GUIDE TO THE RIVER EAST LYN
(Watersmeet to the Sea)
NAME OF RIVER: East Lyn.
WHERE IS IT?: The River East Lyn is one of two channels which drop steeply from northern Exmoor into the Bristol Channel at Lynmouth.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Access at Watersmeet (SS 744486) is below the footbridges, having walked down a steep path from the parking area on the A39. Take-out when the water starts tasting salty (SS 724495).
APPROX LENGTH: 2 miles. Vertical drop: 110 metres.
TIME NEEDED: Plenty first time down (2 hours+).
ACCESS HASSLES: The entire of the East Lyn is regularly paddled year-round in appropriate water levels.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The river does not have a very high flow except during exceptional flood (as in the world famous disaster of 1952), but what it lacks in volume it more than makes up for in technical difficulty and gradient. River levels are crucial in determining what you shoot and what you portage. At high flows most paddlers will want to closely inspect the gorge section and many will then portage. At low flows the gorge is great fun but the rest is rather rocky. Medium flows are therefore ideal, but this river is 'flashy' and getting the level right is not easy.
Comments from Mark Rainsley.....'there is a car-park on river left beside the river in Lynmouth. If ALL of the rocks in the river here are well covered, the river upstream in the gorge will probably be grade 6! But the lower half should be paddleable from below the gorge at chunky Grade 4. If the central island is just nearly submerged, the gorge will be very challenging grade 5 - experts who know the river only! If it's possible to paddle either side of the central rocky island without scraping (see Lynmouth photos), then the gorge upstream will still be grade 5 and full-on! If it's a slight scrape either side of the island, then it'll be grade 4+ in the gorge. This is probably what Adam refers to as 'medium' levels above. I also understand that the gorge can be paddled when it's too low to paddle at Watersmeet. I've never bothered to try this, though.'
Comments from Tom P...'If the river looks "chunky" at the put on, think twice. A team of us ran it at Christmas '99. After lots of inspection and portage, a mate of ours took an absolute pasting in the river wide hydraulic that forms at the bottom of the rapid by the first footbridge. We then spent one and a half days hauling his boat from a pin under water below the nasty gorge (at that level). The run out from the gorge, which is usually a grade 2 -3 was a nice grade 4. Incidentally, a bloke in another group swam and broke some ribs and lost most of his kit that weekend. Some people have all the luck.'
GRADING: 4 normally, 5 in higher levels. Grade 6 in really high levels!
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Plenty, see below.
There is a tree hazard in the main gorge, see below.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: About fifty yards downstream of Watersmeet is a drop of about 4 feet where a cross-current pushes most of the water (and canoes!) into a rock face on the right. The river carries on fairly innocently under a large arched bridge and turns to the left where a small drop should not cause too many problems. 300 yards further is a house on the left (742490) [no access on this land, please], and 200 yards after that is a 3 feet drop best shot on the right followed by a fast, narrow stretch. Beware a nasty tree stump on the right at the bottom of this section.
A small gravelly 'beach' on the left below this section provides a good landing point to enable you to inspect the very technical section from here to the next bridge, but note the comments above about spawning beds. Pay special attention to the 4 foot vertical drop about 100 yds upstream of the bridge; at low flows this is best shot on the extreme left, but at high water a central or right route is probably less hazardous. In high water this reaches grade 5. Once at the bridge, the river has no major natural obstacles for a few hundred yards, but when you arrive at the next footbridge, Blackpool Bridge, you are at the start of the very serious gorge section. Note that this is the second bridge.
Inspection is highly recommended but difficult as the path climbs to well above the gorge and visibility is restricted by trees. It is possible to scramble along at water level from the bridge if needed. If you choose to portage, follow the path until it drops back to river level and you will have passed the worst section.
If you wish to paddle the gorge the first drop after the bridge is a narrow slot which goes from right to left between rocks, closely followed by a 3 foot shoot. It is usually possible to stop here.
The first 'crux' rapid begins now...a two metre vertical drop which must be run on the right in low water and generates a big backtow on the left in high water, followed by a chute past an under-cut left bank leading straight over a 7 foot vertical drop with a very shallow base, particularly on river right. Difficult to do tidily!
Several other large drops occupy the next 100 yds which is characterised by huge boulders and sheer rock sides. There is currently (December 2001) a dangerous tree jammed across part of this section, which can be avoided with some proactive paddling.
The second 'crux' section follows. The river funnels towards a narrow channel to the left before cascading over a 6 foot vertical drop into a severe stopper, walled in by the cliff behind. Plenty of people have found themselves stuck in this! In high water the rapid leading into this drop is huge...
This marks the end of the serious section, but the final stretch still has plenty of interest.
The remaining mile to Lynmouth and the egress point at a riverside car park has continuous grade 4 water at higher flows with numerous route choices, but is a rock dodge at low water. A nasty accident involving emergency services call-out happened on the first section below the gorge when someone pinned, be careful of this nasty rapid. After this you can afford to relax a little and enjoy the water, but don't relax too much as some of the holding stoppers can surprise you. If the gorge is too high, this section offers a great alternative.
The egress point and car park is immediately before the road bridge (724495) but do have a look at the surf before getting changed; this beach has some of the best waves in the South West so it would be a pity not to take advantage of it! You pas the confluence with the West Lyn shortly before reaching the sea.
OTHER NOTES: There is an upper section to the River Lyn.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Adam Box, also Mark R, Mike Moxon, Jon Forsyth, Dave Francis, Harvey Lyons, Tom P and Pete Thorn.