Friday, 22 July 2016

White Cart Water. Kayaking under the shopping streets of Paisley.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A kayak trip with a difference this time. It was Alan's choice of river and a very urban one that filled me with equal measures of dread and excitement. We would paddle at high tide up the White Cart Water from it's mouth/entrance on the River Clyde, under the swing bridge at Renfrew, seen here, then up through neglected seldom used river banks into the very heart of Paisley. As a youngster this large Renfrewshire town was close enough to where we stayed to become our regular Saturday destination for shops, cinema, and other entertainment. It has a long history of weaving, thread making and cotton mills, and of course established (but didn't invent) the famous swirling Paisley pattern teardrop design around the world. Interesting info here about the town's influence on 1960s culture/film/music, the summer of love, the Beatles and Prince, who of course named his studios/base- Paisley Park.
In places this river is wide and deep, certainly at high tide but I'm sure in the past it would have been dredged to make it even deeper for river traffic as one of the highlights was the number of abandoned jetties and docks, some leading to individual grand mansions long since demolished while others hinted at a busy past and thriving town docks supporting this former textile metropolis.
Alan examining wooden frames attached to dock walls, presumably to prevent ship sides from getting caught by the rising tide under the masonry blocks sticking out. With these added any craft would just slide up the walls intact without catching anything.
Paisley's forgotten docklands, hinting at a time , maybe even surviving, if limping painfully, into the late sixties, going back to an age when river traffic still carried most of the trade manufactured in the Scottish river towns before being shipped overseas. Speaks volumes when this once mighty highway and major artery of commerce is now carefully sealed off by railings, thick vegetation and security fences, turning it into a secluded sunken backwater and now very much a forgotten industrial legacy. I would not be surprised if more people have climbed Mount Everest in the last 20 years than have paddled up the White Cart Water then entered under the flooded tunnels below Paisley's shopping streets by kayak. True adventure is where you find it and that can be surprisingly close to home.
.....and may even involve exploring a 'Land of Giants'. An urban jungle of Giant Hogweed growing over 12 foot high. Invasive species like this one, Indian Balsam and Japanese Knotweed now cover most urban riverbanks in a dense layer of poisonous greenery- as dangerous as any exotic foreign jungle to touch.
Also of concern was the smell, a noticeable odour of chemically treated pong which lasted all the way upriver from the Clyde into the heart of Paisley and a tidal scummy film that coated everything emerging from it, (dripping leaves, river banks, dozens of newly exposed old car tyres and junk etc) as the tide ebbed away. Although our kayaks are very stable in normal conditions  "The kayaker must not capsize." was  uppermost in our thoughts throughout as neither of us wanted to swallow a mouthful of White Cart sludge. This is paddling under the M8 motorway where some locals still keep a few boats on the river. As busy as it gets nowadays.
Some beautiful images in here of The River Clyde and its tributaries during the great days of sail and  steam transport. Well worth a look at a time when docks like these stretched along the river for miles in every direction, holding hundreds of individual craft of every shape and size imaginable.
Further up, the now winding and shallower river had a pastoral feel for a while with green empty banks, plenty of wildlife and some real surprises in store. This is a heron, flying upriver, and a pair of swans.
A wild otter was also spotted as this river held plenty of jumping fish in it. The wildlife didn't seem to mind the smell one bit and the fact that they could survive here shows the river quality must be improving. Still wouldn't like to fall in though.... hospital and stomach pump at the ready- nurse the screens  :o)
Originally thought these were Goosander or Merganser chicks but they are Mallard chicks as I had a half glimpse of the mother with her distinctive eye stripe that the chicks also boast. 
We had a quick stop here for lunch, being careful not to touch any food or drink with our hands.
Ha Ha.......Couldn't resist putting black dot eyes on this one.The white patches are the real eyeballs.  "Are you looking at me?" "This is my river pal!" "Beat it!" A large red dragonfly on a nearby boulder.
The main highlight of this trip however was the intention to kayak under the beating heart of Paisley itself where the river pours under the city centre and train station via several tunnels and bridges. Would we be able to reach the other side and paddle up to the famous waterfalls via this subterranean highway? It was a notion my juvenile mind obsessed over when I first noticed the river pouring under the shopping streets of Paisley via a dark opening as it disappeared on a voyage unknown through this alluring, sometimes turbulent, underworld. The unusual, the strange, the bizarre, the mysterious- has always drawn me in and this was no exception now. At last - an answer.
We had a good go at it.
It was surprisingly shallow and fast moving under here, a bad combination as we kept hitting submerged rocks with our paddles. (Think a storm drain in L.A.) A couple of days of rain had increased the flow but with the tide slightly on the ebb when we got here our attempts to get through were thwarted. I'm not saying it's impossible to go further upstream if more committed than us but the thought of falling in ( now a real possibility thanks to shallow obstacle strewn fast water, limited light for seeing the best route ahead, and strength of flow compared to our slow easily ripped apart inflatables) meant we didn't push it too hard. 
We did explore every option though and gave it our best shot to reach the other side and see sunlight again near Paisley's cathedral where the river resurfaces above ground once more. It's only a short stretch after that, less than a few hundred yards in the open, before you arrive at the waterfalls next to the old mills and a real halt to upstream paddling. I soon found out that photography and river current combined can be unsettling as whenever I took a shot here I found myself going backwards rapidly in the darkness over unseen obstacles in the river bed until I started paddling again. Not good given the number of rocks a foot below the waterline ready to trip you up into the murk and the tendency to turn sideways when not paddling hard every second.
A major experience for us both though and one we were delighted with.
Paddling downstream again.
At the junction of the White Cart and Black Cart, just upstream from where they enter the River Clyde at Renfrew we found this interesting guy who was monitoring the health of the river among other things. Alan is hanging on here as the out-flowing current was strong with the tide now receding rapidly and I was having to paddle flat out just to remain still. A weird sensation like running beside someone standing on an airport pedestrian travelator/treadmill that did weird things to your head. i.e...although moored in mid river and static the boat appeared to be moving upstream at pace while I was paddling beside it flat out, always struggling to keep up and chat - a very strange and surreal feeling. The Black Cart Water appeared too shallow for worthwhile paddling , except for maybe highest tide conditions but it runs right beside Glasgow Airport and low flying aircraft noise.
A plane landing over our heads.
And gliding over the moored boat.
What a fantastic trip... as long as you don't fall in. Around 4 hours paddling at an easy relaxed pace starting at highest tide. As the water in the river drops lower mud covered banks become a problem here when getting back out and it's best to pick your spot for an easy exit to avoid thick clinging footsteps ankle or knee deep in dirty smelly gunge at low tide. We entered and got out near the Renfrew Swing bridge but other access points around the nearby River Clyde ( like the Renfrew Ferry Slipway) are available. A five star adventure.
Fellow blogger and intrepid kayaker- Jinja Coo- is the only other person I could find online who has posted about kayaking up this neglected river and even has night time posts paddling around the upper Clyde into the heart of the City of Glasgow itself. Very helpful info as there's not much available on Scotland's urban river networks.

Meanwhile-remember the urban river mantra for kayakers- keep safe... and never capsize!  but if you do.... spit don't swallow :o) The high tide tree and low hanging leaf material covered by max tide in the above photo show what your insides will probably look like with urban river water inside your stomach. An option best avoided methinks.


Linda said...

Your photos are beautiful. I cannot stand chemically treated odours. Here in Quebec there is a tornado watch as well as a severe thunderstorm watch...thankfully the tornado is not supposed to hit my area, Montreal, but it just goes to show how dangerously hot and humid it is here, and this is to last more than a week. Up to 40 celsius and possibly higher.

Anabel Marsh said...

Ok, you've terrified me with this one. Also educated me - I'm familiar with the Hammills at the old mill and the section running past the abbey but it's never occurred to me to wonder where it goes next. Looking at the map, it runs under the Piazza shopping centre. Doh!

Carol said...

You're bravest, and therefore most interesting, kayak trip to date! Pretty exciting reading but the thought of those tunnels was bloody scary to me reading it - not sure if I'd have gone for it or not. I probably would have if I'd had a companion but I'm sure I'd have been been terrified!

And definitely don't capsize!

Anonymous said...

*your (I can spell honest)

Kay G. said...

I am glad you didn't tip over into the water, what with the dark and hitting things in the water AND taking photos. I like the photo of the heron in flight and the two swans in the same picture, nice how they did that for you!

Anonymous said...

Nice account of the trip. I'm impressed with the wildlife you saw, though I did see a kingfisher on the river and don't think I have seen one since.

We paddle after heavy rain and the subterranean section was not appealing - too fast, dark and thoughts of swims in dodgy water with who knows what left from construction work above underneath put us off.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda.
Thank you. A few countries are suffering heatwaves at the moment with parts of the middle east clocking up 54 degrees C or 129 F - a new record even for a desert zone.
I noticed that Montreal in videos is really two cities- the summer one of lush green woods, hot weather and summer dresses and the winter one of thick clothes, scarfs, hats and streets buried in four foot of snow.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Anabel,
Paisley is a very interesting town with a unique history and many old buildings and streets that are worth exploring... even above ground... as you probably know yourself.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Bloody cheek! I'm always brave... even if it's staring down unruly sheep in a field or sticking my eyeball four inches from a tiny winged predator to get a photo- raw courage is my constant companion :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Evening Kay,
Glad someone else has noticed I have a small measure of control over animals, directing where they stand- how many they are-how they look in the photograph etc...
A post on that topic coming soon.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jinjacoo,
Yeah, it was an interesting trip. I've always been lucky spotting animals though Alan spotted the otter first. A bit like Chris Packham in that respect as I've been interested in nature from a young age so I'm usually switched on to noticing wildlife fast enough to photograph it while it's still unaware of me.
Surprisingly shallow under the tunnels and almost feels slightly uphill at the far end so we didn't want to rip the kayaks I have other trips planned for them.
Curious as to why you paddle after heavy rain if there's a tide present?

Anonymous said...

Not sure about that - I just went with the flow (of the group), but I think there was tidal assist on way up from Erskine and same back down later on.

Linda W. said...

This story just goes to show you one doesn't have to travel to far-away exotic places to have a true adventure! I admire your adventurous spirit - and enjoyed this latest journey.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda,
My kind of adventure nowadays involves minimum outlay of hard cash so trips to far away exotic places are always via books and films only.

Unknown said...

Would love some more info on this, been looking to paddle black cart, white cart and the gryffe but have no idea of ideal get in/out