Back in April, we were just coming out of the long winter lockdown. In the two weeks since restrictions had been eased to allow more than local trips, I had reacquainted myself with waterways not too far from home but not really ‘on the doorstep’. Overnight stays away from home were now allowed, and I had a few days free mid-week, so it was with considerable excitement that I readied my kit for an overnight trip on Derwentwater. Its another familiar trip for me, but one I always enjoy. It was also the first time I would have a camping load in the northwind solo, so I was looking forward to testing it out.
Arriving at the lakeside carpark late in the morning, I was lucky enough to find a parking space. Plenty of cars parked up, but not very many people on the water. The weather was holding true to the forecast, sunny with light winds, ideal for paddling.The view southwards up Borrowdale was enticing as ever, but I decided that this time I was going to vary my usual routine and make a round of the lake instead of heading upstream to start.
Water levels were a lot lower than on my last visit, and I had to pick my way across the shallows to reach Great Bay. There was plenty of bird life on and around the water. A Canada goose headed my way and I stopped to catch its reflection.
The marshes I had drifted over last time were high and dry now. The Chinese Bridge arched elegantly over the Upper Derwent as midday sun gleamed of rocks and roof slates alike.
I headed across the end of the lake to Myrtle Bay. Mayflies swarmed in the warm sun, detracting somewhat from the usually calm atmosphere of the place. A pair of mandarin ducks didn’t seem disquieted though. Both sexes look very smart in their Spring plumage, but the male in particular
Grey wagtails darted after the flying hordes but didn’t make any noticeable impact on their numbers. I drifted offshore a short distance to find emptier air but paused to watch one flying short loops from a boulder.
Waterfowl were everywhere. Tufted duck flew fast along the back of Abbot’s Bay, too fast to frame in the viewfinder, and barnacle geese covered Otter Island like, well, barnacles on a boat.
A wild cherry flowered magnificently on Brandlehow Point as I passed by towards the sheltered waters in the bay beyond. The sky was an unbelievable blue, the long bulk of Skiddaw and Blencathra insignificant under its expanse.
After the jetty, I tucked back in close to the shore to enjoy the bright blooms of gorse by the water’s edge. Goat willows still showed their catkins, though most had spent their pollen now.
The trees along Withesike Bay had not yet come into leaf. Fresh green buds gave a haze of colour on otherwise still bare branches.
The lake ferries were running but had very few passengers. Those that were there were spaced apart and masked up, a reminder that we were not completely free of restrictions yet no matter how it felt from a seat in a canoe.
Normally I cut across to St Herbert’s Isle from Otterbield Bay to avoid the busier end of the lake but today I kept along the west bank, heading towards the Lingholm Islands and Nichol’s End beyond. Despite the weather there were very few people about on or off the water. Skiddaw and Blencathra were cloud free along their entire ridgelines, not an everyday sight a lot of the year.
Coming close to Lingholm, the shallows reached a long way out from the shore, making for slow progress with only a few inches of blade in the water with each stroke. I persisted though, watching the diving ducks inshore of me. A male red-breasted merganser looked very fine, his startlingly red eye glinting in the sun.
I let the boat glide aground by some reedbeds as I tried to spot the reed warbler chatting away somewhere amongst the stems. To no avail though. I contented myself with a picture of the reed heads instead
I realised I was getting hungry now, so once clear of the marina at Nichol’s End, I let the current slowly take me towards the outfall of the lake while I stretched out my legs and ate some sandwiches. I took the chance to test out a present from my daughter – a clip-on cupholder. Shaped like a giant clothes peg with a hole in the upper handle, it clamped onto the thwart and held my thermal mug nicely. Very civilised, and no danger of accidently kicking my tea over while putting the flask away!
The current on the middle Derwent was smooth, sending me down towards the confluence with the River Greta. I wasn’t sure how far downstream I would be able to get and still return easily to the lake, and here I found my turning point. A small shoot lead down to the junction, which I could have lined back up easily enough, but I decided to leave that for another trip, perhaps combining Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite lake.
Working back upstream using little eddies and patches of slack water to reduce the effort, I was soon looking back up the lake to Borrowdale.
I continued my circuit passed the caravan sites at the north end, closely accompanied across Isthmus Bay by a male goosander.
Before long he decided I was close enough and took to the wing – almost within reach, and too close for me to get all of him in the frame as he took off.
Birdlife was out in force as I traversed Strandshag Bay. A greylag goose flew over my bow, while a group of mallards dabbled, bottoms up in the shallows.
The fells looked deserted from the water, despite the beautiful weather.
Rounding Lord’s Island, the wooded island of Rampsholme stood out against the receding horizons of Catbells and its surrounding fells.
The Spring afternoon was now fading towards evening, so I put ashore at the north end of St Herbert’s, my usual spot to camp. There were one or two other groups on the island, but well scattered, so it felt like I was alone.
Camp didn’t take long to set up, being familiar with the best hanging spaces to use for the hammock. I took the chance to wander with my camera, enjoying the Spring flowers.
Then it was time for tea before shooting the sunset. Sat on the shingle enjoying a hot drink after my meal, I was joined by some other residents of the island.
Sunset itself was a peaceful affair, wavelets lapping the shore as wispy clouds over Keswick colouring up as the light faded.
In the long twilight that followed, I sat and read, sinking into a tranquil night while stars began to appear overhead.
I was rudely awakened by a greylag goose parading down to the water. Beak in the air with all the arrogant self-possession of a village squire in a period drama, he led a column of other greylags provocatively near my hammock. Head swinging in time with his walk, he let out a foghorn honk with each footfall. Summoned so abruptly from my pit of slumber, it took me a minute to orientate myself. A steely glint in his eye seemed to rebuke me for lying in, and I realised it was only a few minutes before sunrise. It seemed churlish to resent his efforts when faced with the beauties of dawn. Briefly clad in shorts, and now fully awakened by the night-chilled air, I grabbed a camera and made my own salute to the new day.
Shooting sunrise always feels like a race as the moment of dawn approaches. The light changes so fast, and the mirror of the lake becomes stirred with cat paws of air within moments of sunrise. Called to activity, waterfowl scar the surface as they glide in from their roosts. Time to put the kettle on and set about breakfast.
Tranquility quickly reasserted itself as I sat by the water’s edge on the west side of the island. The only thing I had to do today was buy a new parking ticket so breakfast was a leisurely affair spent watching birds pass by.
Breaking camp was made easy by having dry kit. Not even a dewfall to wet the tarp, and no wind to turn derigging it into a wresting match with flogging guylines and a tarp auditioning for the role of kite. The calm persisted all the way to Kettlehume where the van was parked. I detoured round Rampsholme, drifting passed the shore to observe barnacle geese and oystercatchers without disturbing them.
For a couple of hours mine was the only boat moving, my bow cutting the satin surface to leave a gentle wake spreading behind me. It seemed a sacrilege to rush in such conditions so I stroked slowly at the water, slicing the paddle forward to roll its head in my palm before stroking again. The motion became mesmerising, movement as meditation an aim entire of itself.
Coming ashore at Kettleshume my revery was broken by a few fellow paddlers setting up on the shore. One of the pleasant influences of lockdown is that strangers now have an urge to talk beyond the usual ‘Lovely weather’ and I spent few minutes talking about touring and folding kayaks with an elderly chap laying out his craft.
Rubbish and overnight gear transferred to the van, I kept food, stove and few other essentials for the day in the boat. With the altered load, I spent a short time retrimming the boat. This trip was the first with a camping load in this boat, so prior setting out I had gone to trouble of weighing kit bags so I could more easily keep the trim level. With its smaller stern rocker, it doesn’t need to be stern-heavy to improve tracking, but too much weight forward does affect its speed and glide. I had made some lines to run from thwart to stem fore and aft with attachment loops at intervals as an alternative to leashes on each bag. The system allowed easy adjustment of the load, but so far I havent tested it by swamping or capsizing – that will wait for a warmer day on local water!
Having gone downstream from the lake yesterday I went upstream today. With water levels so low, I ran aground by the Chinese Bridge. I could have dragged the boat passed the gravel bars but I knew there would be more shallows not far upstream, so paused for a photo or two before turning with the current to return to Derwent water.
The water of the Upper Derwent was brilliantly clear, every detail of the river bed revealed. It isn’t often I’m able to see my shadow in water too deep to reach the bottom.
Flapping and splashing ahead made me look up. A scene familiar as Friday night in any town centre or sea front promenade presented itself… two guys fighting over a girl
This time the loser took flight, feathers on the flow the only sign of the drama, while the winner trumpeted his triumph.
I took a detour through shallows between islets to traverse the mouth of the Great Bay. A heron stalked its prey as I passed, lunging without luck on this occasion.
Close in to shore there had been a blizzard of mayflies, out too early in the warm sunshine. Their presence dissuaded me from landing in my usual haunt of Myrtle Bay, and it took a little while to find a suitably breezy landing for my second breakfast. But a short distance beyond the jetty at Brandlehow Bay, I found the perfect combination of an easy landing, sunshine and smooth dry rock to sit on, blessedly without buzzing hoards trying to land in my tea.
Having been up for five hours, and on the water for most of them, it was time lay back in the sun, brew up and read a book, while enjoying a brunch of local produce bought before setting out yesterday. Time flies in such situations, after a while I realised it was time to go if I was to miss rush hour delays around Leeds.
I must admit, I dawdled across the lake, but why would you rush to leave the delights of Derwentwater.