I have a confession to make… I am a Tyne Tour “virgin”. So this year I thought I'd better give it a go and see what all my friends at PaddlePlus had been talking about...
Kayaking is one of the most psychological sports I have ever done. There is often a fear of the unknown and you often have to feel ‘right’ to conquer white water. I have to say that kayaking is also a bit like fishing…tales of rapids, Grade 2s, 3s and 4s and stories of those who fell over and had to swim out, are all part of kayaking legends…and myths. A word of caution though, as I said, kayaking is like fishing, and some of these stories may have become slightly more elaborated with each instance they were told.
So I didn’t know what to expect at all. Despite being a seasoned camper, I’m afraid I didn’t go for the camping out option. Perhaps because it is November, but maybe because on arrival at the campsite on the Saturday morning I could see how ‘worse for wear’ some of the group looked. I’m not entirely sure if that was the camping, partying or a combination of the two. Having arrived in a long-wheel-based van the group worked together to load up 12 kayaks and associated kit in the back. Kit on, and off we went to the drop off point…
One final group photo before launch and 21 members of PaddlePlus set off from the put-in just up the road from the village of Wark. The river was very low and where we entered the water was rocky. My heart sank a bit as I had a feeling I would spend the trip wiggling my hips to get off the rocks, but after about 15 meters we entered deeper water and were able to paddle with more ease.
We paddled about 7 miles towards Barrasford. Our journey would be broken up by small sections of moving water but at the rapids at Barrasford we got out to assess whether to go river right or left. Most of the group, including myself went for river right, a bit of a softer option, while those hardened and more experienced (or braver) paddlers went for the Grade 4 River left option.
The journey was very picturesque and great opportunity to catch up with friends and have a bit of a natter on the way. On approaching any white water sections the group would follow each other down, usually Derek leading the way and waiting for us at the bottom should anyone swim, closely followed by the antics of Anton and Bee in the canoe.
So the fishy tale continued as we approached the ‘fish chute’. A slide that you kayak down in a matter of moments. The chute is there to help spawning fish swim uphill. It was a shame there wasn’t the convenience of a man-made course conveyor belt there as I would have liked to have repeated the chute a few more times! Nathan Hefford managed to take a great picture in the nano-second of time he was going down it (how does he do that?!).
We paddled from Barrasford towards Wardens Gorge and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. This leg of the journey was a further 7 miles to our get-out point with the gorge being our last bit of white water. The gorge part is only 100m in length. At the top much discussion ensued about who should lead the group down, but keen to just ‘go for it’ I encouraged Tony to go ahead of me and I would follow him down. We know this never works for us. Tony always turns to see what I am doing which usually results in him getting side-on to something, he did exactly that, getting side-on to a large rock and starting to go over, Anneka was straight in there to help him but he managed to roll off a rock and get back up-right.
Clearly I wasn’t going to follow him so made my own way down, dodging the rocks and finding a safe but bumpy passage through. I kept going and onto the second part of the gorge which I loved as I bumped through the wave train at the bottom, putting in supporting paddles and trying to maintain the forward momentum whilst getting splashed in the face. It was hard for others to tell, but beneath my full helmet - I was smiling.
I turned around to see Paul sitting on a rock on his bottom and people in various locations on the run down. Paul worked hard throughout the day on his defensive swimming techniques!
We finished with a slow paddle back to the steps near the camp site. I had managed to get two large blisters, ‘badges of honour’, on my thumbs having not paddled long distance in a while. Once I got the blood circulating to my legs I queued for a much needed bread roll and hot soup. After picking up the now empty van, Tony and I were ready to leave our fellow campers and head towards the Tees Barrage for the next day and to the warmth of our Premier Inn, en-suite and delicious, all-you-can-eat breakfast the following morning.