Paddling The Wye 2010
A lengthy section of a gentle river.
The Wye is the second longest of the Welsh rivers, flowing in England for a substantial amount of its length. For much of its lower reach, it is easily navigable and quite gentle, and is one of the most popular rivers for canoes and kayaks. Our route started at Kerne Bridge in England, and ended at Monmouth in Wales, passing through the Forest of Dean and the massive meanders of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Peter, Nerys and I were in kayaks, while the remaining three novices (including my wife and daughter) shared a sturdy inflatable canoe. Though I have paddled a couple of rivers and lakes some time ago, I am certainly no expert, leaving Peter as our most experienced paddler.
We had intended to start at Huntsham Bridge, but many places on the river have their access restricted by unpleasant owners, or selfish organised groups, who try to prevent access to anyone except themselves. When it involves crossing private land, I can understand it. But at Huntsham Bridge, the access point is a public road. The group appear to use it as a money-spinning technique; "if you pay to canoe with our group, you could use this point to put in". Imagine this as a public footpath, and the group controls a gate between the road and the path - they would only let you go through the gate onto the path if you paid a toll fee, for them to lead you along the path. With footpaths, this would be considered outrageous, but with the river, they are not prevented from doing it. Anyway, I digress.
The pictures are all taken with a compact camera which I kept in a waterproof bag under my spraydeck, having to repeatedly remove the spraydeck and unpack the camera to use it. Each shot needed me to break away from the group for long enough to get the camera ready, and predict where the best pictures would be. Quite tiring. Almost all pictures were taken from a moving kayak with very little control, and as such, they are certainly not my best. But they are fun, so whatever.
- Starting at Kerne Bridge.
- Passing Thomas Wood.
- Thomas Wood.
- The first patch of shallow water, at Drybrook House.
- After the faster flow, Nerys tries one of the rescue techniques to help settle into the paddling.
- Passing Lower Lydbrook. The fishermen are quite abundant, and their lines must be passed with care, as they stretch a long way over the river. Most of them are polite and friendly, but a few treat canoes as the enemy, and act as if canoes have no right to be there. Exactly why they have this attitude is not known, but it's unwelcome, and completely unnecessary.
- More shallow water at Lower Lydbrook. A gentle kick to the side, needing some attention to continue downstream, but they're still no more than grade I.
- Approaching the tower at Welsh Bicknor. Which is not in Wales.
- The remains of the old railway bridge at Welsh Bicknor. Complete with notices telling canoeists not to stop anywhere for any reason. Welcome.
- Approaching another shallow section at Common Grove. Don't run aground or the angry landowner might get you (or at least, that's what all the paintings on the rocks say).
- Looking back to Park Wood.
- Cooling off in the river.
- Approaching Coldwell Wood.
- Colwell Rocks (and yes, a sloping panorama, taken from a kayak). On the left is the Ship Rock, followed by the Quarry Rock and main Coldwell Rocks. Needle Rock is tucked into the trees on the left.
- And finally, on the right, is the Symonds Yat Rock, the popular viewpoint. From here, we want to get just 300 metres away, on the far side of the rock. However, due to the large meander, we would need to paddle nearly 6 km to get there.
- Swans and cygnets.
- Looking back towards the Symonds Yat Rock.
- Coppet Hill, a rocky side of The Windles (about 200 metres).
- Canada geese.
- At last we arrived at Huntsham Bridge, the intended start of our trip. We had covered 10.4 km of river, but thanks to the massive meanders, just 1.5 km of actual distance since the start of the trip. By now, we had picked up large numbers of other canoeists, who were all drifting down the river.
- Speeding up the slow canoe - they're supposed to be faster than kayaks. Hardly surprising if you rest like that, you know.
- The tree-covered cliffs above Symonds Yat East signify that we have nearly finished the meander. On the left edge of the ridge is Symonds Yat Rock again, this time from the other side. The number of pleasure boats starts to become a little irritating, especially as they do not seem to have any rules for which side of the river to follow.
- One of the traditional ferries linking the East and West sides of Symonds Yat. There's also a good pub to stop for refreshments, and although the signs suggest otherwise, they don't mind you stopping at their private launch (just upstream of the ferry) to grab a drink.
- Rocks above the rapids.
- The Wye Rapids, a grade II rapid, marred by ugly stone projections that may be useful for eddy hopping, but are also a great way to catch novices.
- The result of hitting the projections; our three canoeists in the river. I had stopped to photograph the rapids, and they followed a little sooner than I had expected. "Ooh look, some canoeists in the river, I'll take a picture ... wait ... I know them!". Oops. Fortunately, our group was big enough to pick them up, and some others pushed them into the bank. And collected the items that were not tied on...
- The Slaughter, a tree-covered gorge. On the left bank is the Slaughter Rising, the major resurgence for most of the caves in the area.
- The Biblins, site of an adventure centre (who allow only their own canoeists to launch), and the point where the river becomes the border between England (right) and Wales (left).
- Seven Sisters Rocks, on the English bank.
- Looking towards Goldsmith's Wood. The border hops into the right bank for a short distance, before heading over the hill ahead. From now until some way beyond Monmouth, everything is in Wales.
- Heading towards the wooded hills around Kymin.
- The final stretch seems to take forever, with the bridge in sight, but at long last we reach Monmouth.
- The steps of the rowing club, where we get out. A tiring 22.3 km of river, but only 9 km over land.