On Friday 7th November 10 members (Julian, Neil, Annie, Mitch, Sian, Keely, Iain, Callum, Peter H and myself) made the long journey up to Hexham, Northumberland, for the Tyne Tour 2008. This is an annual event but only Annie and Mitch had paddled it before. There were 28 miles of the North Tyne and 25 miles of the South Tyne open for paddling over Saturday and Sunday, the majority of which was grade 2 but some sections up to grade 4. It was decided that we would paddle the two lower sections of the North Tyne, each section being 7 miles long. The final section included the grade 3 Warden Gorge, and much had been said about how big the waves are in the build up to the weekend. Bear in mind that once you start the 7 miles stage containing the gorge there is no portaging (that is, no getting out and walking around it!).
We travelled up in three cars and arrived at the campsite at Hexham on the banks of the Tyne at about 7:30pm. We set about putting up our tents in the dark the regulation 3m apart and as soon as they were up we walked in to town for much needed food and drink. Unfortunately we were not the only ones to have this cunning plan and found Weatherspoons was full. We set off in search of a local chippie but the first one we found closed at 9:00pm! We arrived at another just as it was closing at 9:30. We bought everything he had left and washed it down with some fine ale from the nearest pub (which didn’t close at 9:30!). On the way back to the campsite two of the younger members of our group (Julian?? and Neal) decided it was much too early to turn in and went clubbing. The rest of us returned to our tents to find that the 3m gaps we had left now contained other people�s tents! As so started the first sleepless night on the hard floor, and Julian and Neal did their best to ensure it remained sleepless on their return in the early hours!
Up about 8:00am and in the queue for much need tea before we all set off back to town for cooked breakfast in the Greasy Spoon Cafe (or whatever it was called). Then back to the tents to get kitted up and in the cars to the start of the day’s paddling. It had been decided that we would Paddle the last two sections of the North Tyne, which included the now infamous Warden Gorge. (The Gorge seemed to be the reason every body was there and the more I heard about it the more nervous I got!). We didn�t get on the water at Wark until after midday and everyone except Annie and me seal launched down the bank. Sian being in the front of the Duo got a dunking! Unfortunately I didn�t get a photo. The weather was pretty good on Saturday, fairly mild and dry but quite windy. In fact we enjoyed a bit of sunshine late in the day (though it was right down the river, and for a while you couldn�t see a thing!). The river level seemed high to me but I have no previous experience to compare it with, this being my first time. There were no scrapey bits the entire 14 miles. We soon had our first capsize of the day: Peter on the flattest, calmest section of water! If you care to ask him, he will talk for hours explaining the difficult manoeuvre he was trying! He did easily roll back up though.
The first 7 mile section was relatively easy with grade 2 rapids that served to boost my confidence, but as we approached Barrasford it was decision time for me! This was the one and only chance to get out and portage Warden Gorge. I had every excuse I could think of for not going any further already well rehearsed, but after we all got out to stretch our legs and inspect Barrasford rapid it was obvious I�d miss ALL the best bits. I was feeling confident with my paddling so far, though I must admit I was still apprehensive about the gorge, and decided to continue. After inspecting the rapid at Barrasford quite a few of our group were tempted to try the grade 4 section on river left, but after much debate it was decided we would all go down the easier river right. After Barrasford (I think I’ve got the order right, someone please correct me if I’m wrong) was a rather pathetic looking weir that in fact was deceptively sticky. Next came the big weir after the road bridge. It was the longest weir I’ve ever been down but we all descended it successfully. No one from our group went down the salmon leap, though many other people were doing so. The bubbly water in the leap would not support the boats going down and they would invariably sink!
We continued down the river through a couple of slightly more difficult rapids, after which some of us on our first trip exclaimed “was that it?” thinking we’d done the gorge. “No” was the reply from Mitch, “the gorge is the same as this but bigger and longer!� Great, now I’m reassured!
And then finally to Warden Gorge itself. My first impression was that there were 100 people stood watching on a large rock, and as we had to queue and go down one at a time, they�d all be watching me! They also seemed a lot lower than us, therefore downhill we were going! I think I went 2nd or 3rd in our group, but I can�t remember who I was following. I know I got sideways with two big waves to go, but I remembered what I’d been taught at the HCA weekend at Tanfield and put my paddle in at the top of each wave and just glided over the top. (actually, on reflection it was probably more of a frantic draw stroke up each wave and less elegant than I first remembered it!). Anyway, I survived Warden Gorge without swimming! I got into the eddie before the large rock with the spectators on just in time to see that Annie was swimming. She held on to her boat and paddle, caught a throw line and was pulled out before the big play wave further down stream. She said later there was no particular reason for going over, just that a big wave took her. She was very angry with herself for not attempting to roll. She was the only swimmer in our group. Julian thought her style of boat and all the extra weight in the back of it didn�t help (I think he meant the weight of her emergency kit!). Then it was time to pick a gap between all the university swimmers to break back in and be on our way, only to be confronted by a wall of plastic boats that was the play wave! Fortunately you can break out river left and go round them. There was certainly no way through them!
View Larger Map Warden gorge
Finally the last section, which was the long slog back to the campsite. After the anticipation and elation of the gorge, the adrenalin subsided and suddenly I felt very tired. When I bumped on a rock on the remaining rapids it seemed to jar right up my back, whereas before the gorge I wouldn’t have felt a thing. I also became aware of blisters forming on my hands, but soon the bridge that marked the campsite was in sight. Unfortunately, no time to shower as we were booked in an Italian restaurant for 5:30pm and then to the Ceilidh straight after; and that is where all the real injuries were sustained! I�m sure there will be plenty of stories regarding how Annie received her black eye, but I was right in the middle of it all. I was dancing with Annie and Julian was dancing with Neil. Neil swung Julian round and his elbow caught Annie in the eye! (Nicely bruised on Sunday morning). And as for Julian and Neil’s dancing; well, that’s a story for the pub!
We didn�t paddle on Sunday because of the weather and blisters and black eyes. It rained all night Saturday and though it started sunny on Sunday, it soon poured down again. We had a leisurely breakfast in the cafe, packed up the tents and set off home. We all had a great time and it was a very enjoyable trip. If we can find a 5 star hotel nearby then I’ll definitely go next year!
I didn’t take many photos, but the ones I did take can now be seen in the Gallery.