I scowl in frustration at my canoe in the racks. Damn my wayward paddle. It’s fallen down the back and I’m going to have to wriggle in the gap to get it out. I must put it away properly. I must put it away properly. We load our cars onto our roof racks, pulling the straps deliciously tight, and set off for Burton on Trent. This is the first time I’ve not known in advance where the put in is for the trip. I have relinquished control reluctantly and there is a new thrill in not knowing what is going to happen next. It turns out to be reasonably uneventful and we arrive without fuss in Burton. Roger pulls into a garage. I predict that Jodi has eaten everything they brought with them and they need to stock up again. I need a toilet stop so I shut down the engine and Dave and I get out of the car. We look around to see the other three cars pulling back out onto the road. Oh, shouty panicky moment!
We race back in and try to follow them up the road. Thank heavens for the boats, they almost get away from us sneaking into a Tesco car park, but we track them down. They pretend they were looking for better loos, but I’m fairly sure I know better.
It’s not far now to the river. We pull in to a car park and are followed by another car with an open canoe on the roof. They are members of Burton Canoe Club and come over to investigate us. They recognise Roger and then me, from the Doggy Paddle. We’re invited to launch at the club landing stage. We don’t tell that we were going to anyway. We’re invited to take a look at the club’s new building and it’s very impressive. I take photos so that we can get Malcolm to copy their best ideas.
The river is running fast. I’ve never paddled here before so I have no reference, but it is easy to see that there is a lot of vegetation under water. I fire up my phone and check the flood warnings. There is general warning that lists every village we’ve driven through on the shuttle run. Roger reassures me. He’s been paddling this river since he was young. We check we have all the kit we need and it turns that Dave has brought rope, I have tape and Roger has some cable ties. Oh my, fifty shades of fun.
We launch and there is no stepping down into the boat. We dip our paddles and stroke them gently through the water. The canoe responds immediately, turning smoothly into the current and coming to life beneath us. Oh, please.
Our route takes us upstream for three hundred metres. The current is strong, restraining us and we have to paddle harder and harder, picking up speed, maintaining a relentless rhythm, driving the paddles deep and ourselves through the water, seeking the release of the turn into the main channel. We throw up a spray from our paddles, the water shattering into a thousand pieces, scattering the sunlight.
Suddenly we find ourselves in an eddy just by the turn. We all draw breath, gathering together and waiting for the boat with Brian, Jo and Adam who have had to readjust their trim and paddling to cope. Roger warns us that there is a weir under the bridge and we need to get the right arch. We set off with a rising anticipation that is dashed when we arrive to find the whole thing washed flat by the high water. There is a little disturbance, but nothing to trouble any of us and then we are away, riding on the full flow of the flood waters, accelerating easily to (PK informs us, after checking a gadget in his lap) 6 miles an hour.
Being on the water has its usual effect on me. My breathing slows, my worries leave me. There is nothing more than being in this moment, and this moment is a good one. The river is high. We are level with the banks and have unrivalled views of the country side we’re passing through. Dave and I debate the purpose of a high wall, isolated on the river bank. We consider half a dozen options, but not that it is the safety wall for a second world war firing range. We pass fifty shades of wildlife, seeing birds we seldom see, Egrets, buzzards and lapwings.
Out in the countryside we are quickly into the usual world of paddling. We spend time paddling and absorbing the world around us, occasionally paddling beside another boat, exchanging chat whoever is there. Janet is paddling her slalom boat and we learn about its history and distinguished competition past (well, before Janet bought it). We spot eddies with swirling, whirlpool filled eddy lines and drive the boat across them, occasionally, as is now traditional, running Neil down in the process. Dave and I have never paddled together before (people don’t often paddle with me twice) and we’re quickly becoming a team.
We admire riverside properties and worry about how close the river is to flooding them. There is an island and Roger checks his guide for which side to take, but it makes no difference. There is water everywhere. We pass under the cooling towers of a demolished power station and look for a lunch stop. We pass a flock of sheep, left precariously close to the river. At the field boundary the river bank has broken down and the next field is slowly flooding. We get out just beyond, and easily pull the boats out onto the bank. I set mine up as a windbreak and we settle down to lunch, comparing notes about our day so far:
Janet seems to be under the impression that this river will take us to Cardiff. I make a note to never let her navigate. Adam has fallen in twice. Neil is dining in style; inspired by the trip to the proms he is eating a pasta salad from a china bowl. I look around, but his butler seems to have taken the rest of the day off. For some inexplicable reason PK is nibbling the end of Brian’s carrot. As we get up to go, Roger asks Jodi whether she is taking her clothes off. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told them I was considering a fifty shades theme for the trip report.
We round the next bend and discover that the river hadn’t just been flooding the field beside us. It was flowing across, creating our very own lunchtime island. We are flying down the river. It seems very little time before we are at the caves Roger, our local guide, had told us to expect. We have to navigate our way up a side channel. On the way back out to the river I remember that he had warned us to be careful of a low bridge. I’m puzzled, until our hull catches for a moment on the handrail as we go over it. This river really is high.
We fly over the remaining miles to Swarkestone. The get out is uneventful. We collect cars and load boats. Jodi is out of food again so we leave the party to trot round to the pub on the other bank while I shuttle Roger back for his car. This river was definitely fifty shades of fun.
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