A brisk walk in the park - a journey down the Eamont

by Rob Gillions

Last weekend I lost my paddling partner. Careless, I know, but just one of those things. After paddling together for nearly 16 months, he decided that a job offering a 30% pay rise was worth more than the our regular skives off work to paddle. Tish!

To end our current phase of paddling adventures, we decided that a trip to the Lakes after moving day was in order. Now, here I feel that I must explain a few things of relevance:

1. I haven't paddled for three months due to a chest injury
2. I paddle grade 3 ish
3. I scare easily - see 2.

This does not bode well for paddling on one of the wettest weekends of the autumn so far. While Andy was very keen on the Greta (which we have done twice this year already), I seriously doubted my fitness level and ability to get down it in one piece. (I know, I know - I should have a yellow drycag).

After discussion, we agreed on a jolly down the Eamont: a nice grade 2 but with plenty of water flowing down to make it reasonably interesting. We did it last year to get back into the swing of things after a long layoff (almost 10 years in my case), and it was good fun if a little uninspiring. This time I also managed to persuade Andy to lend me his drysuit in return for my (leaky) drycag - you don't know what you might catch when you have a half inch hole in your chest!

Down to the put in, and despite me travelling from Merseyside and Andy coming from Carlisle, we managed to arrive within ten minutes of each other. A quick assessment of the conditions (it's running quick, isn't it), shuttle the cars around (the joy of having two cars for a change ) and pass my dog over to Andy's girlfriend to run ragged up the fells while we got wet (stop smirking - you know what I mean). Bumped into some of the very friendly guys and girls from Carlisle Canoe Club with their open canadians (weirs might be interesting today ). Into the water, and off we go.

The first thing that I noticed was that the river was moving quick - very quick. In fact, there was little chance of me holding station in the current while Andy got in (especially in my Dom 44 - not the fastest thing, unless on a wave). Oh well, we weren't planning on stopping much, anyway. Off down to the first weir, leaving the open boaters behind still getting ready - what is it they need to pack in those drums, anyway?

This doesn't look the same as last time. The water is going over the sides as well Down the centre, keep the nose UP !!! and over we go. Phew! Didn't fall out, and my balance seems to be returning somewhat. Back into the centre of the stream, and bounce over the standing waves. This is fun! No need to paddle to make good time, and lots of little (18") waves to gain confidence on. We had planned to go all the way to the castle, about 12 k, and it looked as though that wouldn't be a problem today despite spaghetti masquerading as my arms and very short boats.

30 minutes later and I have to get out of the boat. Now. Right now. My feet are numb, and my hip seems to have locked. Amazing how you forget how acclimatised to pain you get when paddling regularly, and how quickly you lose it. I wriggle out of my boat (I hope it is easier if I'm upside down and I have to exit in a hurry), and gracelessly slide off the back and into the water. Attempt to dry hands (fag to light), and hop around in pain until the circulation restores. Fun, this, isn't it

More bouncy stuff, and then a stop before the caravan site weir. Lots and lots of water!! By then the open boaters had caught us up, and we all got out to have a look and nod sagely at each other. While there was plenty of water going down, it looked fine for us with playboats and neoprene decks, but for the open boaters, this would be interesting! We went down first to sit at the bottom and watch the fun.

Wheeee! Bounce, bounce, catch the wave at the bottom, glide across a bit (watching out for the spikes), and plop nicely into the eddy to watch. Bring on the first victim.

Down he comes. This is when I realised that it takes a fair degree of skill and, dare I say it, chutzpah, to bring a 16 foot open down a weir, especially on your own. Anyway, no problems, straight over the top, and not even a lot of water shipped. Boring. Nicely done, but still boring. On to the next. A look of fear from the young lady in the front, and not the best line I have ever seen, but effective. Still no capsizes. Two more to come. The next one got it all wrong, half filling up, but managing to stay on course and break out at the bottom. Final boat finessed it with some style - what, no-one to fall out? I want my money back!!

But I had forgotten the magic elements of overconfidence and peer pressure, and for a change it didn't involve me (flashback to Pierpoint, the first time- 'You'll be fine. You can't drown, you just get flushed out at the bottom.')

The third boat decided that after a while of watching me and Andy play in the stopper and the bulgy wave alongside that they wanted a go. Now, the freeboard on a touring open boat with two paddlers and all their kit is about 6 inches, so we all new that they weren't going to last long. In fact, they did quite well. They managed to get the nose into the stopper, amid shrieks and curses, and back out with no problem. Easy! Grins all round.

So, in again to show off - fatal. Boat fills, sinks, and is held up only by the two small buoyancy bags with bits of kit attempting to leave the vessel. Much wobbling, cursing and shrieking.

"Use your support strokes !!" comes from the crowd (not me!) Anyway, amid much hilarity and gentle teasing, they are shepherded to the side to empty out and recover.

We decide to move on, and there is not that more of note to mention. We portaged the vertical weir (yellow streak again, but I could still see the boulders below it that I knew I would land on ), and the fast roller coaster train of small waves continued pretty much right to the finish - very little paddling, and a good ride.

Did we have a good day? Definitely. It was great to be back on the water again, and while the river was not that much of a challenge even for me, just being out there was something special. Considering the weather we have had recently, the bright sunshine and cloud free skies were a definite bonus, and the wildlife interesting - two herons, some dippers, and two fish nearly landing on the boats while snapping for flies. Oh, and not forgetting the company - always nice when you are used to paddling as a pair all the time.

As with all good days, no pictures since I forgot the camera, but I will remember this as a nice day out for some time. If you want to know what it's like, you'll just have to do it yourselves - don't discount the easier rivers, they can still give a nice day out and plenty of fun.

Oh, and Andy - if you think you're getting away that easily, think again - after helping you move, I know where you live, so expect a visit to ask if you want to come out to play sometime .

By Rob Gillions