English Whitewater

On April 12, 2011 · Comments Off on English Whitewater

Speaking of clapper bridges… we were talking about clapper bridges, right? They’re not all confined to Devonshire. The Tarr Steps clapper bridge is a notable exception located in Somerset at Exmoor National Park. Unlike the clapper bridges of Devon that date primarily from the middle ages and later eras, the Tarr Steps clapper is believed to be as much as three thousand years old.

View Larger Map

What does this have to do with English whitewater, you may wonder? I’m glad you asked. The Tarr Steps across the River Barle provide a put-in for what is reputed to be the only naturally-occurring whitewater in England. Let’s put the usual caveats in place. This does not include the rest of the island of Great Britain as whitewater exists in Scotland and Wales too. Also, for all I know there could be other whitewater in England but I couldn’t find evidence of them on the Intertubes. The vast and knowledgeable 12MC audience will tell me otherwise if that’s the case, with my appreciation.

View Barle River Whitewater in a larger map

Various sources list this stretch of the River Barle as ranging between Class II while at normal river flow and Class III when the river runs higher. By definition, this would equate to:

  • Class II Rapids: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed.
  • Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.

I’ve rafted on rivers of greater difficulty before, but one must take advantage of what’s available. This would still be a challenging ride because of mitigating factors besides the water itself.

View Barle River Whitewater in a larger map

It’s difficult for me to capture a decent Street View image at any point along the route. Steep drop-offs and thick vegetation block nearly every clear shot of the river. The only passable one I found along the entire stretch appeared where a country road crossed the Barle, above.

It is readily apparent that a raft would never make it down the Barle. Thus a kayak or canoe would be necessary. The river is too narrow, the water too shallow, the branches too constricting to allow all but the smallest of vessels to pass through unscathed. The UK Rivers Guidebook provides the best overview and accounts from people who have run this stretch of river. Obstacles include downed trees, scratching brambles, a series of weirs, and random abandoned metal obstacles strewn along the path. It’s also supposed to be a really fun ride.

I’ve been neglecting the readers from England for awhile as I’ve mined topics closer to home. Hopefully the last couple of articles begins to make up for some of that. Have any of you experienced this segment of the River Barle in person?

On April 12, 2011 · Comments Off on English Whitewater

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