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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Kayaking the Barle

Saturday found me on another new river; this time it was the Barle in north Devon. Diverted away from the Severn Bridge due to high winds, we were late getting to the put-in at Simonsbath, and with short winter days still prevailing, we wanted to push on. The river had other ideas.

The joy of tree-ridden diches

The stretch immediately below the bridge was a tree-filled nightmare, which heavy rain that morning had turned into a fast-flowing tree-filled nightmare. We only made it a couple of hundred metres before having to get out and portage, then after a second launch attempt had to portage once more. An overhanging tree caught out one of the group, so we had an early swim to deal with.

Even when the river widened out and the trees disappeared, a series of fences to keep the sheep in hampered our progress even more. Despite the slow progress, this was still an enjoyable section to paddle due to the bleak and beautiful moorland setting all around us.

At the 5th fence we had another swim and a pinned boat to recover, which turned out to be a little easier than it looked, but nonetheless we were not making good time. It was early afternoon by the time we reached Withypool and the beginning of the whitewater sections of the river.

Bouncy wave-trains

Downstream of Withypool the river gained in interest, with boulder-formed rapids blended together with short sharp s-bends in the watercourse. These required quick reactions once or twice when low-hanging trees reached far out into the current, and we duly had a third swimmer on one of the bends. A final fun wave-train led us close to the cable across the river where we portaged again, just above the ancient Tarr Steps.

Fast and furious

With less than two hours of daylight remaining, a few of the group chose to wait at Tarr Steps while four of us charged down the final stretch to fetch the cars. Taking a 'read and run' approach this was one of the best sections of white water I've been on. Although there were few significant feature drops, the 5 miles or so between Tarr Steps and Dulverton was constant wave trains and mini-chutes.

In the gathering darkness I capsized and rolled twice, hitting a rock the first time and catching my paddle on an overhanging tree on the second. Racing to reach the get-out before the sun disappeared though, there was no time to stop and play. It's definitely a stretch of water I'd return to.

Sadly, having brought her new go-pro with her, Laura then discovered that the battery wasn't fully charged, so no snaps of the day this time!

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