Kayaking the tidal River Adur

See also: Bic Yakkair Full HP

In the beginning when I was keen to try anything, I paddled Sussex’s River Arun and the upper Rother too. Neither made me want to rush back to tick off the other tidal rivers of southeast England. You feel you’re in a sunken, silty, reed-chocked ditch passing below treeless agricultural land and with limited, muddy take-outs.
But Robbo was taking his Full DS Yakkair for a burn up; a good chance for me to check the boat out as well as try something new. He’d worked out the tides: putting in on a 6.5-m spring tide at 11am in Upper Bedding (the former medieval port of Steyning) would scoot us up 10km to the tidal limit under the A281 bridge near Shermanbury.

In Beeding there’s a free car park at the east end of the village by the playing fields (maybe toilets), plus a garage and a Subway nearby. Arriving with Kahuna Steve at the steep east bank just south of the bridge at 10.30 (above), the river was flowing downstream like rivers do and faster than we could paddle against it. Had we timed it all wrong? But by the time Rob and his two young chums were on the water with us an hour later, the moon was doing its work and the river was flowing as fast in the opposite direction, backed by the southerly breeze pushing through the Steyning Gap in the South Downs.

Yes it’s another tidal Sussex ditch with lots of day-amblers either side, but who can complain being on the water on a sunny day in a boat you brought in on your back and gangs of menacing swans to dodge? Robbo was spinning like a break-dancing turtle in his tiny Twist, Steve was piloting his old Feathercraft Kahuna, the folder nursing a broken plastic rib from last year’s Danube run. And E&L were in Rob’s dropstitch Yakkair which you can read about here.

As we cruised effortlessly northward, the chat subsided and the river got narrower. Reeds and fallen trees closed in to just a boat’s width at times. Upstream I noticed a couple of access steps on the west bank – maybe private but the only way of getting off the river with some elegance, if needed.

We reached the fork in about an hour 20. Northwest leads to Bines Bridge, romantically depicted by renowned 1960s illustrator, Michael Codd. Look him up: he’s rendered loads of idealised Sussex illustrations from the late-medieval iron ore industry right back to Neolithic hunting scenes.

Taking off up the east arm, very soon a submerged weir slowed down the three skeged IKs. The Yakkair needed a lift over. Then a fallen tree appeared to block the way but the boats squeezed through. Here we met a local couple in their new Itiwit 3-seater. These must be the most popular IKs around right now, maybe because Decathlon were able to meet the huge demand after the first lockdown this summer.

From here the scenery picked up briefly. The fields didn’t run to the water’s edge and riverside willows dangled over the stream. We reached the four-arched bridge near Shermanbury about 2pm for a snack (easy take out on the right), but had it in our heads we should turn round pronto. It soon became clear the spring tide here kept rising up to 3pm, a full 2 hours after Shoreham, maybe pushed up by the day’s wind.

The weir bar that has been six inches below the surface on the way up was now two feet under. Good to know The wind had strengthened and was now in out face so there was nothing left but to have a work-out. Steve and I pulled ahead as gradually the flow turned our way; the Downs making a good marker for where we were headed.
We got back in about an hour 30 and managed to crawl out without covering ourselves and the boats in mud. As Steve sagely observed, anywhere else in the world there’d be a civilised jetty to encourage paddling.

About the Adur tides:
High tide in Upper Beeding (Steyning) is about 45 minutes after Shoreham and about 2 hours at Shermanbury. That brings up the brain-twisting notion that water levels are rising upriver while falling at the estuary. Somewhere a spooky patch of slack water is migrating silently upstream.
With a skeg the weir bar is submerged enough about an hour before a high spring tide at Shermanbury bridge. Neap tides may not submerge it so just take the left fork towards Bines Bridge and see how far you get.

Next time it would be fun to start in Shoreham, at least 7km downstream from Upper Beedimng, and take more time at the top end – maybe at the Bull Inn near Shermanbury bridge – before riding the current and tide all the way back. You’d hope there’s a mud-free take out or slipway somewhere in Shoreham harbour.

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