River Stort (Canalised) – Sawbridgeworth to Harlow – or Vice Versa!

Sunday 12th Februrary

This Trip is no 16 In the “Pub Paddles book – The best Short Canoe Trips in the South of England” by Peter Knowles.

We had to change the start. Fortunately, Dave had done his normal excellent checks the previous day and discovered that there was no available parking at the proposed Sawbridgeworth start. Therefore, the round-trip journey had to be started at the other end, Harlow Station. This was in a large pub car park, adjacent to the river, so at least it provided good free parking and a location for a finishing debrief over a beer.

This trip was a bit like an Agatha Christie novel as the six expected paddlers reduced steadily down to three in the last few days. But no murders, just a couple of sickies and a burst boiler causing the reduction. So, this left just Dave Hillier, Nathan Ashford and me!

It was an interesting trip along a meandering river but being winter was not particularly scenic as most trees and bushes were bare and just starting to bud. However, we saw good wildlife and met some friendly fishermen and walkers along the way. It is likely to be far more pleasant in the spring/summer.

One thing that did not match the description in the book, was the portages at the locks. Described in the book as locks ‘all having landing stages suitable for canoes so it is relatively easy’ wasn’t quite correct as the height made them quite a challenge. This was maybe not helped by the water levels which seemed to be down a bit. At one precarious get in, two ladies stopped to watch us ‘in case we fell in’ but we didn’t oblige them. In two places we entered the locks to use the ladders to simplify getting out and practice as an alternative for Nathan.

At the start a friendly fisherman showed us the normal get in location which was a large floating log tied to the bank. We did try, but it rolled like a fairground ride so we slid in nearby instead.

Two hours out, at the third lock, with another vertical assault exit and a challenging return we decided to turn around and head back. We stopped off for lunch at a small bridge that crossed an offshoot from the river. We chose this as the only other potential stoppage locations were the locks.

During the trip Dave was assessing Nathan for his Paddle start, something Nathan hadn’t completed as it wasn’t a prerequisite for beginners when he joined the club. Nathan did very well and passed with flying colours despite the precarious ins and outs.

The Trip was 7 miles and took four and a half hours although this time was extended by a long chatty lunch break.

So, a pleasant flatwater paddle about 40 miles from the aquadrome. However, if we are going to use it again, we would need to consider the participants as it might not be suitable for all with the challenges of getting in and out.

Write up by Chris Harper

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