Kayaking the tidal Tamar-a 40 mile day trip

Sorry folks I have no tale to tell about a successful winter fishing trip.Actually I suppose it’s officially Spring but the forecast for last friday was still distinctly festive. So we (me ,Austen and Keith) were pleasantly surprised when we rolled up at the slipway at Calstock at 5.30am to find the river flat calm, with wispy misty bits and a cacophony of birdsong making it all very pleasant.

Our plan was bold,some might say stupid. The sickeningly early start was to enable us to ride the high tide to the weir at Gunnislake and then use the outgoing tide to whisk us the 20 miles down to Drake’s island. Once there we would have no option but to coerce our groaning arm muscles to paddle back to Calstock. No pub till Calstock,we vowed.

Approaching Gunnislake
Approaching Gunnislake

The first bit was a dream-cruising up through the steep sided wooded valleys topped with mining chimneys leaning at unfeasible angles.Past the equally unlikely Morwellham quay, which springs upon you just when you think the river is about to end in a muddy creek. Then a set of impressive crags and so many major changes of direction you could easily get lost. (er…well..if you weren’t following a river)

Dramatic cliffy bit
Dramatic cliffy bit

At the tidal weir we headed back downstream with increasing tidal assistance. We clocked up speeds in excess of 6mph although our true paddling speed was a steady 3.5mph.

Calstock viaduct seems to get bigger every time I paddle under it.It is a stunning engineering achievement and the navvies who sweated to construct it would break down and cry if they saw the piffling little trains that creep over it nowadays.It would be quicker to swim.

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Past Cotehele quay there is another five miles of sweeping bends,sloping fields and winter woods before the yacht moorings of Weir quay herald a change to civilisation. The giant Tamar bridge dominates the scene an hour before you paddle under it.It’s a pity the modern suspension bridge shields the view of Brunel’s original railway bridge built in 1859.

Tamar bridges
Tamar bridges

The four miles to Plymouth sound now have a distinctly military flavour and it is best to look straight ahead as long as you keep clear of the line of submarines and warships down the left hand side and the refuelling depots on the right. Oh, and the ammunition barges in the middle…..and the police boats every few hundred metres. Don’t get in a panic or you may come off second best to one of the three Torpoint ferries who don’t care for little kayakers.

Torpoint ferry hazard
Torpoint ferry hazard

Before exiting the Tamar into Plymouth sound we demolished a vast slab of Somerfield fruit cake. Cold sandwiches on a winter kayak trip don’t seem to hit the spot but a huge chunk of cake dotted with raisins and glace cherries certainly does.I wonder if it wouldn’t be so good without the glace cherries…..mmmm?

Devil's point
Devil's point

We emerged into Plymouth sound and hauled up onto Drake’s island as we had an hour to kill before the tide turned. However we got battered by a squall and opted to get paddling as we started to get chilly.It was a  nasty tiring paddle back to the shore into the wind and rain.

Around Drake's island
Around Drake's island

So all we had to do now was paddle the fifteen miles back up the estuary to Calstock. Why not just do a one way trip? Many times I have asked myself this question. Unless you have got some poor mug to pick you up, by the time you have shuttled cars backwards and forwards (and remembered to leave your car keys at the correct end) or waited for and caught the bus, it is probably quicker to paddle anyway. And of course yuo’ve got that slab of Somerfield fruit cake to burn off unless you want to look like a lardy.

Past Devonport
Past Devonport

Fortunately the flood tide zipped us upstream even faster than the ebb tide had sucked us out so we were back in Calstock in the very hospitable environs of the Tamar Inn, rehydrating, by 4 o’clock.

Unless you are a really serious fisherman you really want to forget kayak fishing in the late winter and spring. Surely it’s better to keep fit and do a stunning trip like this and look forward to the explosion of sea life that will happen starting at the end of April (hopefully)

A good excuse to eat a huge chunk of fruitcake,anyway.