LCC Trip – River Leven 14th December

Having decided that scraping down a dog-low river Kent sounded less than attractive, three LCC paddlers plus guest met at Newby Bridge for a trip down the Leven. As we had all paddled the river previously we agreed that we would set up a shuttle for the full run from Newby Bridge to the bottom of the whitewater section at Low Wood; an alternative would have been to paddle the top part of the river only, getting off above or below the first grade 3 rapid or at Backbarrow with the option of finishing above or below the drop under the bridge. Any of these are good options with opportunities to enjoy the features of the river without committing to running the more challenging rapids by the egress points or that below the A590 road bridge and the short but twisty Fisherman’s Gorge just above Low Wood.

The trip started well; the group warmed up before shooting Brickchute weir and Chris leading some rolling and rescue practice at Mill Force. With the river to ourselves we spent time playing on the waves and small drops, cranking in and out of eddies and surfing our way down past the Motor Museum to the big comfy eddy above Backbarrow Bridge. Liza and Stuart very generously hopped over the wall to inspect whatever was lurking under the bridge while Chris and I sat in our boats discussing how it is that intimidation grows in direct proportion to the time spent inspecting…

We set off as soon as we saw the pre-arranged wave from the inspection team. As always, buttocks were clenched as the river accelerated and began to pile up on the approach to the horizon line. Watch the curve of the arch. Set the boat towards the left bank. Wind up ready for the next big stroke and here we go… down. And down. And down some more, faster than the rivers flow, and, just at the right moment, firing off a solid right side power stroke to counter the kick coming from the left. Then it’s white, wet, white again. And then another big stroke because the boat is still upright and I need to keep driving it, moving forwards and stable… And that’s Backbarrow for another day.

Chris is next, close behind on a good looking line. Where was that last paddlestroke? A bright glimpse of the bottom of his hull against foaming white and then nothing. No, there it is again and he’s on his way out. Time to roll my friend…

Almost. A second try? Yes – he’s up but bouncing off the right wall and sliding sideways; over again. Set up again? No, he bails as fresh air becomes a priority. Head up and clear? Yes. Happy? Yes, swimming in the right direction. Paddle in hand? No. Boat heading towards the eddy? Yes, and here is his paddle, tucked up under the boat. Paddle collected and speared into the eddy. Chris OK? Yes, he’s in the eddy, a poor imitation of Ursula Andress (drysuit and no conch shell!) as he strides up the beach… Bulldoze this inverted, waterlogged lump of plastic to its rightful owner so that he can flip it over and drain the river from it, turning it back into the fun ride that it been just a few seconds before. Smiling, he does just that and we both paddle back in readiness for our friends to meet their challenge.

Liza launches out of a grey sky, the nose of her Nomad briefly landing on the narrow boil in the middle of the fall before heading skyward again. Tail looped and pirouetting just off vertical, I can’t help but wonder if she notices the stalactites growing under the arch. They never seem to get more than a few inches long – perhaps it’s the spray or over-eager kayaks thatkeep them in check? Probably not what she was thinking as, in slow motion, her boat lays itself back into the foam not quite upside down but close enough. Then, quick as a flash, a solid brace flicks the boat back the right way up, pilot grinning as she glides across the foam to calmer water.

Stuart next. Maybe a little to the right? Nope, bang on line but that big old jet of white river, forced away from the left bank by a combination of slate and gravity, slaps at his momentarily lightened bow, stomping the Stomper hard right where it spins sideways into the foam. Bouncing off the right wall and catching an edge while reversing out at speed results in the inevitable but a beautifully timed roll flips boat and rider up again and all is good once more.

The mist blowing back up river from the “we don’t want to know” weir encourages us into the big eddy hiding behind the rhododendrons. A portage past one of the biggest pigs I’ve ever seen distracts thoughts of the next weir; the one with the really sticky hole dead centre, squirrely left-to-right approach and ragged eddyline to cross before you can really think about the next stroke combo. But no bother, we are now a crack team, reading the water, enjoying the surprises and moving our boats fluidly in a three dimensional dance. Which doesn’t explain why we all slithered down barely damp rocks so far to the left that onlookers must have thought it was more of a sit-on-top portage than a paddle. They would however have been most impressed by Stuart reversing down the fall, retaining the option of paddlingback up if he hadn’t fancied whatever was waiting at the bottom…

Now this is fun with the best, almost Alpine, rapid ahead of us. Blue polypropstrung between the banks and hung with icicle-like white poles; it appears that the Leven slalom course is being developed and extended upstream.

Good to see, but not for us today. Instead we thread our way between pour-overs and holes, joining the dots of dark water scattered between boiling white making tight eddies linked by foaming diagonals, all of us grinning from ear to ear. Sheer joy.

Fisherman’s Gorge. Eddy hop to the top, check that the narrow line is clear of fallen timber, go. Sometimes a hop doesn’t always result in a clean landing and there is another hull pointing at the sky followed by a red drysuited swimmer corkscrewing safe into an eddy. A quick jungle bash through more rhododendrons looking for a potentially laggard paddle while the rest of the team sort themselves out. Surf and play waves lead all too soon to Low Wood and the end of this morning’s adventure.

Smiles all round; maybe it’s not the end of this morning’s adventure but the start of the next one…

LCC w/e trip Galloway 6/7th December

Mike Hayward , Martin and Rachel Powell, Brain Cloough + 1 guest Ian McCreerie

We drove north Friday night expecting a weekend of mountain biking, as the rain had stopped falling and water levels very low. Freezing temperatures up high had frozen water reducing supply to lowland river even more. We stayed in wooden Wigwams near Dalbeattie- very warm.

Saturday – an Early start saw us meet Brian Clough at Drumlanrig Castle at 9.0a.m. Water levels for the Nith empty 0.07 on the guage- never seen it so low. But we had a back up plan. A 50minute drive took us to Ness Glen at the start of the river Doon, a low water dam release river 2.5 cumec- but guaranteed flow.

This is a river unlike any other, very steep, very rocky, you can’t see a lineuntil you are on it – but only grade 3!! Or as one of the team put it -ah ha what’s this a dam release grade 3+ gorge, an interesting paddle best described as like being in a pin ball machine with cold water !

in Ness Glen

After only 1.5 km the rocks disappear and an easy paddle onto a Loch for the last 1 km. On Saturday it started to rain, at noon, lightly at first, then more heavily , and it did not stop until 7 a.m. the next morning. The Nith now running at huge, 1.7 m on the gauge. We decide to go exploring on the river Cairn. River levels look good. A grade 3 gorge with 4 drops started the fun with Ian denting his boat nose on a rock in a stopper. Then miles of flowing water, frequently interspersed with grade 2 sections. For some reason that we can’t work out, the river become Cluden water. Having studied the map we decided it was likely to be flat. The guide book notes suggested a grade 3/ 4 section. The grade 2 rapid became less frequent as the snow showers increased. Having paddled 17km we were looking forward to warming up in the cars when an event horizon appeared

– this was Culden falls A quick inspection showed us a grade 5 with tree on the right or a grade 4 into a possible hidden rock in stopper. Undecided we portaged over the slabs in the middle of the river, the slid over long slabs to the bottom of the rapid 80m downstream. The following corners gave us more nice slabby grade 3 water.