Arriving at the immaculate and perfectly located Lucksall Campsite on the banks of the beautiful River Wye, on what originally promised to be a beautiful weekend for Canadian canoeing, the weather began to deteriorate rapidly…
Anxiously I watched the forecast change from warm and sunny to rain, more rain and finally thundery storms and lots of rain. Having never been a Girl Guide I had failed miserably to take precautions and arrived sans wellies, waterproof coat or any such British weather proofing gear. By the age of 44 one might think I had learned enough of this country to be prepared, but it seems not.
As a result my Swallows and Amazons fantasies of wild camping overnight on some hidden riverside beach, gazing up at the starry sky and waking in the chill morning to a refreshing river dip and campfire cuppa began to disintegrate. I know its only a bit of rain, no way would Alastair Humphreys be put off. But allowing for the lack of wet weather gear I figured overnighting in wet clothing wasn’t very appealing for a first wild camping experience. So instead we holed up in our bus for the night and planned a canoeing trip upriver during the only gap in the downpour which appeared to be opening up the following afternoon.
A Canadian Canoe is open topped with 1, 2, or 3 seats and is paddled with a single bladed paddle. They can have a large carrying capacity so are ideal for families or groups as well as canoe camping trips as there is plenty of space to store gear. They are best used on sheltered water such as rivers and lakes.
We hadn’t booked a canoe, another rookie error considering it was a bank holiday at the beginning of half term. Fortunately though the laid back and friendly chaps at Hereford Canoe Hire, who are handily situated within the campsite grounds, found us a ride. After grabbing a few essentials (water, snacks, extra layers, towel) which we stowed in the dry barrel thoughtfully provided by the company, we set off upstream. We were aiming for a pub some distance away. We were told not many made it that far… challenge accepted!
Very quickly we left behind all signs of humanity and were immersed in the tranquility of the river habitat. Beautiful willow trees line the banks, dipping their branch tips in the clear water and creating little eddies. Our only companions were the water foul and the odd canoeist. This stretch of the river is very quiet, we didn’t see any kind of motor powered boat, leaving it peaceful and well populated by wildlife.
I found the rhythmic paddling of the canoe very thearapeutic and quite easy to master, as there is only the single bladed paddle which you stroke on both sides. I had a strong armed engine seated behind me which made my job a lot easier, but it still required full effort from both of us at times, in order to negotiate the faster patches of water flowing against us. This isn’t usually necessary, as Hereford Canoes are happy to drop you as far upstream as you’d like to go within reason. They provide some great self guided itineraries over one to five days, with interesting and tasty stop offs to enjoy, so you can literally ‘go with the flow’. You can for example paddle downstream for a day trip to beautiful Ross-on-Wye. This wasn’t an option for us however as we’d boo boo’ed on the booking, hence the need to paddle upstream. But the effort was quite enjoyable for two passably fit adults. I think if you are paddling with the kids (we saw several families split over a couple of canoes enjoying a lovely time together) then being dropped upstream is the best idea as some parts further down the river would be quite challenging to pass through, paddling against the current.
We stopped once en route at a beachy area for a brief rest and a drink, but otherwise kept going, aware that we had limited time and not sure how long the journey was going to take us.
After more than a couple of hours of reasonably hard paddling our ears pricked and hearts lifted as we heard the unmistakeable jolly chatter of a pub garden, and the smell of good food drifted out across the water to greet us. Finding a bank just past our goal well populated with canoes, we jumped out, tied up and walked a few minutes back along what I think might have once been an old railway track, until we reached the welcome of the The Bunch of Carrots. We celebrated reaching our goal with a bottle of Prosecco and some very tasty grub, basking in warm early evening sunshine. We’d been lucky enough to capture the only window in an otherwise pretty rainy weekend to enjoy this mini adventure, and after satisfying our post paddling hunger and thirst we donned life jackets and set off back down the river.
This time it was easy, drifting with the current and watching the lowering sun shimmering on the water, paddling peacefully and keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife. Swallows darted overhead catching insects, clouds of mayfly rose and dipped gracefully. We met Mandarin ducklings, several flotillas of swans and a crane which observed us watchfully from the bank.
Suffice to say I am addicted! I reckon a Canadian canoe would be a worthy addition to our kit, allowing the older children to go and have some real Swallows and Amazons adventures of their own. It’s a great adventure to share with the family. We also decided to make a plan for a long paddle with overnight stops ourselves, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Finally, tired but very content we landed back at the campsite, tied the canoe and handed in our gear before heading off to a well earned glass of vino, as the thunder started to roll and the weather closed in again.
About the River Wye: http://www.wyevalleyaonb.org.uk/index.php/our-countryside/river-wye
The caravan and campsite we stayed at: http://www.lucksallpark.co.uk
Hereford Canoe Hire: https://www.herefordcanoehire.com