DW 2012

After you have eaten all your chocolate Easter eggs and contemplated an after lunch walk, what else will you be doing over Easter 2012? Two of our top paddlers, Mike and Laurence will be competing in the classic Devizes to Westminster canoe race. This is one of the top amateur sports challenges, number 13 even, according to Mens Health magazine ! Canoeing is well represented as the first is Scotland’s coast-to-coast competition, a 100 mile bike/run/paddle from one side of Scotland to the other.
The challenge for the senior racing doubles is 125 miles long with 77 portages, picking up the tide at Teddington Lock within a small window to time to reach Westminster non-stop.
The last Mercia paddler to do the event was Roy Grassby in 1990 and he came a creditable fourth in the four day singles event. The total time for the four stages was 17hours:52 minutes:40 seconds. I was there supporting him then and knew what effort he put in.
The history of the race goes back to 1947. This extract is from Brian Greenham’s book;
Devizes is a sleepy market town set in the English farming county of Wiltshire. Running through the town is the 200 year old Kennet and Avon Canal, a small and cheaply built navigation that once linked the sea port of Bristol to the town of Reading, and onwards via the River Thames to London. Well, it happened that one of the original 1947 Avon descent participants, Roy Cooke, was planning to try to reach London via the derelict Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Thames in less than 100 hours. When he was unable to see this through, the project was willingly taken up by the Devizes Scouts, with the encouragement of locals who put up a sum of money for Scout funds if they could succeed in “taking a boat from Devizes to Westminster in under 100 hours, all food and camping kit to be carried in the boats”. At Easter 1948, Peter Brown, Brian Walters, Laurie Jones and Brian Smith, all aged just 17, set on the first D-W run. Great interest was generated nationally, with progress reports and photographs appearing in the national press, and the local cinema in Devizes interrupting programmes to give reports of their progress. At the finish a large crowd turned out at Westminster Bridge to see them successfully complete the challenge in a time of 89 hours and 50 minutes. So it was that the first Devizes to Westminster run was instigated.
These days the crews that race over Saturday night and into Easter Sunday, through, Newbury, Reading, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Shepperton, Kingston, Richmond, Putney and on are hoping for under 20 hours. That is tough and depends on training and an excellent support crew to keep them fed, watered, change their kit, shout at them and ease them on their way. Mike and Laurence have inspired great support from the club, so good luck!

Club T shirts

Club T Shirts are now available to order. These have been designed by Mike Sharman and a sample of the cotton T shirt is available at the club. The costs are £5 for a cotton one or £10 for a Polyester – moisture wicking one. The costs are the same whatever size. Full payment with order. We will wait until we have a bulk order ready.

Warwickshire Avon / Irish Sea / French Haute Alps and not forgetting the mighty Nene…

Looking back at the canoeing adventures of the spring of 2007, the underlying theme was rain and plenty of it. The Doggy paddle held in May was in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. The course was 19 miles first on the River Leam and then on to the Avon down to Stratford. We made our fashionably late arrival and checked in at Leamington. By the time we had driven down to the finish, left one car and got back to the start everyone had gone! Sarah and Mike were paddling their tourers whilst Mike Fitz and I were in the wild water racing boats. There were fewer entries than last year, however I met some work colleagues who took 5 hours to finish the course. We were aiming to get down in less than 3 hours.

The day started off with drizzle, which was pleasant down to Barford. Here we split into two groups. After the drought of April, the flow was building and we sped through the twisty section after Barford, gradually hauling in the slower boats as we fell in to a rhythm. By Hampton Lucy the rain was getting noticeably heavier. A pause at Charlcote as we literally jumped the boats over the links holding the buoys that formed a river barrier upstream and then downstream, to keep the deer herd in the park.

A determined paddler kept with us on the approach to Stratford which was full of activities. A calypso band were giving it plenty under the bandstand, triathletes doing their final run and dragon boats racing opposite the Theatre. There were no event officials to see us finish but a spectator reckoned we were in the top ten. So after two hours and fifty minutes of downstream paddling we wearily turned to go back up to the Fishermans car park and our dry kit or so we thought?. One drenched runner pounding through the puddles on the river bank saw us and commented that she “didn’t like water sports!” Unfortunately we didn’t have the keys to Mike Sharman’s car so we took limited shelter under the tree until Mike and Sarah appeared half an hour later out of what was by now a deluge. We made the mistake of getting changed but by the time all the gear was loaded we were as wet as when we had been on the water!

Many of you will have heard of the adventures Coventry school kids have at Dol-y-moch in North Wales. Now it was our turn. John, Sarah, Mike, Nigel and myself jumped on a coach and headed off to North Wales with a bunch of teachers and partners. The Manor Park crew had the bottles open before we were on the A45. Mike even had to come to the rescue when they struggled with a cork screw. What a great way to travel, no worries about Friday evening traffic.

On arrival we found our bunkbeds and kitted out ourselves with P&H plastic sea kayaks and gear. A massive breakfast was on offer and then Phil took us through a briefing. Very strong winds with clearing skies meant the first session was to be on tidal estuary, getting used to the equipment. This included a demonstration of Phil’s deep water rescue technique. In a nutshell, turn the capsized boat back up, help the swimmer in to the boat, in 15 seconds or less and then pump like mad with his water pump. It worked well, getting the swimmer out of the water rapidly avoiding any dangers and the risk of hypothermia whilst doing the usual x-rescue.

In the afternoon we went to Black Rock Sands, trying the long boats out in the surf. The hard part was turning before the next set came in and trashed you, sending you back sideways to the soup. The sky was blue, the wind still strong and the surf pounding in. Good fun, with lashings of hot chocolate to boot! We loaded up and went straight back to the centre in our wet kit to wash off the salt and dunk Mike in the outdoor bath.

Sunday was calm and we loaded up the trailer for the one hour drive to Abersoch at the end of the Lleyn Peninsula. As we paddled out in to the bay the mountains stood clear on our left. No more than 100m ahead, two dolphins surfaced and swam for a few minutes, an adult and young. Gauging our speed by reference to a marker buoy and a mountain top, we headed out round the Tudwell Islands. The first of which was owned by Carla Lane. On the more exposed side the sea was lumpy . Sea birds were nesting and seals popped up to monitor our progress. A large ferry glide took us between the islands and across the tidal flow eventually to the mainland. Here we had a go at paddling backwards into sea caves and round rocks, timing our movements to the swell. Stacey got it wrong and briefly ended stuck on a rock. To finish, we found a small sandy beach for lunch and hot chocolate, had a go at rolling and rescues and then headed home. A cracking weekend.

Whitsun bank holiday and it was off to France. Sunshine, wine, smelly cheese (if you like that sort of thing), big water, sounds good! Mike and myself left Coventry in the afternoon stopping en route to leave my daughter at Grandparents. We arrived at Dover with time to spare and took a walk along the promenade, Waterloo Crescent and the small boat harbour, including a Severn Series RNLI lifeboat, the biggest they have. This is the bit you don’t see when you head straight for the docks. Bob, Ryan and Kyle drove past as walked back to the car.

The ferry swallowed coach after coach of school kids and despite being near the end to load, we found ourselves at the front of the starting grid for the other side. Ryan and Kyle loaded up with Beer, freeflow and bottled. We left the ferry at 12.10 a.m. and 630 miles later including many litres of diesel, tolls, cups of tea, lots of CD’s, a few roadworks, an amazing laser display in the middle of nowhere, 20 centigrade at one point in the night and Ryan driving one leg, we crawled in to St Jean Les Pins campsite in Guillestre, at mid day. Tired, we pitched tents, shopped, cooked and slept soundly.

Sunday, and we woke to find rain clearing away! A local paddle was in order, so we found the boulangerie and then a small track out the back of the village, which descended precipitously to the Lower Guil near Mont Dauphin. A straight forward paddle out onto the larger Durance and finish. The helpful German at the kayak shop got his table out for us to use, which he claimed was from the beer festivals! Sausage with hazelnuts got a mixed reception but the sun was out so we headed off down the lower Durance to Embrun and the Rabioux wave. Ryan and Kyle paddled well in the hole until Kyle got grabbed and it wouldn’t let him go. It was’t a wave! With the headwind and rain coming on it turned cold and we were glad for our fleeces when we got off to settle in for a wet evening. Fortunately the campsite building had a clothes hanger next to the boiler room. This was to be our saviour over the next few days, as the rain clung to the mountains.

Monday and we woke with surprise to see a fresh layer of snow, dusting the trees and mountains around the valley. We headed high up the Guil valley to Aiguile, where the winter ski lifts start. We passed cars with several inches of snow on their roof! The worrying thing was the temperature outside the car. Just 4.5 centigrade and snow in the wind blowing up the valley. This was like the Dart in January, not the southern French Alps in early summer. It was too much for Kyle, being below his limit of 7 centigrade and he opted to sleep in the car, whilst we wrapped in as many layers as we had. Dipping our hands in the icy water as we set off was quite a shock. The little gorge was entertaining and tight in places. Mike managed two ends over one drop! As we approached Chateau Queyras and the fortress, with Guardian Angel cliff in the background, Kyle had woken up in time to see us off the water. We then went down the valley for a cool river bank lunch. The next section, known as the Middle Guil was more powerful. The water was at 83cm on the gauge, a good level with plenty to keep you alert. Bob boofed to safety, over the rock next to Perry’s hole, the scene of much drama two years before. The river was continuous and Mike carefully negotiated a route through the hazards. We got out and portaged the Staircase, a steep section with few clear lines, which was a grade harder again. We got in round the corner, as we set up for the run into Le Tunnel. Anticipation of the get out, before the next nasty drop, was too strong and when combined with a lack of clear landmarks from the river, meant we got out far too early. In the process Ryan managed to drop his paddle in the river which Bob saw and Kyle fished out in time. A close shave, if we didn’t have a spare set of splits. We saw a German kayaker on the bank, who said they had lost a boat at the end of the section. A sharp cut left was necessary to avoid a sticky hole. Easy when you knew about it! After inspection, we opted to portage the last hole before the river piles into the dam controlled lake. As we got changed, happy after an excellent paddle, knackered after 2.5 hours intense paddling, with the temperature rising, we watched another group sail through the same hole. Easy when you know about it!

That night, after another exploration of Mike’s culinary skills, Bob tried raw garlic, much to our amusement because he reckoned he couldn’t taste the cloves in the meals. The starry sky meant it was really a cold night. Those Asda sleeping bags weren’t quite up to the weather and altitude.

Tuesday we headed back towards Briancon but despite the warmer weather there was very little water in the Onde and Gyronde. We had a picnic at the pretty spot at the get out of the Onde and watched the Germans bounce down the rocks. Having never paddled the Gyr we walked up the river bank. Apart from two sections, it looked fast and tight. The two sections were on more unstable river bed and probably changed regularly with the meltwater and storm run off. As an alternative we went to the slalom course so the boys could show their stuff with less rocks around. A French safety course was being run at the same time.

The evening tea included various beans, corgette and asparagus. The boys had never eaten so much veg. But we still hadn’t had a croissant!

Wednesday we headed south to the Ubaye, one hour to the south past the dammed Lake Serre Ponchon. From Le Lauzet to Le Martinet, another classic paddle with good water levels. Unfortunately Kyle managed to find one those rocks early on and there was plenty of blood, made to look worse by the water. He carried on despite allegedly losing his good looks and a thumping headache. An ice cream was the reward at the lake.

Thursday and there was no water on the Guisane above Briancon, so we walked through the old town and across to the bridge, high above the gorge. With the cloud and showers there was no water here either and the barrage was letting little water through. We headed back to the Lower Durance, thankful we had chosen by chance and because our usual campsite had not opened for the season, to base ourselves in this area. Again it was a cold wind that greeted us. The Durance was lower and the Rabioux more of a hole. No one played today. We passed the “Danger falling rocks” sign (unusual on a river) and Bob now led the way back! Another very wet evening and the boys planned to place the table football under the awning until they realized there wouldn’t be any tea!

The last days paddling and we went back to the lower Guil. There was a bit of a scare when big cat footprints were found on the riverbank but I thought the boys showed through. We loaded Bob’s boat up with all the safety gear we could find, when he wasn’t looking. A change from leaving the kit in the car! The river had dropped to 68 on the gauge. Climbers hung on to the rocks through Mont Dauphin. The sun even allowed us to finally dry out our kit before we loaded up with wine, chocolate and cheese from the supermarket. A final game of table football before an early start for home the next morning.

The Lauteret pass, the next day, gave us a final reminder of winter, with snow blowing at the top, before a steady drive home to a warmer dry climate! Or so we thought!

Coventry Canal / Tryweryn / Myton Fields

April 1st

The Basin to Gypsy Lane just south of Nuneaton was the plan. Fine but we should have gone the other way as the head wind became somewhat tedious over the nine mile course. Sarah, Mike and myself set off for a leisurely two hour paddle to bridge 17 where we had left a car ready for the drive back to the club. There was one unfriendly swan and a lot of fishermen at the end but it all went extremely well.

The question now is when will we do the next leg of around 10 miles to Polesworth. With a everyone having a full diary it remains to be seen when we will complete the full course of the Coventry Canal, split into four legs.

April 15th

It was time for a club trip to Bala to paddle the dam controlled River Tryweryn. This is a popular rafting and canoeing centre with 5 miles of quality white water. Sarah came along for a walk in the sunny welsh weather (22c). As we arrived in the town which is the finish car park and Bala Lake was like a mirror, which is rare for such a large body of water. John Whitehead paddled the open Canadian down from below Chapel Falls to the road bridge in Bala with a portage around Bala Mill Falls. Ed Brandley did the same course. He had spent most of Saturday adjusting a whiplash to be comfortable and then found that he couldn’t get in with his wet suit trousers on, so had to take off his shoes. He had a few wobbles but his paddling was sound at the end. JW had to get out of his boat twice, which was pretty good considering the narrow lines, large craft and plenty of rocks. NP did an excellent recovery roll on Bala Mill. Jo reckoned she hadn’t paddled anywhere harder than Matlock in the last two years since she had been to France. She came to a sudden halt at the bottom of the Mill Falls but carried on quite happily. Ryan, Bob and Kyle spent all day on the top site but joined Will, Mike and myself for the last run of the day on the top site. Most other paddlers were getting off the water by 3pm so despite the centre being very busy with paddlers and rafters we actually had the river to ourselves at the end. To cap it all the M6 was running smoothly and the journey home was smooth. Sarah took some cracking photos.

April 29th

This time off to Myton Fields for a paddle up the River Avon to the greyhound track. This has changed enormously in the past year with the destruction of the Pottertons site and development of a large housing estate on the flood plain. After the driest April and sunniest since whenever, we managed to break the trend by choosing the coldest day of the month for the trip. Anyway a flask of coffee and sandwiches soon made amends. Several shot the main weir but Will spotted the most fun was to be had on the weir at the bottom of the mill buildings.

Surfing, sailing, and satellite malfunctions…

Do you remember the World Cup? Seems a long time ago now. We went surfing to Woolacombe and avoided the match with Portugal. However you could hear the oohs and aahs from out on the surf. It was hot, the surf was small but clean and the small band had a good weekend. My car ended up being decked overnight in the full England car kit – flags, bunting etc. Peal managed to take up two thirds of my tent with his massive inflatable mattress. Mark Parker was out of phase with everyone else, arriving most days on the beach just as we were leaving because it was low tide and there was no surf or what there was was mean dumping stuff.

The Severn Tour in July went from Hampton Loade, through Arley, Eyemore Rapids where Johann swam and finished up in Bewdley. Mike Sharman wasn’t on the trip but couldn’t stay away as we saw him walking along the riverbank, after a day out on the Severn Valley railway. This was a quiet affair with just Johann, Damian and myself on the water. Apart from Johann swimming we saw a grass snake swimming across the river, noticeable by it’s yellow neck. Harmless but they make a pungent smell if handled.

Back in the hot weather of July, two carloads of us headed south to a small village called Prinsted, at the top of end of Chichester Harbour. We were invited down by a mate of mine, Dave Cooper who helps out with the Sea Scouts and wanted some tuition and testing done for the keen canoeists amongst them.

This was no ordinary Scout Hut, situated as it was right next to the harbour, huddled in a picturesque village with thatched roof cottages. The only down side was that for most of the day the tide was out, and the outside shower. This was in the form of a cold tap and hose pipe, more commonly used for rinsing salt water off boats.

Local ale was sampled and given the approval. The next morning Mike was up, well isn’t he always but more interestingly, so was Nigel Perry. A continental breakfast of cereal, bacon sandwiches and tea overlooking the bay was most agreeable. The first paddle was at Cobnor on the Bosham Channel, which gave water at low tide. There was a steady breeze, a building current and plenty of sticky mud. An afternoon introduction to sailing with a crew of three in a stiff breeze kept us all on our toes, learning new terms, techniques for turning and reading the sign posts in the harbour.

A massive BBQ with superb puddings and not much pasta was laid on that evening. We were well and truly looked after. Watch out for the mozzies though as they were biting. Apparently people living in this area used to suffer quite badly from the insects attracted by the shallow warm water.

Sunday was going to be a proper breakfast with rabbit food, sausages, bacon and mushrooms and lashings of tea, (no ginger beer). However Will intervened and managed to deposit the bacon on the kitchen floor!!

More paddling was followed by an afternoon in the single handed sailing boats known as Toppers. Nigel Perry capsized immediately in two foot of water but after that we all settled down to tacking, jibing and stuff like that.

The journey home was uneventful, apart from the failure of Doris (Sat Nav) to steer Nigel Perry home without an excursion towards Rugby, in hot pursuit of Mike, who did want to go to Rugby!

Summer fun has begun with sessions being run as a follow up to the Urban Ranger Active Zone ‘come and try it’ activity at the canal basin. Once again these have been popular and Ryan, Ryan (another one), Kyle, Robert and Damian have been helping me out.

I have just got back from a paddle down the Wye. Super day out, finishing at Monmouth. Mike S, Damian, Robert and Ben were also out. I virtually crashed into a friend who I hadn’t seen in many years, paddling along. We also saw an otter going across the river, now that must be a rare sight.

Have you seen the new bridge, which links the two sides of the canal from the back of the old Council Depot to the new development in the old electricity station, Electric Wharf? What do you think, is this Bridge 1A?

Not much water on the Dart

After an all too brief Christmas Holiday, a few of us migrated south as far as Dartmoor. Stopping at the Powdermills Bunkhouse and enjoying the ale and food at the nearby theme pub at Postbridge is a regular treat. This is different to your average Irish theme pub however, as you detect the theme of hunting is more than a plastic veneer. There was a distinct lack of water in the river Dart and so we paddled the loop at probably the lowest level I have ever bothered to get on the water at. The lines (if there were any), were tight, which kept you thinking. Luke looked cold and joined Will on the walk the following day.

We are getting ahead of ourselves however as the rest went walking on Saturday. If there is one thing common to canoeists going for walk, then apparently whenever Mike is involved, it is darkness. Sure enough, the paddlers were safely showered and opening the first drinks of the night before Mike and the rest appeared out of the pitch black from the direction of Bellever Tor.

On Sunday there was no change in the water levels, so the remaining paddlers got on at Holne Bridge to enjoy the very bottom section of the loop. This also avoided paying the newly introduced £3 parking fee at the Country Park. Personally I would rather spend the money in their café but apparently not enough paddlers were doing so. The result was we had hot chocolate and cake in cosmopolitan Ashburton on Saturday. We finished in Buckfastleigh at the old railway enthuasiast’s yard, after a pleasant trip, which included the large weir beside Buckfast Abbey. Driving back up onto the moor there was a good amount of snow settling. Later we saw them sledging at the Warren House Inn (435m).

All characters in this story are fictitious in order to protect the author from any abuse.

Phil Hadley the local Paddlesport Development Officer popped in to the club in early February to discuss some ideas and make suggestions to improve the operation of the club. So watch out for a few new initiatives. Mike and myself also attended a Sport England Conference to pick up some information. There are plans to offer Paddlepower courses as a supplement to 1 star. We should also be getting some stickers from the Canal Society to label up club boats.

You will be pleased to hear that club fees and visitor fees have remained the same for 2006. Please pay promptly when your renewal comes up.

See you on the water.

River Derwent (how not to perform a shuttle…)

Darley Bridge to Matlock

A pleasant stretch of the River Derwent meandering through the Derbyshire countryside was the scene of the latest club trip in April. Only eight made it on the day but that wasn’t going to be a problem.

A cunning plan was developed whereby we all stopped at the finish car park first, a mile downriver of Matlock. We got changed into paddling gear and left our dry clothes in Mark’s van, which was parked and stayed there. We then drove up to the get in, using the other cars, to launch. We left these cars there. Are you still with me? So far it was going well.

The sun was shining and there was a modest flow on the river, running through the bridge. The river is quite gentle with a few little waves to practice on and eddys to catch, ideal for the beginners. It was then that the plan began to go wrong. Luke announced that he had forgotten his neoprene spraydeck. Fortunately we had a spare nylon one – not cool though and definitely not as waterproof. After a mile or so Mark announced that he had left the keys to his van, (you’ll remember that is the one parked at the end, waiting with all our dry clothes and food in), in the cars still at the top!! A decision was made to carry on and sort it out later. One grumpy fly fisherman was encountered, the rest were fine. Wayne rolled and also took a swim at ‘petrol station rapid’ but seemed to enjoy himself. Some wagtails were spotted darting along the banks.

We arrived at the finish in the sun. All was not lost. Mike volunteered to walk back to the top whilst the rest of us played on the last wave or helped Mark break into his van with a yale key to get food and clothes. The sun still shone and the route back on the road and footpath was much straighter than the river, taking only 50 minutes. With the town now busy with tourists this car journey wasn’t much quicker.
Wildlife Watch

The swans have nested much later this year and set up again on the corner near the overflow at Courtaulds before the Foleshill Bridge 3. So far the skirmishes have been minor and it is believed this is not the same pair that have terrorised us on this stretch of water in previous years. It is still quite ominous when you hear the beat of wings behind you. Paddle fast ..!

See you on the water.

Where are the Pyrenees?

Friday 28th April – (written by Nigel)

The 800 mile journey to the Pyrenees got off to a slow but scenic start. A lorry fire on the M40 closed the M40 at Gaydon and we diverted through some pleasant villages. Tea and biscuits were arranged later by Simon at his brother’s house in the Kent countryside. Rob was no doubt envious as we left him in charge of his two kids. Simon, Roy, Mike and myself settled in for coffee at Dover and waited for Ryan, Bob, Kyle and half of Asda’s tinned food aisle to arrive. We decided to go for the earlier ferry. Great guns you might say? Not so as the Customs officer directed us to his search facility! Have you got any guns or knives? No was the muted answer. The real answer would probably mean we could still be at Dover today as paddlers always carry one river knife for cutting ropes, most of us had a penknife and or leatherman for doing vital ‘penknife type tasks’ and then there were the cooking knives….etc. Thankfully Roy hadn’t brought his axe, (which he usually takes to the Dart), as we didn’t foresee the need to cut firewood! As is usual the two car convoy split up immediately upon exiting the ferry. This was nothing new to those who have seen us all driving off in different directions on leaving the Basin before. Ryan saved the day and got back on to our rear bumper, where Bob was to stay, quite literally for the next 600 miles. Nothing but nothing was going to get between Bob and our car. The difference being, we had three drivers whereas Bob was sole driver. The lads Ryan and Kyle couldn’t be put on the insurance due to their age. One a.m. was not the typical time to consider visiting a Parisian car wash but that was exactly what happened. Bob needed fuel, we misread the signs and before we knew it we were off the planned route round Paris. Eventually Roy saw some neon and yes, you have guessed it, it wasn’t a fuel station. There will be more on refuelling later. We sorted out that situation, after much ribbing and proceeded through a very cold night to arrive the other side of Toulouse.

Saturday 29th April

It was a pleasant relief to put the tents up in Mane on the Salat valley around lunchtime. Bob looked knackered. It was decided that a paddle that day wouldn’t happen so we went to check the river. There wasn’t much water about until higher up the narrow valley, where the river narrowed and steepened considerably. It looked floatable, so we retired for food and what wine Roy didn’t drink. Anyone for Pasta?

Sunday 30th April

American football confiscated, time to go paddling. Around 7km of the Salat below Couflens were the target in a very quiet, steep, scenic valley. The guidebook described a grade III / IV section then a grade II / III section, which was about right although the water levels were probably on the low side for this river. A couple of interesting drops added to the enjoyment. It was a fun paddle and as Ryan said, “much better than it looked from the road.” At lunch we met some French paddlers who pointed us towards the Spanish side of the Pyrenees for a chance of better paddling. On the afternoon stretch Kyle was run down by a Frenchman in a classic 1970’s Feuillette slalom C1. On leaving, the clouds had lifted and snow covered Mont Valier 2838m was visible. Back to the campsite for Pasta then? Roy and Mike went for a bike ride and by the noise may even have won the local cycle race? Kyle was chased by a dog when he went for a jog with Bob.

Monday 1st May – (written by Roy)

Up at the crack of dawn, the sun slowly taking the chill off. Packed and ready to go in no time at all. Off to Spain. Two back seat drivers, Mike and Nigel managed to take us around the same roundabout several times and past some bemused locals more than once. Kyle and Ryan asked if they were in Spain yet, only to be told they had been for an hour, apparently missing the body search at the border? Our own Spanish river guide, Nigel W was on hand, albeit he had last paddled in Sort in 1982. Even the same campsite was still there and had not been developed into a supermarket car park! Simon booked in and the campsite owner even has to ask where he was from. How fluent was that? The river flowed past the campsite so we got on the Noguera Pallaresa at that point and paddled down through the slalom course in the town. Lots of people were out for the Bank Holiday. Beautiful scenery, good water level, waves and stoppers to play on, this was part of a 35 Km stretch of dam controlled grade II – IV. We rescued a boat from the river (not one of ours) and proceeded down to the hole used for rodeo. Finish at Gerri de la Sal in front of a roman bridge (subject to some maintenance). Back to the campsite for pasta. Not Bob, Ryan and Kyle who got out the disposable bar b que and even managed to actually put one out? The rest had washed up before they had even started eating. I blame the parents, Bob.

Tuesday 2nd May – (written by Ryan)

When we woke the first thing to do was shop for food that day (there is a limit to the quantity of tins we could bring after all). This was interesting for Bob, Ryan and Kyle as this was Spain and it had been hard enough in France. Shop and breakfast over and it was time to paddle the classic section of the river from Llavorsi down to Rialp, popular with the rafters and paddlers. After ten minutes Mike and Roy decided to make Kyle and Ryan lead. This was an adventure for all as we had never tried this skill out. After a few pointers it started to work out well for a while. A few rapids later and an increase in difficulty it all went to pot and became the style, “every man for themselves”. During this Bob decided to go over a few pour over type drops sideways, which is generally not a good idea. We later came to a supposed portage at a large weir. After inspection and watching a few rafts and paddlers through it was decided to run it (some faster than others – Kyle). Kyle was going to portage but not if Ryan and Bob ran it. Back at the campsite and Ryan, Bob and Kyle carried on through to the slalom site. They then walked back through the town with their gear, getting some strange looks. Time for evening meal. The pros had pasta, whilst Bob and co cooked meat of unknown origin which turned out just dandy. To sum it up, excellent weather and a pleasure to paddle compared to the cold conditions in the UK.

Wednesday 3rd May

The gorge section, Congost de Collegats was the target and whilst the rapids were tame the atmosphere and scenery was dramatic and spectacular. The vultures were circling above, (well very large birds of prey at least). We explored a tributary with limestone erosion and deposits clearly evident. Just like a geography field trip. Tea, oh we had pasta.

Thursday 4th May

Trip to the Rio Esera, however that requires fuel and as we hadn’t seen a pump in days, (in fact we had blindly been driving past one for a while) we set off up a couple of mountain passes to get to next valley. Mistake. No pumps. The next town seemed to have a magnetic effect on us but after several dead end roads we escaped. Coasting along we finally found fuel!! Followed a cow herd and her cattle but that was another story. The river was nearly dry and speaking to the raft guides in French, Spanish and English established that water was being diverted for up to ten days. The gorge would have been some paddle. Back to the campsite for reading, paddling, cycling and then pasta.

Friday 5th May

Final paddle on the classic section and that we still as powerful and entertaining. Simon rode back up the Pass de la Bonaigua 2207m which was pretty keen. We joked, that he should have kept going towards Toulouse, as we were packing up that day anyway and heading in that direction. We eat some pasta and cleared up. Drove back into France and spent the night under a bivvy on a French aire, the other side of Toulouse, much to the amusement of Bob and co.

Saturday 6th May – (written by Ryan and Kyle)

Bob drove, we slept. Got on ferry with ten minutes to spare. Finally after 2000 miles, Bob was freed from following Simon’s car. Excellent trip, everyone had a good time. Where to go next year??