2 star or so trip: River Stour, 20+21 June 2009

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Saturday

On Saturday 20 June, 8 dedicated souls (Alasdair, Ben, Dan, Emily, Evert, Paul, Sarah & Vincent) woke up around 5am and made their way to the basin. After loading a lorry with boats and kit we headed off to Suffolk (via the Little Chef). After much faff and taking a car to the campsite we would stay at we put into the river Stour at Sudbury where some folk got to seal launch for the very first time and paddled our lily pad lined route (Granary Quay Sudbury). Our route plan can be found here. This part of the Stour has regular pillboxes as it was thought to be a potential route for invasion during the war. At the current time it is not passable by motor craft. After getting out for a look at it and a chat we decided that we didn't fancy the first weir and so learned the art of the portage (and seal launching from about 4ft up the bank). We had much the same thoughts about the second weir but the third was a gentle slope. Again after everyone going for a look at it, a discussion of how to paddle it Sarah made the first attempt and declared it fun for all the family. Helmets were donned by all whilst Sarah stood on a red ants nest (getting very bitten) with a rope in case of spills. The weir was truly styled by all (particularly Emily & Paul who escaped from being dunked out of the open canoe by some quick thinking or luck- we're not sure which). At the next weir twas time for lunch and we recommend Alasdair as food arranger on all future trips. A veritable assortment of cheese, meat, salad and dips was produced and hunger was a thing of the past. Whilst lunching we discussed the weir in front of us and with Dan heading down first it too was defeated.


As the afternoon went on spirits remained high and we were "cool running" but some people are still at a loss to work out why we had the Jamaican bob sled team in our midst. Something to do with the South Africans. Rescue practice was done on the move, mainly as Vincent and Alasdair seemed set on drowning each other or covering each other in river weed (is this some strange courting ritual from South Africa?).

We continued on our twisty turnery route to the Campsite with much laughter but were certainly pleased to see the approaching Caravans at the end of the days 10.5 miles (Rusholme campsite: note no showers but has toilets). After recovering vehicles from Sudbury, pitching tents it was time for an hours walk to the nearest pub. After being told that they served food until late there was a relaxed atmosphere about getting there. Late in Stoke Nayland is 8.30 and we scraped in just in time. That said the Anchor Inn provided very good fare but I'm still puzzled at how the beef comes from the cows that are still in the field the waiter pointed at.

The group split to get home as some preferred to stay and sample the local beer festival. Evert led Paul, Alasdair and Vincent on a short cut back to the tents. Unfortunately it didn't quite work as intended and I believe that they were "tactically misplaced" which Paul says is different to lost.

Sunday

After a 7.30 wake up call a gourmet breakfast was prepared and again with a faff factor of 8 we made it onto the water again at 10.20am. The river took us back to the pub that we had dinner at last night and we concluded that the river goes the long way round.

At Wissington Mill we portaged the old lock gates and Vincent demonstrated how to seal launch the open canoe.

The closer towards the sea we got the smaller the river became with reed beds taking us most of the river the route became windier and so shallow in places that we all had to get out. At this point Dan couldn't quite make it back into a kayak, instead paddling with his legs sticking out. Unfortunately Evert wasn't able to unbalance him enough to give us all something to laugh at.

The highlight of Sunday was Langham Chutes where the weir is constructed of 2 concrete flumes that funnel the water and then a step weir with a central chute. Ben and Sarah took one of the Open Canoes down this first and confirmed that there was in fact a second small drop at the end and some rocks just under the water on the right. Obstacles were pointed out, helmets donned, Sarah deployed with the rope and everyone was free to choose their own line so long as they avoided the rocks at the bottom. Another weir defeated and some played at the bottom whilst lunch was brought out. Whilst lunching Evert gave us a display on how to catch eddies on your way through fast flowing water.

Back on the water after lunch and now onto the final stretch we came across strange people in boats going backwards, clearly with no clue what they were doing. Along the stretch of the river to Dedham Mill rowing boats are hired. We say people caught in trees, people stuck on sandbanks and one family having a heated discussion. Whilst we tried to uphold international collision regulations and keep to the right we are not sure that most people were aware of these and our instructions changed to get through them any way you can.

We finished at Flatford Lock which was about 11.5 miles (row boats also available for hire here) and provided on the water demonstration to passing tourists. As we packed the van with boats these were described by a teenager to her gran as "some people were doing some wicked tricks". After a quick change in the car park it was time to get back to London and unpack (which was done most efficiently).

Final Thoughts

Thanks to: Paul for picking the route, arranging the campsite and van, and driving , Ben for driving the van, Alasdair for arranging food and driving; Vincent for being the most enthusiastic person I have ever met and enjoying everything; Emily for the look on her face at the bottom of the weir when she and Paul nearly swam (and now being happy seal launching); Evert for not going down any of the weirs that I said were no gos even tho he has done scarier stuff in the Alps; Dan for being the voice of reason and not killing me when I woke him up and hour early on Sunday morning.

We started the weekend with a majority of the group who had not been on moving water, not seal launched and certainly not dropped a weir. We finished with people complaining on the one occasion that they could not seal launch, smiling as they dropped weirs and challenging for ever higher seal launches in canoes and kayaks.

I would be happy to run this trip again with people at or close to their 2* as it's ideal for a fun weekend away.

photos: from dan