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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

Wye Camp – August 1993

Friday, 27th August 1993

Why The Wye? Why Not? Written By Adam Brewster When Anneka and I were asked if we would be interested in going on this long weekend trip, my first thoughts were that it sounded fun but could we keep up, we had only started kayaking at the end of July – I was told that would be no problem, I still had doubts and could I get extra days holiday from work? I slept on it.

I hadn’t been camping before but had a two-man tent that was used in the garden sometimes, I needed sleeping bags and cooker, pots, pans, torch etc. A quick cup of tea after work, everything in the car and off we went. We hoped to arrive before dark and get the tent set up, but it was too dark to find the water tap so Steve supplied some water. We would save the more adventurous cooking for another day – Pot Noodle would do for tonight.

A good night’s sleep and a bright morning, cereals, bacon, tomatoes and fruit juices. Find the tap! I’m glad we didn’t hunt for it in the darkness, we might have unintentionally done a kamikaze dive into the large hole which some other late comer seemed to be guarding by pitching their tent nearby.

When everyone was up, fed and ready, we were gathered and introduced, there were sixteen of us with mixed interests, kayaking, canoodling, canoeing, walking and climbing – ages from 9 and upwards.

A short car journey with the boats to a point upstream gave us eight miles of downstream paddling through a beautiful, partly wooded valley. The water looked crystal clear and the depths could be seen with long strands of river weed weaving from side to side in the current. The width of the river gave us wide views of the distance ahead, even though the riverbanks were generally high, I had been told I’d be able to imagine myself in the Canadian Rockies.

The weather was far better than I had expected with bright sunshine, the rain passed us by but we had some wind (which made paddling less than comfortable) and it was a relief when it passed. When the bridge near the campsite came into view and the first day’s padding was nearly over I was ready to stop., it had been a great day which we finished off with a meal and a drink at The Harp pub.

Awoken in the early hours, I put on some warm clothing and ventured out into the darkness, the sky showed almost no cloud and was studded with stars; I had not seen the night sky like this for a long time, the absence of street lights gives the sky it’s natural crispness and the moon lit my way far less harshly than any torch. During my short walk I could hear all sorts of night sounds – owls, distant bleats of sheep and the occasional quack of ducks on the chuckling river, a distant dog and the intermittent snores and rustles of movement in nearby tents. The sound of zips going up and down in these tranquil surroundings at night seem really loud, I tiptoed back to my bed.

Up, washed, eaten, stowed away and ready for next morning we set off to Kerne Bridge OS.582188. This stretch of river to Monmouth has some very large bends which almost double back on themselves, making possibly eighteen miles of paddling through twisting, wooded gorge in the middle of which is Symonds Yat and an area of turbulent rapids. Parts of the gorge are (and were) climbed by some of our party with mixed success, or so I am told? The woods have a good network of track and paths passing to and from such places as Fiddlers Elbow, Suck Stone, Lady Park Wood and The Slaughter. There was a certain amount of crew and boat swapping today to match weights, abilities, canoe types etc., sometimes the wind was funnelled down the valley making progress more difficult.

At the end of the day I’m sure my canoe paddling had improved, thanks to the advice given by several of our group. I had what I thought was a well-deserved catnap at Monmouth whilst waiting for the cars to arrive for our journey back to camp. We must phone mum again and Anneka forces me to the pub, so just a quick one. Again, I saw the twinkling stars in the early hours.

The weather for our final full day of paddling did not look promising, but it did stay dry and we did get some sun as the day went on. We slipped our kayaks into the water down a slide cut in the riverbank off the camp and set off down-stream to Ross-on-Wye, approximately 12 miles paddle. The water’s current set up swirling eddies and ripples across its width as the flow passes rocks and clumps of weed below the surface gives this sort of paddle something that is lacking on a canal. The sense of greater challenge around the corner although even more of the same was still pleasant, we did find some rapids and at one we waited for a wading fisherman to land his catch, it got away at the last moment. We continued on our way until reaching a place called Hole In The Wall where we planned to stop for a bite to eat and drink, the equivalent of the urban traffic warden, tickets and rule book at the ready descended on us, not carrying the same series or edition of said rule book among our group we felt it prudent to find calmer waters to snack. We continued our way looking for as we went, for eddies to practice going in and out of and rapids to practice ferry gliding and general fun paddling.

Our arrival at Ross-on-Wye coincided with a boat race and we were requested to keep close to the bank as we passed by, so much that we grounded ourselves, yet still instructions from across the water via loud-hailer insisted we get closer to the bank. We got a good view of the race at it’s finish, as we crossed the line just moments before it did.

A little more paddling and this day was also done, tomorrow would be Tuesday. Packing up, stowing away, maybe a quick paddle, probably a soaking. Hopefully our One Star tests. Yes. I hope nothing will prevent Anneka and I from joining this or a similar trip next year. It was always enjoyable, sometimes strenuous, good company, an adventure, and I felt good when I returned to work. I hope to see even more of you next year. You shouldn’t miss out – if in doubt, ask! -“Nice? It’s the only thing”, said the water rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me my young friend, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as messing about in boats. Simply messing”. He went on dreamily; “Messing – about – in – boats; messing – “Look ahead Rat!” cried Mole suddenly…. - Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows

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