- The names have been changed to protect the guilty
It had been raining. A rain of the cats and dogs variety. It was February 1995, and best of all it was Wednesday afternoon. If you're a student this means - no lectures - a legitimate skive, which, when the rivers are up, is a rarity.
That lunchtime we'd met at the notice board, the excitement was almost visible floating round, bouncing off the useless notices and fliers that inevitably get stuck over the vaguely useful items. Nad flew up the stairs with a huge grin on his face.
"The highest recorded level for 100 years, this is it lads."
So we loaded the cars at the boatshed and drove as fast as we could to Hexham. Two cars, eight paddlers we peered into the Tyne from the bridge and noticed that it was going to be possible to paddle onto Tyne Green instead of having to use the steps. Awesome.
The ten-minute jaunt to Chollerford allowed us glimpses of the river. Definitely brown. We weren't prepared for the sight at Chollerford, but it meant a lot of excitement.
"Where's the weir ?"
The weir at chollerford is massive, as are the wooded islands downstream. On this particular day only the treetops remained. Were those surf waves under the bridge arches ?
Indeed they were. We spent the first twenty minutes at the bridge. Convenient eddies behind the stanchions allowed us access to these beautiful waves.
"Get off the wave"
"No-way, Why ?"
Mobile strainers appeared at random moments needing swift manoeuvring to get out the way, especially if you happened to be totally absorbed by the wave.
We drifted downstream breaking out behind trees, surfing the occasional wave and generally loving it. As we approached the Warden gorge we grouped up. Two fours, I'd be first, our weakest paddler following. I calmly re-assured Scudge that we could break out after the first drop (chicken chute) before running the gorge proper, as she wanted to take a look.
How wrong I was. The rapid started at the first drop and didn't stop. Massive standing waves, exploding haystacks, the works. Scudge was stylin'. She knew we couldn't break out but was happy following. I'd heard a big stopper could form at these levels at the end of the "gorge" so I was alert, with the intention of taking the tongue on the right. I was sure it would be there.
As we got to where the stopper should be, it wasn't. There was a huge wave instead. I relaxed; too soon. As I crested, the stopper loomed. A big hole foaming off-white, you could fit two boats in it end on end vertically, most of the river was channelling in and trying to force it's way back upstream. A quick sprint right took me clear and I turned to see Scudge catch the edge of the hole. Over she went, tried a roll and swam. At that point Nad was behind and chasing. I watched our fourth paddler through and joined Nad. The other four would be fine.
We pulled Scudge out just above the confluence with a massive grin on her face (I've always thought she was slightly mad). We turned expecting to see the others bobbing down......
Nala had been leading. Him, Narf, and Naroc hit the hole,
"Twenty foot and more" to coin an Irish phrase.
Nala reckons all three of them were in there getting trashed. I saw Naroc sprinting down the bank as we pulled the boats out, a look of horror on his face, Narf's helmet in his hand. He'd seen the helmet in the water grabbed it, pulled, and found nothing...... "Argh !!"
Narf's helmet had been ripped off, he explained as he ambled down the bank a minute or two later. Neb was the only one of that four to still be in his boat. Everyone relaxed, and enjoyed the buzz as we floated down to Hexham in the fading light, and that, believe it or not is the tale of Big Wednesday.
Ydna Snave paddled with Scudge, Nad, Azzej, Nala, Narf, Naroc and Neb.