The sound of the truck made me realise I hadn’t heard traffic for over 48 hours. Being on a river somehow insulates you from the world – our little trip had let us properly escape, despite never really being far from civilisation. It seemed a lot longer than two days ago that we were picking up our canoes.
“You’re not a paddler” said Stuart, it’s a strange thing to say to someone on first acquaintance but Stuart, supplier of canoes and local knowledge, had an uncanny knack of identifying the canoeists from the landlubbers in our midst. He assured us our mix of experience wouldn’t be a problem – the qualified could easily paddle through any of the water on our intended route, and the Wye wasn’t flowing that high for the time of year.
A decision hadn’t really been made as to what this trip was – climbing, canoeing, swimming, camping. One of our group had called it a Try-athalon, because he was going to try everything. The name hadn’t stuck though, which was a good thing. Multi-activities mean lots of gear, so our canoes were laden with full dry bags by the time we set off into the overcast mist of our first day. The gentle flow helped us along as our beginners got the hang of the oars, and quickly the pace of our lives fell into the unhurried pace of the river. The weather kept low, leaden and wet, and our agreed camping spot looked dank and uninviting as it came into view on the bank.
Hauling the boats up the path and pitching tents was a wordless, miserable effort. Thankfully Stuart had given us some ‘special’ wood - it lit, literally, in a flash. We didn’t think too hard about how the ‘special’ wood was created – don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. Sat around a roaring fire, the mood lifted and the charmless campsite became a welcoming, cheery haven.
Titanium kettles and cooking pots were soon boiling away, and a wet afternoon turned into a laughter filled evening and then a cosy night in our sleeping bags. Sunrise promised much better weather. We spotted the cobalt blue streak of a kingfisher dart purposefully upstream, the sun glinting o its back. After coffee and porridge we paddled towards the Upper Wye Gorge and Symonds Yat Rock.
The climbers amongst us wanted to tick off the pinnacle. Getting up to the crag was a bit of a faff , but the weather was warm and the rock was dry. We’d discussed lots of potential routes, but for a first visit the pinnacle was the obvious target. There is something so satisfying about sitting on top of one. The route looked pretty straightforward, but half a century of climbers has left it polished, and a bit trickier than the grade suggested.
The sun fired bright rays of so light at us as we abseilled down, illuminating the valley behind us, and briefly picking out a riverside pub – a sign if ever there was one. The sun then affected us in that uniquely giddy British way, we decided to don wetsuits and go for a dip.
The sign in the entrance to the pub was clear – muddy wet people were to stay on the flagstone floor to the right. Fair enough, no one likes cleaning river mud from carpets. Once the food arrived, and swimming hands were warmed, we decided that we might be at the pub for some time.