Barle - Tarr Steps to Dulverton     
Saturday, 6th November 2010
Reading the report of our trip on the Barle from Tarr Steps to Dulverton I very much got the feeling that the reporting kayaker tries to disguise some vital facts. I do not believe this has been done on purpose - but it is more likely due to too much paddling experience - making it sound like it had been a leisurely weekend paddle.


So, this is MY report.

And everyone else - who had been paddling alongside me on this trip - could possibly come up with a completely different report...


Yes, it is a long report.

Honestly, I tried my best to keep it as short as possible and only name the most important 'attractions' along the river...I'm not getting into the details of heights of waves and water colours and speed of flow and trees and their branches and rock sizes and and and...


After changing at Dulverton car park we are now having a briefing.

I find the briefing rather long - but so be it. Am happy for any information I get before I go onto the water. I'm not so sure if all the information is 'good news' as I find myself beginning to fiddle around with my buoyancy aid, trying to disguise the nervousness that tries to take over me. At some point the person on my left hands me a rather big knife - WHAT?! Will the trip be THAT dangerous?! Wow! Nervously taking it with two fingers and handing it over...


So, off we go to Tarr Steps.

Thanks a lot to the organisers for this calm soothing trip over open Exmoor. It helps to settle the nerves a bit before the action.


As we drive alongside the river I allow myself a shy glance at the water.

Yes, it's there.  It's high.  It's moving.  It's bobbly.  It's wavy.  It's white.  It's fast.

It's 'I don't really like it'.


Ancient Tarr Steps.

What a nice spot to go onto the water. It takes away all the stress.

But the water looks fast and too bobbly for my liking.


While we are waiting for our shuttle drivers to join us I'm asking how long the 'scary' bit will be. Just making sure I'm calculating my risk accordingly. Don't wanna 'freak out' too early...If I know it's 200 yards - fine. If it's a mile - fine, too. But don't make it shorter than it is in reality. I need to know when I can have a rest.

If you got it right I'll trust you - whatever you're saying to me on that water.

If you get it wrong - I'll be sceptical every time you say 'It's just a one foot drop'!  (They did get it right this time :)


Right, at last we are getting in our boats and onto the water.


Hardy makes it look easy ferry gliding to the other site setting himself up for the start.

He tries his best to stop Mike starting to paddle. Mike only has got eyes for the water - and off he goes. Judging from Hardy's expression he's not impressed with Mike's fast start. I think of calling Mike back but fear he may go for his first swim if he gets distracted.

So, I keep quiet and patiently wait for my turn sitting in my nice calm eddy trying to distract myself from what lies ahead of me – boiling, bubbling, just a yard in front of the bow of my boat...Nice ancient Tarr Steps. Nice trees. Nice grass. Nice...


Hardy tells Yo and me to go. Oh, I like my break in. Well done. It'll be fine. It'll be a really good day! Really?! Will it be good?! YES, that water is fast and wobbly and - Oh, how far was it?! Are we there yet?!

I see Colin and Kev somewhere down the river and am feeling a bit relaxed. Shouldn't be far to the calmer bit now.


Nice to know they are there - just in case I get disconnected from my boat.

I know it's their job today to look after us, to go after us and our kit when we decide to go for a swim...Well, that's one of their jobs, if need be.


Their main job is to mentally support us. To give us a peace of mind that there is someone who is looking out for us. And they did a great job in that.


Kev was paddling in-between the members of our group.


Colin was always just behind me when I felt the need for it, shyly looking round to make sure he's there - especially when I got slower as I didn't like the sight of what was 'bubbling' ahead of us.


Hardy was there when I 'shoot' ahead of the group. He told me that I was 'leading'. Honestly, I wasn't. I just couldn't stop. And I didn't like it. I want others to find the line - to hit the rocks, so I can avoid them - to get held back by the stoppers, so I can paddle around them...Yes, I know, I'm not nice...Sorry about that. Maybe one day I'm good enough to happily lead a group and show where to go to avoid those 'sweet little features'.


After the fast start we are told to find an eddy.

An EDDY?! There aren't any! It's all just flowing.

Hardy shouts again 'Nicole, find an eddy!' Right. If he says so there MUST be one somewhere here!

How to identify an eddy? The water is slower. The water moves around in it. There's a line - if lucky.

Scanning the river's edge for those signs. HA - there really are eddies. WOW. That’s great and interesting.

Now - they are big enough to accommodate the bow of my boat! What am I doing with the stern?! Ok, next task is 'Find an eddy that's as big as or bigger than your boat.'

Hardy shouts again 'NICOLE, FIND AN EDDY!'

Right you, I'm doing it!!!


Ok, found a right sized eddy.

Go for it. Miss it - because I'm paddling too frantically. Look around for next one. WILL MAKE IT! Get over the eddy line. Am not entirely sure if there is any line at all. Doesn't matter - I! decide where I want to go! - So there's a line if I need one. Closing eyes, gritting teeth - as not wanting to witness slamming into the bank. Grabbing some grass for support - phewww - made it. Hang on to grass. Search for better support - no, still, grass is best.


Relax. And leisurely watching others paddling and swimming and finding eddies. Realising I'm slowly floating backwards downstream. My boat has left its spot. The grass I'm hanging onto is attached to my hand - but not to its roots - oh, sorry. I'm paddling back. Putting grass firmly back into the spot where it belongs - someone may need it next time. Searching around for something else to hang onto...Oh, and actually we're off again...


We reach a spot where we do some ferry gliding. Well, others do. I am THINKING of it.

I don't like that tree in the current. I don't like seeing Mike getting tipped over by that tree. I don't like seeing Joe make a copycat of Mike.

I don't like the stopper in the current.

I don't like the others rescuing them...Not that they shouldn't and they are doing a great job.

But that I'm told to go when there's no-one there to rescue me!? I don't like that I cannot calculate my risk and - most of all - how to avoid the risky bit. 'Nicole, WE HAVE TO GO ON!' urges Hardy. Yes, I know. And if I don't go now I may stuck here for ever.

I'm telling Tony my plan on how to avoid that stopper. Get a 'Yes.' and off I go - missing that stopper - and scanning the side for an eddy. Phewww, made that one.

I think it all was down to Kev and Colin doing their best rescuing Mike, Joe and their kit. It forced me to better plan my route past that 'scary' bit. Thanks.


Further down the river we're stopping again in some eddies. (Where else could we stop on this river, anyway?!) I find a big one where another paddler is already in. Make it nicely - and get stopped by a rock. I don't like it. I don't mind rocks. But do when they've decided to attach themselves to the bottom of my boat - trying their best to tip me over.

Others are coming into the eddy, too - bashing against me - not knowing that I'm unstable. I get 'support' from a paddler – holding the bow of my boat and keeping it balanced. Thanks mate.

I miss my joy of breaking in as the flow takes me backwards through two rocks. Never mind. I'm still right side up - and that's more important.


We are on a nice river. And it's got trees! Not that trees are new to me or something I don't like. But those trees aren't lining the river's banks nicely. Those ones are in our way! Not just in the way - but hanging into the water. And right in front of us. And they are coming nearer.

Make a decision! What are you going to do?! Paddle with the option of getting that paddle tangled up in those tree branches and loosing it and tipping over on that wave behind the tree

OR don't paddle and duck - and just let faith decide what's going to happen, with the possibility of still being upright, having a paddle in hand and no tree branches sticking out of your ears or poked into your eyes...

Note to myself to bring skiing goggles next time - don't care how stupid I'll be looking.


At one point I'm trying to get into an eddy where Mike's already in. The current is fast. And am still thinking that this isn't a good idea. I'm finding out that crashing my ribs into a boat's bow isn't a method to be favoured as a means of stopping. It does hurt.

I grab the handle at the bow of Mike's boat and make a mental note - eddies on the Barle aren't big enough for more than one boat. Find your own! Don't try to squeeze into someone else's eddy.

Mike's moving. Am backwards. And I don't like it. And he doesn't like me hanging on to his boat! TWICE he has to shout at me to let go. Sorry about that.

I do realise that it won't do any good hanging onto a moving boat and let go being prepared to go for a swim.

Somehow I keep my balance while getting my paddle in position and turn. I'm not swimming. I'm paddling forward. How did I do that?! Never mind – no time to think - keep paddling!


At 'lunch wave/stopper' Colin got me back into the right eddy.

I missed it. It simply was too big for the ones I had learnt to look out for on this river.

I'm paddling like mad upstream and Colin helps by shouting encouragement whilst paddling beside me. Thanks.

After lunch Tony tries his best to explain us the effects of edging. Sadly though, he doesn't get much support from the guys down on the water demonstrating the effects of edging upstream...


At some point I'm getting the hang of this trip.

I'm feeling relaxed. I'm loosing my tenseness. And I even get a compliment from Colin.

He tells me that I'm smiling. Yes, I'm enjoying it. I got used to the fast flow and the bobbly water. I can balance out my boat and happily go with the flow. Am happy about the company I'm with - beginners and experienced paddlers. Yes, it's a great day.


Am happily paddling when suddenly Hardy turns round - watching me.

There MUST be something here. Something that may get me into trouble. Something not as 'bad' enough as that he tells me. Right, just paddle and lean forward. And - WHOOPS - am down - and tracked back. Taken by surprise I can feel panic creeping up inside me. Am frantically paddling and leaning forward!

Sometimes face expression says it all.


Reaching Dulverton weir we have a quick stop for inspection.

I'm getting told off by Colin for not making that eddy - because I! decide where I want to go - and for hanging on to a tree in the next one.

I feel bad. Feel like a small child being told off for something I should know better. And yes, Colin IS right. I should be doing better.

Unknowingly to Hardy he comes to my 'rescue'. I'm 'escaping' my bad feelings and join him to have a look at the weir - calculating my risk and route!

Back in our boats I follow him with an easy slide down the weir.


After Mike's umpteenth swim we reach a cascading waterfall.

Yes, it is a waterfall. And it looks big, too.

Hardy tells me that this is the most interesting part of the river. Oh - if he says so, it's got to be 'scary'. And it does look like it.

I go for it – lean forward and paddle - and am through.

Was that it?! Ok, it wasn't a big waterfall and it probably IS interesting if I can try to get into eddies and not just paddle straight through.

Hardy asks me whether I want to paddle it again - to try to get into some eddies. Yeah, do it again. I try my best and even manage to get into one eddy. WOW! Great!


We reach Dulverton slip way.

Am a bit sad - was that it?! It was great! Can we do it again?! Now?!


Later on we are letting the day go by at the pub.

At one point Tony 'wakes me up' from day dreaming - I am still on that river. Definitely the most interesting and adventurous paddle I had so far. Thanks to everyone - experienced paddlers and beginners - for making it a great day. And for organising it. Although I may not have shown it all day long  - I loved it - every minute. I will try to work on my smile! I knew that I will be in good hands. I wouldn't have gone onto that river if you experienced paddlers wouldn't have been there - right next to me.  Thanks a lot.


Can't wait for the next trip...                                                                 
>o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o<  >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o<
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