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Cast: Mr and Mrs Shark, Flotsam and Jetsam, Barry Chollerston and Papa Ska)

( AKA Mark, Shim, Dig, Lois, Vicks & Keith)

 

“So which section of the river shall we paddle tomorrow?”

 

Don’t you love it when someone asks that question, as you know you can sit back for an hour or four as everyone debates the merits of one section of river, that none of you has ever been to before, over another? River guide books come out, the internet is switched on, and someone will have a badly hand-drawn map of river on the back of an envelope supplied by some salty old river dog. We are at times cautious and at others full of bravado. No doubt a bottle of red will be opened, and if we are lucky there may even be a wheat beer and a curry supplied to assist in our circular debates. Comparisons will be made to rivers run before and rapids un/successfully navigated.

 

“Well Bala mill falls is a grade 4 drop and you did that no problem”

“I’ve never even been to Bala”

“Yes you have, you were on our 4 star course with me, there “

“I haven’t done that course yet “

“Funny, I was sure you were there”

And so the conversation goes on “We’ll be tired tomorrow, and I don’t want to do anything too tricky”.  

Eventually someone, whiskey in hand, will pound the table with his fist saying “Are we men or silverfish? Let’s do the gorge!”

 

And so began the Tyne tour 2011. Saturday morning found everyone quieted down, thankful for a very hearty breakfast and the in awe of the restorative, if somewhat fleeting, qualities of strong black coffee. Eventually we found our way to Hexham, the heart of the event, where we found hundreds of hardy northern kayakers tenting on the banks of the Tyne. Various kayak/canoes shops had step up stall with very smart new lightweight canoes to test-paddle and there was even a temporary climbing wall supplied for us to show off our many hidden talents. Naturally we shunned such delights, bought our weekend tickets and headed to the start of the river.

 

Father Sol was kind to us and the Tyne stretched broadly ahead like a sparkling path of broken mirrors twisting gently through the rolling green hills of Northumbria. ‘Autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness’ said Keats and we certainly felt as if all worldly worries and quotidian thoughts were swept away by the kind breeze that also showered us with crimson leaves. Even the salmon leapt in joy from the river pausing crescent-shaped in mid-air for the sun to reflect their glory and for us to stare in wonder and be thankful for the pleasures the river shares.

The Tyne is dam released for the Tyne Tour event and attracts many paddlers from across the country. On Saturday we were joined by a lone Kentish paddler who entertained us with stories of adventures past. Dotted along the river are sheds and shacks of various sizes and shapes used by fishermen, the most impressive of which resembled the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. Perhaps such thoughts of sweetmeats ensured it was here we stopped for lunch. How smug we were on our specially provided picnic table laden with steak pies, pork-pies, sausage rolls, venison, guinea fowl, cream cakes and chocolate truffles all served on a gingham tablecloth. To top it all, our Kentish friend lit an enormous fire with only the bark from a silver birch tree and some hand-gathered willow twigs as fuel. Try as we might, we couldn’t resist daubing woad over our faces and dancing round the fire before heading on downstream, to the small village of Wark where day one came to a satisfying end.

Pizza, salad, wine, beer, fire, chatter and laughter - Sleep.

 

Sunday morning. And the 6 are ready 25 mins early! (Tip of the day: Get all your faffing done in day one and you’ll be amazed at how efficient you can be on day two) Heading back to Wark and sorting out the shuttle we were a model of efficiency, back on the beautiful river by 11 am, we were treated to the sight of the morning mist rising softly from the river’s surface. So, as to be expected, we sang “Fog on the Tyne” tunelessly at the top of our voices all the way down to Barresford.

From Barresford back to Hexham the river gradient becomes a bit steeper, starting with a grade 2 rapid at Barresford itself and followed by a river-wide weir at Chollerton, which we negotiated by the fish pass in the middle (great fun was had by all, watching the smaller boats disappear briefly under the churning water). Next up was a river-wide reef that had three possible routes kindly signed by the organisers so we could avoid the tricky stuff and take the 2/3 rapid on river right.

The river then was flat until we reached the gorge. But before we could get there, the fog thickened and created a misty curtain across the river, visibility became poor and we slowed to snail’s pace, not knowing what hazards confronted us, no-one wanted to risk curtain death.  

Then finally the mist cleared, the river narrowed and turned to the right, some flat rocks jutted out from the left bank and the noise of churning water became palpable. We’d reached the gorge. Warden Gorge is the trickiest part of the trip and consists of a continuous grade 3 rapid over approximately 100m. Just to add to the excitement a group of about 50 paddlers had gathered on the rocks on the left to witness any humiliating swims we were sure we’d make. We made a quick reccy at the top of the drop and then with a chorus of ‘tally ho’ and ‘chocks away’ we flung ourselves down the drops. Usually the only things you worry about are the enormous waves, holes and rocks, but we had the added obstacles of 40-50 manned boats, a handful of swimmers and a couple of empty boats to avoid on the way down. But we all made it down with our dignity intact, no swims, no accidents, no hairy moments.  6 wide smiles broke across our faces as we gathered on the small beach in the eddy at the bottom, we spoke to some other paddlers and shared some greasy caramel before floating down the remaining few miles to Hexham, arriving just before the sun set.

 

A great weekend was had by all, nobody swam all weekend and we came back feeling as if the river Tyne was ‘all mine, all mine’.

 

(P.S. Many thanks to the Sharks (Mark & Shim) for their incredibly kind hospitality)

 

Keith O’Hara (Papa Ska)