Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: The Wharfe: Bolton Bridge to Otley

  1. #1

    Default The Wharfe: Bolton Bridge to Otley

    This is the account of my first open canoe trip on moving water. There aren't many pictures because I had enough to do trying to keep up with Polecat. I've described the trip as I remember it. Polecat can fill in any details where my memory is a little hazy.

    Working all week in a windowless office leaves one with a yearning for the outdoors and adventure. Thus, when I got wind of an expedition to explore the uncharted wilderness of the River Wharfe, I immediately set about making enquiries. A few messages and a phone call later I had an experienced guide and the loan of a canoe.

    The morning of the 29th of April dawned cool with a little cloud. Polecat arrived at my house a little before 9 am and we drove to Bolton Bridge for the put-in. He had been most impressed by my BCU 2-star award until I confessed that the course had been entirely on flat water.
    As we set of from the layby just below the bridge, I looked forward to learning from the master. As Polecat disappeared down the first rapid he called over his shoulder ‘Aim for the Vees’, and that was as much instruction as I got. (To be fair it was a pretty gentle rapid.)

    Put-in near Bolton Bridge.

    Looking downstream from the put-in

    The Mobil Adventure Ranger-14 turned out to be a very confidence-inspiring craft: large enough to feel stable without being too heavy. I was soon quite comfortable on the easier rapids but I portaged the first weir. (Polecat ran it quite happily).

    The next weir was a long one, stretching across the river at an angle. We portaged around and scrambled down the bank into the water. We choose the left-most channel away from the weir. This proved to be home to an enormous fallen tree. We made our way through by ducking right down and crawling hand over hand through the branches.

    The third weir was high and double-stepped. We stopped to portage, lowering the canoes down a wall and climbing down after them. After this we quickly passed the village of Addingham and followed the river around the edge of Ilkley golf course.

    Just after the golf course we encountered the fastest rapid yet with a sharp left-hand bend. I felt sure that I would be OK if I just followed Polecat’s line. He ran a little too wide around the bend, hit a rock and capsized! Seeing this, I paddled hard left and beached on the shingle on the inside of the bend. I jumped out ready to help Polecat bring his canoe ashore. He was a little upset to learn that his drysuit was not as dry as he had hoped.

    Entering the town of Ilkley we discovered a small weir. I judged it too small to be worth portaging and ran it square on. My first weir – roughly a foot high but we’ve all got to start somewhere. We stopped for lunch just before the footbridge and I loaned Polecat a dry jumper. Setting out again, we ran a couple of rapids and left Ilkley via a convenient (for us) gap in the stepping-stones.

    Stopped for a break in Ilkley:
    The view upstream

    And downstream

    By now I was starting to tire a bit. At the beginning of the trip I had thought: “I’m OK on flat water.” Now I was starting to look at rapids and think: “Oh good – gravity will do some of the work for me!” Just out of Ilkley the river becomes rather remote giving a good opportunity to spot wildlife. Amongst the many birds we spotted that day, Polecat pointed out a sparrowhawk. The first time I’ve ever seen one in the wild.

    Burley-in-Wharfedale is home to a large weir with stepping-stones on the downstream side. This led to a long portage. Downstream from the stepping-stones, the landscape makes a dramatic change as the river curves right though a steep wooded valley. I thought the place was beautiful but it hid the greatest danger we were to face on this trip! As we rounded the bend, we encountered two savage natives engaged in the pursuit of torturing small creatures. We bade them a cheerful greeting but they became angry as soon as they saw us! One (must have been the chief since he considered the water to belong to him) began describing the river in terms usually associated with fertility. He then began hurling rocks while shouting in his primitive language. We paddled on as quickly as we could with Polecat pausing only to make one last attempt at communication with some appropriate sign-language.

    The remainder of the trip down into Otley was quite uneventful - nothing to report (unless Polecat wants to add anything).

    The Bridge at Otley (Photo is from the following weekend - There was not time to grab a photo that day.)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    Very enjoyable read, sounds like a great day apart from the savage natives.

    If anybody actually threw rocks in my direction with intent to hit me, I'd be on the phone to the police immediately, there and then, and taking photos of them, whilst telling them exactly what I was doing.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Currently N. Somerset. Oftimes Quebec Province, Canada.


    Surely rocks landing in the water tend to upset the fish, duh to the angry man!

    'Adventure is relative. My adventure is another's commonplace.'

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Laverton near Ripon, North Yorkshire


    Yes it was a really great trip apart from the two neanderthals we met and the wrestle I had with the semi submerged tree in the fast water just before Otley. Serves me right for being so cocky. I think I've learnt to avoid trees in the water like the plague. Must plan another trip sometime in the near future. Pete.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Lochwinnoch, Scotland
    Journal Entries


    Sounds like a great first river trip, locals aside of course.

  6. #6


    I deliberately left the submerged tree out of my account; I thought you could add as much detail as you wanted to share about that bit!

    I think the neanderthals were cross that we scared the fish. Funny how fish are scared of canoes but aren't scared of flying rocks, shouting or thugs stomping through the water! In reality I think he must have scared of any fish within a mile of the place.

    I'd definitely be up for another trip soonish.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    Belgium, Gent


    Nice report with some drama included One more reason to put a helmet on

    I have great memories of the time I visited Bolton Abby with my son 2 years ago and when I fly-fished the Wharfe.

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts