Two years had passed since we conquered Britains highest mountains, two stags do’s organised and two weddings done and dusted for two of the group. So thoughts turned to the next challenge… having conquered land we decided to turn to water and try our hand at Canoeing.
Here follows the story of when Oliver Cox, Richard Hughes, Simon Adshead and myself canoed 33 miles down the River Wye…
This challenge in hindsight is not particular difficult and is definitely more for pleasure but having no canoe experience between us and very little local knowledge we arrived in Herefordshire to pick up our canoes.
There were four of us this time Richard Hughes, Oli Cox, Simon Adshead and Me. We started with lunch at the extremely picturesque Saracan’s Head Inn in Symonds Yat East which we stumbled across in error trying to get to our canoe hire centre.
After lunch and our first sample of the local Cider we headed off to the correct location, Symonds Yat West and met up with CanoeHire.com.
After our safety briefing and some advice on what not to do we were transported up to our start point at Holme Lacey. We had 2 x canoes, 4 x water-tight barrels, 4 x Life jackets(to be worn at all times) and 4 x oars.
The challenge was to paddle the 33 mile stretch of the River Wye from Holme Lacey back to Symonds Yat and we had planned to break this into 3 chunks with 2 overnight stays planned.
The paddle downriver to Hoarwithy camping at Tressack Farm was approx 8 miles, we didn’t arrive at Holme Lacey until around 2pm so this was a decent distance for the first day.
There was a fair amount of zig-zagging from bank to bank in the first few miles, a couple of collisions with trees and several swans (more about these these later).
The River Wye is a stunning place and the more remote you are from civilisation the more you feel you are the first people to see this stretch of river, these trees and fields in hundreds of years.
After setting up camp we predictably headed to the pub which was a few hundred metres from the bank. Several pints later we returned to our tents and started a small camp fire which was ultimately ruined by a sudden downpour which forced us to hit the sack early.
Today we had to paddle from Hoarwithy to Ross-on-wye which was approximately 11 miles, having done eight miles in half a day the day before we took it steady enjoyed the scenery.
At lunch time we stopped on beach that had formed because the water was so low, it was in the middle of the river by all accounts and a good 10 metres from the bank. We had been warned stopping on the bank was frowned upon but felt this was an acceptable place to stop. As my soup started to bubble on my gas stove an elderly gentlemen arrived at the bank and came down to greet us, he proceeded to read from a well-rehearsed script which to summise was asking us to move on.
Now I don’t mind having a conversation about these things we are all adults after all and I don’t mind having a conversation about something and understanding another’s point of view but this was a lecture and he was determined that the topic was not up for discussion. I understand they must get some people flouting the rules, littering and making noise but we were none of these things and I feel a little common sense would not have gone a miss.
I am fairly sure he was not the owner of the river bed however not wanting to be any bother we packed up and moved on as soon as we could. The weather had been indifferent that morning and a couple of rain showers had passed over but the sun was now a welcome addition to the day.
When we arrived at the White Line Pub in Ross–on-Wye the bank was awash with canoes and people setting up tents, due to a misunderstanding we were not stopping at the pub but further down the road which was a minor inconvenience. We were allowed to leave or canoes there so we unloaded and headed to our campsite in a field lodged between a bus roundabout and the Castle Lodge pub.
We headed in to Ross-on-wye for a beer or nine and to further sample the local Cider I can tell you I slept very well that night despite the traffic from the roundabout.
The longest leg was to take us back to Symonds Yat East where we had picked up our canoes this was approx. 14 miles. Again the weather was indifferent and we ended up having a hard slog into the wind at one point which was pretty difficult but after 2 days we had now corrected our steering issues and where able to take a more direct route as opposed to the Zig-Zags of day one.
By the time we arrived back at Symonds Yat my shoulders and neck were aching from all the paddling, we had done no training and had no experience to draw upon so I think we did pretty well.
I said I would come back to them and I am a man of my word…
The others took great delight in my healthy respect for swans, it was breeding seasons and there were plenty of nesting swans and swans in general all along the route providing a virtual obstacle course for us to navigate.
It is alleged that I didn’t take my eye of them as we pass a swan but again I put this down to not wanting to disturb them, we were on their patch after all.
There is one incident which stands out and that is when two swans were in the act of mating (or swan rape as Richard calls it) sadly for them our arrival was ill timed and even worse Simons ability to steer a Canoe went AWOL at the exact same moment.
Richard will tell you he saved a swan in distress I will tell you I am bloody glad I wasn’t in their canoe or else it would have been man over board!
Back on dry land
As I said at the beginning 33 miles is not a difficult challenge, certainly nothing compared to the 3 Peaks challenge we did 2 years earlier but this was an excellent and fun introduction to canoeing and we all agreed it was something we would love to do again in the future.
We did learn a couple of valuable lessons on this trip though…
The first lesson we learnt was that the River Wye at this time of year is very shallow and that if you ripples in the water that these are not rapids but underlying rocks. At one stage I had to get out of the canoe and push-start us of the rocks much to the amusement of Simon and Richard in the other canoe.
The second lesson is that the guy at the back (the captain as we refer to him) is largely responsible for the direction the canoe takes… I was accused of not having my oar in the water enough but my defence is simple I had to keep changing hands due to Oli’s inability/lack of concept of rowing in a straight line (it’s my blog and that’s how I am telling the story).