GUIDE TO THE RIVER AVON
(Shipley Bridge to South Brent)
NAME OF RIVER: Avon.Shipley Bridge GR 681629. There is a convenient car-park there. Getting there from the A38; turn off for South Brent, leave a car in the town at the take-out (see below) and then follow signs for 'Avon Dam'. Amusingly, those fun-loving Devonians have turned many of the signs to point in the wrong direction...so once you've arrived in the wrong place, get a map out and start again.
For the take-out, you have plenty of choice within South Brent. We parked near a Garden Centre beside the railway bridge, with a convenient track down to the river, GR 697603.
APPROX LENGTH: 3 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours+.
ACCESS HASSLES: Apparently some residents close to the Shipley Bridge are very anti-canoeists and have tried to prevent groups from accessing the river. In South Brent and at Aish (village around Lydia Bridge) we talked to friendly and welcoming locals.
Arrive changed into kit and leave quickly, to minimise hassle.
Matthew Carroll, August 2004...'As a South Brent local for 30 years, I have had the pleasure of canoeing the Avon for over 10 years. In this time I have got to know the landowners and have concluded that they have more time and sympathy for small groups (2-4). It also helps if you are clever with your choice of get in points, which there are many if you dont mind a little hike. Other options are using the Bala Brook tributary which joins the Avon at the bottom of the gorge section (only in high water, which makes the gorge unrunnable anyway), or enter the woodland area to river left at Didworthy Bridge and discretely trek up to your get in. In my experience you are unlikely to encounter access problems if you stay clear of Shipley Bridge.'
Rob Hoey...'We tried to paddle this today (01/01/04) but to no avail. Having done all the right things in terms of changing beforehand etc we experienced access issues!
Having broken out above the first gorge as recommended, we were met by the landowner and asked very politely and firmly not to paddle any further. She owns the land on BOTH sides of the river (the new guidebook warns of access issues on river right, but river left is poor too!).
The gist of it is that she doesn't want paddlers on this section, her main reasons being concern over her liability and that she doesn't particularly want paddlers going through her property. This seems reasonable, especially since paddling this river you have to get out onto her land to inspect/ portage the gorge, unless you fancy running it blind...
I would advise against paddling this for the foreseeable future. We were treated very politely and almost apologetically and it would be a shame to see this turned to hostility. It may be possible to get on at the bridge at Didworthy lower down, but again the access there may need consideration.'
Mark Rainsley adds...whilst Rob's comments are perfectly reasonable, I have to disagree. There is absolutely no way that we should relinquish the right to paddle this wonderful river just because of a single landowner. Obviously exercise complete discretion in attempting to paddle the Avon, but I personally refuse to contemplate giving up this wonderful river in order to suit the selfish interests of a very few locals.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The headwaters of the Avon are captured by a dam, so it needs plenty of rain to come into condition.
The problem with the Avon is that you want lots of water to get the best out of most of the river, but then the gorge is too high to run.
Matthew Carroll, August 2004...'The best indicator is the pinnacle rock which stands upright on the first drop at Lydia Bridge. If this is slightly covered with the rock just visible through the overflowing water, you're in for a good run including the gorge. Any higher and you should avoid the gorge and take care if you are new to the river.'
Mark Rainsley - 'I've paddled the gorge with perhaps six inches of water flowing over the top of the rock spike/pinnacle refered to above. The gorge is extremely sticky at this level, exercise extreme caution.'
GRADING: In high water, continual grade 4 with some drops reaching grade 5. The gorge is at least grade 5+ at these levels. At the level when you can run the gorge (Lydia Bridge rock spike just covered) the gorge is grade 5 but the rest is Grade 3-4.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Some rocky tree-obscured falls upstream of the get-in bridge. A major gorge just below the bridge. Weirs. Teeny-weeny breakouts, don't bring a coach party on this trip. Lots of rhododendrons early on!
Trees are a constant nuisance, ducking and limboing is a fundamental part of running this river. This is a C-1 paddler's idea of hell...
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This description is based upon the high water conditions we encountered.
There are a series of steep drops beside the car-park at the start. We didn't do them as they are absolutely obscured by rhododendron bushes.
Below Shipley bridge, the river doesn't give much warmup...weave through the tree branches and run a 1 metre drop with a sticky hole.
Shortly below, look for a place to get out on river left above a big horizon line. Don't get out on the right, as you'll be in a private garden. But trust me on this one, GET OUT.
The river disappears into a sheer-sided gorge. The first drop is the biggest, into a kicking towback, followed by several more drops in increasingly narrow surroundings, losing 20-30 feet in all. At the narrowest point, a chicane leads into a riverwide hole which closes out the river with big towback. The potential is high here for a serious walled in beatdown, this is perhaps Dartmoor's hardest rapid if the water level is anything higher than just flowing over the spike (see Water Levels section above).
This is an impressive start! Thankfully, the river has less nasty surprises after this. Now you can enjoy very continuous grade 4 paddling all the way to the takeout, with one or two harder sections. There are a fair number of sizeable stoppers lurking around. Your group needs to be switched on, as eddies are few and far between, and getting out to inspect isn't always an option
Some memorable drops which you may recognise, almost certainly probably in the correct order...
A steep slalom through some large boulders, close to the road on river right.
A stepped broken weir forming some lively stoppers.
A vertical 1 metre weir, forming a strong towback.
A steep section where the river bends hard left and drops way (a particularly nasty Alsation on the bank will ensured that you run this blind).
An amusing flume where the river is squeezed between rock walls to form two big holes in succession. The first hole rather conveniently 'subs' you under the second.
Lydia Bridge. Upstream of the bridge in the village of Aish, a steep double drop with chewy stoppers which will need inspecting - grade 5. You can get out on river right just above it and portage if necessary.
Shortly below the bridge, you see the railway viaduct loom up and it's time to get out upstream of it on river left and walk up to the cars.
OTHER NOTES: An excellent trip, harder than the nearby Erme at a similar water level (if you include the gorge) but often similar in characteristics.
Rob Hoey...'Anyone keen for the dam overspill? 25m stepped 70 degree 'slide/ drop' into a non aerated bottom pool. Only those with good osteopaths need apply...'