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Sarah & I recently took advantage of Mark and Shamim’s hospitality in Carlisle for a weekend of open boating.

As it was set to be a sunny summer weekend, we decided to keep well away from the crowds in the Lake District and head over the border to Dumfries (via a tasty bacon butty - although salad and kiwi fruit with it was unusual). Getting on half way up Loch Ken, there were none of the problems parking that we’d have had in the lakes, and the only crowds were a dozen or so people messing about in boats at the water sports centre and campsite. So before long we had the loch to ourselves and Mark settled into spotting wildlife. The area is renowned for Red Kites and we weren’t disappointed, spotting them early on and regularly all the way down the loch.

Not long after lunch we reached the end of the loch and with a very short portage started off down the river Dee.  Best described as a touring river, there’s not a lot of white water – more gently moving with a rare ripple and just the one rapid really – but hey, this was chilled out open boating not hairy big water kayaking!

 

By now, Red Kites were so common that we were bored of them and Mark was now saying he wanted to see real wildlife - like flamingos or lamas! But we had a treat in store. The next pair of birds we spotted just didn’t look like kites (nor flamingos) – we were puzzled, until we spotted the distinctive nest - and had a hunch they were ospreys! This was confirmed when we landed at the castle round the corner – much to the confusion of the lady on the gate, we landed in the handy harbour and turned up to pay from inside the site.

The only rapid came just before the end, sadly too low for any playing. A nice grassy bank at the get off allowed Shim and Sarah to bask in the sun and dry all the kit off while we fetched the cars.

Sunday’s plan was another trip over the border to paddle the Esk – a gentler section than the bit we kayaked in February, but sadly there was too little water. Plan B – back over the border and over to Kielder.

As reservoirs go Kielder is big – the biggest in Europe – the people of the north east are not likely to be having a hosepipe ban anytime in the next century!

After several false starts we found where we could launch; the detours included another castle, although we ticked off lama spotting on the way!

Then we had to persuade the lady that we were competent! This was tricky, not because Mark was with us, but we were supposed to show our certificate of competence - although they didn’t seem to know exactly what level of competence we needed (and I’m sure you all carry your star test certificates with you on the off chance). Declaring “Don’t you know who I am, I’ve been on Countryfile” seemed to do the trick - although it might have been our Canoe England cards and reeling off our coaching awards. Finally, weighed down by paperwork, we were allowed to go paddling.

Off into the wild - straight across the lake and up to the top end - or as far as the nature reserve would allow. There was no sign of the lake’s resident ospreys (but they were old hat now) nor the fabled killer midgies. With perfect timing the heavy downpours came just as we sat on the back for a tea break and just as we got back and wanted to get changed.

Thanks to Mark & Shim for the hospitality and two great days boating.

 

Les Ford.