Alfriston paddle – Sunday 15th October 2023 by Gerry
On a cold but beautifully sunny morning over 20 of us set off on a round trip from Cuckmere to Alfriston in a mixture of kayaks, SUPs and canoes. The trip was a case of third time lucky as two previous attempts earlier in the year had both been postponed due to adverse weather conditions.
Although the temperature warmed up as the day went on, it was a distinctly chilly 6 degrees when we started. I was fully kitted out in my heavy duty wetsuit, jacket, gloves and a woolly hat (I forgot the rule about wearing helmets!). Still, the gear kept me nice and warm except for the gloves as they got wet so ended up making my hands colder rather than warmer and were soon discarded.
We joined the river via the steps which, thankfully, were not as slippery as they often can be. It took a while as the water levels were too low to reach all the way to the end of the meanders, necessitating dragging the boats part of the way along the bank. And, of course, it took some time to get everyone back on the water – but waiting around in the sunshine was pleasant enough.
The paddle up to Alfriston with the tide was truly glorious and once we’d sorted out that the SUPs needed to go in front we settled into a fairly leisurely pace, leaving plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery. The Cuckmere has always been one of my favourite rivers and it never disappoints, although it was a shame that only a few of the hundreds of geese you usually see on the first big bend were not there. I’ve subsequently found out from a walker friend that they have moved to a field just inland so they were there, just out of sight.
As we headed upstream we exchanged greetings with the folks who live in the house on the river bank just past the road bridge at Exceat who were sitting on their veranda enjoying the sunshine. We then headed up past High and Over and the white horse and on to Litlington where we went under the pretty bridge and stopped for a short breather.
After Litlington the river gets progressively narrower so, after a while, we were snaking along in single file weaving our way through the thickening reeds. I managed to get myself stuck in the reeds at one point and had to be pulled out backwards – so definitely more steering practice needed for me!!
This part of the river is so very different from the wide open vistas we had for most of the trip but is still fun to paddle, with much more of a jungle feel. Before long we could see the spire of St Andrew’s Church – the ‘Cathedral of the Downs’ – poking above the tops of the reeds so we knew we were getting close to our destination.
After about 2 and a quarter hours we stopped at Alfriston under the white bridge by River Lane and clambered up the muddy bank for our lunch break. A few folks went for stroll to the village while most of us had our picnics sitting by the river, which was a lovely spot. Sunshine, food and good company – I could have sat there all afternoon.
We set off back to the barn at about 1.15 pm, a little later than planned as the tide seemed very reluctant to turn at the time predicted. The trip back was just as good as going upstream, maybe even a little better as we had the views towards the sea as we got closer to home. A couple of other folks got caught up in the reeds this time – not so good for them but at least it made me feel a bit better! Everyone had a good laugh about it though – including the hapless paddlers.
We decided to give the steps a miss when we got back past Exceat as we thought it would take too long to get everyone out. We decided to head for the beach at the southern end of the meanders instead. This probably turned out to not be the best plan as the river bank was incredibly slippery and we had to form a human chain to haul some people up. Even then a couple of folks ended up getting a dunking. Still, it’s all part of the fun I guess.
And so, as we headed back up to the barn, our trip drew to a close. It was a fairly long day but a glorious paddle and really good fun.
When we got back to the barn Darren and a few of the others decided to do some throw line practice in the meanders. A good idea but I gave that a miss as I was a bit tired by then so headed home full of happy memories of a lovely day.