From Moorland to the Sea : River Esk Tour 13.10.2012

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The Almost Perfect Paddle?

On the morning of Saturday 13th October, five of us met at Egton Bridge in the Esk Valley.

The rain of a few days previous ensured a reasonable depth of water on the river which flows through the North York Moors to its estuary which forms Whitby Harbour. However, on the morning in question, the sky was a deep cloudless blue and the sun was shining as it was to do for the rest of the day.

The River Esk was a new experience for us and seems to be rarely paddled – but it proved to be full of surprises. The upper reaches twist and turn through a picturesque wooded valley and as we followed its course we were delighted to discover that every few hundred metres involved a feature such as a small drop, a weir, or rapids (some of which were quite long.)  Beyond Grosmont, the river shares its route with the railway line used by the North York Moors Railway, so we were accompanied on our progress by the sound (and occasional glimpse) of steam trains.

Although, in this section, we encountered nothing beyond Grade 2, it wasn’t a leisurely sedate paddle and finding our way between the many rocks, demanded our full attention. There was no time to get bored!

Negotiating this feature-laden part of the river took us all morning and into the early afternoon. As we moved downstream, the river eventually began to open up and become deeper, slower and wider bringing us eventually to the weir at Sleights. Following an inspection, we concluded that the advice we had read on this weir, that it should not be shot, was correct and we decided to portage. As we carried our boats the short distance around this drop, we were startled to see huge numbers of large (1-2ft+)  Salmon leaping right out of the water in an attempt to make it up the weir.

We continued downstream on the now fairly placid river towards Ruswarp and it’s riverside pubs and cafes. There is an extensive weir  at Ruswarp which can easily be shot. However, the fun way to get down is launch down the chute which runs at 45degrees down the weir! This has a walled arrangement which means it is difficult to use a paddle and is more akin to being on an amusement park log flume!

Below Ruswarp, the Esk becomes tidal and we had purposely timed our trip to arrive at this point along with the high water. As we moved beneath the impressive disused brick viaduct which spans the valley, and past the remains of wrecked timber sailing ships, we were greeted with what proved to be a wildlife extravaganza! As a heron watched us from a tree branch, we noticed something grey and shiny moving towards us. This proved to be an inquisitive seal! After a close inspection of us, he continued upstream, presumably hunting the salmon we had seen earlier. Almost at the same time, we noticed a cormorant perched in a tall overhanging tree. Then, as we looked carefully, we realised that there wasn’t just one – but seven or eight! These large seabirds, standing upright and black in the trees gave the river an almost exotic atmosphere.

The whistle of another steam train thundering past gave us the signal to move on. The next curve took us into Whitby Marina, where we ran ashore on the slipway. But we weren’t finished with the Esk yet! After a short rest, we set off downstream, under Whitby’s famous swing-bridge and into the Harbour proper. We paddled past the yachts, fishing boats and pleasure craft to end up at the beach behind the East Pier. After a short bob about in the swell, we returned upstream, now struggling against the ebbing tide and into the low afternoon sun back to the slipway where we finished for the day.

As we sat on the banks of the Marina beneath the still cloudless skies, we reflected on the huge  variety of paddling the Esk had provided, the wonderful sights we had seen and the ideal weather. In short, we all came to the decision that kayaking doesn’t come much better than this!

(Julie will post photographs separately)

Chris Halligan