Festive paddling on the moor…

After a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas I managed to escape for the day on Tuesday and headed to Dartmoor.

I had been watching the weather forecasts intently hoping that there would be enough water the bring the Dart up to an enjoyable level. On Monday afternoon the forecasts were looking very good for Tuesday, so I sent out a few messages on UKRGB trying to find people to paddle with. I was gracious when Chas replied to my message saying that he had a group heading down to the Dart on Tuesday and would be happy for me to come along.

Waking up on Tuesday I checked the Dartcom Weather Station which was showing about 12mm of rain had fallen overnight. It was looking good to go! Upon arrival at Newbridge the river was just lapping at the bottom of the ledge and it was continuing to rise. After meeting up with Chas and his group we headed up to Dartmeet and got on. It was obvious that the level here was about a foot higher than we had seen at Newbridge.

Paddling on downstream a couple of the more difficult rapids were inspected and portaged by some, and before long we had arrived at the Ledges. In higher water, the first of the ledges forms a particularly nasty almost river-wide stopper, which can be snuck past on hard river-right. We all got out to inspect this stopper and worked out our lines. A few of the group decided that they were going to portage downstream as far as Euthanasia. With our lines memorised, those paddling it walked back up to their boats and got back in. I went first and made it through without any issue. Ross (well, I think that was his name?) came next but got caught in an innocuous looking stopper just about the main one. As Ross managed to fight his way free Chris immediately dropped into the same stopper but was less fortunate. He ended up swimming and Chas was quickly upon him with a line to pull him into the bank. His boat quickly flushed and started to make its own way downstream. I set off chasing after the boat and Ross started making his way down the bank. Shortly above Euthanasia I decided solo chase-boating at this level wasn’t necessarily the best idea so started making my way downstream on foot. At Euthanasia I found another group who were looking at one of their boats which was firmly pinned in a tree just above where the rapid normally forms. At this level Euthanasia was almost unrecognisable (well, I ran past it without noticing first-time – it was only on the way back up that I twigged where the rapid was!). The other group realised that they were not going to be able to retrieve their boat and so continued downstream.

By this stage Ross and I had managed to meet up with each other so started to inspect what lay in front of us. Euthanasia looked quite scary with a difficult line to make. As we discussed we came to the conclusion that river left of the island looked a nicer line. Walking back to our boats we found Chas wandering down to us and discovered that the rest of the group had decided to walk out to Newbridge. Chas didn’t like the look of Euthanasia – either side of the island – and so portaged around it. Ross and I got back into our boats and launched out into the flow. The line down the left side of the island was tricky with trees and holes to avoid but we very quickly both made it to the bottom safely. Whilst we were sat in the eddy catching our breath Chas was in the process of discovering that the portage he had chosen was not as easy as it looked! Chas ferried across to us and continued his portage down past Surprise Surprise. Once again Ross and I peeled out of the eddy into the flow and we were very quickly in the midst of the lead-in to Surprise Surprise. At this level all the rocks in the centre were well covered and the line almost easier than it is at low flows. I almost came a-cropper as I took a brief play in a stopper just above the main part of the rapid, before escaping just in time to see Ross right on my tail. We ran the drop only a boat-length apart! Chas decided that the main part of the rapid was not as bad as first thought and certainly a lot easier than the last part of the portage!

Chas starting his run down Surprise Surprise

Chas starting his run down Surprise Surprise

Chas in the middle of Surprise Surprise

Chas in the middle of Surprise Surprise

The rest of the paddle down to Newbridge was uneventful, just fast and bouncy water to cope with! Just upstream of Newbridge we met up with the rest of the group, plus those who had decided not to paddle the Upper section. They had found Chris’s run-away boat already on the bank, so thank you to whoever rescued that for us. Back down at Newbridge the level had risen up. The ledge was well covered and the river almost flowing through the third arch.

We ended the day with a nice paddle down the Loop to Holne Bridge. Apart from a little swim from Gordan at Triple Step and a few rolls from others, the run down was uneventful and I found it quite relaxing – a nice end to the day 🙂

A few more photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/UpperDartDecember2009

Long overdue…

Well, what can I say. It would appear that I have somewhat neglected this blog over the past few months – it has been three and half months since my last post! I am sure you will be glad to hear that this is not because I have fallen off the face of the earth or picked up an allergy to typing. I have been very busy clocking up the miles in my car travelling over a rather large chunk of the country. Since my last post I have visited Plymouth in the south-west, Brighton in the south-east, Frinton-on-Sea in the east and Birmingham in the north. Partly because of all this travelling, and partly due to a lack of water, my paddling since returning from Norway at the start of August has been limited. From 9th August through to the end of October, I only managed three weir sessions at either Chertsey and Boulters – a slight difference from three sessions per week I was managing earlier in the year!

Over the August bank holiday weekend one of those three sessions occurred when I took an old friend, Sam, to Boulters. I paddled with Sam when I first started kayaking but he has only been in a kayak once in the last seven years so this was going to be fun. He was quite nervous at first and required some assistance in launching into the river (a sneaky shove from behind helped with this) and then before he practice his roll (a sneaky shove proved worthwhile here too). His roll worked first time which meant he had no excuse not to go and play in the feature. It was great to be able to spend the day on the water with Sam and this is something I hope we can repeat again soon.

Sam deciding to go for a play

Sam deciding to go for a play

Me attempting a cartwheel

Me attempting a carthwheel

Going for a cartwheel

Going for a cartwheel

More photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/BoultersBankHoliday

Whilst I have not been paddling Lindsay has been introducing me to the delights that Sussex, and Brighton in particular, has to offer. At the start of November we spent an enjoyable day in Lewes where we had a wander around the old castle and were treated to fabulous views across the county. We were even treated to a dragonfly who perched right in front of us and let me take some photos.

Lewes Castle

Lewes Castle

The view from the top of Lewes Castle

The view from the top of Lewes Castle

A very trusting dragonfly

A very trusting dragonfly

More photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/SussexInduction

To compliment our visit to London Zoo in July, we paid a visit to Whipsnade Zoo. We were yet again fortunate with the weather and managed to see all the animals we wanted to – even managing to fit in a picnic amongst the free-roaming Wallabies.

A very relaxed lemur

A very relaxed lemur

Baby elephant

Baby elephant

A free-roaming wallaby where we ate lunch

A free-roaming wallaby where we ate lunch

Lindsay and I

Lindsay and I

More photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/WhipsnadeZoo

Back in Sussex, Lindsay took me for a walk around Devil’s Dyke. The wind was up which enticed many para-gliders to the top the steep sided hill. At times the sky above their launch site looked like it was filled with a swarm of insects!

Swarm of para-gliders

Swarm of para-gliders

More para-gliders

More para-gliders

Atmospheric sky

Atmospheric sky

At the end of October I even managed to was able to introduce Lindsay to some of the beauty that the south-west has to offer when we paid a visit to Wellington for the weekend. We enjoyed a nice walk around Wellington Monument and savoured the views across the Quantock Hills to the Bristol Channel.

Wellington Monument

Wellington Monument

The autumnal view back to the car park

The autumnal view back to the car park

The start of November proved to be a bit of a turning point as since then I have managed to get out in my boat an average of once per week, starting with a chilly session at Chertsey on 7th November, Dartmoor for the Upper Tavy and Upper Dart on 14th November, Hambleden on 19th November, Hurley on 28th November and then Dartmoor again for the annual Gene17 Adventure Paddler Weekend over 5th and 6th December.

The session at Chertsey – my first in over a month – was my first cold-water session of the season. Luckily I had purchased my new drysuit (Typhoon Multisport 3) so I was kept toasty and warm, with the exception of my head. I seemed to spend a lot of time upside down and this lead to frequent cases of ‘icecream-head’! It was only a short session but it broke me back into cold-water paddling.

The day on Dartmoor was fitted in as part of a weekend visit back to see my family in Somerset. It rained heavily on the Friday which meant we were looking at high levels for the Saturday. Driving down the M5 on Saturday morning and seeing a considerable number of fields underwater indicated that some of the higher water runs became possible. Meeting at the Dartmoor Lodge for coffee and breakfast a plan for the day was hatched. We were to head across to the other side of the moor to tackle the Upper Tavy from Hill Bridge to Harford Bridge. I had done this run once before back in July 2008, but the advantage this time was that we had multiple cars – I wouldn’t have to run the three mile shuttle! From here we headed back across the moor to run the Upper Dart, hoping that we had left it long enough to drop down to a more sensible level. The run down the upper was thoroughly enjoyable and at a level which I had only done once before – back on the Gene17 APWE in 2007. When we got off we discovered that the river had risen and then fallen 6 inches whilst we on it, with the slab still well covered when we paddled onto it.

On 19th November, I had taken a day of holiday from work for my first Hurley session of the season. Unfortunately I arrived in the car park to find a couple of paddlers returning from the weir who informed me that the weir had dropped to one gate just a few minutes previously. My first session would have to wait. Instead we all headed up to Hambleden for some fast and bouncy surfing. The long lay off from surfing – my last session was back at the start of June – made itself felt after only a few rides as the muscles in my abdomen started to complain. After about an hour and a half my body was complaining too much so I headed home.

The following weekend was spent in Poole with Lindsay. This enabled us to take some time out from all the running around and just relax and enjoy ourselves. Following along from our visits to London and Whipsnade Zoos we made a visit to Monkey World. Here we were able to see Chimpanzees, Gibbons and Orang-utangs amongst others.

Chimpanzee

Chimpanzee

A chilly Orang-utang

A chilly Orang-utang

Siamang Gibbons

Siamang Gibbons

More photos are available at http://photos.andywicks.com/MonkeyWorld

The last weekend in November was to be spent on a visit to Frinton-on-Sea with Lindsay to see my Grandparents. Linsday was not able to meet me until 11am on the Saturday so I seized the opportunity for a visit to Hurley. I managed to get on the water in time to see the sun rise above the horizon into the clear blue sky, whilst surfing a near-perfect three-gate Hurley, before heading home in time to be ready to head off as soon as Lindsay arrived. I could not think of a better way to start a weekend!