GUIDE TO THE RIVER YEALM
(Upper section to Mark's Bridge)
NAME OF RIVER: River Yealm.
If you want to avoid Blachford Manor (see below), launch near Langham Bridge (SX 608 592), utilising the footpath from the road on river left, just past the bridge.
You can clamber out at the bridge near Mark’s Bridge (SX 602 572). Parking is limited at these spots, do not block access to farms and houses.
APPROX LENGTH: 5 kilometres.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours?
ACCESS HASSLES: You may have to portage on private land; see below.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Having a small catchment, the Yealm needs recent heavy rain. Spate should be avoided as overhanging trees (and possibly, low bridges) would become a problem. This is worth checking when the nearby Erme or Plym are on the high side.
Gauge: Check from Langham Bridge on the Ivybridge to Cornwood road. The river should be flowing well with all rocks covered, but not so high as to make overhanging branches a real concern.
GRADING: Grade 3.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Low trees. Weirs.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: If the phrases ‘fun’, ‘grade 3’ and ‘bobsleigh run’ get you excited, then the upper Yealm will rock your world.
The river is significantly steeper directly upstream of the put-in, where it flows through Dendles Wood National Nature Reserve. If you wish to explore, follow the muddy track past North Hele Farm, located a few hundred metres uphill on river right.
From the road put-in, this small river has continuous rapids never dropping below grade 2, requiring constant manoeuvring and some on-the-hoof reading of horizon lines. Much of it flows through canalised banks with limited eddies; a large group wouldn’t be the best idea.
After a few hundred metres you pass beneath Wisdome Bridge. This is a listed building, dating from the seventeenth century; however it has been damaged by floods in 2012. Directly downstream is a long twisting grade 3 rapid, including two small weir ledges.
Things get slightly complicated, as you now enter the grounds of Blachford Manor, where the Yealm flows into a lake in front of the manor house. The river is alarmingly barred by rubber curtains which look at first glance like a lethal sluice gate, with a sign alongside warning of a dangerous weir. Should you choose to portage on river right, you will have to negotiate a metal deer fence. Actually, there is nothing nasty behind the curtains and it’s possible to push past them, with due care. Unfortunately, a hundred metres downstream is a sticky series of weir steps which you will most likely want to portage. The manor house is directly beside the weir on river left. You will have to discreetly hop ashore on river right and cross the road to launch into the lake, offering polite apologies to anyone you encounter. The lake is 250 metres long, leading to a very long bumpy weir slide which loses considerable height...great fun! You pass through another set of rubber curtains and then grade 2-3 rapids carry you down to Langham Bridge.
Those wishing to bypass Blachford Manor can launch on river left, upstream of the bridge. If doing so, there is little warm-up...paddlers are squeezed under the bridge arches into a sliding weir which catapults them into an excellent kilometre of continuous rapids. Numerous blind horizon lines keep you guessing, some of which are small weirs. Stopping and inspecting isn’t always practical, be prepared to suck it and see!
The river eases down to grade 2 as it passes beneath Blachford Viaduct. In December 2012, several trees had fallen into the river together here, necessitating a simple portage on river right. The river becomes progressively easier through the last kilometre down to the take-out bridge.
OTHER NOTES: The lower section is much less exciting, but has moments.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.
There are at least 2 trees down, which can be seen from the top bridge & a dangerous rhododendron just before Wisdome Bridge (although the nice couple there did offer to trim it back). This section can all be inspected from the road; below Cornwood Bridge also looked like it had plenty of holly...
Unfortunately at the next road bridge after leaving his estate there was a tree down and we needed to stop & get on the bank to inspect & he drove down and caught us there. Apparently that bank is still his land! We assured him we were moving on very quickly (as we were) but he was very angry repeatedly telling us to get of his land.
Apart from that, there were a lot of overhanging branches, trees in the river and a line of barbed wire across the river at one point. I assume the guide was written after a run at a higher level than when we ran it as I think I would need that to be a 'fun grade 3'. I also guess it was clearer then as there are lots of trees now that would be even more of a problem at higher levels. So, for the enjoyment this section offers, personally I don't think it's worth the hassle (of the trees, let alone the land owner) but if you do choose to run it, make your group small and get across his lake as quickly as possible and expect confrontation if you are seen.
I made a video of the paddle, which is way too long so mostly boring but it does show a lot of the river. I have not included any footage of the run-in with the land owner but have a copy for myself, just in case.