Welsh Marches Canoe Trip 2013 review

Over the weekend of 12th, 13th & 14th July, members of Halifax Canoe Club and Pennine Canoe Club joined together in a variety of boats at Melverley in Shropshire to tour the Rivers Vyrnwy and Severn. Melverley, with its’ 15th Century timber framed church and Saxon font lies just above the confluence of these two rivers so was ideally placed for direct access to both.

Some adjustment of our initial plans was forced upon us due to low water levels on the upper Severn, but the eventual itinery probably worked out for the best. Saturday morning saw us getting on the River Vyrnwy at Llanymynech with the intention of paddling the 10-ish miles back to our campsite downstream. The Vyrnwy here meanders and twists between tree and rock lined banks with some huge horseshoe bends serving to disorientate the paddler’s sense of direction. Sun-bleached dead tree trunks lie at all angles in the river and from the many shingle banks lining the route. The constant need to negotiate our way around these combined with the intense heat of the day gave the whole journey and expedition quality. This was compounded by the many junctions in the river leading to dead ends which we had to retreat from. Although the flow was very gentle, we came across several ‘technical’ spots demanding care to avoid the moving water taking unwary paddlers beneath the many overhanging trees. At one point, we suffered a ‘Canadian pile-up’ at one of these points as one or two people went for an unscheduled swim! However, the hot weather dried everybody off in a very short time.

Lunchtime on a shingle bank involved an impromptu visit from curious horses.  Further down the river, we began to encounter a bright green plant growing just below the surface in long grass like tendrils. This turned out to be Common Crowsfoot and to our delight was covered in a mass of small white and yellow flowers on the surface. We carefully picked our way through channels in the mass of weed accompanied the huge iridescent turquoise, green and orange dragonflies which had been around us all day.

Towards the end of our journey, the river banks took on an almost manicured appearance with close clipped grassy banks between interlocking rocks. The is kept up interest as the heat and the distance began to tell on most people for the last hour or so. The sight of Melverley church coming into view, signifying we were almost at the get-out, was therefore met with cheers from the group.

After rotating through the showers, an evening communal barbeque and a good nights sleep, we were up the next morning ready to set off again. Sunday morning was cloaked in a welcome mist – but it wasn’t to last as the temperatures rose. We put in at the campsite and paddled the short distance downstream to the confluence with the Severn. This was a far less adventurous day and was probably welcome after Saturday’s exertions. The river is wide and meandering here, passing beneath the partially dismantled remains of the bridges of the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway. (Almost legendary in railway buff history – honest!). The dragonflies were with us again all day leading me to wonder whether this trip shouldn’t have been called “The Dragonfly Expedition”! No shingle banks here so lunch was on the edge of a muddy field where again we attracted quadrupedal visitors in the form of a herd of curious cows. We held our nerve in the face of such dangerous wildlife though  – right until the end of our sandwiches!

As we paddled downstream, the river became wider and deeper, allowing us to make the 11 miles in two hours less than Saturday’s trip. We reached the get out at Montford Bridge beneath the modern road bridge in plenty of time to get a welcome cold drink from the adjacent café, return by car to campsite, pack up and head home.

All-in-all a really enjoyable trip with the greatest challenge being the hot weather which demanded care from all involved and diligence with hats and suncream – the importance of which is not to be underestimated!

A short film has been posted on YouTube documenting the trip. Sorry about the shaky camerawork – my first time with this camera.


Chris Halligan

July 2013