Steph recounts those precious last few days when kayaking wasn’t just a distant memory.

Firstly I must start with an apology, this has taken me three months to get round to writing… being a freelance musician and having work disappearing quicker than bog roll in the supermarkets, I thought I’d have plenty of time to write this during lockdown. In reality it has taken all this time just to settle (scramble) into “the new normal” and figure out what being a musician in lockdown really means (but I won’t go into that here, that’s a whole other blog topic right there).

Right! Let’s get to it! RCC Lakes trip, it’s one of the most looked forward to trips of the season for many reasons. The North West is the wettest part of the country which means good rivers, the accommodation is far too nice for 30 kayakers to be allowed to stay there (yet we are and do!) and the breakfasts are worth the 5-6hr car journey alone! However, excitement about going to this trip was mixed with anxiety about the now apparent spread of the new virus, Covid – 19. I was already debating on whether or not to go as my only gig in March was on the same weekend…turns out it was probably my last gig in at least 6 months… but hey-ho, I gave it up and came on the trip, doing the maths that it was only 30 people and the likelihood of one of them having C19 was low enough to risk it (back then we didn’t know quite how serious it really was, since new info was coming out daily).

I don’t regret it. I miss gigging but kayaking is a wonderful escape from the pressures of normal life (and in this case a brilliant escape from worrying about C19, it just didn’t exist for those hours we were on the river).

So, 30 odd, excited and slightly apprehensive kayakers descend (ascend? It is up north…) to the Lake district, with not one but two copies of the topical board game pandemic to play in the evenings. After initial chat and wine, people headed to bed dreaming of rain, rivers and tomorrow’s breakfast.

The next morning, river levels were looking good and the group split in two, one headed to the beautiful Eden (Lazonby to Armathwaite) for a long but rewarding paddle, the other taking on the Greta: a good fun grade 3 with a nice gentle warm up stretch and lots of boulders to navigate (especially after the floods we had earlier this year). I was on team Greta, from what I remember, I had fun! It was just high enough to be in the ‘goldilocks’ zone, any lower the boulders would have been too many, a little higher would have been even better!

Those on the Greta were keen for either another run or another river. After some faff, the logistics were (mostly) sorted out to go to Troutbeck, a shortish, smallish river with a gorge section. It doesn’t hold its water well so it was a rush to get there, but it was JUST high enough to run it. It was hard work, if I thought the Greta was boulder… this was something else. More water, it probably would have been a good fun rapid.

However, the gorge was running and very nicely, the speed was just right for me and I really REALLY enjoyed it! More water would have made it faster and harder, so I was glad of the scrapey boulder maze at the start in the end (personally) but I’ll gladly try it again with a slightly higher level once we’re back doing trips!

The next morning, we were split into 3 groups each tackling a different river the Crake, Kent and Esk followed by a blast down the river Tees. Each group had their own stories of heroism and tragedy to tell when they came back, the Crake group had lost a paddle and it sounded like the group on the Tees had a time that would make a Laurel and Hardy scene look organized.

The Crake is a grade 2/3 river that’s narrow, tree lined and fast flowing in places with interspersed rapids and weirs to keep interest up. The Esk (Langholme to Canonbie) is grade 3(4) river on the edge of Scotland and I’m told it was misty, foggy and magical! The Tees (low force section) is a short but fun section of river with a couple of rapids and pool drops, I’ve not paddled it yet but it’s a pretty river and looks like it’d be fun and easy to re-run a few times if you wanted.

I was in the Kent group, here’s what I remember:

The Kent (Scroggs Weir to Sedgwick Bridge) is a grade 4 river which starts of fairly flat and calm, but once you get to the ‘S’ bend rapid, you’ll realise why you’re paddling this river. We had to do a recue here, as the first drop line is very misleading and if you take it where you think you should you end up being thrown over! One paddler in our group was unfortunate and suffered a face injury. Once safely on the bank and a Mars bar scoffed she was happy to carry on though! What a trooper! After the S Bend the features are fun and fairly close together, culminating in what some people in RCC call the best feature in the Lakes, Force Fall. It’s certainly the steepest Rapid I’ve tackled, 3 metres flushing down into a large pool (perfect for a rolling recovery if you hit the hole and forget to put your paddle stroke in!). I’d made the mistake of looking at this feature as its pretty much at the get-off it looks gnarly (to a relative novice) but I’m told, “It’s not what it looks like, it’s totally fine!”. So, I’m at the top of the feature (having survived all the other tricky features) and I gear myself up, the last to go down in my group. I line myself up to go down the tongue (which you can’t see as its actually really steep, although not really a waterfall drop).

Ok, paddle, paddle, paddle!

It feels like the river just falls out beneath you and you are totally at the whim of the water! But I get my line right! My only mistake is that I didn’t paddle at the bottom (DOH) I flush out next to the cliff face but I manage a roll (oddly because I manage to find a shelf to push up from… but a roll is a roll right!?). It’s exhilarating! 4 of us are mad enough to drag our boats out to the top of the 3 main rapids and do it all again (just 3 or 4 hundred meters from the get off) … this time I nailed Force Falls.

The Final day we all pile (quite literally) on to the river Mint, a close and convenient river to our accommodation as the get off is in a supermarket carpark, perfect for getting your snacks for the long journey back.

It’s pretty narrow river so we have to stagger the start. If I’m honest, I can’t remember much from this paddle, but as I read my guidebook to trigger some memories I can remember some exciting moments. There is a fairly technical weir on a corner to navigate (I did this perfectly… obviously…. Shhh be quiet at the back there). Then there are some very technical rapids as it is steep and fairly rocky in low levels (as it was the day we paddled), my guide tells me this is more fun and flushes well in high water (however the trees are more of a problem in high levels). There are some gentler moments and some weirs to run (right lines are necessary) but I can’t remember much more now so rather than regurgitating my guidebook I’ll finish my little blog there!

It was a great trip and I am very glad I chose to go on it, even if I did miss my last gig for 6-12 months. It was worth it (and as far as I know, no one in our group caught corona from this trip either). #NAILEDIT.