Nottingham Outdoor YHA Group

Event report

Ten go off in a canoe...

or The Adventures of John, Susan, Roger the Ships Boy and Able Seaman Titty

See a few of Christine's photos of the weekend

We knew this weekend was going to be different. We knew it when we were three miles from the hostel, when what we thought to be the road to the hostel became ever steeper, and narrower, and steeper, and narrower... until a dead end meant we had to do a 3-point turn and wend our weary way back up. Eventually we found the hostel by going across a cattle grid and down what looked from a distance like someone's private drive. But what a location!! Welsh Bicknor just consists of a hostel and a church, with a wooded glade and a field beyond for camping, all in splendid isolation. Historically it was an enclave of Wales in England for nearly 200 years.

First things first - tent... check. Mattress... check. Sleeping bag... check. Beer... luckily the hostel sold bottle conditioned ales, so we were soon sitting outside, contemplating the starry sky.

Next morning it was time to head for Symonds Yat Canoe Hire to be paired up with canoes, and given sealed barrels to store our rucksacks. At least we would have dry clothes should we need them! Our two day paddle would start at Ross on Wye, so we were going downstream all the time - an utterly sensible option.

Oh the lovely calm waters of the Wye, with the warm glow of the sun and the gentle soft spring rain! As Ratty or Mole said (I can't remember who), there is nothing better than messing about in boats. However, the Wye does harbour some little secrets that can catch you unawares. First off, the river split, with an island in the middle. Our instruction, in a preamble that seemed a lifetime ago, was to keep left. However, quickly we found that we simply couldn't get through - the water was too shallow and too fast. Maybe he meant keep to the left hand side of the much larger right hand fork. Unfortunately, however hard I paddled I simply couldn't get the boat to turn. Eventually I found the boat pointing at 90 degrees to where it should have been going, at the mercy of the rapids. Fortunately there was a tree in the way. I grabbed it. Big mistake. I stayed where I was... the boat didn't. My Able Seaman Chris went into the river, but we managed to scramble through the cracking branches and thick undergrowth to the safety of a ploughed field.

Luckily the pub where we were due to stop for lunch was 200 metres away, and there was a bridge 100 metres in the other direction, so we could make our bedraggled way, first to a landing stage where our boat and barrel were rescued (and we could see experienced kayakers come a cropper on the same rapids), and then to the pub, for some miraculously dry sandwiches (those watertight barrels really do work!) and some gorgeous Wye Valley ales.

The remainder of the day's paddling was relatively uneventful. Even the rain cleared up, and we enjoyed some pleasant breaks on the stony beaches. We went round the majestic cliffs of Symonds Yat to the hostel camp site, where we moored for the night. The evening meal was at the Courtfield Arms, which advertised itself as only "200 metres from Welsh Bicknor Youth Hostel". Well... yes that is technically true, if you're a duck. We humans had a river to cross, and the walk was more like 1 km. I remember the food was extremely good, though not particularly cheap.

Onward ever onward, with nothing to disturb us but the chatter of the birds, the gentle breeze on the trees and the occasional kingfisher gliding towards the water. But wait - what's that? A tannoy? "I say steady on chaps, there are some canoeists coming, but they're being awfully good". Yes - it was the Monmouth Regatta, and we had to go in single file. However, the other side of Monmouth, and back in England, the Wye had one final surprise for us. Suddenly the river got very shallow, with our boat caught between two rocks either side, with the hull stuck on the river bed. Luckily John was behind us and gave us a push, and we careered along, the rapids taking us to a sheltered spot 200 metres down river. Dave V and Chris S weren't so lucky, with their boat scurrying down the river they had to find a way to wade across the river to the grassy bank. About half an hour later an intrepid and sodden Dave emerged past the trees. We ended up in Redbrook, where the Symonds Yat minibus picked us up.

That evening it was down to the camp site for a barbecue. Paul introduced us to the joys of stinging nettles. Just pick the tops of each nettle (just the top three leaves will do) and go for young nettles that haven't started to flower. Fry them in a little butter and olive oil, making sure every part of the nettle leaf is cooked - for obvious reasons! The taste is rather like spinach... with attitude. A bit of grated cheese on top works wonders. Apparently they're also one of the healthiest things you can eat. We had to admit defeat with some of the sausages, resorting to the frying pan in the hostel. Paul brought his samovar of gluhwein, and we had a good supply of beer. In the churchyard, a violin was playing. I don't know who the violinist was, but it was a perfect accompaniment to the beer and starry sky. However, in the meantime, Paul had discovered the remains of a brick kiln in a clearing in the woods -a perfect place for a camp fire! We talked into the night, aided by more gluhwein and roasted sausages.

Monday morning and it was time for an alternative mode of transport, on foot. We walked up to the top of the impressive Symonds Yat, and the viewing point where we could watch the beautiful majestic peregrine falcons fly past. We all enjoyed the delicious cakes at the cafe, before continuing down the river, across a chain bridge (why not have one of them over the Trent at Beeston?) Only 6 people were allowed on the bridge at any time, we had much discussion about how this was known and how you could test this. Then it was up the other side to a lovely riverside pub and some more Wye Valley nectar. Then it was a ferry across the river (why not have one of them over the Trent at Beeston Oh, never mind) eventually ending up on a little narrow lane. Hang on, I think I've seen that little narrow lane before... Que sera sera... see the start of this write up.

Many thanks to Rachel for organising an amazing weekend, and it certainly did take a lot of organising to make sure it went as smoothly as it did. Apologies if some of the details are a little hazy, memories fade after five months.

Barry Sh

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