After several months of trying, I managed to find a canoe for a friend to replace the rather too heavy VP16 he had bought from me as his first boat. The prospector style was what he wanted, but being considerably lighter-built than me, he needed something he could handle more easily off the water. So we were both very pleased when a tuff stuff Nova Craft prospector came up on Song of the Paddle. This was to be his first outing in the new boat.
The Mexborough loop is one I know well, a combination of a relatively modern industrial waterway and a backwater on the River Don. We put in as usual by Mexborough top lock, heading up the Kilnhurst cut to the top of the backwater. It was a hot, still day, the height of summer. Flowers abounded along the banks of the cut, insects buzzed in the heat, and our paddles were the only thing disturbing the water.
We made leisurely progress, as Brent got used to the different handling of the new boat. Before long we came to the first lock at Swinton, where the now defunct Barnsley branch leaves the Don Navigation. The only available exit was up the high section of banking, necessitating a six foot climb up a metal ladder from the boat with the painter thrown ahead to aid retrieving the boat afterwards. It was here that the benefits of a light boat really hit home, probably 15kg less to lift.
The top pound of the Kilnhurst cut is quite open, and along the west bank new housing estates have sprung up. Rather disappointingly, they seem to be closed off from the canal side, surely a shame for the residents. The opposite bank, land lying between the canal and the river, remains undeveloped though, so it still felt like a green space as we paddled towards Kilnhurst.
Below Kilnhurst Bridge, the road runs alongside the canal – a good alternative access point to the loop. Poppies grew on the edge of the canal, and yellow water-lilies spread across the water. According to wikipedia, these are also known as brandy bottles, amongst other names, and the tubers are edible.
Kilnhurst lock marks the portage over to the backwater, and is a natural place to stop for lunch. By now, I was ready for some refreshment, the July heat taking its toll. Sat in the grass above the weir, we ate our packed lunches and let the warm sun and the noise of falling water ease us into the afternoon.
Brambles were blooming, and above them hung clusters of sycamore seeds, looking newly minted compared to the rather tired foliage.
Despite the hot weather, there was plenty of water in the backwater, and enough flow to give us a steady push downstream. Willows lined the waterway and summer flowers coloured the banks. A patch of toadflax gave me pause as I enjoyed the complex curves of the blooms.
Kilnhurst weir provides a short bit of bouncier water, straightforward enough, but needing a choice of line at the top. Brent in his prospector floated serenely down. My Northwind Solo wasn’t quite so happy, its differential rocker making the stern feel stuck in the current and the low shoulders of the hull allowing water inboard despite the flare of the bows. Other small features, broken weirs and the like on the way down the cut and the gentle slope of the weir by the old ferry crossing at Mexborough provided variety to the paddling, but most of the backwater was a gently traverse of a meandering river.
As often happens, we shepherded a family of swans ahead of us, the birds taking flight as we approached within their comfort zone.
An adult mute swan and two of last years’ brood, but one of these looked a little different. It wasn’t until we reached the end of their territory that we got close enough to get a good look. Rather to my surprise the odd one out was a whooper swan. Quite what it was doing in Yorkshire in midsummer I don’t know, I’ve only ever seen them in the winter in the UK, and even then mostly a lot further north.
The end of one swan’s territory lead into the next. We were greeted by a cob, full of vim and keen to speed us downstream.
As seems to be the usual habit, he waited until we were leaving before deciding to charge. He came closer than most to the back of my boat. I was expecting a buffeting but he bottled it in the last few feet – perhaps put off by the camera.
The last section of the backwater passed much more calmly. A kingfisher flirted with us, darting from cover and staying tantalisingly beyond range of my lens as we headed downstream.
Reaching Mexborough bottom lock, we had one final sporting exit and a short portage round the lock before the last leg back up the canal. It is a lovely place to stop for a cuppa, so we did.
For a change the last leg wasn’t blighted by a vicious headwind. Having got a little ahead of Brent, I took the time to enjoy the reflections before we reached our destination below Mexborough top lock. From there is was a simple trolley back over the bridge to the cars.
It was a lovely, leisurely trip down quiet backwater, just right for a midsummer afternoon.