It was raining lightly as I stepped into my kayak on the shores of the Beaulieu River. I was marginally enthused for this maritime adventure as heavier showers were predicted for later that day. Fortunately, however, New Forest Activities is well-stocked with wet-weather gear and I was given waterproof trousers along with my life preserver.
This is a clever way to get further upriver where larger craft can’t go except at very high tide.
I was in a group of four. Steve, our instructor, patiently helped everyone get into their kayaks – even a slightly nervous man who couldn’t swim and didn’t even appear to like water much – and we began to paddle. Steve showed us how to twist the blade gently and how to use our torso for momentum so that we didn’t get sore arms and we were off, literally skimming the water’s surface to give us a duck’s eye view.
As we rounded one of the sharp bends in this tranquil river, we spotted a little egret which looked especially brilliant white on that dark day and I realised that the rain has its benefits.
This was a more subtle pleasure: the gentle water drops patting on the smooth river water, the muted pinky-purples of shrubs and trees and the distinct feeling that it was less about the kayaking than about being at one with the river.
Kayaks sit so low in the water that we could see how the saltflats rise up on top of mud piles. Behind them, the ancient oak woodland of the eastern shore furnished a green backdrop and Steve explained that the juxtaposition of these two habitats is extremely rare. The monks from Beaulieu Abbey kept salt pans in the river to gather salt for the purpose of preserving food.
Kayaks sit so low in the water that we could see how the saltflats rise up on top of mud piles.
We inspected odd green shoots sprouting from the top of the flats and Steve told us that this is the now highly sought-after samphire which is the trendy ‘freshly stemmed’ plant that garnishes fish dishes in fancy restaurants. It is the first flowering plant to colonise new saltmarsh and sells for quite a bit on the open market. Don’t even think about collecting it here in this highly guarded river, though. Lord Montagu protects his fishing rights that have been passed down since the monks’ time as fiercely as they did.
We paddled upriver towards Beaulieu and had terrific views of the very expensive properties that line the eastern shore. This is a clever way to get further upriver where larger craft can’t go except at very high tide. As with all things on the Beaulieu Estate, comings and goings are carefully scrutinised and Lord Montagu’s harbourmaster keeps a close watch on every boat that comes in and out of the river. You can’t launch a canoe or kayak here, let alone moor for a few hours, without paying a fee.
I’s an easy paddle and experienced kayakers might be bored but it’s an ideal way to see one of the few privately owned rivers in the world close up. As we landed back on shore, even the non-nautical participant said he enjoyed the trip.
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