I have been itching to do some Lake District white water paddling ever since we got back from France. Now that the Environment Agency has very helpfully put their gauge data online it is easy to see what most of the rivers are doing. Whilst this is very useful in making plans it is also doubly frustrating if the rivers are at a perfect level but I can’t get out paddling.
Anyway, after a day instructing rock climbing with the 2nd form at Upper Shepherds yesterday it was time for a bit of me and Penny time on the Duddon. The gauges said that it was at a low runnable level, perfect for Penny’s first trip on the Duddon. The last time I was there was with Mark during the Easter Holidays. Today’s level was a little lower than on that day, resulting in hitting a few more submerged rocks but there was no scraping on gravel.We started at Hall Bridge, having been to look at Jill’s Folly on the drive round. I took the car down to Ulpha Bridge and cycled back. We had a gentle warm up down to the gauging weir and bumped our way down the right wall. Having read LDWW since we could probably have descended the fish ladder with less bumping. Some quick water brought us to the pool above Jill’s Folly (IV-). Here the river bends round to the left with two rocks to fit between on the approach and then one final rock to miss on the exit as the water does it’s best to push you to the right. We landed on the island and had another inspection and then Penny watched as I attempted to show her the correct line. I was very happy with the outcome, hitting the line perfectly. I got out with my throwline ready for Penny’s go, choosing a position on the right, level with the final small drop. She had the correct line to start with but got pushed a little right and just hit the right hand of the two rocks you have to pass between. In stopping herself being tipped in onto the rock she let go of her paddle, so she had kept herself upright but now had the final drop to negotiate without a paddle. At this point I got in and reached her paddle but she had drifted past before I could give it to her. Going over the final drop she had nothing for support and fell in. Quickly she exited her boat and swam it into the eddy on the right. I was pleased to see her with a big grin on her face and talking about how she had ‘nearly’ hit the right line on her first grade IV rapid.
The next section of the river is a fast and bouncy boulder garden. This was great fun, Penny was making happy noises from behind me but I was wishing that I had rear view mirrors to keep an eye on her as the paddling needed most of my attention I didn’t have much time to turn and look back upstream. We were woshing along and suddenly I realised that we were almost at the gorge section. A quick eddy on the left allowed us to get out and inspect this steep and confined section. We identified a line that started on the far right and then moved into the middle. This meant we did not have to miss the rock in the middle of the more obvious line (that Mark got close to last time). Penny again watched as I showed her how to do it, but this time she nailed it and had an even wider grin as she sailed past me in my eddy. After a little gentle section we went through the right-handed turn rapid with the stopper at the bottom and some more bouncy flowing padding through boulders before taking out on the left at Ulpha Bridge.
We had had a lot of fun, the river was at the perfect level for building confidence and it was only 1pm so we decided to run the next 6km down to Duddon Bridge. This involved collecting bike from upstream, buying drinks from the post office, driving to Duddon Bridge, and cycling over the large hill back to Ulpha to put on a wet wetsuit ready to continue. All of this took around an hour and by 2 we hit the water.
This second section was not as bouncy, but the water was falling. It still had some very interesting technical paddling. Soon after Ulpha we met one fisherman who told us we were not allowed to paddle until the 1st November. I just smiled and agreed whilst we paddled past, he didn’t even have a line out as we approached him.
The major excitement of the Lower Duddon is Duddon Hall Falls under Rawfold Bridge. We got out at the confluence of Logan Beck and went to inspect. There were two obvious lines, a twisty one on the right and a more straightforward one in the middle passing just to the left of the central dividing section of bedrock. The concern was that he main flow then hit a boulder on the left bank just under the bridge, this looked like it could be serious for a swimmer. After some consideration I decided to run it taking the middle line. I must admit I was a little nervous, it is a big drop and despite the river being at a relatively low level there was still lots of water. The approach was a little rocky in the upper section but I got my boat to exactly where I wanted it. I slid down the tongue of dark water but at the bottom I needed a monster of a support stroke on the left to keep me upright. This didn’t give me much time to avoid the rock and so I gave it a glancing blow. Penny was tempted to have a go but in the end we both agreed that after such a fun and confidence building day it was probably time for a portage to below the falls.
Just after the bridge is the second gauging weir. This can be very serious in high water as it has a vertical face and long towback. Today very little water was flowing over the higher side sections and we both boofed over on the right. From here there was one steep twisty rapid where we got a little caught in a dead end on the left and then the last km of so of gentle paddling to reflect on what an excellent day we had had. We took out on the left after the bridge.
When we got back home the level of the Ulpha gauge was 0.63m and the lower one was 0.55. I think this was perfect for a slightly nervous paddler’s first trip on the Duddon and I wouldn’t want to paddle it any lower as it did get a little bumpy on the second section from Ulpha down.
Written on my phone, spell checking and photos to be done tomorrow.