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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

Leicester to Blacktoft Jetty, Wreake, Trent, Ouse - April 1999

Friday, 9th April 1999

Wreake, Trent, Ouse Written By Adam Brewster Putting in to the river Wreake just 500yds from home helped reduce car shuttle distance and tied in with my personal challenge to paddle from Leicester to Trent Falls and beyond in a Dagger Crossfire general purpose white-water spec boat, solo with camping gear and food etc. Within minutes of setting off at 7.30 am, I had to use my knuckles to get over a shallows prior to the pallets and debris cloaking piers of the pack-horse bridge at Ratcliffe Mill. I would not usually paddle this river at such low water level, nor would I have attempted to negotiate so much debris at high levels. Once clear of the small drop I paddled under the road-bridge and waved Jean goodbye. 100 yds later I spotted the first Kingfisher, possibly a good omen. I had to pick a way through the shallow weirs at Ratcliffe lock and Syston mill noting that a fallen tree needs drastic cutting away before we shoot this in-flood next time. After reaching the navigation, portaging Navigation lock seemed the better option to scraping down the weir. Cossington, Sileby and Mountsorrel weirs had sufficient water to shoot them and good fortune provided a cruiser going down Barrow Deep lock as I arrived, so a well-earned breather was taken as the helmsman operated the lock and I went down with his wife on the cruiser.

I left the lock first and kept ahead of the cruiser untill Pillings lock, where I shot the weir; too little water and poor judgement nearly had me pancaked on the stones at the base, fortunately I managed to reduce my decent speed and pick my way through. There was just enough water under Cotes Mill road-bridge to clear a small lip without bottoming out and a minute later saw another Kingfisher, soon I was passing Stanford on Soar. This backwater is very pleasant until just prior to re-joining the navigation when a large anonymous modern factory complex is passed on the left.

I was soon egressing at the pub alongside the river at Normanton on Soar where a mug of coffee and two filled cobs topped me up. Back on the water, a short paddle to Zouch, where I shot the second weir into the backwater, thus missing two locks. The next detour before Devils Elbow was a longer way around than the navigation but done because it was there; two low footbridges and a solid built boathouse for sculls were all to be seen. Another pub The Otter formerly known as The White House, an excellent place for a quick wash and a read of the front page of a daily paper displayed by the sinks in its own frame. Over 3000 meals a week served here but I only had time for an orange juice and crisps. Lunchtime would be in a pub on the far side of the Trent.

I kept to the navigation at Kegworth. Just after the weir which is visible on the left through the trees is a portage avoiding the weir which looks un-inspectable without serious trespassing and an unpleasant ride down large steps onto rocks at the base; I must try to view it in flood sometime! The backwater was quite a drop down and bypasses Kegworth lock, after re-joining the navigation keep right and go through the next lock which usually has both gates open. The next detour on the right goes over a weir at Ratcliffe on Soar, the backwater is further but flows well to Redhill lock, which is a straight through. After Redhill lock bearing right was my route down the Trent but first an upstream paddle to a pub with a landing pontoon just in time for a jacket potato with cheese and a fresh orange juice.

Continuing my journey, I portaged Trent weir on the right, just not worth shooting solo. I felt the same about Beeston weir where engineering work has created a shallow-steps weir on the right in addition to the existing weir; only a small piece of dry concrete remained in the corner the rest being very slippery and difficult to portage. Hopefully when the work is complete it will be better. The weather stayed fine all day with plenty of sun and a pleasant breeze to keep me cool. I noticed an increase in the number of Great Crested Grebe as I approached Nottingham, once there I had to watch out for racing sculls. I passed County hall with its distinctive green roof and steps to the river, under the bridge past the football ground and Notts Kayak Club. I was looking forward to seeing Holme Sluice on the horizon, a sign of the day’s paddle coming to an end, with a hot shower in the slalom course changing room. I arrived at 5.10pm. Showered, pitched tent and ate a meal in the main building across the Regatta course; they let me use the drying room for my wet kit which made the following mornings kiting up less unpleasant. After sorting some problems with a nearby activated burglar alarm and a brief visit to the centre’s bar, I decided to turn in for the night, I set the alarm on my watch.

7th April 1999 An uncomfortable night on a bed of bursting bubble pack did not prevent me sleeping through the alarm, I ate cereals quickly and downed a mug of tea, broke camp. I hauled my fully laden boat to the Regatta course, portaged into the end of the slalom site and onto the Trent at 8.55am. Fortunately, I had inspected most of the major weirs some time ago and knew that the portage on Stoke Bardolph weir lay on the left and Gunthorpe weir’s portage lay to the right. Hazelford’s weir to the left of the lock also had a portage point on its right; each of these weirs have purpose-built portage points for canoeists. Prior to Hazelford a dozen or more powered gliders took off over my head from Syerston Airfield, each turning off their engines and gliding back over the river to return to base. My expected morning break at Hazelford Ferry Inn was missed because it is now a private house, a change that occurred since I did my research. Several pleasure boats had also made this error and had moored at British Waterways Moorings nearby overnight.

I stopped at Fiskerton for a lunch break at the pub (large coffee, ham and cheese sandwiches with chips). The landlord was new and had only been there 8 days. Set off refreshed and shot/ knuckled my way down Averham Weir onto the backwater, the main jet was too risky to do solo. I had done it before but had heard mixed reports about underwater debris since then. The backwater misses out Newark and it’s weir but the faster flow helped to make up for the morning’s late start. Soon I was back on the main navigation and had to punch against head wind and waves on several stretches before reaching Cromwell Lock at about 3.10p.m. A cruiser that left Holme Pierrepont 20 minutes after me arrived behind and we used the lock together. I had already spoken to the lady lock keeper and told her of my intention to paddle to High Marnham, a further 8 miles. We had discussed any tide effects on the next day’s journey and as I had hoped the tides would not hamper me.

The cruiser left me standing as he took off towards Torksey Lock, which leads into the Fossdyke Canal; He was allowed to travel at higher speed in the tidal Trent. High Marnham was not as visible as I expected But I knew that it lay within half a mile of a power station which I did see, I got off the river at 5.10pm at just the right spot and climbed the high bank. The flood banks are designed and built at different levels to create controlled flooding in a known sequence. The nearby Brownlow Arms had in its history been flooded up to its first-floor windowsills. The landlord allowed me to camp on the river frontage rather than the caravan site behind the pub and I enjoyed the sun as I pitched my tent and hung up my wet gear to dry. An added bonus missed in my research was the shower room that although basic was much appreciated. A beef curry and an evening spent with a couple from Gainsborough pleasantly passed the time, they gave me a mobile number to use the next day to call for fish and chips if I got to Gainsborough after 12.00. When I turned in for the night I found my kit dried enough to use as a sleeping mat however the downside was the constant hum from the power station carried on the wind to me; still a better sleep than last night.

8th April 1999 8.55 start on the river after breakfast, 8.00 would have been better though neap tides are not as critical neither are they as helpful. I arrived at Gainsborough Bridge at 12.13pm having only met two lighters (large barges) coming towards me as I paddled against the tide. A phone call 11/2 miles before the bridge ensured fish & chips were awaiting my arrival, the get out was rather precarious amongst mud slicked rocks to which I tethered my boat with a sling. The chips were brilliant for which I thanked my friends.

The rising water had nearly released my boat from the rock to which it was tethered when I re-entered; I waved goodbye and continued against the tide. It was necessary to find some slack water either on the inside of the bends or in shallower water at the sides; not an easy task on a wide river with strong head wind and some fairly large waves. A British Waterways maintenance boat asked where I was heading and when told Keadby with a stop a Stockwith Lock, he radioed ahead for them to expect me.

I had to push myself during the day, quite a few aches and pains to various muscles. I set targets in the distance to be rest points where I would stop briefly for a drink or a sweet. Knowing the get-out at Stock with was a very high wall with only an inset ladder, I had kept my sling and karabiner handy in the front pocket of my buoyancy-aid. I attached my boat via a loop in the deck in front of the cockpit to the ladder on the highest rung I could reach so the boat was held tight to the wall whilst I got out onto the ladder. I climbed the 20 feet or so and went in search of the lock keeper who I found strimming some under-growth, he helpfully unlocked the toilet block for me and after a hot wash I felt refreshed to continue. The keeper radioed ahead to Keadby to expect me and when I arrived at 5.10pm. the lock gate was already open. I disembarked in the same way as before but with a throw line also attached in-case I had to haul my boat up. The lock keeper said if I waited another boat was expected and he would fill the lock, he also told me where I could pitch my tent and what would be the best time to leave in the morning to catch the tide turning at Trent Falls.

The character of the river changed during the day, higher banks with large silt and sandbanks on the inside bends. Each bend needing a choice of route balancing flow against distance travelled with consideration of wind and possible shelter from the waves produced. A Spring tide in my favour would have been an advantage but in spite of that my speed remained at just over 4 mph and each target point on my journey plan was reached within minutes of my expectations. Another advantage of neap tides is the reduction of heavy commercial shipping although I would have liked to have seen more for the experience of passing or following so much power compared to my own trying to reach similar a destination.

9th April 1999 The final leg of the trip was a 7.00am drop in Keadby Lock as arranged, heading for Blackcroft Jetty on the Yorkshire Ouse. My left wrist was feeling the strain and had the mileage been greater I would have had to consider not completing my personal challenge. The width of the river and the overcast weather combined with the expanse of the sandbars made distinguishing the course of the river and position of the banks quite difficult also the lack of landmarks made targets to aim for harder.

Two large vessels approached and passed prior to reaching Trent Falls and I popped my deck after their wash to confirm my position on the map. I was startled by a rushing sound behind me and turned to see what looked like a wall of water coming towards me in the distance, for a moment I thought I was about to encounter the Trent Aguirre (the Trent version of the Severn Bore). You may laugh but I scrambled to get my deck back on before realising it was only the ships wash finally reaching the distant sandbars.

Hugging the left bank as I approached Trent Falls I turned the point and entered the Yorkshire Ouse. A very strong head wind hit me as I broke the cover of the bank, waves of 3 to 4 feet crashed over the deck as I made my way the final 2 miles to the jetty I could just see in the distance. Hugging the left bank (south bank) for 1.5 miles until it would give no respite then a steady slog at a shallow angle across the wind and river for the last 1/2 mile. The bows falling into each trough I kept my head down only looking up periodically to check direction, in spite of the waves going over me I felt secure in my ability to cope but definitely not for the faint hearted. It was what I expected to encounter.

I was aware of the possibility of strong current beneath the jetty that now towered above me, I had inspected this get out point some months earlier and knew that there were three winding staircases along its length that disappeared into the murky depths giving egress at any water level. As no shipping was moored I used the first steps and got out, hauling the boat behind me. My friend John agreed to pick me up, I didn’t stress that Blacktoft Jetty is on the North bank and resulted in John travelling quite a lot further than expected from the South side of the river. Many thanks for borrowed tent and transport.

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