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Golden Paddles

Sharing a magical evening paddling the River Wharfe in our Oru Kayaks

A stolen friday morning climbing on the iconic Almscliffe crag led a week later to the pair of us paddling in liquid sunshine on the river Wharfe in the valley below.

We've had one Oru Kayak Bay Plus test model for some time, which we've lent out to our artists in residence to inspire their creative flow. But suddenly kayaking became social when we got a second kayak for folk to use. The shared adventure itch demanded to be scratched.

Weather forecasts were pored over. Diaries coordinated. Itineraries planned. Finally, it all came together. A warm and sunny evening following a couple of days rain. Perfect. Until we consulted the Rainchasers website, which claimed the Wharfe was “Empty”.

"Shit. Shit. Shit."

Still. We decided to chance it. The promise of evenings adventure had inflated as temperatures rose throughout the day. We figured at worst it would mean rockhopping down a few shallow ripples.

The last few jobs of our working days were rushed through and an excuse for tea was bolted down on the hoof. Thanks were bestowed upon our respective partners and children given a goodnight kiss.

Two glorious squares of polycarbonate pleasure were tossed in the car boot and we were off, fighting through the evening rush hour to the banks of the Wharfe. Ordinarily just half an hour away, frustrating minutes now added by steaming lines of commuters.

Finally we shot across the old military bridge and setup on the silty riverbank. Alex, who hadn't paddled for the best part of twenty years, was still puzzling as to how the bright plastic slung over our shoulders would transform into the sleek craft I'd promised. He was soon convinced, as a pair of proper kayaks unfolded with a little purposeful pressure.

We launched into a pool as flat as a millpond and Alex paddled back and forth regaining his sea legs. The downstream side of the bridge we'd just crossed promised an immediate test. We'd scoped it from the bank and it looked shallow. Really shallow. I couldn't help but reflect on the cost of lightweight vessels we journeyed in, pondering whether they were about to get ripped to bits within five minutes of setting out.

I went first. I couldn't have someone else dealing with the guilt of an expensive mistake. It was shallow. I could feel the rocks and pebbles stroke my behind, even through the soft cushion of the seat.

“This was a mistake” I thought as I grounded.

Hands in the water: pushing off, bottom delicately lifted, and I was through into deep water. Geography, physics, even martial arts lessons came flooding back. Nature loves a sine wave. The riverbed reflected the rippling surface waves, only with a much longer wavelength, as shallow riffle gave way to deep pool.

Turning back, Alex had made similar progress, and was struggling to get back into his kayak following a spell of walking over the pebbles.

This set the pattern. Deep pools and long languorous stokes preceded gentle shallow rapids which prompted much debate as to where, if anywhere, the deeper water lay. But we began to get our eye in, reading the river and anticipating it's ebb and flow.

Our progress passed entirely unnoticed by the modern world rushing by just metres away along the Burley bypass. The only attention we attracted was annoyance from the resident Heron, forced to flap further down the river each time we approached. I was pleased this was the only fisherman we'd annoyed, as relationships between paddlers and fishers can be strained, with access rights disputed. The British Canoe Union are clear that canoeists have a right of passable, and that the rights of fishing clubs extend only to the riparian access along the banks. Still, we didn't want cross words to intrude on such a pleasant evening.

We paddled on. Fish jumped. Mayflies committed hari-kari. Great Crested Grebes courted. The Heron got grumpier. The short film below captures him giving up for good at 0.36

We knew there was a monster weir ahead and were on the lookout as we went down one riffle and showed our rusty skills. Not leaving enough time for Alex to exit I found myself penned behind him, unable to choose my line. I was pinned against the bank by the rushing current. An ill judged lean saw water pour into the cockpit and prove decisively de-stabilising. There was no fighting the inevitable. I was tipped in. Despite being pleasantly warm to trail your fingers through, the water still took my breath. Along with my pride and one of my shoes.

No harm done. I swam across to a pebble bank, hauling myself and the kayak out. It's surprising how much volume these kayaks hold, a metric measured by the age it took for the water to pour out.

Once back on the river we could see splashes downstream, resembling a giant Marlin fighting against becoming a fishermen's latest trophy. Closer up, the Marlin resolved into a group of wild swimmers who were as surprised to see us as we were them given the deserted nature of the water. We revelled in our magical evening's adventure, swapping tales of distance travelled and sights spotted. The first group we met seemed to be training for a marathon, trawling determinedly upstream in wetsuits, hoods and goggles. Further on we met a pair of older ladies, serene in pastel swimsuits and bobble hats knitted during long winter evenings. They tipped us off about the imminent weir, and sure enough the rushing roar of plunging water soon filled the air.

Being fully versed in our limitations, we opted for a portage along the riverbank, the weighty hassles of carrying kayaks eased by the light weight of the Oru.

We'd squeezed this most micro of adventures between the end of the working day and the setting of the sun. Now as we walked along the riverbank golden hues infused the trees whilst pink tinges highlighted the clouds overhead. Somewhat tentatively I fished my iPhone from a pocket to capture the moment. It had been kept on hand, rather than residing safely in the smartphone sized waterproof bag that Oru thoughtfully provide with their Bay Plus models. Remarkably, it was still in something like working order.

Below the weir I feared the shallows would force us into further in-river portages, but we had the measure of the river and the benefit of bitter experience. Better lines were chosen and more powerful strokes drove us over shallows that would previously have seen us grounded.

The sun continued its steady descent, proximity to the horizon making it appear deceptively large, whilst its reflection in the water left us paddling in liquid gold.

We found ourselves repeatedly revelling in magical moments immersed in nature and our surroundings, senses heightened by the smell of wild garlic, golden light and amplified sounds over the water. This was not how Thursday evening's pan out.

The pair of us had climbed, and fallen, together. We'd compared scrapes and injuries, enjoyed a pint and related the frustrations of parenting. But these enchanted hours of shared experience on the river created a stronger bond than any we'd previously had, constrained by our busy lives and reserved manners. Which may account for the giddy display of public nudity in the layby of a dual carriageway, as we changed into regular clothes and returned to regular lives.

Want to have your own kayak adventure during Global Sharing Week. We're running a competition to give a Crew of at least 3 people the chance to share two of our kayaks for 2 weeks, starting on Global Sharing Week, 5th June 2016. We're looking for a great Crew who plan some great adventures that will inspire others to #getoutside.

Use the sharing buttons below to share our adventure and gather your Crew. 

Email tim@gatheroutdoors.co.uk by Friday 3rd June with details of your Crew and the adventures you plan during Global Sharing Week and the week after. Crews must be based in the UK.

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