After a conversation on the Song of the Paddle web forum, an idea for an exploratory trip was born, to travel an apparently unknown stretch of the River Calder from Stanley Ferry, a little way downstream from Wakefield. The map showed an inticing loop of meandering river, with a short, straight reach of canal to return from our downstream journey. But nothing was to be found out about the river itself. All the usual sources of information proved dumb on the subject, so it was with a little tingle of adventure and a small tinge of doubt, that we set off into the wilds of West Yorkshire, with only information gained from a limited recce and google earth to guide us.
My companions were also new to me – Peter, solo in his Apache 16, Martin and Pete tandem in their long Old Town Discovery.
Parking at the Stanley Ferry pub, we crossed the road and slid the boats down a steep bank to the water.
Just upstream, the Aire and Calder canal, that was to provide our return route, crossed the river via a pair of metal viaducts. Peter headed up to have a closer look, in preparation for a possible extension to our loop.
Not far downstream from the put-in was the first, and hardest, feature on our loop. A broken weir lay across the flow, with the easiest passage on the opposite side to us.
My colleagues all had limited experience of moving water, so were a little anxious about this, but negotiated the ferry across the current and travelled down the ‘V’ without a problem. It’s good to start a trip with a smile!
Martin and Pete lead us away from the eddies below the weir at a steady pace, and we quickly moved into new territory.
The river gauge upstream of us in Wakefield had reported a paltry 0.11m of water this morning, which seemed a tiny depth for a decent sized river, but on the hwole, the water was at least paddle-depth in the early meanders. A few shallow riffles livened our progress, but required no maneuvering, until we approached an island in mid-stream. My google earth-watching suggested the left channel was the clearer of the two, so despite a tighter entrance, we went that way.
There was water to float a boat, just not on Martin and Pete’s line…
It was only a minor grounding though, and the tandem pair were quickly under way and fully afloat again.
After the island, the river quietened down to a smooth, gentle course winding through farmland. High flood banks prevented us from seeing much to either side, and from the height of the debris, those defences have been tested a few times.
But today, all was tranquil, the gentle flow assisting us without causing any untoward worries.
Every now and then we got a view of the wider world outside the river cut. Think ‘Wakefield’, think ‘trees and fields’…!
Our progress was surprisingly fast, and after not much more than an hour’s paddling, we had covered around two thirds of the river section. A tea break and a leg stretch was needed, so we found an accessible spur on the bank and came ashore.
Although quite warm and with light winds, the day to now had been quite overcast. But as we got some life back into our feet and enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea, the weather front finally moved over, giving a burst of very pleasant winter sun, which stayed with us for most of the rest of the day.
Suitably refreshed, we continued our journey of discovery downstream, enjoying the brighter weather and the stronger reflections the sunshine brought out.
All three boats kept reasonable pace with each other, although Peter told me afterwards he felt he was working far harder than the rest of us!
The riverside herbage glowed in a winter palate under the low-angled light. Along this stretch we noticed the tall stems of giant hogweed – dead and harmless now, but something to take note of for any summer trips on this route.
The river looped sharply several times as we approached the M62 crossing – the traffic noise sounded like the weir we knew was ahead of us, but that was supposed to be after we had gone under the motorway.
As we approached the weir, the current, which had been barely pushing us along for a while now, disappeared as the river was dammed back. For all that it had been a weak force, its absence was noticeable – ‘like paddling in treacle’ was Peter’s comment.
Now passed the motorway, and with its noise receding behind us, the final reach above the weir was very attractive. Riverside trees reached out to their reflected counterparts on the water.
The get-out, one of the unknowns on this route, proved to be exactly as the view from space had predicted – an easy mud beach three trees upstream of the weir itself. A short portage on a good grassy path lead to a steep re-entry below the weir.
The weir was definitely not one I fancied paddling – too much debris, and too many sharp rocks. But the outflow provided a few minutes play before we moved on.
Peter used the opportunity to practice breaking in to the current, something he didnt feel confident with yet. No problems though…
The final stretch of river was now approaching before we rejoined the canal for the upstream leg.
A lone angler was occupying the fishing platform I had earmarked as our exit from the river, so we continued a short distance downstream to the lock platforms. The exit from these onto the bank wasnt entirely straightforward, but with a little teamwork, all boats and crew made it to the towpath.
The canal cuts a line straight and wide across the Calder flood plain. With light winds, this made for easy paddling, but a headwind here could be quite unforgiving.
Before long we were approaching the second portage. Had we wanted too, we could have cut short the river leg here, where an old lock, now filled in, once rejoined the river.
On this sunny Sunday, it wasnt surprising that there were several boaters out on the water, but the wide cut left us plenty of room.
After the last lock portage, we now had flat water ahead until we reached Stanley Ferry. The sunshine and light winds encouraged us onwards.
The low sun was starting to make it difficult to see ahead sometimes, prompting sunglasses to appear – in February!
The water of the canal was completely calm, only disturbed by our passing as we made good time back to the marina.
Before long the viaducts at Stanley Ferry came into view. One of these is quite plain, just a metal trench, but the other has a lovely arch supporting it.
At then we were there, back at Stanley Ferry, where the pub sat right by the towpath. There were a lot of moored boats today, and several angles sat in the spaces between them, so we had a little longer to paddle, and a little longer to carry back to the cars. But on such a day, that wasnt a hardship.
Peter elected to stay on the water and explore the southern loop by himself – another four miles or so, first by canal, then returning on the river.
But that will have to wait until another day for me – out of time today!