River Wye Paddle Trip - February 2007

Well it's been some time now that I have harboured a desire to travel down a river, camp and embrace adventure, whilst being self contained - just for the hell of it.  So I did some research, pleaded my case and got Andre to come along for the paddle.  I assured him it was easy, and no prior experience was needed.  I mean how else do you get someone to paddle 50 miles down a wild river in winter?  The massive canoe strapped to my car completed the cool look we were striving for.  We left early on Wednesday, 14 February  for the river Wye, in South Wales, and a part from a small detour courtesy of Sat Nav, there were no other mishaps.  Anyway, we set off to paddle from Glasbury to Whitney-on-Wye with all our gear, including a mini braai (BBQ), charcoal and some light wood in watertight barrels.  We got to the river at about 15:00 after stopping off to gather some essential canoe juice, aka alcohol! This in itself was quite entertaining, when we tried to buy food supplies at a Wilkinson store in Abergavenny.  I say adventurous, since it is a store that sells mainly pet food, or garden supplies, and all in bulk. 

Day 1

We did look a bit suspect trying to find the food section!  Anyhow, after parking and changing next to a police car (politely, mind) we launched without a hassle.  The weather was perfect and all I paddled in for the afternoon was a my Helly Hansen thermal vest and bouyancy aid.  There was even a need for sunglasses as we meandered down this age old river.  All went well for the first 2 kilometres, until we clipped some shallow rocks, turned sideways and nearly broached.  I must say it is hilarious now, but at the time, we had just set off, needed to make 16 miles before dark to an unknown campsite, and were almost at one with the fishes.  Anyhow, we adjusted the trim, changed seats and set off with vigour.  Quite close to dusk, we chose to scout a rapid before plundering on, and through experience we made it unscathed.  However we were shortly summoned to the bank by a slightly bedraggled Kiwi female, I say bedraggled since at first we actually thought she was pissed, as she was quite frantic, barefoot and screaming at us from the side!  Anyhow, she asked us to look out for her canoe, which had not ten minutes previously been capsized by 2 people she had rented it out to.  The 2 were also trying to look interested but I did have a slight feeling that they weren't really bothered, purely due to the fact that they were shivering in their wet jeans, and close to hypothermia, kind of told me so! 

We looked for it along the rest of our trip, but it wasn't to be seen.  As the light began to fade in earnest, we finally found our landing point, or so we thought!  We were in the the right area, just not on the right side of the river and a little further downstream from where we were supposed to be.  We quickly slogged upstream, and traversed to river left, and our camp site as the dark settled over us.  I say this with trepidation, since our camp site, was literally a patch of grass next to a toll bridge, with running water and a toilet.  Nothing else.  Ray Mears would have been in his element with us.  We soon had our tent pitched, a great fire going, well a smoky flame at least!  And guys, in the land of the Dutchman, the Englese mense maak mos beter vuur, hoor!  But the meat spicing was well handled by Andre, and my home made flat bread and many beers rounded off a nice evening for us.

Day 2

It dawned and with a 26 mile paddle from Whitney to Preston-on-Wye, ahead of us we set about breaking camp and repacking.  We soon found that the mild day had some wind in store for us. The weather itself was fine and sunny yet again, but the wind just seemed to come at us from all angles, except from the rear.  Paddling was hard going, and at times we were paddling to a standstill in the middle of the 75 metre wide river.  We also made plenty of stops for dry firewood that was in abundance, and by the last 3rd of the days paddle, we had both just about had enough of paddling. We saw a lot of sheep, some grey heron and lots of long, straight, mundane grass banks on this second day.  The only excitement came when we approached the most daunting rapid of the trip, only to realise after we had passed the landmarks, that the water levels were so high, the rapids had been washed out.  A blessing in any weary paddlers' book.  Our second campsite was even more basic, if that's possible.  We had a grass verge and nothing else, not even beers for the night.  I was glad to have researched where the nearest pub was and had soon procured a bottle of brandy and some cans of coke, even if it did involve a mile long walk!  As dark came over our little campsite, we sat and watched our wood supply vanish almost as fast as the brandy.  By 9 pm we were ready for some shuteye. 

Day 3

We woke us with some heavy sounding rain against the tent.  As so often is the case when you sleep in a tent, the sound is always more intimidating than the actual weather.  It was hard drizzle rather than a pelt, but nevertheless we packed in record time, since we only had 16 or so miles left to paddle to Hereford, our finish point.  The rain wasn't always heavy, but it was incessant!  We soon found a steady rhythm and just kept going, even passing by the odd fisherman having his morning tea.  Due to the unpleasantness of the weather, we didn't stop to take photos, eat or drink.  We just kept our head down, and paddled.  After 2 hours, we knew we were near the end, as we began to see groups of fishermen and lifebuoys along the banks of the river.  We reached the end after paddling under the old railway bridge in Hereford, and none too soon either.  We managed to haul our canoe and all kit over a locked gate and into a deserted courtyard, since we knew we had a 2 hour wait for the bus to shuttle us back to our start point in Glasbury.  Being from South Africa, it was a blessing to see the car undamaged and not broken into, even though it was parked outside a public convenience.

In all a good 3 day trip and I look forward to paddling more rivers with friends.  One feels a completely different aspect  of travel, and you are reminded that 50 miles on a river, might only be 15 miles by car, but the adventure is far greater.  I had not paddled this section of the river before, and Andre had not paddled a canoe.  He never got his feet wet once, and my wellies were infallible.   We were also relying on a map and route card that was produced in 1994.  I made sure that I only told him this after we had launched!  I think we made a tremendous success of the trip, and both thoroughly enjoyed life away from the rat race for three days, as well as generating numerous war stories!  Well done Andre and thanks for the great company, and braai smoke! Scotland anyone? Photos in the gallery