GUIDE TO THE RIVER WEBBURN
(Ponsworthy to Dart Confluence)
NAME OF RIVER: Webburn.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The section described runs from Ponsworthy (701739) on the West Webburn down to the confluence with the Dart Loop. See below for tips on 'accessing' the river. You can get out at the road bridge where it meets the Dart or continue if you have access arranged for the Dart.
APPROX LENGTH: 3 km.
TIME NEEDED: At the very least an hour and a half...this is what it took me on a superfast solo stealth mission, most of the time spent portaging.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It needs to be run after heavy rain. I paddled this in medium/ high bank-full conditions, it would probably become v. dangerous in flood...see why below.
GRADING: Grade 4. It would be easier without dodging the sizeable tree hazard.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Hairy tight break-outs above log jams. More log jams. Log jams from hell everywhere and anywhere. Difficult and strenuous portages around said log jams. Get the picture?
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This would be quite a good trip, were it not for mother nature. She has been busy stuffing this river full of log jams which make it a complete nightmare unless you are a real masochistic enthusiast. I have not attempted to describe all of their locations here...these things move about! I made at least seven portages but have only mentioned the major portage below. You really do need to be sharp on your break-outs...this river won't give you a second chance before you disappear under a tree.
From Ponsworthy, the river is fast and furious at a remarkably steep gradient. Even so, it isn't really technically difficult...the grade above reflects the difficulty of breaking out above or dodging trees rather than the river itself. After about five hundred metres the banks draw close and the river enters a steep-sided gorge which looks great...but it's blocked end to end with log jam after log jam. The only option is to portage the whole lot...I clambered high up the valley side for several hundred metres through brambles and loose wet rocks on river right. Also, watch out for gaping mine shaft entrances!!
When you have portaged this lot (if only it were clear of trees...) the river joins the East Webburn (anyone paddled/ looked at this?) and becomes more bearable, but the portages keep coming. The river loses it's rather extreme gradient and is continuous grade 2-3 after the East Webburn, harder if you wish to attempt paddling around some dangerous tree obstacles rather than portaging! The final kilometre becomes easier again as it speeds down towards the Dart. Everyone who has paddled the Dart knows the mini-playhole where the Webburn joins the Dart.
OTHER NOTES: I found this trip intriguing but ultimately lousy, because of the trees. I can't really recommend it until the log jams vanish...don't hold your breath...in the meantime the information is here for the sake of completeness.
Pete Bandtock is more positive about it...'I did the Webburn a couple of years ago - almost to the day (Jan '00). We thoroughly enjoyed the trip - perhaps it had been a particularly lousy season - perhaps we just have a perverse sense of fun. You are right, it is full of log jams, but we had no access problems at all. I think people object most to parking. We parked up at the chapel above the village and walked (about a mile) down to the river. We spoke to a couple of people and all were fine - admittedly we didn't hang around! Our feeling was that it was a good alternative to the Upper Dart if the rest of your group wanted to paddle the Loop and you wanted to take advantage of their shuttle at the bottom.'
Chris Sladden adds...'I had a good laugh reading the description of the Webburn. I paddled this in Flood back in ?1986 with Dave Reid. It was pretty scary for trees then - especially in a "proper boat". What I remember even more was my complete thrashing in the Washing Machine once we got on the Dart - in for many manouvres before swimming out. What was even more striking was swimming down the middle of the river, completely knackered whilst a couple of Slalom boaters cruised on by without a so much as by your leave. Dave pulled my boat out (it seemed like miles downstream) on the other side of the river to where I had crawled out!'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, Pete Bandtock and Chris Sladden.