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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

Eggesford station

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


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