(Upper section to Mark's Bridge)

NAME OF RIVER: River Yealm.

WHERE IS IT?: South Dartmoor in Devon; it's between the Erme and Plym valleys. Map.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Launch at the bridge near Hele Cross (SX 614 609), the highest road access to the 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.

Community Forum Comments on this Article
Re: River Yealm (upper section to Mark's Bridge) -- jmmoxon
2018 Jan 19 06:28:31 AM
A run to do if you like paddling through overhanging holly bushes.

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...

Re: River Yealm (upper section to Mark's Bridge) -- Mark R
2017 Feb 06 04:47:06 PM
I ran it several times prior to writing the guide - there was definitely no barbed wire or tree blockages then.
Re: River Yealm (upper section to Mark's Bridge) -- WestcountryJon
2016 Jan 03 03:20:14 PM
A group of us ran this section on 2nd Jan 2016 and the landowner at Blatchford Manor was very hostile indeed. He threw a couple of rotten logs at us from the bank and tried to wade into the exit weir of the lake to hold us up. He wasn't provoked and we tried follow the advice to "offer polite apologies to anyone you encounter", but he was having none of it as it was our presence he was objecting to, not our behaviour, so we paddled on a quickly as we could.

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.
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