne Tour

The Tyne Tour is run by Hexham Canoe Club and is a weekend of sociable paddling on the North and South Tyne rivers.

At this time of year the Autumn colours are at their best and this year the festival was blessed with excellent water levels.

Most stretches of water are grade 1-2 with occasional grade 3. This is perfect territory for open boating, and for those taking their first steps in white water kayaking.

The most anticipated rapid is Warden Gorge just before the North Tyne confluence with the South Tyne. This normally provides a sporty grade 3 rapid but this time it was more like a huge volume grade 4 and few open boaters took the challenge. Those that did were swamped.

In the meantime the kayakers were making the most of the conditions.

The Saturday night festivities began with the Hexham Round Table bonfire and fireworks display. An excellent way to kick off the evening with a bang. Afterwards, the dancing went well on into the night with the ceilidh.

In the morning it was time to explore the upper reaches of the North Tyne near Bellinghan and Wark. It was nice to engage yet more of the Tyne's Autumnal beauty before heading for home.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


A few years back I tried my hand at canoeing. At the time it was all about developing my paddling skills in preparation for doing some coaching qualifications. At first I was not all that enthusiastic but after a while, I began to enjoy the occasional trip with a single bladed paddle. It was challenging but with, time and effort I began to enjoy the slower pace of life.

Recently I bit the bullet and bought my own open boat. Its an 'Old Town Guide 147. Just big enough for paddling tandem and hopefully small enough for me to handle on my own for solo trips. It was a long drive for me to collect it from Devon but it seemed a good way to use up a Saturday when the weather was pretty lousy.

My next challenge was to do some outfitting. The canoe had no airbags or kneeling thwart. It always seems wrong to start drilling holes in a boat. Especially as I had only just bought it! Some time and some swearing later I had fitted airbags and a kneeling thwart and I was ready to take my new canoe out on the river.

Photo: Andy Hamilton
Overnight rain had brought the River Goyt into condition so I joined a group from Manchester Canoe Club on one of their regular Sunday morning outings. I had a few wobbles with my first tentative strokes but soon got the hang of ferry gliding below the second weir at Brabyns Park. After that, running the grade 2 rapids was fairly straightforward.

Whether I'll try more challenging water remains to be seen. Perhaps I'll leave that until the weather gets a bit warmer.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Return to White Water

Many years back I used to paddle regularly at Canolfan Tryweryn which is the white water canoeing and rafting centre near Bala in North Wales.

Its a great way to keep cool and escape the heat and glare of the summer sun because the fast flowing waters of the riverare mostly shaded by trees.

I had not paddled here for over 4 years and some of the rapids are quite challenging at Grade 3 and 4. I was nervous to begin with but I soon got into the swing of things and began to remember how to read the flow.

I managed the to paddle the whole day without capsizing and came away with a renewed confidence in my white water paddling abilities :) I will be back soon!

Many thanks to Joe Parkin for his company on the water and to George Reekie for the excellent photos.