Continuing my river paddling will always be important from a skills level. To keep my reactions sharp I like to continually work on my river reading skills. At this point I also needed to build up my distance paddling. A planned Caledonian Canal trip was only 3 weeks away. So it was important to know I could cover distances of 24km to 32km each day. So we chose my favourite paddle and a visit to Harewood Bridge.
On a beautiful Sunday in September, we loaded the boats for a trip on the River Wharfe. This is a journey which for me holds a special place in my heart.
Castley Lane and the viaduct
Launching at Arthington, as soon as you are on the water the first section takes you through open. A short section of rapids leads you on an easy section as you bimble down. A long winding curve in the river passes fields full of cattle from the nearby farms. These curious observers watch as we head towards Arthington Viaduct.
Wharfedale Viaduct, as it is also known, is a Grade II listed structure built between 1845 and 1849. Designed by Leeds based Engineer Thomas Grainger and built by James Bray. The viaduct consists of 20 archways built from over 50,000 tones of local punched sandstone spanning 1510 feet.
On passing through the arches you immediately comes across a very rocky section from a broken weir. The levels were very low that day, resulting in me jamming my boat in between large boulders. Climbing out, I realise my boat is stuck fast and facing upstream. The boat was full of water and not going anywhere. Mark had to tether his sling on to free it from its watery trap. Allowing me bimble on down to the next section.
The river is quite wide and you are far away from any nearby roads. The silence only broken by the gentle flow of the water and the cattle in the fields along its length. There are many sections of small rapids and faster flowing water along this journey but nothing difficult or challenging.
It really is a beautiful river. Further on and glossy flat water allows you to absorb stunning reflections of the trees and clouds. A beautiful sight as you wind through open countryside and past the local farms. There are no clear areas on either side of the river to stop for lunch or a break. So from a distance training point of view this was a good trip for me.
The broken weir
Numerous riffles and small easy rapids carry you down towards the broken weir. This is the most challenging section on the trip. One I would certainly avoid in higher levels, though there is the opportunity to portage around it. On my first trip here I did portage, though had no intention of doing so this time. You can get out of your boats easily enough to study your line before deciding whether to run it or not.
There is only one line to take but you do get banged about a fair bit on the boulders either side and just under the water line. Legend has it that an underground cave lies nearby, flooded with water. Though I have found no mention of that on historical searches. Once past the weir and you are heading towards the beautiful Harewood Bridge. This section, between the weir and the bridge, is popular with anglers, who are not always happy about any of us paddling the river. Confrontations have been reported in the past, with some paddlers physically attacked and damage caused to cars. Today we came across some, but none gave us any problems at all. They were all pleasant and polite as we passed.
Beautiful Harewood is an area I know well and somewhere I will always call home. I was born in the village, living there until I was 20. I enjoyed an idyllic childhood with my time spent wandering through woods, caves, climbing the castle and paddling in the River Wharfe at Harewood Bridge.
Harewood Bridge was built around 1729. Enjoying the protection of Grade II listing. Thankfully this makes it difficult to be altered or widened. Many meetings have discussed the possibility of a bypass over the years, the latest plans being rejected in 1990. Some additional work by Architect John Carr saw more ornate work and facing of the 4 elegant arches around 1772.
This bridge became prominent during a search of my own family tree. One of my ancestors, James Lacey (formerly deLacy) moved to Harewood with orders from the Earl, Edwin Lascelles, to defend the bridge and nearby Turnpike-House during the Turnpike Riots in 1753. James stayed and settled in the village and my family have lived in Harewood ever since. My Mother used to swim in the River Wharfe down near the bridge, and I have many fond memories of my time there. Harewood Bridge always represents a boundary for me, a crossing back to my home, my relatives and my childhood.
Few people experience this view. I always like to stop, get out of my boat and enjoy the beautiful stonework and the weir below it. The weir itself is an easy feature to paddle and some paddlers choose to end their journey here. Parking for a shuttle can be difficult. A small car park near the now privately owned flats overlooking the weir is the only option.
Onwards to Collingham
For us, our journey was to continue, and as we do so another historical feature appears in the trees to the right. A tall stone tower standing proudly on the banks of the river. Its exact use is unknown, though it is believed this was once used for storing wood. Floating it down the river from the nearby Harewood Sawmill.
As we paddle on there is very little other than open countryside until the old iron bridge, which tells us we are near East Keswick.
The river flowed faster and with some easy riffles and a small weir near Collingham which affords the opportunity for some surfing practice. Another couple of miles and our get out at Collingham and the carpark at Linton Lane.
This for me has always been a personal paddle, with such strong connections to my relatives and my own fond memories, and one I will always enjoy. I have paddled it a couple of times now with Mark and also with our friends Johnny and James. I have enjoyed it on each occasion. It is a committing paddle due to the lack of landing and shuttle locations.
We paddled just over 21km in 4 hours in our river boats that Sunday, so from a training point of view it was good to be building up my distance for the Caledonian. The following weekend included more distance work, paddling 24km each day at Ullswater, so my stamina was definitely improving. I felt ready for the challenge that lay ahead.