megawatt alley

today offered another snatched opportunity to paddle. i only had time for quick outing (my work/life balance needs a tweak) and so we stayed local.
i collected steve and the usual routine of loading boats onto cars and bags into boots was performed, albeit a little more smoothly than usual.
after leaving one car in the car park in the centre of shardlow (a place i’d never been to before), we headed for swarkestone. our route took us backwards and forwards across the trent a couple of times. it was a boiling, brown flow that had burst its banks in several places. although in this area of gravel pits and power station sluices, the river seems to be rarely contained and had many off-piste opportunities.
swarkestone to shardlow
we parked next to the church and carried down the 50m or so to the water. each and every person we saw in swarkestone looked at us like we were aliens. particularly nasty looking aliens at that. i’m not sure how they thought we were going to spoil their rural idyll (well, any more than the bloody great road that runs through their village). because of the welcome we had no second thoughts about ignoring the ‘private drive, private’ sign and making our way to the bank.
swarkestone causeway is a thirteenth century stone structure that crosses the trent and the floodplain next to it and is the longest stone bridge in britain. it is amazing to think that this thing has stood for so long. what is more amazing is that we still allow traffic to use it.
the bridge in picture above was built after that section was swept away in 1795. a huge flood washed trees and timber down the river until it built up such a weight as to demolish the bridge.
as we took to the water, the flow turned our boats sharp left and we were off. the weather was fantastic and the low winter sun caused us one or two problems spotting the boils, eddies and whirlpools that were being caused by so much water moving so quickly.
there were many swans along this first section and we were treated to a few close-up take-offs and landings. as usual, the camera was tucked safely (and dry-ly) away for most of them.
swarkestone to shardlow
we were heading generally east, towards the ratcliffe power station. it appeared to be spewing steam from all of its chimneys. something i’m not sure i’ve seen before.
swarkestone to shardlow
the most ‘interesting’ section of the route came at the priest house hotel at king’s mill near castle donnington. there used to be a weir here that has long since been washed away. it is usually a grade 1 rapid although the first standing wave today looked to be a couple of feet high. it’s the first time my new boat has had a proper soaking and i’ve realised how porous touring spraydecks can be.
as usual, both steve and i were quite worried by this thing as we approached, but wanted another go immediately after clearing it.
we passed the remains of castle donnington power station and then under the railway bridge. there was only a couple of feet of clearance under here – i’m glad there were no trains.
swarkestone to shardlow
we passed shardlow village on the left and then passed under cavendish bridge and into leicestershire. from here the trent is navigable. the marina was full of wintering boats but we were still being carried rapidly along until the river opened out at derwent mouth. here, the trent is joined by the river derwent and the trent and mersey canal. there is an awful lot of water about!
swarkestone to shardlow
between us an the car was a mile of dirty canal and one lock. that didn’t mean however that there wasn’t time to stop for coffee and biscuits. when i say biscuits, i am understating the facts. in truth, they were abernethy biscuits…
abernethy biscuits are made in edinburgh by simmers. they’re named after their scottish inventor dr john abernethy, who in turn was probably named after the scottish town. the town takes its name from the celtic word ‘aber’ , which doesn’t mean dodgy attired viking singing group, but ‘mouth of’, and ‘nethy’ which is the name of the river.
they are fantastic. like shortbread, but thinner and less sweet. worth a trip north especially!
refreshed, we finally had to put some effort in to paddling (until now, the flow of the river had carried us along at over 10kmh) but were soon back in the village and amongst the sunday lunchers squeezing into the two pubs next to the canal.
as has been the way in our recent trips, we were blessed with great weather during the paddle only for it to rain (or snow) on the way home.
swarkestone to shardlow
a grand trip anyway. the sort that makes me feel very smug on a monday morning when the people at work ask what i did over the weekend. 60 miles by bike and 10 by boat while most of them were still in bed.

if you want to see the exact route we took, take a look here: nokia sportstracker

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