The Wye Open Boat Trip Easter 2010

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21/04/10 The Wye Open Boat Trip Easter 2010
The plan was set, a trip down the Wye over the Easter weekend for those short of time, or lasting well into the week after for those wanting to do the whole 251 km!


The trip is suitable for kayaks, but in the end all three paddlers (Ian B, Keith S and Mike A) chose to paddle open boats, taking all camping kit along with us. I was paddling 2 days, Ian 4 and Keith to the end of the river - or until he got bored!


Day 1 - Rhyader to Builth Wells (ish)


The group met in the pouring rain at Rhayader to find a River Wye that was, to put it plainly, rather high! Few, this meant that there was going to be a good flow assisting us as we paddled the 26km to Builth Wells. Cars shuttled, we headed out onto the river with hoods up (helmets on in my case) and were soon settling into the rhythm of the trip as we paddled the grade 2 - 3 river through the wild majestic that is this part of Wales.


 It was a really claggy day, mist in the air and snow on the hills, but that didn't diminish spirits as we bailed both the river and rain water out of the canoes - point to me, remember the bailer! Point to Ian, remember to remind me about the bailer that I had just mentioned that I needed to remember! Lack of bailer aside, the miles cruised by as we switched from smooth fast flowing waters to the intervening rapids and back again, all the time accompanied by Kites flying overhead, squirrels darting along the river bank and otters eyeing us warily from the safety of their domain.


Suddenly the ominous roar of significantly larger rapids greeted us, and with discretion being the best part of valour, it was decided that we needed to get out and scout. I was soooooo glad, after kneeling for over 4 hours I needed the stretch. An interesting S bend rapid was lain before us through Builth Rocks, with a few holes to carefully navigate around - testing for our group of open boats. Keith ran first, a clean line through the rapid and over the final drop, but he caught an eddy and his boat struck a rock - CRUNCH, snap - his thwart suddenly broke with the impact. Ian was next and then it was my turn. Heart was in mouth, I haven't ran anything this big in an open boat before, but I was cleanly through and it felt FANTASTIC!


Down to Builth where we decided not to camp in the town car park, but rather to fix Keith’s boat - which he did rather well - and then complete the next days car shuttle, before getting back on the river about 7pm to paddle off and find a camp site. We found a nice ledge, and hoped the river didn't rise. It did, but luckily not enough!



Day 2 - Builth Wells to Hay on Wye through the infamous Hells Hole!


Morning brought sunshine as we woke, and then rain as we struck camp - Boo! Boats loaded it was back onto the fast moving Wye for today’s 36km of grade 2 - 4. Again we didn't meet anyone else as we paddled along, again switching from 1km long rapids through to smooth waters, always with the thought that Hells Hole was approaching, and that we were in fully loaded open boats.


We knew that when we saw a chain bridge then the Grade 4 Hells Hole would be fast approaching. I had paddled this section 17 years ago, so memory was a bit sketchy when the others asked if the bridge we could see indicated the approach to Hell Hole. I couldn't remember, but informed them that the big sign stating, "Canoe Inspection & Portage trail, exit here!" probably suggested it was. I don't know how they missed it.


All out to have a look and decide the two big questions, 1) Was it safe to run? and 2) where was the best place to take a picture from if it all went wrong? Sorry, that should have been where was the best place to set up SAFETY if it all went wrong? Keith decided that he would be official photographer / safety whilst Ian and I ran it, and then we would return the favour. It was noticeable however that the only bit of safety equipment carried by our safety provider was a camera. Hmmmmmm      Hell Hole Video – You Tube……


Bouncing around, but avoiding the almost river wide holes Ian cruised the line and carved into the eddy - nice! I followed, again chuffed just to have stayed upright, and then finally Keith ran the rapid. Phew, all successful!


After that, the river dropped its grade as we began the long run down to Hay on Wye. Unfortunately just at that time whilst we paddled underneath the snow capped Black Mountains, the weather gods decided that it was time to close in and re-fill the river.


At the purpose built get out in Hay on Wye we were met by an anxious canoe hire company owner, busy looking for some paddlers who had been loaned boats by a "rouge" company. He told us that following the fatality the other year most of the hire company's had decided not to load boats at this river level, but that one was lending whatever and they were concerned. But he hoped we had had a fun day, we had indeed!


I stepped out at this point believing that I had had the best the river had to offer at near perfect levels. Ian and Keith were continuing on as the river continued through its now long and flat meanders as it headed for the sea. I was sad not to be part of the ongoing trip but glad that I had enjoyed such a fantastic trip, in great scenery with great company. Look out for the upcoming tales of the ongoing journey


My conclusions


This is a fantastic area that most Merseyside based paddlers probably don't use enough. The two day section of the Wye could easily be completed as 2 day trips with numerous camping / accommodation options for groups or families. As to the Wye, think of all the best bits of the Dee and you get the idea. But there is soooo much more to the paddler who visits this area. As it is roughly the same travelling time as the lakes, but with more options, I am sure we will be back.  Mike Alter


Mike having to leave us at Hay meant the need to consider the next set of car ferries so we could make best progress over the next two days before I would leave Keith to finish. So before departing Mike and Keith dropped Keith car in Ross before dropping Me back at my car in Buithwells on his way home. Whiles this all took place the other individual ate and rested.  We then got back on water to drift downstream a short way to find a suitable wild camp. The river still high and running well.  Before we knew it we had done another 5km or so and were near the Boat Inn. Shortly after we found a suitable piece of woodland which made a good camp site for the evening. Ian Bell  More Photos from the trip…….. 


Day 3 Easter Sunday - Hay on Wye to Hereford


After a good night rest we had a leisurely start and were on water by about 9:15.  The river had dropped slightly but still had good pace although now a steady grade one and more open countryside. We covered the next section to the impressive sandstone cliff known as the Scar in next to no time and were at the well kept National Trust gardens at New Wire.  We had elevenses on the steps at the foot of the gardens and had to endure the “Oh look dear there are some canoes down there, I wonder what their doing"” comments of every tourist viewing the gardens ". This meant that we had paddled the Monnington falls without really noticing them.   I only mention them because the guide book does and say see inset instruction on p26. I guess from what it says, it`s a tight channel at low water. I do remember seeing an Island in the river and commenting to Keith that I think this will be a fall at low water!


We continued to paddle, passing though the medieval cathedral city of Hereford at lunchtime.  There was not much happening so carried on stopping next at Hampton Bishop for another food and drink stop. This meant we where well on target for Ross by Monday afternoon when sadly I would have to level for home so we decided to paddle until we found a suitable camp site as the wind was starting to pick up.  We covered approximately another 8 to 10 miles and found an ideal site at Carey wood, landing at 4pm giving us a long evening to rest and freshen up before a good nights sleep.  Ian Bell  More Photos from the trip…….. 

Day 4 - Hereford to Ross-on-Wye
We woke early and with a forecasts of a change in the weather and river having dropped slightly made an early start on the leg to Ross on Wye. The wind having picked up and the valley being more open meant that at some point on this meandering section of the river we would be paddling into the wind.  However, it was only occasionally and for short periods. This section is a steady meandering grade one with picturesque villages and remains of old railway bridges from the old Gloucester to Hereford line.


Before long we where approaching Ross-on-Wye and could hear the main road for the first time in two days.  We saw rowers from Ross Rowing Club fighting their way upstream against the current as we fought our way down against the wind.  We chatted to a local hire guide / Instructor who politely asked where we where from and how far we had come. He obvious only knew his bit of the river as he did not recognise the place names upstream. We landed at Ross by 11:30am, stored the boats securely (locked) against a tree and then undertook the last car ferry before I made my way home. It was a three leg trip. One from Ross back to Hay for my car, two from Hay to drop Keith's car in Chepstow for his finish on Tuesday or Wednesday depending on how it went. Three, back to Ross to drop Keith and pick up my boat before heading home. This round trip took all most three hours. I then left as Keith headed of down river towards Symons Yat, this his next target point.


I arrived home about 6pm to get sorted for work next day.  As I sat down for tea I received a text to say Keith had done well with good conditions that afternoon and was just by Monmouth and all set to complete the trip on Tuesday, day 5  Ian Bell  More Photos from the trip…….. 

Day 4 - Ross-on-Wye to Monmouth
We arrived early at Ross-on-Wye, secured the open boats with a padlock to a tree and threw the dry bags into the back of my car and headed off to pick-up Ian`s car at Hay.  We drove down to Chepstow to deposit my car at the bottom of the river.  With 5 hours of daylight left I said goodbye to Ian and headed off down river.  With all my bags pushed to the front of the boat to weight down the bow to stop a freshening headwind spinning me around on every open stretch of the river.

The current sped me the ten kilometres down to Kerne Bridge and then on through attractive countryside. Goodrich Castle was perched high above on the right hand bank. The next section curving around in an enormous bend contains a few small rapids on its way towards the Huntsham bridge. This is a popular access point is just off the A40, and is ideal for paddling the  famous Symonds Yat gorge and Rock. After a short while Bicknor Youth Hostel welcomes paddlers and had very pleasant grounds.  I headed on under the famous Symonds Yat rock and through the gorge and down to the rapids.  Pleasure boats and habitation surrounded area to the top of the rapids.  Monmouth rowing club and town were reached well before dark and I selected a great campsite near a fishing stand and seat at the confluence with the river Monnow.

Day 5 - Monmouth to Chepstow

From here down to Chepstow, the Wye marks the border of England and Wales. The Monnow enters from the right just before an old railway bridge which is now used as footpath. There are occasional ripples and little waves from here on down. A gloomy old railway bridge is reached, with a pub on the right hand bank.  After a few more miles the main road (A466) crosses at Bigsweir bridge. Unless on big springs, this marks the tidal limit.

From here on down the banks consist of oozing mud, which is extremely slimy.   At Tintern, it is possible to access/egress into the car park and visit this splendid old abbey.  The guides warned that at low water the remains of ancient weirs may prove dangerous.  At mid-tide I saw no evidence of this and although any river current was now nullified by a rising tide I soon made good progress over the final 12 kilometres through magnificent steep limestone cliffs and gorges.  Because of the mud you should time your descent of this section to arrive close to HW or soon after.  (High water Tintern is approximately four hours after high tide at Dover).

At Chepstow you pass under the impressive ruins of Chepstow Castle passing several moored boats and then under the fine old iron bridge spanning the river.  There is a jetty on the right belonging to the sailing club, which is by far the best place for getting out, much preferred to the mud covered slipway and automatic flood gates above. (It is between the old iron bridge and the new road bridge).  Several sailing club members helped me drag my boat up the steep bank from the jetty and over the old stone wall.  The club asks for a small donation to the maintenance of the jetty (a donations jar is behind the bar of the pub opposite).  The Wye is a fantastic resource with excellent white water on the top section and beautiful gorges on the lower.  251km (153 miles) and 5 days later left me with a trip to remember.   Keith Steer    

More Photos from the trip……..     More information on the River Wye……