Having already eulogised about the beauty of the River Wye in previous blogs, I am going to avoid that this time and focus on the differences.
We were three couples, six close friends. The males in the group made up the bulk of last year’s ‘Old Gits on the Wye’ team and this time we were wanting to share the river with our better halves. While eating energy giving bacon butties before leaving, Ian set the tone for the two days by announcing that he was going to be really nice to Mari. Isn’t he always? This was quickly picked up by Angela so I knew I had to be on my guard.
The weather was not brilliant but the forecast was even worse. We were going to get wet and the wind was strengthening. Nevertheless, we were in good spirits as we left Ross on the first leg of our journey. Lunch was planned for the Inn on the Wye but we seemed to get there just after crowds of others arrived and, having to wait some time in order to get a drink, we decided to forget lunch there. In any case, unbeknown to me until this point, Rob had made some of his famous egg sandwiches for everybody.
Back on the river the weather improved and we were able to discard our waterproofs. We saw all the usual things, cormorants drying their wings, fish leaping out of the water and fleeting glimpses of kingfishers darting just above the water. Normally, long before we get near a kingfisher, it is off in a flash of fluorescent blue. But we came across one sitting on a rock determined not to be disturbed by us passing only a few feet away.
Occasionally we were caught by gusts of wind which made steering almost impossible. No, I must be honest. On a couple of occasions, totally impossible, and I treated Angela to a close encounter with a willow tree, which I found embarrassing as I am supposed to be the expert!
On reaching Symonds Yat West we checked into The Old Ferrie Inn for the night just in time for the heavens to open, releasing heavy, persistent rain for several hours. There was nothing we could do but spend our time usefully in the bar drinking pints of Butty Bach. Mark, from the Ross-on-Wye Canoe Hire Company joined us in the bar and pointed out a canoe belonging to the hotel owner, that was for sale. Taking a look at it got me excited.
Having eaten, by nine o’clock I was gone and I struggled to keep awake. I was not the only one and we all drifted off to bed for an early night, beaten by a day of exercise, too much food and certainly, in my case, too much drink. I went to sleep dreaming of my own canoe.
I woke in the morning deciding that I would not buy the canoe as it would be an impulse buy. After a hearty breakfast, Ian and I took out the Old Town Ojibway canoe on to the river for a test run. The rear seat is very snug but the canoe glided across the water beautifully and handled very well. The conditions were perfect with mirror glass water. I tried all the seats and fell in love with it, deciding that I would, after all, make an offer.
Donning our hard hats we set off for the short distance to Symonds Yat East and the rapids. There was a little more water than three weeks ago, which made them a little more feisty. One at a time, each couple took their canoe through, emerging the other end unscathed but having shipped a bit of water along the way. Angela and I pulled in to one side so that I could photograph the others coming through. While there had been a little apprehension on the faces of the girls before they went through, it gives me enormous pleasure to see the excitement on their faces as they ride the bumpy water. It is over all too soon and we are back on to the black mirrored water as we pass through the gorge. Here we were sheltered but as we emerged from the gorge we began to feel the strong breeze, which did not bode well for the next stage of the journey.
Having exited the gorge we turned ninety degrees left to head west towards Monmouth, right into the teeth of the wind funnelling up the river. It was strong enough to make life very difficult for the next mile and a half and with 35mph gusts catching us, almost impossible at times. If the canoe was not lined up so that it faced straight into the wind we would be pushed to one side or another, getting tangled among the trees on either bank. Once knocked off course it was impossible to bring the canoe round. We were all floundering. We all had different strategies to cope with it. We had, throughout, had the girls at the front and the men at the back with the responsibility for steering. Rob and Chris stayed as they were drawing upon their Zimbabwian grit and determination. Ian turned round in his seat, sitting with his back to Mari, so that he became the front and Mari could only see where she had been but could now steer. Angela and I changed places so that we had more power in the bows. She did a brilliant job of steering; I was so proud of her, of all the girls, coping with the difficult conditions. It took us an hour and twenty minutes to cover the mile and half.
Having lunched on the steps of Monmouth Rowing Club, we paddled the last three miles to Redbrook with ease as we were now out of the wind. Angela remained at the helm and continued to do a fine job. We are going to have fun together when I have bought OUR canoe.
I have had three fabulous trips on the Wye this year, all very different in nature and in the dynamics of the groups. All hugely enjoyable and I look forward to more next year.
I have put in an offer on the canoe but have not heard back, yet.