Marathon Circuit


I’d been contemplating this trip for some time but perhaps was held back by the ghastly memory of what happened last time I paddled the Taunton-Bridgwater canal. It was 1975 or thereabouts and I was in the back seat of a racing K2 kayak and we were comfortably in the lead in the 12 mile race when I ‘hit the wall’ and couldn’t paddle another stroke so we bombed out to a pathetic last place. I blame the appallingly bad food provided by Taunton School at the time which consisted mainly of stodgy pasties and a dollop of beans. Not sure that fruit or any healthy stuff had been invented back then.

Today the number one issue was getting the tide right, or crawling out of the steep muddy banks of the River Parrett could be a big headache. I wanted to be at the exit point on the Parrett less than an hour after high tide so starting on the canal at pleasant Creech St.Michael and paddling the three miles back to Taunton to get on the Tone where the canal splits off from the river there seemed to fit in nicely with this plan.

The canal on the approach to Taunton was dripping in litter so I was quite glad to drag my kayak through a hole in the hedge at Firepool weir and transfer onto the fast flowing river Tone, over a succession of small weirs:

Tone mini-weir

The swift current soon restored garbage-free riverbank and I was back through Creech before I knew it.

sleepy Creech bridge

The flow slowed but I had to keep the pressure on as I needed to average 4mph for the 15 miles of river, including breaks, to catch the tide and avoid getting glooped in sludge. Despite what I had expected there was only one major weir on the Tone, at Ham, and I sneaked off down a miniscule mill leat and cunningly dragged my kayak across somebody’s neatly mown lawn. Not easy to get back in as the river was now tidal and banks muddy.

A lot of kingfishers in the upper Tone-best view was just after Ham:

Stunning Kingfisher- the most colourful British bird

More wildlife excitement as I rounded one of the tight bends and surprised a big dog otter at close range. He dived and I waited quietly in a riverbank bush to see if he would surface. Unfortunately the otter chose precisely the same bush to wait in while I cleared off and there ensued a lot of huffing and nose clearing and snorting (and that was just me).

The bends ended and were replaced by long featureless straights:

Typically tedious Tone

Apart from a slipway at Newbridge there were no easy places to get out so I demolished my five Weetabix on board. At last the hilltop church of Burrowbridge appeared and got closer painfully slowly.

Burrowbridge mump

But suddenly I was on the Parrett and paddling along the muddy, heavily sedge-flanked river. It was fairly built up with roads on either side and the constant smell of abbattoir (I think). So not the most attractive paddle ever but new territory nonetheless.

River Parrett near Burrowbridge

The current slowed as the tide  reached its peak and I arrived at my exit point at Huntworth after the water level had dropped three or four inches. The bank was steep and part mud/part grass and I only got a bit plastered as I got out. Phew, tricky bit done.

Huntworth Parrett

Just an eight mile slog back along the canal after trolleying the few hundred metres from the river, and being yelled at by the non kayak friendly driver when I blocked the road.

The sun had come out and the temperature topped 14 or 15 degrees so I loafed along the canal at a leisurely pace. Quite scenic but quite a lot of people on the tow path.

Leisurely pace along the Taunton bridgwater canal

Four or five locks to portage around. I don’t know why I like canal locks quite so much but they are lovely, quiet and quaint and usually have a nice seat to relax and have a twix or two on.

Taunton Bridgwater lock

As I rolled back into Creech St.Michael a group of youths were clearly irritated by my messing up their fishing session and asked if I had any friends. I took this as a personal affront and muttered something unpleasant back at them before I realised they were merely asking if any other kayakers were coming along so they could know when to start fishing again.

Plenty of trains to keep the interest up, anyway:

Total trip time eight hours for the 26 miles so I suppose I could have done the full circuit into Bridgwater but wasn’t sure of any easy exit point from the Parrett there. It’ll have to wait till next time.