On Friday 11th July, a number of paddlers from Halifax CC together with a few additional familiar friends from other clubs met up at Symonds Yat for a weekend of canoeing and kayaking on the River Wye.
The small campsite was perfectly located right on the river complete with a constructed hardstanding for access to the water and a kayak launching chute. The latter was very exciting as constant use had transformed it from what was presumably a smooth slope into an uneven and undulating flume which threw you all over the place uncontrollably before launching kayakers into the River at a completely unpredictable angle!
Friday evening, a few of us decided to check out the nearby Symonds Yat Rapids. These are a short run of Grade 2 water with quite a flow. They turned out to be quite fun with plenty of potential for play and eddying practice. After entering the River via the infamous Chute described above, we were nice and cool (and wet) but the workload demanded by the rapids soon had us sweating again!
Saturday morning saw us gathering upstream in Ross-on-Wye for a 14 mile paddle back to the campsite. Although the river is quite undemanding, a couple of challenges were encountered during the course of the day. The first was in the shape of the absurdly low car park barriers at the put-in. These would not even allow an car with anything on the roof to enter! We had to drop all boats off at the entrance and then park afterwards. Those with vans and 4×4’s actually had to remove their roof racks to get under the barriers! Pretty strange for a place supposedly at the centre of a canoe based tourist industry! Which brings us to the second challenge: Tourists. At times all our attention was demanded in trying to avoid the literally hundreds of hired canoes containing whole families, teenagers and stag parties, none of whom appeared to have any idea of how to paddle in a straight line, turn or stop. We had never seen so many people tipping up and falling in on what was basically flat water! It’s quite ironic that we place so much emphasis on safety but on the Wye it seems you can just turn up with your case of beer, a load of mates (some of whom may be in drag – honest…) and set off, completely unsupervised down the river, without a buoyancy aid and with no idea of what you are doing!
However, once past the carnage of the hire boat get-out, at Kerne Bridge, the river became a lot quieter. Shades of Benidorm aside, the River Wye itself is exceptionally pretty and a delight to paddle. Despite being virtually flat for much of its’ length, we encountered enough minor features in the form of short low grade rapids to keep it interesting. Swans, geese, kingfishers and many other water fowl were everywhere we looked. My only encounter with swans in the past has been to be attacked by them but on the Wye, they are so used to people, they come begging for scraps of lunch!
As we paddled downstream, it seemed that almost every house visible from river was an architectural delight. Included amongst these were tee-pees in a beautiful isolated meadow which looked to be available for hire. (Next time perhaps?)
There is quite a flow to the Wye which meant that the 14 miles of this first day seemed to be covered quicker than expected. That being said, the last couple of miles were completed in near silence as the distance and heat of the summer took its toll on us.
After a well-earned barbeque on Saturday evening, we set off the following morning from our Symonds Yat campsite for Monmouth. This was only to be around 7 miles, allowing us time to play once again in the rapids just downstream from our put-in. After messing about here for half-an-hour in both kayaks and canoes (and pausing to watch the inevitable hire boat being sunk by a group of novices), we set off downstream. The scenery again was very lovely and once more, the flow of the river helped us keep up a good pace. We covered the whole run in about 3 hours – including a lunch stop. Leaving the River at Monmouth Rowing Club, most people left for the long journey home but a few of us stayed another night to experience the campsite at its quietist without the thousands of weekend tourists.
In conclusion, a long way to travel but probably worth it – especially with good company! If done again, mid-week may be more attractive. Oh, and I’ll be taking an angle grinder to sort out those car park barriers!
A short film is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIbFkKx3SOs&feature=youtu.be
Chris Halligan – July 2014