16th – 18th May 2019
Total Distance Paddled
Approx 70 km / 45 miles
Canoe Hire Business and Trip Organiser
Night 1: Tresseck Campsite
Night 2: Ross On Wye Rowing Club
I have always loved the look of canoeing down a beautiful, still and silent river and for years have wanted to give it a go. I’ve canoed before and I’ve done a little kayaking but they’ve always been day trips and I was after the adventure of hauling all of my kit in the canoe and travelling for a couple of days, living out of the canoe on the riverside.
Almost every year when we planned our trips into Sweden, I would suggest hiring some canoes and exploring the vast lakes and river systems taking advantage of their freedom to roam laws to camp on the riverside every night. Sadly the idea never materialised and my longing for that canoe trip just grew every year.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking and exploring in the Wye Valley and eventually got to know the area very well. There was a small beach on the river bank in Symonds Yat where I used to sit with my dog and watch in glee as the canoeists would glide past and I later found out that that beach was actually the landing spot for Canoe The Wye (a brilliant canoe hire company).
After months of researching some great canoe trips in the UK, I looked at trips running in one of my favourite places, Wye Valley and discovered Canoe The Wye. They have a brilliant selection of self guided trips ranging from a half day to 4 days. I opted for and booked the 3 day trip. 3 days canoeing and 2 nights camping.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take much persuasion at all to get Sarah on board (no pun intended) to take part in the 3 day canoe trip on the River Wye – to be fair it took a lot of research and planning on my side beforehand so it was a fairly easy sell!
Time passed, we booked our campsites and got ready for our trip.
Day 1 (Thursday): Hereford to Hoarwithy – and chatty man Nick
It should have been a fairly short drive, just a couple of hours, from home to Canoe the Wye’s base in Symonds Yat. A drive I have completed many times with no issues whatsoever, however this time it took considerably longer due to a minor accidental detour on the motorway which took us a good half hour in the opposite direction…We called ahead and told them to expect us slightly later than planned. This wasn’t an issue though as we found out we were the only people doing the multi day trip and they were only waiting for us to arrive to get started anyway. Keeping to the speed limit (ish…) I managed to get us there a little earlier than we thought, but still quite late…
We met Nick from Canoe The Wye who would be kitting us up, providing us with our canoe and briefing us on what to expect on the river each day. We packed all of our kit into the waterproof barrels (well…most of it, we had so much stuff it looked like we might have been on the 7 day trip…) and climbed into Nicks pick-up.
On the 3 day trip, you get dropped off at Hereford and over the next couple of days you make your way back down river (about 70km) to Symonds Yat.
Nick was a very pleasant man, very chatty and clearly had a lot of knowledge about the local area. We pretty much had a free guided tour all the way to Hereford! We arrived at the launching site at Hereford Rowing Club and hauled the canoe and kit off the pick-up and went through the briefing on the grass next to the river. Nick showed us various methods of controlling the canoe and how to guide it through different sections of water. I already had some knowledge of how to do this and Sarah and I had canoed together in Algonquin Park in Canada, so we knew how to work together and who was better at the back and front of the canoe. We were ready to go!
Canoe taken to the water – kit packed in canoe – we climbed in and set off – Nick drove away…
It had been a couple of years since we were in a canoe together, so it took a little moment to get back in the rhythm of it and keep in a straight line, but within 10 minutes we were away and canoeing like the pros.
Once you go under the last bridge away from Hereford the whole area is plunged into peace and quiet. With the sound of nothing but the paddles gliding pushing us through the water, we officially began our adventure. It dawned on us fairly quick that we actually had no other way to get to where we wanted to go, we had to rely on our skills and trusty canoe to get us there, and that was really exciting. We were provided with a fairly basic map of the river for each day’s stretch. The river was split into sections eventually counting down to 1 which we would reach three days later in Symonds Yat. It was easy enough to follow and it pointed out various points of interests along the way. So we navigated ourselves along the river by counting down how many bridges we had gone under and how many we had left to do before we reached our end point for the day. Day 1 would finish at a lovely riverside campsite on the edge of Hoarwithy village.
The water was really smooth which made paddling easy, however in numerous sections on day 1 the river was exposed to a strong headwind. The current was slow moving, so we had to put in some extra effort to keep moving through the wind, back into the sheltered sections of the river. Other than that though, day 1 was beautiful. We didn’t see a single person along the whole stretch of water, the weather was amazing and just short of five and a half hours later we arrived at Tresseck Campsite in Hoarwithy.
Upon climbing the steep bank up to the campsite and hauling the canoe up behind us (not fun), we discovered we were the only people on the site which was perfect. We pitched up on a spot next the river and ventured into a pub, which was also a shop, just across the field to get some firewood for a campfire (campfires are permitted at the site, we weren’t being hooligans). We very quickly discovered that it was more of a ‘locals’ pub and the landlady was less than welcoming, obviously realising that we weren’t their fellow village folk or even from the same county. We downed a very well earned drink, bought some supplies and ran away back to the safety of our campsite. We were soon joined by a small family who had also canoed down from Hereford and pitched next to us.
We lit our campfire, had some dinner, drank a whole bottle of Prosecco, napped next to the fire and with that, day 1 was complete.
Day 2 (Friday): Hoarwithy to Ross on Wye – and Wildlife
Day 2 was a slightly shorter stretch but very picturesque and full of wildlife. We woke up early and made breakfast as our neighbours packed up their camp and prepared to leave. They were following the same route as us and would be staying in Ross on Wye that night too. We finished breakfast, packed everything away, launched the canoe into the water and we were off.
Straight away we were surrounded by wildlife. As we paddled down the river we were watching families of ducks and swans rushing about with their babies. Along the route we passed salmon pools and caught glimpses of the salmon rushing upstream below us. Above our heads we had kingfishers flashing through the trees and even spotted a hobby hawk. Alongside us, on the banks, were slides created by otters coming in and out of the river. It was nice to think we wouldn’t have spotted any of this if we weren’t on the river. As soon as you get on the water, the perspective of the whole area changes in an instant.
The route was broken up by old disused bridges which were actually quite eerie and daunting as we glided below them in silence. We had some rain overnight which had caused the water levels to rise slightly and the current was faster, this made for some pretty exciting canoeing as we negotiated our way through small rapids and dodged large boulders that were only just surfacing above the water. It was in these little rapids where we spotted small groups of salmon. As soon as we hit calm water again, the serenity returned and we were once again surrounded by absolute peace and quiet. I wish I could explain in more detail how beautiful the experience was and how amazing it was to just lay the paddle down inside the canoe and let the current slowly take us peacefully downstream.
We nearly went the whole route without seeing anybody else on the water. After a couple of hours we overtook the only other group of people in canoes we had seen for the last 24 hours. We had seen (and probably disrupted) a few people fly fishing in the river, but that was it. We felt like we were miles away from anywhere and we easily could have been.
We eventually spotted Ross on Wye in the distance. Most of the small town is set at the top of the valley and gradually comes down to the river where Ross on Wye Rowing Club was, and that would be our end point for the day. We booked to camp in one of the fields behind the rowing club which backed onto a small recreational green overlooking the river. We moored up, unpacked our kit and dragged the canoe up on to the bank then set up our tent in the field. At the time we were again the only people on the site, but as the afternoon went on, more campers had arrived and took up some of the extra space we had.
A well earned drink was once again needed, so we explored the town. It was a rather pleasant little place as far as we could tell, lots of old antique shops and bookstores and we found a good pub to enjoy a cider or two. We also found an excellent Chinese takeaway which would be providing our dinner that night! It was still early afternoon, so we headed back to the campsite and chilled out next to the water for a bit before heading back up to pick up our dinner.
After a long day canoeing and wildlife spotting, the feeling of sitting in our tent, enjoying a great Chinese takeaway was amazing.
I discovered that night that Sarah could potentially sleep through anything. That night I was woken by some commotion on the recreational ground and lots of shouting. Very soon after the place was filled with light and I was desperate for a pee, so I climbed out of the tent and found the light was coming from a group of police cars and officers as they were shining torches around the site. Meanwhile, Sarah slept on, totally unaware. I figured that as the site was full of police officers it was fairly safe to leave Sarah alone in the tent for a couple of minutes whilst I took advantage of the rather nice rowing club facilities. The following morning Sarah had absolutely no recollection of anything happening overnight and she told me how well she had slept all night. Good for her…
Day 3 (Saturday): Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat – and pirate hats
The commotion of the night before aside, day 3 started nicely. There had been a bit of rain throughout the night again, but it was looking like it would be a clear day and ideal for the last short stretch of river from Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat. Once we had ourselves ready and the canoe in the water, it became obvious very quickly that we weren’t going to have such a quiet and peaceful day like the previous couple of days. Being Saturday, it meant that the river was full of people on one day trips and most of them appeared to be stag parties. We weaved and dodged around the other canoes as they all blundered their way down the river, bouncing off the river bank and getting caught in overhanging trees. Once we past most of them and got out of Ross on Wye onto a much wider stretch of river, the view behind us looked like a scene from Zulu… if the Zulus has canoes… Anyway, this meant that if we were to relax and take it easy on our last day, we would most likely get caught up among the crowd behind us.
We were told in the briefing by chatty man Nick that day 3 is the shortest leg but most picturesque. We were also told that he did see another group at their headquarters being taken upstream and they were wearing pirate hats…We couldn’t fault chatty man Nick on either of these points – it actually seemed that at every canoe launching spot along the river, there was a pirate waiting to get into his canoe, but that made for an entertaining break between watching the Kingfishers and other wildlife along the river.
Not far down river from Ross on Wye sits the Medieval Norman ruin of Goodrich Castle, which from the ground is a spectacular site I’m sure, but from the water was even better. Several hundreds of years later, in ruins, it still looms over the water with suggestive power and from the river you can really get an idea of how incredible it would have been in the 1100s. It was another example of just how different everything seems and how great the perspective of the world is from the water.
As we got closer to Symonds Yat the valley grew higher and higher above us and we were almost transported back to the prehistoric era, surrounded by the ancient rock and forest. We had managed to leave behind most of the crowds and we powered on in serenity once again. We were also briefed that the final day has the roughest water too, with lots more smaller but much faster spots of white water to navigate through.
There is one particular section half way down the river which has a small island sat in the middle of the water. We were told that if we wanted a safe, smooth passage through, we should take the left fork around the island. If we went right we would hit deeper and faster white water which would take a bit of concentration and effort to battle through. So of course, we went right. We had enjoyed all the previous sections of tricky water and tackled them perfectly every time (almost) and this was no different. On this section, the current flows in an S bend, firstly going far over to the bank on the right side among the rocks and trees, then out and toward the bank of the island for another potential battering. The water was rough enough that if we hit it wrong and got caught up in the current we could have potentially ended up in the water – losing some of our kit in the process. Challenge accepted! We lined ourselves up to hit the water at exactly the right spot and got through the first part perfectly. Sarah was at the front providing the power and I was steering and driving from the rear. Everything was going perfectly – adrenaline flowing. brains working hard. Then, right in the middle of the S, my brain wasn’t working so well and I drove the paddling into the wrong side of the canoe and steered us too hard back into the current kicking the back of the canoe out 90 degrees and across the river with the current pushing directly into our side. We were a bit stuck and being rotated towards the bank with a few other canoes and kayaks waiting behind us to get through the same section. Working as hard as we could to correct my mistake we managed to push ourselves back in the right direction and out of the white water back to the wider, smoother section to continue our journey. Something we were also told about regarding this section of water is that it’s right outside a pub and it’s a popular spot for people to come and watch people take on that challenge – being a Saturday, we were watched by a good few dozen people. I think we did ourselves proud though, and the kayak behind us wasn’t so lucky!
Soon, Symonds Yat appeared along the top of the valley and the old familiar beach that my dog and I used to sit on came into sight. We landed the canoe, dragged it up into the field for collection and felt a bit sad that our little canoe adventure was over. We loved every bit of it and felt that we could have easily done another day or two on the river. So I think we will definitely be back in the not so distant future.
Afterthought and recap
Was this the experience I was after? Was this the type of adventure I was looking for? Carrying all the kit in our canoe, paddling for multiple days and camping on the riverside – yes it was.
Looking back, several months on, I’m still sad that I didn’t consider booking the 4 day trip and it feels like it was over and done with far too quickly. I’m looking forward to booking another trip through Canoe the Wye, hopefully in the not too distant future!
I would highly recommend looking at Canoe the Wye to everybody reading this. You can hire multiple canoes, go in large groups and spend days out on the river, or you can do what we did and have a peaceful few days out on the river. You receive an excellent briefing from the staff, catered to your experience level, and you’re required to inform them when you leave and arrive at each destination everyday so they know where you are and that you’re safe. They recommend that you book the multi-day trips starting midweek, and I totally agree. I would actually recommend starting earlier in the week as the river does get very busy on the weekend – I’ll probably look at booking Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday next time to avoid the weekend pirates.
The Wye Valley is a spectacular place to visit in general, just for long walks leading up into the Forest of Dean, but I now believe that in order to experience it completely, you need to get on the water. You see so much more and things that you’d never see if you were walking on the riverbank. The river takes you through a vast amount of private land too, so you find completely brand new areas and perspectives of the valley that you wouldn’t get on the ground.
The canoeing isn’t too difficult either. Depending on the weather of course, but the river is mostly smooth with a gentle current. It’s also known to be so shallow that you often end up walking down the middle of the river towing you canoe behind you. If you haven’t canoed before, or have little experience, The River Wye is an ideal spot to develop your skills or learn something amazing.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been on a similar trip or have some great suggestions for other canoe trips to take. Just get in touch using the below form!