Seal catches hefty Salmon

It’s really important not to have your plans for a pleasant morning’s paddle messed up by a pumped-up storm called Diana, with its promise of sixty mph winds and an inch of rain.

However down by the Tamar it certainly was weather for ducks. I wasn’t expecting to see anything resembling another human.

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Calstock and its ducks

And oh yes did it rain:

But at least it was warm, and down in the bottom of the valley it wasn’t as blowy as I had expected.

The incoming tide wasn’t a match for the outgoing flow of the swollen river Tamar so it was quite a challenge to sneak up close to the banks and creep about amongst the branches to avoid the adverse current. One of the advantages of being in ‘Puffing Pig’ my inflatable kayak is that it is extremely manoeuvrable compared to my sea kayak that has the turning circle of a supertanker.

As usual a drab day was enlivened by the wildlife. It was great to see a couple of tiny Little Grebes (aka Dabchicks) in the river… they are regular winter visitors to the Devon coast but I can’t recall the last time I saw one here.

A Dipper zipped over my head before I got to Morwellham, no doubt in search of one of the clear rushing streams flowing down the hillsides because the main river was completely brown. Dippers love clear water and rocky streams and are not at all happy with mud.

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Morwellham looking drab

I just managed to stick my nose around the corner at Morwell rocks before my forward speed exactly matched the current moving the other way. So turned about and drifted down the river in complete silence, supping a cup of coffee, at three mph.

I nearly leapt out of my drysuit when there was a loud snort about two foot behind me. I cranked (and cricked) my neck around to see that I was being eyeballed by a  medium-sized seal.

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Inquisitive seal

It shadowed me for a mile as I drifted on down, and when it popped up in front of me after a long dive I saw the flash of a fish in its mouth.

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seal with salmon

It wasn’t a piffling little fish…it was a decent-sized salmon (distinguishable from a sea trout by its slightly forked, not square-ended, tail).

Somehow the seal managed to peel off the skin like taking off a glove, in about a minute. Slicker than any fishmonger.seal plus salmon 1

And then it really enjoyed the tasty-looking pink flesh that made my breakfast of muesli mixed with Jordan’s country crisp (with dried raspberries) look a bit amateurish.

The next surprising encounter was with one of the police launches that protect the naval ships at Devonport (15 miles) downstream. ‘Which way to Plymouth?’ , one of the officers joked.

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Police Launch

Absolutely superb, I hadn’t expected to see anything today apart from wind and rain.

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Calstock viaduct

 

 

 

 

River Torridge: Hatherleigh to Torrington

I like everything  about the River Torridge. It’s a great name, it’s my local big river (although I actually live just over the hill in the Tamar catchment), and it conjures up images of wild places with its link to Tarka the Otter, the novel written by Henry Williamson in 1927. No, I didn’t know the date off the top of my head, I’ve just Googled it.

The seventeen mile section between Hatherleigh and Torrington has so many twists and turns that you have got absolutely no idea of the direction in which you are pointing, and to add to the sense of  adventure some of the tangled woods through which you pass are so dense that they could easily act as cover for a pack of hunting Orcs.

My paddling companion today was Mark and we set off from just below the bridge at Hatherleigh.

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Let’s go!

The water was quite low so there were lots of little gravelly beaches to lure us in for the odd coffee break.

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River Torridge

After Beaford bridge until the outskirts of Torrington (11 miles) there is really very little sign of the existence of humans, apart from the occasional fishing hut several of which look like something out of Hansel and Gretel.

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Beaford Bridge

 

 

 

 

We found a good beach for lunch but we were getting slowly but surely colder so didn’t dither about too long. I got a sandwich blockage in my gullet from eating too quickly but succssfully shifted it with an orange club and swig of coffee.

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Speedy sandwich eating

 

 

 

The wildest part of the entire trip is Long Wood and it important to have a complete noise ban here because there is always the chance of seeing an otter.

 

 

On today’s paddle we didn’t see any otters at all, although to compensate we saw a load of birds: 25 Dippers, 15 Kingfishers, Goosanders and Mandarin ducks and Mark saw what was probably a Mink running along the bank (black and furry!).

Here’s a pic and video clip of previous otter sightings on the Torridge:

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Otter duo

This cub looked like it was thinking about jumping  into my kayak (it was a classic otter day..they seem to love the rain):

 

 

The first weir to negotiate is a couple of miles above Torrington: Lady Palmer weir. We didn’t fancy getting wet so portaged down the face.

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Lady Palmer weir

The second weir is outside the old milk factory in Torrington and is easily shootable using the salmon ladder on the right hand side. Mark makes it look effortless:

 

 

Exit is at Rothern Bridge beside the old railway station at Torrington.

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Exit at Torrington

 

River Taw: Kayak down, Train back.

It was another cold and windy day so a river trip was really the only possibility for kayaking. I hadn’t paddled the Taw for a year or two because it is not quite as scenic as the Rivers Torridge and Tamar, and it’s a bit further away.

However the incredible convenience of being able to get back to your starting point by catching a Tarka Line train is a huge plus point for paddling the River Taw. Leaving a car at either end is much more of a logistics nightmare than you would ever imagine and it’s amazing how often essential items such as roofrack straps and car keys end up in the wrong place. I seem to remember long ago that we once arrived at our destination and all our cars were at the other end.

It’s even more convenient if you are using an inflatable kayak which can fold up into a rucksack and be carried on your back. The only downside is the suspicious and sometimes disapproving looks from fellow train passengers if you are still dripping.

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Gumotex Safari Inflatable

My  Gumotex Safari inflatable kayak was soon inflated and ready to go beside the River Taw at Eggesford, just as the sun was peeping up. It was only just above freezing and the water level was worryingly low so I was prepared for a bit of a bumpy trip. The river here is really quite small but what it lacked in depth it made up for in the clarity of the water. It’s never quite so much fun paddling muddy brown rivers after rain.

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River Taw near Eggesford

Paddling off I was immediately absorbed in the mini-wilderness of the river and its wooded banks, with the berry bushes being picked clean by all five species of British Thrush….the resident Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrushes, and their cousins visiting from Scandinavia…Redwings (with their characteristic high-pitched whistle) and Fieldfares (with their trademark chatter).

More scenic stuff:20170205_143700.jpg

My tracking fin constantly bumped over the rocks but I only had to get out to drag the kayak once. About a mile below Eggesford is a small weir which I could easily have ‘shot’ but because it was cold and I didn’t want to get my kit (especially camera) wet, so I opted for a portage.

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First weir below Eggesford

The Little Dart River converges from the right and helps the flow a bit, but not a lot. Weir number two is not shootable and quite a tricky one to portage, but the flow was light enough for me to carry the kayak over the face of the weir.

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Weir number two. Artistic, but no good for kayaking.

After a couple of hours and about six miles below Eggesford is the confluence with the (even clearer)  River Mole, which today had more water flowing in it than the Taw itself.

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River Mole (left), River Taw confluence

From now on it’s a relaxing paddle as you don’t have to spend so much time picking a line through the riffles to avoid bottoming out. So there is more time to admire the excellent wildlife, and a speciality of the River Taw is the superb Dipper, because there seem to be more of this busy little waterbird along its banks than any other river I have paddled. Dippers are always on the move, either bobbing on a branch on the bank or stone in midstream, flying past with their ‘jink’ call-note, or singing an astonishingly tuneful (and loud) song to a nearby mate. Even on a cold November day like today I heard this song three or four times. It surprises me it never ‘rates’ in the best of British Bird song.

Dippers are moderately shy so very difficult to photograph from a kayak, but here’s my best effort of the day.

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Dipper

On several occasions today I saw a Dipper swimming out in midstream like a miniature duck, diving down to hunt for caddisfly larvae (or whatever) with the adeptness of a grebe. Take a look at this (pretty rubbish)video:

I ate lunch while drifting along because I can never find a place on the bank as comfortable as the seat of my Gumotex Safari. This is, incidentally, another huge advantage of an inflatable. The days of struggling between rest stops to ease an aching (or numb) backside are, as far as I am concerned, over.

For my after-lunch calorie boost I was thrilled to have rediscovered Raisin and Biscuit Yorkies in my local Co-op. I thought they had been discontinued and gone the way of Aztec bars and Frys Five Centres. Even better, they come as duos. Best lunch break ever!20170205_160711

The Taw excecutes a scenic sweep beneath a pinewood before the run in to Umberleigh:

The bridge at Umberleigh is 13.6 miles from Eggesford. As with all river paddles where to get out is a problem. There are an awful lot of ‘private, no entry’ signs around, and piles of discarded brushwood placed apparently to discourage kayakers. I can sort of see the point from a private landowners point of view…they don’t want lorry loads of kayakers tramping across their land and they might be liable if their was an injury.

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Exit at Umberleigh

Anyway, I succeeded in getting out and avoided any ‘scenes’. Next stop…the station only a few hundred yards away. Good planning!

It’s good to see Umberleigh station car park making full use of its large acreage with a bit of diversification:20170205_120037.jpg

I hopped on the Exeter bound clicketty-clack train,20170205_121028

and a short while later (and £4.20 less well off) , hopped off at Eggesford.

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Eggesford station

Four and-a-half hours down by kayak, sixteen minutes by train back up. Fab, as always.

 

The Sensational South-West Coast (part 2)

My second series of assorted images taken from the kayak seat from all around Devon and Cornwall.

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Gig boat race at Fowey
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Starfish, Fowey
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Autumnal Calstock on Tamar estuary

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Am I getting paranoid or did this Newlyn trawler really pile on the power as it approached me to throw up as big a wash as possible for me to negotiate? It certainly throttled right back after it had gone past:

 

 

A few offshore seabirds for the serious ornithologists:

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Manx (top) and Balearic Shearwater
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Sooty (top) and Manx Shearwater
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Dipper

….listen to the electrifying call of the fastest creature on the planet, the Peregrine Falcon.

 

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Kingfisher
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Oystercatcher
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Flying Scotsman, Teignmouth
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Common Dolphins and St.Michael’s Mount
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Common Dolphin calf
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Minke Whale, Mount’s Bay

 

Autumn is definitely upon us, so offshore paddling is replaced by exploration of the rivers. Tough.

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River Tamar
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River Tamar

 

 

 

Kingfisher Sparkling in the Autumn Sun

The Lone Kayaker

I’m starting to head back up the creeks now the open sea is becoming more disturbed with autumn storms not far away.

I had actually planned an offshore trip out of Fowey but when I nosed my kayak out of the mouth of the estuary I didn’t like the look of the surface which was more chopped up than I thought it would be by combination of moderate swell and light wind. I knew I could be paddling up the estuary on glass-calm waters and have guaranteed enjoyment, so turned round and did precisely that.

P1190621 Penquite quay, Fowey

As usual I was soon completely absorbed in the sensurround sound of calling flocks of small birds in the waterside trees, and waterbirds scattered about on the banks and in the water. Sensurround sight as well, of course.

Quite a few Little Grebes had arrived for the winter.

P1190664 Little Grebe (Dabchick)

The…

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Kingfisher Sparkling in the Autumn Sun

I’m starting to head back up the creeks now the open sea is becoming more disturbed with autumn storms not far away.

I had actually planned an offshore trip out of Fowey but when I nosed my kayak out of the mouth of the estuary I didn’t like the look of the surface which was more chopped up than I thought it would be by combination of moderate swell and light wind. I knew I could be paddling up the estuary on glass-calm waters and have guaranteed enjoyment, so turned round and did precisely that.

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Penquite quay, Fowey

As usual I was soon completely absorbed in the sensurround sound of calling flocks of small birds in the waterside trees, and waterbirds scattered about on the banks and in the water. Sensurround sight as well, of course.

Quite a few Little Grebes had arrived for the winter.

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Little Grebe (Dabchick)

The upper estuary echoed to the piping of Redshank and a handful of Greenshank.

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Redshank
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Greenshank

I was paddling upstream against an ebbing tide so tucked in close to the bank to keep out of the current as much as possible. I disturbed a Kingfisher which had been sitting on an overhanging branch, but it resumed its hunting on another branch a hundred yards ahead. As I drifted closer I was hopeful that this was going to provide me with my first decent kingfisher pic, but my efforts were messed up by a badly positioned branch;

 

Its next hunting spot was a post out in the estuary. I knew it would not allow me to get too close before it flew off ( and I didn’t want to keep disturbing it) but the bright autumn sunshine made for a very pleasing scene anyway.

 

A little further on I spotted another Kingfisher sat amongst a cluster of autumnal oak leaves. Nearly always the first you know of  a kingfisher’s presence is the turquoise flash as it speeds off, or its  monotone whistle which is far-carrying. So I was pretty pleased to see this one in hunting mode before I spooked it and my camera has never been so quickly, or quietly, removed from its dry bag.

 

On the way back down the estuary there were plenty of other feathered fish-hunters loitering with intent on the mooring buoys.

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Shag
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Fowey Estuary