It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Roger organises a trip you are going to be travelling further than originally advertised. The survivors of the infamous Severn trip last year will testify to the bottom aching weariness that slowly takes over your body, seeping in through the tight cuffs of your cag, flowing down through your shoulders, cramping your feet in the tight confines of your kayak. The draggled remnants of the party that went on the Dove tour who limped back into Leamington looking like Napoleon’s defeated legions retreating from Moscow have tales of horror that will make your blood freeze and your paddle fall unheeded from your fingers. Any paddler with half a brain would have learned from these tales. But we are canoeists; we are made of sterner stuff. Or should that be stupider?
Twelve of us gathered at the club on Sunday morning and indulged in the obligatory faff, choosing boats, gathering equipment and loading cars. The journey down was uneventful, apart from a short detour to look at the wrong bridge which was scenic and should in no way be held against the driver of the lead car. Roger and Jodie, John Spooner and Gareth were waiting for us at Kerne Bridge. The unload was rapid and the shuttle for this trip is mercifully short – one of the shortest there is. We were all eager to get on the water and in no time at all, it seemed we were there, settling into our boats and taking stock of the group. There was sure to be some confusion: we had two Johns, two Emmas and two Daves. It was also a special occasion – Jon’s birthday. He never did tell us how old he is, but his new bandana complemented his grin in a way that had me constantly thinking of cartoon superheroes.
The Wye is a beautiful river. It is little surprise that it is one of the most popular canoeing places in the country. A wide clear stream hemmed in by tree covered hills, even at this low flow it has a liveliness and cries out for your full attention. One minute it is deep and clear, the next it has shallowed out and directs you into mischievous ripples and runs. It flirts and whispers and then pulls back, intimating that there might be more excitement in store, but lets you know that the journey is so going to be worth the wait.
We reached the first of the faster water runs, noting a swamped Canadian with two damp rugby players and we carefully watched our three beginners, American Dave, Emma and Karl as they successfully ran it. This was a good sign. It is hard to keep track of everyone in a group this large. American Dave and Janet canoodled along at the back, Harry dashed around the group testing out his new Slalom boat and other sub groups formed and broke up at regular intervals. Roger and Jodie had a domestic, settled by a splash fight. At the second shallowing of the river the deepest stream set hard to the right under some low branches. Nothing too hard and we made our down in sequence. Suddenly behind me I could hear an urgent shout of “Let go” and a splash. Looking back saw the new yellow GT on its first solo voyage, drifting down the stream with Karl swimming behind it. Roger, Dave and John were there to rescue him, but we nearly lost his paddle in a tree.
The rest of us paddled into back eddy behind a breakwater and we got the newer paddlers to start practicing break outs while we waited. Harry demonstrated, his confidence high. So high that he decided that having two blades on his paddle was making life too easy and he borrowed one of the spare canoe paddles from the Canadian. Shortly afterwards there was splash as the missing end meant he had nothing to high brace with. In a split second his grin reappeared as rolled off the single blade. That boy is getting too good and we’re going to have to pay someone to interest him in darts or dominoes or something before he makes us all look rubbish.
The river rolled on. Steep bank followed steep bank. Tree lined hills flanked the river. We started to get hungry. It soon became obvious that having failed to make the trip longer than everyone was expecting Roger had a new tactic up his sleeve – starvation! Lunch was scheduled for our arrival at Symonds Yat and there was still a mile or two to go. Mutiny began to stir. There was muttering. A break was made for a likely looking piece of bank for a comfort break. No sooner were we beached than there was a generalised breaking out of lunch boxes as the ravenous horde fed the inner kayaker. One or two skulked up the bank for private breaks. The last to descend was near missed by peach stone, thrown up from the beach.
It was a short paddle from here to the Seal Launch Rock. Roger went first, watched by a group eager to see whether he survived. When he surprised us all by doing so there was a rush to follow suit. We quickly gathered a good audience who weren’t disappointed. The birthday boy went second, surfacing with his infectious grin intact. He was followed by Gareth (whose roll is well up to the task), Rene, Neil (that isn’t the other new GT in the video, honest!), Jodie, a screaming Janet and Roger going round again. Sam and Harry looked on in envy, but their plastic boats were waiting at the car park and they couldn’t go.
We took our delayed lunch break at Symonds Yat. Sam and Harry swapped into playboats stored in the cars and we took ourselves down the rapid for some well deserved post tour RnR. Some of us were visiting white water for the first time, others were helping them, the rest of us just played about. It would be wrong to say that there were no swimmers. I wish I could remember who. I was way too tired to take notes. But not in the retreat from Moscow kind of way. In the best way possible. Thanks to Roger and Jodie.
*EDIT* I am instructed to note that there was birthday cake and they saved me some because I missed out on the day. Also Jon's bandana isn't new.*
*SECOND EDIT* If the bandana isn't new, why on earth would he still be wearing it? I mean, it makes him look like a cartoon spaniel. It's not that looking like a cartoon spaniel is necessarily a bad thing, I've known some really nice spaniels. Some of my best friends have been spaniels. Actually there have been times in my life when only spaniels would have anything to do with me. Am I still typing this out loud? Oops.*
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