Travelling chimps

Kayaking on the Ouse with the Chimpory Flotilla

We live near Brighton beach so on a hot summers day we…. AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE! The whole of London seems to descend on our fair city, even though that invariably means sitting in an epic traffic jam and then having to find somewhere to park – not easy and not cheap. Although the Hove end of the beach is much calmer, sometimes the chaos and litter just gets too much and we head to beautiful Barcombe Mills to wile away the hours picnic’ing on the banks of the river, blowing up the kayak and paddling in search of a pint.

An inflatable present

Our kayak adventures started on hubby’s 40th. I bought him an Intex Explorer K2, a 2 man inflatable that comes with everything you need except life-jackets. It was a bit of a gamble because we didn’t really have anywhere to store a boat (even one that deflates), and if it was a faff to put up then we wouldn’t have bothered using it, but it was a 40th and I had to produce something legendary. Of course legends are not always great and I’m quite ‘hit and miss’ with presents  – I can come up with something I think will solve all his problems or will allow him to indulge interests he never realised he had, but the response will be a barely hidden bemusement. Then again I can produce things that he truly loves. I’ll leave you to work out which present pile the charcoal soap (to cure his eczema) ended up on….

The kayak was a great success though. We headed out on a calm sea and did a circuit of the West Pier, which, after working with seafront engineers for 2 years, I now realise was horribly dangerous as it could collapse at any moment. Don’t try that one with your kids! Do try the kayak though – it’s really good value and has great reviews as an all-rounder, starter kayak.

Talking of kids. Ours eventually got big enough to go in the kayak and although one small bottom doesn’t really take the boat over it’s weight limit, 2 growing bottoms (or probably 4 growing bottoms if you include us grown-ups…. we were hitting our 40’s and bottoms definitely don’t downsize at that point!) and the poor kayak started to struggle. It ended up with a tear that didn’t affect the integrity of the boat – it still floated – but it didn’t feel like it would forever. We tried to fix it by stapling it together, a questionable solution when you consider what stapling actually does to material.

Needless to say, we are on to our second kayak now – a Sevylor Tahiti. We chose a 3 man kayak this time. It’s still good value but slightly more than the Intex. We also bought a little dinghy which we could tie on and tow.  We spent 6 hours gently paddling downstream on the Loire last summer and the new set-up was perfect. Kit sat in the back lolling around with a fishing rod and Soren got to sit at the front. Lord knows how that kept them happy for 6 hours but it pretty much did.

Back to Barcombe

We’ve already established that collapsing iron piers are not a good choice for a family kayak. Instead, go with the safe option of Barcombe and the River Ouse. I did a bit of research to check it would be safe / legal and apparently the Ouse used to be a commercial waterway and rights of navigation may still exist but it’s a bit of a grey area above Barcombe. It’s also a tidal river, but above Lewes that doesn’t really affect the water. Lots of the official kayak trips state it is good one for families and certainly every time we have been it has been an easy and calm trip.

Barcombe Mills car park is the best place to set off from. Head south on the A26 from Uckfield to Lewes and then turn right into Barcombe Mills Road. The satnav postcode is BN8 5BP.  You can park for free (although watch out for height barriers – we can’t take our van) and then follow a little path down towards the weir. Before you reach it, go through the gate and walk alongside the river on a grassy path. It’s easy to find a spot to blow up your boat and get into the river here, but if it’s busy then just cross the little footbridge and walk a little further around.

The first bit of the paddle can be pretty busy with families and dogs jumping in – I can’t fathom why as it is FREEZING, brown and slimy. Once you have paddled past the hoards though it is lovely – birds darting into the trees, nodding reeds and dragonflies. It’s very tranquil and we’ve seen herons before on this stretch.

If you want somewhere to head, the Anchor Inn is a good destination. It doesn’t take too long to get there – just enough to work up a thirst – and you can get out easily. If you want to go past the inn you have to get out anyway because there is a weir at that end as well. Apparently it’s around here that VIrginia Woolf drowned. Just one more reason why I don’t really see the need to get into the water!

Of course if you can’t be bothered with the paddling effort and you just like being out on the boat, we’ve been known to head for the Anchor Inn and just sack it off for an hour of bobbing around with a glass of something cold (yes – this was a on a day when the kids were not with us!).

This time we took friends with us (one of who had bought his own Intex explorer) and all took it in turns to go for a paddle in convoy. It meant that we didn’t really get to the tranquil bit but it was a good fun day. Ros (my mum) was so inspired she went home and ordered her own kayak. Watch out for the Chimpory flotilla next time you pass a river – we are growing in numbers and confidence!