Kerne Bridge to Symonds Yat

This was my birthday treat for 2012 - usually I'd be out there running, cycling or doing a triathlon but a recurrence of an old knee injury after a race in January means I'm not race fit! Fortunately I was still able to cycle over to Portishead, swim 44 lengths of the open air pool there and take in a 2 hour hike on the day itself, but with a 4 day weekend laid on (courtesy of the Queen's diamond jubilee) I squeezed in a canoe trip as well two days before the big day.

The weather looked iffy, and with Kokila and I both tired after intense work we opted to just drive up to Symonds Yat rather than my original plan of doing Glasbury to Hay. Kerne Bridge was the launch point, so after saying goodbye to Kokila, who had the car, I drifted off down the Wye from just downstream of the bridge.

This was intended to be a good workout to make up for my lack of running, so I planned to paddle the 6 miles or so down to Symonds Yat in around an hour and a half. Or so I thought! I hadn't paddled for over a year, so I wasn't sure how my arms would take it. Once midstream in the Kiwi I got into a steady rhythm and with the flow in my favour I reckoned I was doing around 5 miles an hour. Or should I say 5 knots? Or 12 minute pace? Anyway it was total guesswork.

Although there was drizzle now and again, I was blessed with nice sunshine for much of the trip and enjoyed every minute. There is such peace in being around water - that calm but forceful consciousness of the river and it's ceaseless flow just seems to take over my mind, songs play over and over instead of thoughts, everything becomes placid and timeless. The Wye is beautiful, and although I passed around 100 other paddlers the atmosphere was still serene. Waterfowl of every kind was all around, and there was birdsong from the trees overhanging the banks. In a field on a bend of the river I saw clumsy young calves slipping around in the mud trying to keep up with their sure-footed mothers. A yellow bird landed on a branch in the river and bobbed it's tail for all it was worth - a yellow wagtail I'd guess? I'm no birder but I'll go with that. A heron made an awkward landing just ahead of me then struck its statuesque pose, feet underwater. One of my favourite birds, so no doubt about that one.

Time was passing and my arms tiring as I made my way around the long bends of the valley. This section of the Wye has numerous small "riffles" or "Grade Zero rapids" to keep the interest level up, including a nice run either side of a small island. But the real highlight is of course Symonds Yat. When I finally arrived there after 1 hour 45 minutes, I spotted Kokila waiting high above me on the bank and told her I'd be a while longer as I wanted to nip down the rapid. There were loads of boaters there already - kayaks playing in the waves at the base of the rapid, open boaters shooting it, even some rafters - one group of which turned their inflatable raft over half way down which looked like good fun (though doubtless not the kind of fun they were after).

I took my usual line from the top of the rapid - down the "tongue" of smooth water that juts out into the top wave - and enjoyed a nice bouncy ride down past the island. Even with relatively low water levels, it was more lively than I remembered it. For a real white water canoeist this is no challenge at all, but for a novice boater like me it's great fun and well worth the effort of hauling the boat back up the path on the right bank to relaunch above the rapid. All in all I later discovered I had paddled 8.5 miles (not six!!!) in 1.45, plus another 15 minutes taking in the rapid and the walk-up. Great way to spend an afternoon.


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