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Open Canoes on the River Tweed 2020 A bank holiday adventure

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The August Bank holiday was fast approaching, and several ideas were put forward, white water, sea kayaking and Open Canoeing. Strong winds on the Llyn Peninsula, lack of white water resulted in a three-day trip down the river Tweed on the Scottish border. Club open canoes were available, but we ended up with 6 paddlers all paddling their own craft: Brian, Keith, Ian, Graham, Andrew and Gareth. We all headed up on Friday evening / night and camped, bivvied or stayed in a hotel. We met up early on the Saturday in Peebles

Brian Green

Graham Rowe

Gareth Jones

Ian Bell


Andy Garland


Day 1 (Saturday) 29th August – Peebles to Melrose

Brian, Ian and Andy had borrowed a small trailer and travelled up together very late last night and had kipped in the camper in Kingsmeadow Car Park. Keith and Graham had found a small forest track and camped while Gareth had booked a room in a hotel and enjoyed breakfast. We all met at 8:30am and were on the water by 9:00am. The plan was jump a taxi at the end for the three drivers and this would give us the flexibility to finish where ever we liked.

Most loaded the boats with a couple of large dry bags with tent, stove and three days food and clothes. The river was high for August with the current flowing swiftly – 1.5m to 2m on the Norham Gauge. Consequently, paddling was a delight with many small waves and ripples, a few tricky bits but we were whizzing down the river being pushed quickly by the current.

We paddled past large houses, wooded valleys, castles and great countryside. This was going to be a relaxed trip with improving weather. We sped through Innerleithen and found a good spot to stop for elevenses at 11:00am! and immediately put a brew on and enjoyed a quick snack.

Back on the water we soon approached a level horizon, a sure sign of a weir at Walkerburn. We could hear the white water below and standing up we tried to spy a safe route through. One of gillies with a client called out “you will need to inspect it”. We landed on the left and Graham immediately pronounce he was going to line his Cedar Strip homemade canoe down. Ian and Keith decided to run a small gap on the left with Andy following. Brian and Gareth decided to line their boats  safely down.

The next 10 or so km were very enjoyable with many small rapids and good scenery. Ashiesteel rapids followed by Yair Cauld (weir) and Fairnilee rapid. All a good grade 1-2 and ideal of open canoes. We passed Abbotsford house on the left and soon came across Melrose Cauld (weir). This had waves below and was mostly washed out.

Soon after we found a left-hand bend with cut-off making a kind of island with a large red cliff on the river right (30m high). We decided to stop on a small stone beach and camp for the night as we were well out of site of the houses of Melrose above. Stoves were fired up, tents erected and most managed to find a comfortable spot. Only Andy failed to test his sleeping spot and suffered a pebbly and uncomfortable night. We chilled out next to the river, Gareth made used of an old “men at work” sign to set his stove up on. We were early to bed after our late evening the day before.

Day 2 (Sunday) 30th August – Melrose to Upsettlington

After a good night’s sleep, we were up and sorting breakfast and packing tents away early. We were on the water for 8:30am but the river had dropped a little from the previous day but was still at a very good summer level. We very quickly came across the triple bridges (An old railway Viaduct / Old road bridge / new A68 road bridge).

We soon came across Merton Cauld (weir). This had massive waves below and most portaged on the river right. Keith got out on river left and managed to find a good route over a sloping weir face with plenty of water. Clearly there was far too much water to take the slot in the middle.

After a further 5km we were expecting another weir (Rutherford Cauld). There was a small rapid ahead and it did not look like a weir, so we drifted up to the edge and then one after another paddled over. The waves were considerably bigger than expected but we had little time to prepare and get settled in our canoes. Looking back, I saw Brian out of his boat, but it had remained upright – he was holding on to a cow’s tail at the back and was waving and smiling so all was good. Ian managed to get to him as he drifted downstream still in the wave train and Brian managed to climb over Ian`s canoe and into his. We all eddied out behind a fisherman`s wing dam or wing dyke (artificial wall into the  river) to bail out.

We were now approaching 58 kms downstream from Peebles marked by Makerstoun House on the Left. The three rapids that followed are the most difficult on river however with the river so high they were relatively easy. Upper and Middle Makerstoun rapids were large grade 2 in these conditions and paddled down through picking our way and floating over any rock ledges or obstructions which were fully covered. Lower Makerstoun rapid is normally more difficult with a line down the right. Today it could be shot on the left, middle or right and we did all three. The rapid was an easy grade 3 minus but could be tricky for open canoes if low. We stopped for lunch on the river left to try and get away from the Mayflies. An MSR stove was fired up and we soon all had a warm tea or coffee and food to recharge our energy levels.

 We paddled on a Further 7 kms or so and soon came across Kelso and Kelso weir. This was easily shot on river right, but various routes were available in the middle which are more suited to kayaks. Graham again lined his cedar strip canoe down to prevent any damage and we were soon paddling through the town and over another small weir below the road bridge in the town.

After some more small rapids and 5kms we  came across Banff Mill and its weir which we took on river left. This had a series of 4 small drops or weirs with a wave train through the last.

More rapids and a couple of small weirs led us to Coldstream which was approach around a large looping meander bend. There is a statue high on a column on the left bank. The high walls of the town lead to a road bridge with a weir immediately below. (Shoot through the right and arch if the bridge).

7km more led us onto the last of 6 maps and we started to look for a camp for the night. We found a large river terrace on a left-hand meander bend just past Upsettington Estate. This had a levee or embankment which would hide us from the few houses and a fisherman’s cottage beyond. We dragged the canoes up the short slope and started to set up tents and make the evening meal. It had been a long day, but we were easily in reach of tidal parts of the river and the sea beyond.

Later a salmon fisherman and his partner stopped to chat about the river and our journey. It turned out they were from Chester and regularly came up to Berwick to fish. There is of course no fly fishing on a Sunday which is why we had seen very few during the day. Gareth found time to walk into Norham and find a local pub run by a family from Merseyside who were serving food and beer. He tells us he returned shortly after dark, but we were all fast asleep by then.

Day 3 (Monday) 31st August – Upsettlington to Berwick-Upon-Tweed

The plan was to get up early and paddle into Berwick for a late breakfast. We all rose early after a great night’s sleep, stoves roared away as we packed up our gear and enjoyed a quick breakfast of porridge. We slid into the water shortly after 6:30am and paddled past some gravel islands and the first of 3 bridges. Shortly after Horncliffe the river becomes tidal and we had timed it exactly right  to have the last of any dropping tide scoot us along to the outskirts of Berwick-Upon-Tween and the A1 road bridge. We paddled through the town and harbour area towards the lifeboat ramp and an adjoining slipway and landed for a late breakfast at about 9:00am

After a few photos we unloaded our boats and carried them up either slipway or rocky beach. Gareth rang for the pre-arranged taxi and the guy said he would be about 20 minutes but was a little surprised that we were at Berwick and not Coldstream as arranged a few days before. The use of the taxi had saved a lot of time on the first day with the shuttle taking more than 3 hrs there and back. In the end we paid £100 for the taxi, which was about £17 each, a bargain in the end which reduced the number of car journeys from 9 to only 3!

We soon packed up, loaded our canoes and cleared the slipway which now had 3 boats waiting to launch on the incoming tide. They were more than patient with us and were interested in our bank holiday adventure. We were all on the road heading south before 1pm

More Photos……….