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It’s been over a year since I ‘ve spent much time in a boat, let alone gone on a river trip, so I was bright eyed and bushy tailed on Sunday morning as me, my lunch, and my drysuit made our way to the club.
I took a deep breath and braced myself for the legendary early morning club boat faff … but……something’s wrong… Sorting who was going with who in what car was swift calm and elegantly executed. On this day there was no faff.….and wait!.. hang on a minute what’s this??… Rob A ‘s got a big boat???? oh my!…spluttered confusion… Crikey is this how Rip Van Winkle felt when he woke from his hundred year sleep? everything familiar but so very very strange! Luckily I had the journey time in which to recover my composure.
Some people were not meeting at the club but making their own way to Wales. The plan on this cold and sunny day was for everyone to meet up at Mile End Mill by half ten. HXCC were not the only folk to have chosen this venue for the day, there was what looked like a white water rescue course going on, with the bodies and lines decorating the waters like some ritual on the great Ganges. There was a rabble of rafts, a cavorting of kayaks and a stately procession of canoes on the water already and with more cars loaded to the gunwhales arriving in the car park every moment time for us to put a wiggle on!
The facilities at Mile End Mill which hosts Paddleworks are great: Car Park, toilets, changing rooms, showers, and a cafe. It also has a shop which is full of paddle stuff !! We paid £5 a head and this allowed us to park, use the facilities and play on the water til our hearts content. Whey hey!!
We were going to get on the river below Horseshoe Falls and paddle back down to get off at Mile End Mill. We changed at the Mill and drove up to a small car park near the Chain bridge to unload boats and run the shuttle back down to Mile End Mill. The access to the river was down some steps, over the canal bridge, along the towpath a bit to the river to get on just below Horseshoe Falls. Sounds like hard work but it’s not that bad. The last time I came here (which was a couple of years ago) to get up to Horseshoe Falls we had to ferry glide across the river from Mile End Mill then carry the boats across the field, across the railway and then tow them up the canal. This new arrangement is a huge improvement.
At the get in we split into 2 groups, Les and Cliff having a posse each…briefings ensued, signals sorted and onto the water we got. Some gentle ferry gliding to start followed by some carving and turns for Cliffs group to warm up and get used to the water. This section of the Dee although quite short has some good features offering a range of interest. It’s graded 2/3 (like the white water course at the club) plus has the aptly named Serpents Tail which is a 3/4 graded section in the top half of the run to spice it up. This section can also be portaged.
At the get on the Dee was lovely and wide with some gentle riffles, it then dropped under a stone bridge. Ideal to warm up and practice crossing the current and breaking in and out…then it was down a bouncy wave train and into the big eddies at the top of Serpents Tail. It was very busy here with boats and paddlers hauling up on the rocks to get a look at the water.
The 2 HXCC posses got off together onto the rock platform on river left at the top of Serpents Tail to have a look. Here the river gets a lot narrower as it’s squeezed by the rock platform on river left and a rock face on river right so the river forms a short fast churny gorge with a couple of pools and drops with a big sweeping turn towards the bottom pool. It was very busy and slippery on the rock platform but good to view the river from. As we watched some other paddlers come down, we noticed that a few were doing the drops ok but then capsizing as they caught on the eddy line on river left which is what happens if you relax too soon! Not running this part of the river meant a very tricksy slippery portage. Safety cover and signals were set up so we were ready. There were lots of other people doing all of this too, plus the 3 or 4 open boaters lining their boats down. So all very colourful and busy busy busy!!
Once we were all back together in the safety of the bottom pool of Serpents Tail it was time to stop on the shingle beach for a well earned lunch.
Once refreshments were over it was back in the boats and into our 2 groups again. The run down to the Mill from here has a few interesting features/drops, with the groups stopping off to play and practise technique as they went. One spot was good for practising ferry gliding and carving across a frothy flow. Cliff’s group played here for a while practising edging and looking at future water. Then the bigger boats came!! The open Canadians politely came through, one sporting a dog in the bow Then the rafts came… and they were taking no prisoners!! We left the 4 or 5 sets of rafters romping about in the drop and we moved on down to practise some boofing moves (thanks Rob!) and on to the drops below the Mill and the get off. Into lovely warm changing roomsms, browsing in the shop and then upstairs to the cafe to round off the day with a cuppa half price for those who remembered to bring their tags back – now how fab is that?!
This is what Sundays were made for…deep contented sigh! Even though I ached all over the next day it was so worth it!
So thanks to Les for organising it and Les and Cliff for leading and coaching us down the run and everyone who came along and made it such a great day out. HXCC is tops!