Packrafting in the Western Lakes

Although I’ve managed to get out quite a lot with my packraft this summer, I haven’t really been adhering to the main concept behind the boat. Focused on exploring the islands and hidden bays of the Lake District I’d yet to actually carry my boat anywhere, thus negating possibly its primary design feature – its lightweight and compact flexibility.

The lakes of the western Lake District radiate out like the spokes of some giant wheel with its hub centred somewhere around the craggy bulk of Great Gable. This arrangement suggested an easy way to link up Buttermere and Carrock Water with Ennerdale Water, the lakes providing smooth passage through the valleys which could   then be joined togeather with hikes over the passes between the mountains.

I covered the ground it two days, but the route would also work well over three at a more relaxing pace leaving time to swim and explore the various lakesides, especially in little visited and virtually traffic free Ennerdale. Starting points are possible from the southern tip of both Ennerdale and Carrock Water, plus from Buttermere itself.


The Camp beside Currock Water

I started on Carrock Water which was close to mirror still as I paddled across its surface, the vast bulk of Grasmoor, its slopes dark purple with late summer heather reflected clearly in its surface. Although I’m still new to packfrafting I’ve already learned to enjoy these calm conditions when they present themselves, when the boat appears to skim over the surface, gliding silently through the still water.

My target for the evening was the short spur of Low Ling Crag, which juts out like a miniature peninsula from the western side of the lake offering a little level campsite surrounded on three sides by water. The location is spectacular with great views up and down the lake, Fleetwith Pike dominating the valley head in one direction, Grasmoor looming large in the other. I pitched facing the latter, and following a short and very cold swim enjoyed the changing colours cast by the setting sun on its slopes.

With morning I broke down the raft for the hike over to Ennerdale. My Alpaka Caribou weighs little more than 2kg and packs into a roll about the same size as a winter sleeping bag making it easy to fit in a medium sized rucksack along with lightweight camping and hiking kit. My paddle is lightweight plastic and carbon fibre and splits into three making it easy to strap onto the side of a rucksack. I was really pleased with how little everything weighed, important if considering a long hike or steep climb. The only item which did not pack down well was my buoyancy aid which by their nature need to be pretty bulky.


With everything packed I hiked up past the beautiful hidden waterfall of Scale Force and into wild Mosedale which feels much more remote than most of the Lakes, following a faint path winding through the boggy, tussocky grass. The path, which is probably a boggy mess in winter, continues to climb up to Whiteoak Moss and Floutern Tarn before dropping down to meet Ennerdale Water after about 7km of hiking.

I found a small beach by the lake and inflated the raft, two kayakers passed by heading up the lake down which a strong wind was now blowing. Battling against this it was a slow but beautiful paddle up the valley, I followed the northern bank past Bowness Knott with the wind wafting the smell of the pine trees across the water as the sunlight sparkled off the waves whipped up by the wind.

From the water I spotted plenty of camping spots hidden in the trees, perfect stops if you felt like taking your time over the trip. A couple had tents in situ, kayaks drawn up on the beach below their owners obviously enjoying a lazy day in the hot sun. The lack or roads and cars makes Ennerdale a quiet valley, putting off those unwilling to be separated far from there vehicles, and I caught glimpses of relatively few hikers making their way through the trees as they headed up the valley.

Reaching the upper end of Ennerdale Water I explored the River Liza where it enters the lake, the water was shallow and crystal clear but progression upstream was impossible due to many small rapids. Landing, and before packing up the boat again, I swam (much warmer here) and ate lunch whilst drying myself in the warm sun.


Looking down Ennerdale Water from the mouth of the River Liza

My route back to Buttermere headed  up the valley following the river before turning north and climbing over the Scarth Gap Pass. For most of the way the route is easy following the access track which leads to the YHA’s Black Sail Hut which is located at the head of the valley (another possible overnight option). Rather than hike to the hut and take the bridleway to the pass I left the track a couple of km short and followed a footpath diagonally up the hillside, the going was rocky and steep but the views back down the valley were spectacular.

At the pass I join the bridleway climbing up from Black Sail and was suddenly surrounded by crowds exploring the fells above Buttermere. I’ve seen the Scarth Gap Pass described as a mountain biking link between the two valleys, and had thought of the route as a bike / packfraft combo. The contours covered by the bridleway put me off and I’m glad they did, the decent to Buttermere was technical to unridable and would have been a complete nightmare with heavy kit.


Reaching the lake I re-inflated the raft and pushed off from the busy shore for the final (almost) section of paddling to complete the circle. Buttermere is linked to Currock Water by a small river about 1km long called the Buttermere Dubs, this offers a potentially  easy link between the two lakes without having to break down the boat.

Although the river looked to have no real technical difficulties in terms of white water it was overhung by a lot of trees which dropped right down to water level forming a series of strainers, especially close to the bridge half way down. These would require some precise control of a raft to avoid and as there was a reasonable flow when I inspected  the run and as I’m still learning the capabilities of both the raft any my ability to control it I decided to portage.

Both Buttermere and Currock Water were thronged with people enjoying the Bank Holiday sun, but as if by magic all I had to do was paddle a few 100m  out from the shores to drift back to a more tranquil setting, the hubbub on the back drifting into the background and only intruding on the periphery of senses. Not feeling under any time pressure, I slowly paddled back towards the car thinking about where my boat could take me next.


Cycling in Otago – The Central Rail Trail

Having just booked another trip to New Zealand its about time I wrote a bit more about my visit in January 2018. Apologies for the photos in this one, there was no way I was lugging my SLR about in that heat!


The day had started with one objective in mind, I was going to bag my first Southern Hemisphere ton, and no 35 degree heat and searing headwind was going to stop me; even if, the end of the day drifted a bit too close to Type 2 fun. The ton, or 100km is a big bike ride, a solid effort, the distance which, I think turns you from punter into a proper cyclist.

An overriding thought as I drove round the South Island was that so much on New Zealand looked great to explore by bike, smooth ribbons of tarmac winding through stunning landscapes inviting the skinny tires of a road bike, or backcountry trails ripe for mountain bikes.

With only a couple of weeks in the country, and a to-do list as long as my arm I had very limited time to get out on two wheels. I whittled down all the potential adventures to one, a section of the Otago Central Rail Trail which follows the course of an old railway line for 152Km between Clyde and Middlemarch in the County of Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. Ideally it would have been nice to ride the whole trail over 2-3 days, but my return flight made the logistical juggling impractical so I decided to head out from Clyde and ride as far as I could before the threat of an imminently closing bike shop made turning round essential.


The bridge over Poolburn Gorge

It was blisteringly hot, I’d arrived off the plane in shorts ten days previously and had been happily tanning my legs ever since. New Zealand was in the middle of a heat wave, it had been warm in the mountains around Wanaka, and Queenstown but now traveling west into the plains of Otago the sun was like a blowtorch searing the landscape, desiccating the grass’ which lined the trail to a burnt yellow brown.

I had picked up my bike in a friendly shop in Clyde, fortunately they had 29er’s in stock which I hoped would make short work of the distance. The trail its surface covered in gravel ran arrow straight for the first few miles out of town passing small farms and vineyards as it headed towards the larger town of Alexandra where it swung north east and began to contour above the Manuherikia River. Barren hills, craggy and dry stretched up to my right, there lower slopes dotted with corse vegetation.


The trail is well surfaced, mountain or gravel bikes are ideal

After about 20 km the rail crossed the river and shortly after arrived at Chatto Creek where I stopped for lunch and litres of liquid refreshment at the Tavern which sits right by the railway. This was a good call as the next section of the trail lead gently but relentlessly uphill to the village of Omakau (40km) before levelling off towards the tiny hamlet of Lauder (45km, Cafe!). The farms beside this section of the trail were much bigger with huge irrigation gantries dominating the fields.


One of the Tunnels

I made it as far as the Poolburn Gorge, here the railway leaps back over the river before following it up trough the cliffs of the gorge helped by a couple of short tunnels. It’s the most spectacular section of the trail but unfortunately my Garmin had just hit 55km, and  if I was going to make it back to the bike shop before closing now was the time to turn round.

I was racing the clock all the way back to Clyde, for the fist walk of the return the kilometres flew by as I had the advantage of approximately 300m of hight to loose. Then about 10km short of Alexandra I ran into a block headwind that was like cycling into a hairdryer. With almost 90km in the legs it was a battle to fight into the wind and I motivated myself with the thought of a huge tub of ice-cream at the finish. I made it back to the hire shop with ten minutes to spare, I think they were slightly surprised when they saw the distance on the bike computer!