Friday 06 February 2009 and I was unfortunate enough to find myself snowbound in a Somerset pub at the foot of the Quantocks. Both Severn Bridges we closed and the village of Nether Stowey was at a standstill due to the snow. That evening in the Rose and Crown bar I received an invite to join some memebers of Exmoor Canoe Club for a paddle on the River Barle. I had never paddled a plastic boat on a river before so I thought why not.
I picked up my new guide John on Saturday morning and headed off up onto Exmoor.
We met up with the rest of the group at Dulverton where I was surprised to see a hive of activity and loads of other boats.
Our plan was to launch 6 miles upstream at Tarr Steps and paddle back to Dulverton. The guide books refer to this little trip as the Upper Barle.
The River Barle rises in Exmoor Forest and is a tributary of the River Exe. It has been designated a SSSI due to its abundant wildlife and is apparently the best example of an acidic upland river in Britain. It has suffered very little pollution and has only a small amount of river engineering and water abstraction.
The wildlife includes Otters and Kingfishers. During the trip we saw Dippers and Red Deer. I have never heard of River jelly lichen (Collema dichotomum) but it grows in abundance above Tarr steps and is extremely rare.
Despite the rivers obvious importance it is also a hugely popular venue for canoe/
kayaking and it is good to see so many different interests operating in apparent harmony.
Tarr steps is an old packhorse bridge and is also a listed ancient monument.
Before getting on the water we had the customary group picture.
From a Canoe/Kayaking perspective the river is an almost constant grade 2.
There was a fair amount of snow melt in the river for our trip and it was not too much of a bump and scrape. It was strange not to have to cringe every time I went over a rock. Pride dictated that I attempt to avoid every rock even though I did not have to, but old habits die hard.
John pushed himself with a couple of swims but still finished with a smile on his face.
One unwlecome aspect of the snow was the number of damaged or fallen trees. It was obvious that Exmoor has lost a high precentage over the past week or so.
Some of these have fallen into the river and are quite a hazard with the result that we had to portage six or seven times.
Just above Dulverton there is a small weir where a canoeing fatality occurred in 1998. After the accident a local gentleman, who was also an angler, kept his rowing boat on the bank for use in case of a rescue. The rowing boat is still there but sadly the gentleman passed away recently.
Many thanks to Rosie and Mel for letting me tag along and also for Mick for taking the lead.
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