Wye Valley trip – 28th to 31st July 2023 by Gerry
This was a three day trip, with most people arriving on Thursday afternoon or evening. We stayed at Lucksall Caravan and Camping Park in Fiddler’s Green a few miles south of Hereford. This is a large campsite with excellent facilities and plenty of space and, of course, it is right on the river so a perfect spot for a paddling trip.
On the Friday morning the plan had been to take kayaks and SUPs on a paddle upstream from the camp site towards Hereford for a couple of hours. As it turned out we didn’t set off until after lunch as quite a few folks decided to go for a long (and quite hilly) hike in the morning. Getting on the water was a bit of a performance as it’s a huge drop from the top of the bank to the floating pontoon and all the boats had to be lowered down on metal rollers. The pontoon was only attached with one rope so moved around quite a lot, which made getting in your boat a bit trickier than it should have been. But we all got on the river without anyone falling in, so that was good. The weather was a bit overcast but the rain held off, so that was good too.
I was really looking forward to the trip as this was the first proper run out I had in my beautiful new Stellar kayak. It’s built for speed and, despite going against a strong current, I was whizzing along to start with and thinking how easy it all was. That didn’t last. The further we went the stronger the current seemed to get. After an hour I was starting to struggle and after an hour and a quarter I had to stop. A few of the others decided to go a bit further before turning back and I was planning to just wait for them but Ivor and Ann very kindly offered to paddle back with me so we set off back to camp to wait for the others. After grappling with the slightly wayward pontoon and hauling the boats up the bank again, we all went back to base for a bit of a rest.
In the evening there were a couple of barbecues – although the one I went to at Simon’s motor home was eventually abandoned due to the persistent drizzle, despite Nicola’s valiant efforts trying to keep the fire going. No matter, as Simon did all the cooking in his whizzy galley and we eat under the awning instead before heading over to join the others at BBQ site number 2, where there was much wrangling over how many cars we needed to get to Monmouth in the morning and what time we needed to set off. As seems to be the custom at these events, a fair amount of alcohol was involved too – although I’m not sure that actually helped with coming to a decision about the arrangements for the morning!!
As it turned out, it was a pretty early start on Saturday as we set off for Monmouth at 7.30 am. The folks at Monmouth Canoes were very efficient at getting everyone sorted out with gear and soon had us and our 10 canoes on the road to our launch point at Kerne Bridge, where we set off for the 14 mile trip downstream to Monmouth at 10am.
I was very excited about the trip as it was my first time in a canoe, and I was in very good hands partnered with Steve H and Ivor. After a near mishap when I nearly capsized us by moving about at the start, I soon got into the swing of it and it was great fun.
The trip down towards Symonds Yat saw us winding our way through the stunning Wye Valley, with every bend in the river presenting us with another gorgeous view. Apart from the odd sharp shower most of this part of the trip was in bright sunshine too, which just added to the beauty of it all. It’s easy to see why the Wye Valley is one of the favourite places to paddle in the UK – it is simply fantastic.
Shortly before Symonds Yat, we stopped at Yat Rock where we witnessed a daredevil seal launch and a sky dive from the top of the rock. Very impressive, but not for the squeamish!! Then it was on the rapid itself – the part of the trip I’d been anticipating with equal amounts of fascination and dread. Some of the canoes were rafted together so should have been safe from any possible capsize but, for the rest of us, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, especially as the guy at Monmouth Canoes had said that the water flow was especially high that day. As we waited round the bend from the rapid while we had our briefing from Steve all I could hear was this enormous roar and started to wonder what I had let myself in for.
As it turned out the rapids’ bark was worse than its bite. It was a very bumpy ride and we did take on a fair amount of water, but I felt safe enough all the way down – you just need to remember to paddle hard to keep your momentum. The only scary moment was when Julian came off his SUP at the top of the rapid. But, with amazing skill he managed to get back on almost immediately and merrily carried on to the bottom. I was mightily impressed.
The last part of the trip from Symonds Yat down to Monmouth was a bit more challenging as – apart from some brief sunny spells – it got quite wet, and very windy. The wind was a particular problem down one stretch of river where we were paddling right into the teeth of it. The boat I was in almost capsized as a really strong gust turned us around 180 degrees and then onto our side – it was only the quick thinking and speed of movement from Steve and Ivor that got us upright just in time. Then a few moments after we saw that Elaine and Joe, who were a bit further back, had capsized – presumably in the same way we nearly did – and were waist deep in the river. A rescue party led by Steve Douch set off to their aid and had them up and running again in no time, so all’s well that ends well.
The other problem we had was that the river level was so high that all the potential landing spots we had mapped out for a lunch stop were inaccessible. After a fruitless search for somewhere else to land, we eventually had lunch with all the boats rafted up to a fallen tree. Not what we’d planned, but it all worked out okay.
After that it was a relatively smooth passage to Monmouth where we got out at a very handy landing stage at the rowing club and headed back to our cars to return to camp.
After a shower and a short rest, we had a group meal at the campsites restaurant, which was very good (although veggie and vegan options were a bit limited). The prices were also very reasonable. Afterwards there was more sitting around and chatting and much joviality – there might have been some alcohol involved too!!
On Sunday as people started to head for home, the heavens really opened and it was a miserable day weather wise. All the same, some brave souls made a detour back to Symonds Yat to play in the rapids. I wasn’t one of them though. Apart from the horrible weather I can’t take my fibreglass boat on the rapids as it would likely get damaged – that’s my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it!!
All in all this was a fantastic trip, with great paddling, stunning scenery and wonderful company. If you are thinking of going, just do it – you won’t regret it.