GUIDE TO THE RIVER BARLE
NAME OF RIVER: Barle.
This section finishes at Simonsbath (SS 773392). There is limited parking near the bridge here, a car park is located a few hundred metres north.
APPROX LENGTH: 5.5 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: No problems reported.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: You are paddling high on Exmoor, close to the source of the Barle; so this is only possible in spate conditions. Don’t leave it long after the rain stops...but if the river is out of its banks, sheep fences make it dangerous. Don’t attempt this at scrapey levels, the paddling quality would be poor and you could potentially damage salmon redds.
At the put-in, the (tiny) river should be bank full. At Simonsbath there is a gauge on river right, just upstream of the bridge; the water needs to lap the lowest part of the gauge pole for a scrape-free level, more would be ideal.
GRADING: Grade 2+ (3).
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees to begin with. A number of sheep fences.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Up on the headwaters of the Barle, the river flows steeply but with even gradient ensuring that the rapids never become especially hard. Perhaps the real lure here is Exmoor itself; this section flows through a beautiful and wild valley.
Barle completists could drive another kilometre up the valley, but the river is small enough already at the suggested put-in bridge. Almost as soon as you launch, you encounter the first of around half a dozen sheep fences. These can’t be ducked (most are constructed of wire mesh) but are all simple and quick portages. Their presence is a shame, as they make the trip more serious than its grade would imply, and mean that paddling at flood levels – which would otherwise be quite a blast - cannot be recommended.
The good news is that the river quickly grows in size, and that the whitewater is continuous; the Barle loses about 60 metres before Simonsbath. The small drops and wave trains never fall below grade 2. Don’t just focus on the river. In my last trip, I spied a kingfisher and an otter. Even better, a herd of deer lead by a magnificent stag appeared on the skyline far behind me, then caught up with and followed me along the riverbank for several kilometres.
Around halfway, you pass beneath the footbridge carrying the Two Moors Way footpath and into a grade 3 rapid consisting of a series of ledges. The character of the river has changed; henceforth the rapids are more technical and bouldery. The wild moorland is replaced by farmland and trees begin to encroach, necessitating some ducking and weaving of low branches. The only flat part of the trip comes near the end, as the river backs up behind a sloping weir with fish steps on river right.
At the bridge in Simonsbath, take out onto the footpath on river left. The wire fence blocking the bridge arches means that a portage will be required if you want to carry on.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.