Swimming in the Wye!

Having paddled the length of the River Wye last week and written about it, I felt I needed to have a different approach to this week’s two-day trip.

Chris & Angela

We were told the day before our trip that we would not be able to travel through the rapids at Symonds Yat as vital maintenance work was being done to the groynes that channel the water. Although the experience is short-lived, and underwhelming in the present conditions, I thought it necessary to add a little entertainment into the itinerary. I know how certain individuals within this particular group hunger for some excitement that enhances their experience and gives them something to talk about for months.

The whole team

The first incident took place at Kerne Bridge just before lunch. I was well aware of a problem on a sweeping, narrow stretch of fast flowing water that took you very close to the bank. It is where we had a spillage last week when a canoe hit a protruding tree stump just above the surface. I gathered the group by the bridge so that they could see the problem and advised them on how to approach it. That said, the protruding stump could not be seen. Then, one at a time each canoe went through the area of concern. Angela and Chris got their line wrong and hit the bank but managed to stay afloat and somehow bumbled through. Sitting nearby in his canoe was an instructor from another company. As I passed him I said, “Why is it always your wife who embarrasses you and gets it wrong.” With that I entered the fast water, knowing instinctively that I had got my line of entry wrong. There was no way I could bring my canoe round that sharply and I found myself in a web of willow branches and then I hit something more solid. The combination of a sudden stop and branches pushing against me, tipped me out if the canoe and turned it over. It all happened so quickly. I soon found the stump, it was now under the surface and my canoe was stuck on it. As I struggled to release it I discovered that I could only just put my feet on the riverbed and keep my head above water.

In drier times! (Photo Chris Woodcock)

Whilst all this was going on I was also aware that I was wearing a non-waterproof Fitbit on my wrist and my non-waterproof iPhone was tucked into the pocket of my life vest! The instructor who had watched my demise unfold came to my rescue and helped me release the canoe from the stump, empty it of water, turn it over and retrieve most of my kit, which remarkably had remained in the upturned canoe. Those ahead of me could see that I had come out of my canoe but were in no position to turn round and help. I was fine. Yes, I was wet but the water was not cold and I had retrieved everything from the river, except my Sigg bottle.

When I, a few minutes later, went for lunch at the Inn on the Wye, I discovered that both my Fitbit and phone were none the worse for their soaking. It was my first canoe capsize after several years of travelling down the Wye and everybody found it hugely amusing, including me.

Tim’s long body is not suited to hours of sitting in a canoe

Nothing dramatic happened in the afternoon as we paddled through the gorge and around the huge loop into Symonds Yat. I say nothing, but Tim’s back was suffering so Angela and I hitched our canoe to theirs and towed them in for the last mile or so. Tim was very uncomfortable and he came to the sensible decision that he and Beryl would drop out of the second day. A shame, but much the best decision.

We had a lovely evening together in Ye Old Ferrie Inn, eating, drinking and catching up with a beautiful outlook on to the mirror flat river.

The following morning the river was still like a mirror and there was hardly any flow in it at all. A couple of kingfishers sat on the hand pulled ferry staring intently into the dark, still waters in an effort to find breakfast. Finding ours was much easier and much more tasty than raw, live fish. Ye Old Ferrie Inn had looked after us well.

Ross on Wye Canoe Hire picked us up from the inn and took us to Biblins on the down river side of the rapids where we launched for our 10 mile trip to Redbrook.

It was a lovely morning, generally cloudy but still quite warm. As we passed through the deeply forested gorge the trees on either side were reflected perfectly in the river. A two foot salmon leapt out of the water across our bows and very nearly ended up in our canoe.

Picking up the pieces after the “Mayhem of Monmouth!” (Photo – Claire Cox)

All was going really well. We made excellent progress down to Monmouth, arriving at the boat club steps at midday, too early for lunch, particularly after the substantial breakfast we had eaten earlier. We continued, passing under Monmouth Bridge. Here the river is quite wide but much of its width is too shallow to navigate, even in a canoe. Angela and I were in the lead canoe and we headed for a narrow channel of fast flowing water tucked in against the left bank. We aimed for it but got too close into the bank and an overhanging willow tree. It was not my intention that we should explore the tree closely but the flow made it impossible for us to avoid it. In the middle of the foliage was a thick, cut off trunk, which stopped us dead in the water and tipped Angela over the side, quickly followed by me, with the canoe ending up upside down. It was so funny to see Angela with a bemused look on her face, her sunglasses askew, having been fully submerged. Our so-called friends in the canoes behind, as well as coming to our rescue, were highly amused by our spectacular exit from our canoe. While there were no pictures of the actual event, some were taken of the aftermath, I think by Claire. Again the watch and phone survived the dunking, although the phone seems to have developed a white line up one side of the screen. I have also, subsequently discovered, that if anybody rings me up, I can’t hear them. The perfect phone!

I think Angela will receive enormous amounts of sympathy but I am destined for a lifetime of stick! Well, if it makes them happy.

Finished (Photo by Chris Woodcock and it is her thumb!)

By the time we reached Redbrook we had dried off. Mark, from Ross on Wye Canoe Hire picked us up. He quickly learned of my demise and, like most who know me, was amused.

I have had two great trips in the last couple of weeks, made special by the people I have shared them with and by the excellent service provided by Mark and his team at Ross on Wye Canoe Hire. Thanks to all.

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