Sunday, 1 December 2013

Wye oh Wye?

It is 100 miles from Glasbury to Chepstow if you follow the course of the River Wye. For some reason the idea of paddling this distance in one go forms an attractive challenge, and one discussed with my good friend Martin on our recent glacier adventures. With the idea formulated it was just a question of when....

So it happens that a weekend in late November is free for both of us There's reasonable water in the river, a good but cold weather forecast and Martins wonderful wife Krysia is happy to provide some support. Game on! Oh yes, I forgot to mention, we were also paddling a tandem sit-on-top kayak – not the fastest of craft – but very stable!
Sorting kit!

We decide to go for a midday(ish) start from Glasbury. This way we'd paddle through the night with the aim of getting to the tidal section of the river for high tide at about 1100 the following day. After the usual faff and kit fettle we are sorted. The boat is carried to the river and we're off... chased by Martins dog, Roxy, who's not happy to be left behind!
Almost in the water... (picture Krysia Groves)

Roxy not impressed at being left behind! (picture Krysia Groves)

We have a crisp, clear Autumns day and reasonable flow on the river. This section of the river has regular little rapid sections, and the river is full of bird life. Soon we settle into a rhythm and are keen to use the daylight hours to get as close to Hereford as possible so trundle along at close to 6mph.

Sadly night does overtake us before we hit Hereford, one of the few bits of urbanisation along this river. We land at the rowing club to refuel and get more clothes on. It's already below freezing and stopping proves to become a rapidly chilly process. Krysia is about an hour or so downstream from us at this point so we soon plough on.

It's a clear night and the night vision is good, although the (half) moon is still some hours away from rising. However mist is starting to rise from the river – is fog going to be a problem? We paddle on, increasingly visited by will'o'the wisps swirling in the mist rising off the river.

We meet Krysia at the Holme Lacy Bridge – 42 miles into the journey. We stop to brew up some soup and chocolate, but soon chill as the cold night starts to bite. I throw a jacket over the top of my kit as I can't face the strip down to put another layer on. Martin does similar and these add-ons remain with us for almost the rest of the journey!

The chill urges us to get going again so we push on, sending Krysia home to get a little sleep and arranging to see her when we reach Monmouth. So on we paddle on into the night, and gradually the half moon rises to join us on the journey.
Brewing up on a gravel bank somewhere in the middle of the night...

We try to land and have a quick break every hour, though finding a landing spot in the dark usually proves entertaining! Somewhere near Hoarwithy we break the half way mark. The journey becoming a little more surreal as we start to tire with the weak moonlight, and interspersed sections of thick mist adding to the atmosphere of the night.

Every so often we'd encounter large groups of geese or swans on the river. We'd try to paddle quietly past so as not to cause too much disturbance, but one would decide to flap and off the whole lot would go, breaking the solitude of the night. Gradually they'd work out we were moving in the same direction and start to break behind us and peace would reign again, until we encountered the next flock!

In the early hours we paddled through Ross on Wye – over 60 miles gone. Then Lydbrook – over 70 miles gone. At around 6am we arrived at Symonds Yat – the 3/4 point. Tired we stopped at the ferry landing to brew up and shake the ice off our clothing. My bowels start grumbling and fortunately the public loos are open – I make good use of them!

Just ahead of us is the only notable rapid of the journey at a proper grade 2. Although straight forward, we're tired and we definitely don't want to get wet at this stage so I opt to inspect before going through. However the area on the right is flowing quite nicely so we just paddled through on this side instead!

As daylight forms we arrive at Monmouth and find Krysia waiting with hot soup, coffee and Bacon rolls – fantastic! We stop to refuel and up the caffeine in our bodies. Over 80 miles now done....
Distant light in the dawn - approaching Monmouth at daybreak (Krysia Groves)
Landing at Monmouth for food and coffee! (Krysia Groves)

Despite being knackered we enjoy the superb scenery of this section of the Wye. We arrive at Tintern at around the turning point of the tide. We had hoped to have got out here for a break, but with no proper public landing area, and very soft tidal slime covering the river banks, we opt to paddle on.
Leaving Tintern - only 6.5miles to go!

This section proves terribly slow. The tide is yet to make its mind up which way to flow and we end up slogging along at a very slow rate. In need of a leg stretch we eventually find a spot where some quarry rubble and blocks form the river edge and provide a point where we can clamber out. Suddenly the tide has obviously turned and is dropping fast... time to paddle!

Now with some obvious downstream flow we start to regain some pace. Despite our tired and knackered states we still take time to enjoy the place we are in, trying to find the entrance to Otters Hole and spotting the classic routes on Wintours Leap.

At the final bend we officially break 100 miles. Ahead is the grand sight of Chepstow Castle and our journeys end. Krysia is waiting on the road bridge and guides us in. There is no decent slipway at Chepstow so we make use of a bit of fixed ladder to gain a landing before making our way up the gluppy mud of the river bank. The boat is hauled out using the throw line rope, and then its over... 100 miles done! Roxy was very pleased to be reunited with Martin!!
Looking for somewhere to land at Chepstow! (Krysia Groves)

Sorting the boat out for hauling up the bank (Krysia Groves)

Finished - Roxy pleased to have Martin back on dry land! (Krysia Groves)

A big thanks to Krysia for the brilliant support and driving us home!

And finally at the time of writing, Krysia considered the misery to be worthy of some sponsorship and has been using it to raise funds for a disaster charity operating in the Philippines, Relief International. If you feel the effort worthy of a bit of cash towards this charity (and the donation site is still live) then visit - Diolch yn Fawr, Jules.

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