Two trips down the Lune

Posted by Andy Waddington on 2011-03-10

We've paddled the Lune three times this winter, the first time being at the end of the Boldron Paddlefest in October, when we had quite a good level. The two trips described here were both on days in 2011 when almost nothing else would have run, emphasising the trip's potential as a fallback when the rain gods are busy elsewhere.

The last programme trip in January was the Tees from Barnard Castle to Winston, but levels were low and several members had done the river at New Year, whilst there had also been a certain amount of swimming down part of this section at the end of our River Greta trip two weeks earlier. Hence there was a certain amount of enthusiasm for finding a river somewhere else that would hold its level. Johnny dropped out of leading the trip, and Mary decided that the Lune was going to be a better prospect, so seven of us (Andy, Mary, Sarah, Michael, Pete, Phil and Roly) rationalised cars at Bowes, meeting up with Gail and Rosie at the put-in.

The reason water levels were low was the cold, about 1°C and freezing higher up, so a certain amount of hard work scraping down the first mile was more welcome than might have been the case had it been warmer. The Killington New Bridge gauge read 0.36m all day, so there was quite a bit of bumping and even the odd bit of get-out-and-drag before we reached Straits and the start of the first gorge. Here Phil had the day's first mishap and rolled up with a very pink face from the cold water.

The start of the livelier water confined in a gorge

Narrow and bouncy, the river doesn't have the power to cause major upsets at this level, but rocks in the eddies can trip up those breaking out in limited space, so we had the first swimmer under the footbridge. Things went more smoothly after that, with plenty of depth of water in the narrower gorge at Howgill Loups and on down

Lots of little narrow sections when the level is low

Soon enough we arrived at the jumping bridge. Soon after, the willows on the right bank indicated that we were approaching Crowder's Leaps - a bouncy rapid at high levels, but a metre or so drop with an obstructed run-in and a narrow slot exit at this level. Michael and Roly chose to portage. Mary was surprised to get down feeling rather chilly, despite remaining upright and in control, but discovered that this was because her spraydeck had popped. Rosie found herself facing backwards, then approaching the narrow slot sideways, but playboats spin on a dime, so she was the right way round to paddle out. The only casualty was Gail, who was quickly fished out, river right.

The river flattened under Lincoln's Inn Bridge, but starts to speed up again as we get nearer the infamous Strid. For many months, there has been a tree stump stuck in the key passage here, making it impossible to run at low levels, so we were all obliged to portage this. The narrow exit from the big pool was boily, but everyone piled through and into Killington Gorge, which is a bit more relaxed than the one higher up, and all too soon brought us to the take-out. Well, it seemed all too soon, but at this level, the trip had taken us 3½ hours.

Just five weeks later, it was the Lune on the programme, but another dry week meant that not much else was likely to go, except possibly the Kent as a final fallback. As it turned out, the Lune was a little higher than last time (0.41m at Killington) and whilst this made no perceptible change for the shallow and wide bits, it was enough to make a significant difference in the narrower passages. This time, Andy, Pete and Ann met up at Bowes, whilst Doug and Gail, Stuart, Richard and Terry had all made their way from different directions. Water temperature was still cold, but at least today was sunny and the air temperature a bit more like spring.

The initial scrape went quickly enough, and soon we were having fun in the gorge. Lots of narrow frothy channels, boulders to avoid, and tight breakouts to make. Some of these were made harder by paddling directly into the sun, making obstacles harder to spot. We were surprised to notice that the jumping bridge had had its girders repainted during the last five weeks. A little more water meant a slightly less intricate run-in to Crowders Leaps, but Pete got almost exactly the same line as Gail last time, giving him a cold wake-up call and just enough room to roll up. Doug chose to avoid the V-notch and boofed from the right, which seemed to work very nicely, so Ann and I followed suit. Gail portaged this time, and we had no more incidents.

Boofing off the right-hand rock over the aerated pool

Down to the Strid and all out for a look. To our great surprise, the tree stump has vanished and at this level, it looks as though it might just go. Terry gives it a try, and seems to make a neat controlled run, so I set off. Down the first little drop, which is unexpectedly narrow, then I realise I haven't turned the video helmetcam on. Frantic attempts to make too-small breakouts results in a severe wobble, no chance to turn the camera on, and I'm now heading into the key section backwards. Some very frantic paddling got me turned round and lined up tight to the right wall, where the water is slower, so approaching the drop, doing this slowly and making the very sharp right turn in the aerated water all works better than I had hoped for moments earlier.

Doug and Ann now set off, but Doug came in too fast, giving him no chance to get over to the right, slow down and line up. The bow hits the rock and the stern swings rapidly round to river left. Down the even narrower slot backwards, and soon upside down. Stuart on the rocks grabs a buoyancy aid strap and yanks Doug upwards, exit the boat and an easy swim to the eddy river right. Ann is already putting on and sees none of this. The approach looks good and she gets nicely over to the right, slows right down and makes the drop. Bow close to the left wall, but a steering stroke gets her lined up for the last bit before Stuart can grab the bow to help and looks good through the last narrow constriction.

Ann lining up, and making the turn in the aerated pool

Annoyed about failing to turn on the video, I set off to portage back upstream, meeting Pete and Stuart who have now decided to give it a miss (Richard and Gail have already portaged down). I am soon back in the boat and realise that the video has been running since watching Ann's run, so no chance of failing to have it on this time. It's inevitably easier second go, and I break out in the minimal slack water river right above the key drop. Hmm, now facing upstream again, with not a lot of room to turn, but this goes easier than expected and it's very simple to sidle slowly towards the drop. A slight boof and a quick stroke to make the sharp right turn and off we go - a second successful run, and this time its a wrap

Hands-free photography - the tight drop in the Strid, 2nd go

More gorge, and a few entertaining alternative channels, and once again we are soon at the take-out, pausing only for a bit of jumping from a high rock river right, encouraged by the sunshine and warmer air this time. Maybe next time we'll catch it at a nice level again - we had 0.65m on the last day of the Boldron Paddlefest back at the end of October, which worked really well.

Article and photographs copyright © Andy Waddington 2011

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