When Ophelia met Bryan

A two week half term was a unique experience and it was the second week which co-incided with other schools.  We aimed at the Wye and wanted to paddle Monday to Friday.  Some extension beyond this was possible, especially if the Yat was in sight …

I met up with Steve in Ross on Wye, we parked a car in a residential street as the public car parks were expensive or inaccessible.  The long stay was only a pound per day but paying five days up front was impossible.  We then headed to the Hollybush, originally this was a secondary idea and access at Whitney bridge was planned as a half day for Monday pm.  Storm Ophelia had arrived and so the drive up was a painful one and the potential for paddling thwarted.  We decided to batten down at the Hollybush [just south of Glasbury] and sleep early so that we could be on the water first thing Tuesday, this put us back by a day, potentially.


Disappointingly this venue has declined.  It was jaded last time we stayed but the beer was expensive [£3.50 a pint], not fantastic quality and then ran out.  There was a push to use their relay service and whilst parking was cheap [£1 per night] being charged £10 per head to sleep in the van was the most expensive accommodation we encountered!

The following morning we were up and fitted my new thwart [photo to come! Steve], fitted our storage and slid gently into the Wye.  This was our best day, sunshine, good water and a gentle reawakening of our upper bodies.  We had tried some attempt at training but knew that until you paddle all day long you do not develop your stamina.

I had damaged my phone climbing the week before and so decided to have a complete break with technology.  The maps were laminated, spiral bound and bulldog clipped to the yoke but Steve was tasked with image capture.

The float down to Whitney Bridge was laced with tales of previous encounters and the rock step in Hay reminded us of old friends we had shared the experience with before.


The toll bridge has changed hands and a bijou ‘executive camping suite’ has been identified beside the river, building plans are afoot.  Camp fees are only £8 a head, again strengthening the idea the Hollybush is on its way downhill.  They left a postcard with us [above] and we realised we were already ten miles in.

We were aiming for Byecross farm but as soon as the Boat Inn came into sight we knew were thwarted.  This establishment claims to welcome canoeists as identified by the numerous signs, direct you in a specific way and then segregates you into the ‘public bar’.  The beer was good, just a shame we had to sit out into the garden to keep an eye on the boats.

We made good time through Locksters Pool and Turners boat, the anglers had increased but on clearing Bredwardine Bridge it was clear that we weren’t going to make Monington before nightfall.  This was our first night under canvas and we were unsure of setup times.  We searched both banks looking for an ideal spot and applying the basic wild camping rules …

  1. Be out of sight
  2. Remember there is no rule of trespass per se.
  3. Ask the landowner if you can find him but otherwise alight early
  4. Move on is asked to

We found a nice niche, were awoken by some animal rooting and away early in the morning.  The site was slightly elevated and I promised to try and get my set up down to three trips next time.

Wednesday broke bright but the rain overnight had not speeded up the flow noticeably.  We stopped at Byecross and Monnington Falls and at Preston, both clean organised sites and Sharon showed us her new oak bench and bar, this will be a good place to return to.

Wild camp 2 was lower and flatter than the previous and a level mattress ensure slippage was kept to minimum.  We camped at dusk aligning at daybreak.

We pushed on to Hereford, fully aware the final straight can be a pig.  The rain began, light at first as we passed the pump house and we arrived fifteen minutes early at the Saracens Head, luckily they let us in and hearty soup was on offer.

After collecting our thoughts and fully aware that Lucksall is a fantastic site we dressed for the wet and pushed onto Holme Lacy.  It rained hard for about two hours meaning that the bailers came out and sponging was continuous.  My mind returned to the idea of a deck cover, removing the auxiliary seat and even a bivvy hoop above the boat.

Rounding at Holme Lacy was a sight for sore eyes.  Initially we set up to camp but Gary suggested that we utilise one of the new riverside pods.  This is a large insulated shed with decking and lino on the floor.  Double glazed doors and a rear window ensure a draft carried away the moisture from our makeshift line.  The cafe served good value food, the beer was reasonable and with showers and tumble driers on hand it was worthy of five stars.  They went out of their way to make us welcome running us and our kit down to the other end of the site and making coffee in the morning, we will return.

Friday brought he beginning of storm Bryan and the winds associated with it.  We headed south to Ballingham Hill before beginning the huge S bend.  Rounding onto the four kilometre stretch down into Hoarwithy the wind hit us full on and despite some diversions we were cream crackered come the campsite.  We decided to jack it in returning to Ross by taxi, shuttling up to Hollybush and then returning to pick up the boats at the Hoarwithy site – £1.50 launch and park.

I returned on the A40; slowly which was backed up down to the Ross tunnel before cutting down to Chepstow along the river bank.  It was due to be a fierce night and so after a brief stop off at Bath I returned home.

There were some thoughts we had en route that could be sharpened next time:

  1. The three dry bag and aluminium food box system worked well but the smallest bag had my clothing and shipped water – take care when rolling, consider double packing and sub categorising clothes and store with the mouth uppermost.  Three mats was also successful, two for sitting of kneeling and one for sleeping sandwiched at night.
  2. Double up kit when moving to a campsite to reduce the number of journeys.
  3. Put all paperwork in plastic bags, annotate the laminated maps as you go – pen needed.
  4. I fettled the diamond lacing to zig zag lacing on the trip and with cord locks this was much better.
  5. A compass on the yoke was very useful, use the bubble to trim the boat.
  6. Replace the clear ‘thwart dry bag’ with a large Tupperware box, or similar for your valuables.
  7. A bale and sponge were essential.
  8. The bag of ‘extras’ – clips, wire ties, zip ties and polypropylene all got used.
  9. Think about the colour of your bags and boats, especially if ‘wild camping’.
  10. Be prepared to change a plan.

And finally; I graded the accommodation as we went based on five criteria – launch access, quality of camping, beer price and taste, facilities and general friendliness.

The results got better –

  • Hollybush 1* – bottled beer and fire great
  • Whitney Bridge 4* – welcoming and an exclusive camping spot
  • Byecross Farm 4* – great launch and egress ramp and good facilities
  • Preston Campsite 3* – nice clean loos
  • Lucksall 5* – drying rooms, restaurant and went out of their way to help
  • Hoarwithy 4* – honesty box, nicely situated close to the pub

We had paddled 50 miles, had a good catch up and seen otters, buzzards, kingfishers, geese and maybe a wild boar …



Moving water on the Wye

A day away on the borders of Wales required an early start and longer drive but it was great to run through the basics again.

Based at lower Lydbrook initially the up and coming coaches ran through kit, boats and land rivers. The original plan was to work on the rapids there but high levels encouraged a downstream trip and so the cars were shuttled through to Symonds Yat East.

The river trip is largely featureless with a railway bridge early on, the Symonds Yat rocks and one or two seal launch boulders. An interesting eyot made for an uphill paddle and the rejuvenated base level ensured the farmed fields were above our heads.

Splat rock provided the fun and a smaller sandstone sister was worthwhile too.

Our main reason to transit was to practise break outs and ferry glides. At the final rapids most people swam and were bagged and I rolled. Great to recall these skills and put into practise.

It was good to have a good look at the Yat rapid as we may be transiting it in the near future …

Dancing with ledges

The sun came out. The ride was cancelled. Harry suggested coasteering and suddenly the easy Exeat filling between my safari and kayaking was meaty again. Faff was minimal but a short stop at the kayak hut procured a lighter neater throw line.

We hit the Isle of Purbeck in 40 mins having experienced a traction engine and wrestled with grockles before dropping into Cumulus (blue helmets). With Land and Wave (black helmets red PDF’s) at the Spyway car park it was going to be interesting to compare tactics.

Dropping in at the flood up pond the weather was glorious. It was good to see groups wading prior to jumping. We moved west and watched. A short foot jump allowed an egress through a square cut washed over slab,

Moving on, the majority did a five meter jump (above) into a boil of water but one loose helmet phased a guy and they struggled to get him out, having to leave the group.

The corralling in rings was good; as the first shot illustrates and we joined them in the water.

A bigger drop into green sea was next with a very flat take off but some of the family members were struggling and escaped at this point by traversing at sea level. This was quite fierce at 2 1/2 to 3 feet and the suck off was continuous. One girl abandoned at the eastern end couldn’t get any higher.

We swam across the bay, heading for the biggest jump but the swell crashed me into the cave and we retreated to higher ground. Taking advantage of the cover of the leaving group we began the return swim. Harry’s BA was loose and this was hard work but we eventually exited seawards of the flood up pool.

Refreshment was at the Blue Vinny, as selected by H, another excellent choice.

Both providers worked hard with groups who had a variety of skills. This is a sketchy environment and I felt the swell was marginal – the guide suggests 0.5m. It was great to be in the water again.

Paddling clothing

After two moves and a long summer some of my kayaking kit had migrated away from the core. Helmet was hanging and I quickly tripped over my neoprene boots but the essential cag and long johns had vanished. I was sure I had tidied them away to free up a bag as the deck was also ‘lost’ but when I was time stretched this morning my systematic search just did not work. I needed creative thinking.

Other options were available, I had a racing cagoule with a well-known school emblazoned across the back and a classic Wild Water simple cag and paired with a neoprene long John from my canyon kit this could have sufficed; kit 1.

I usually paddle in fleece trousers with a thick thermal top, these were packed. It dawned on me whilst searching that a second hand dry suit could cover the lot in one go. Kit 2.

I was a little nervous as I had been away from the water for a while but felt quite chilled at the access point. I opted for the dry suit, the first time I had paddled in one despite completing numerous swift water courses in them – and swimming in grade 3 water.

The biggest obstacle to overcome initially was getting my neoprene boots on over the rubber socks of the dry suit. 5:10 boots would have been better but I am not sure they will fit in my boat.

The suit paddled well, I was not sure if a diagonal front zip would catch but under my Pfd it was fine. I didn’t feel toasty once wet and when I got out water had crept in at the neck and cuffs, not quite the luxury I was expecting. Perhaps the Lomo suit has had its day?

On return home my nicely packed orange cag and johns were in a small ikea bag. Next time they leak a little around the neck I will be more accepting.

Or perhaps it is time to renew my cag …

Looping the Dart

First weekend of term and our coasteering had been cancelled due to high swell. I awoke early, expecting to nip to Beechcroft to cave. Facebook pinged and an offer to run the Dart popped up; I had joined the club recently and this was one of the few trips I had on my to do list – it is much shorter now we are down south.

An hour to prepare and half an hour to drive but toast was needed, the car had half a roof rack and my kayak gear had been spread thinly across other disciplines. Small were no problem – helmet, boots, rescue kit but my cag and bottoms had disappeared. Ho hum, I spent too long searching and eventually forgot a deck deciding to take a wetsuit, waterproof and dry suit with me instead.

I arrived ten minutes late, unsure of the roof rack and with tree work in Taunton would have been better through Martin Magna.

A plan was hatched, Keith and Jim set off and within 90 minutes we were at the river. The ledge was inspected, the cars shuttled and I crammed dry suit into wet suit boots (note to self – 3.10s next time).

Very soon we were on the water. This was a peculiar sensation as I felt both creaky and rusty. It came back and one or two excellent pointers reminded me to sit up and dig in.

Most of the upper section is grade 2 train with large emotes initially river left and shifting to river right. Keith provided excellent commentary and we dropped the washing machine at a good level.

The indicator for this was the Webburn coming in on the left. Three other named grade 3 sections are evident. A graveyard terminates at Lovers leap before the triple proves the combination of a variable drop, diagonal descent and eddy accessed clean wave. We met our only other group at the bottom.

The spin drier was thinner in water but the eddy held an aura. The final run down through Holne bridge before egress at the weir head was familiar but I felt elated having completed this run.

The boys had breakfast and burger at Route 303 and I was extremely grateful for my inclusion, the coaching tips and the fantastic knowledge. My membership has already been well-spent.

Dartmoor365 on track; approaching 100 …

My very first decision was to question whether squares I had visited in the past would be counted?

I then needed to decide how a tick in the book was quantified.

Finally in order to introduce the challenge a time frame could be introduced.

I opted to include places I had been to previously, this gave me a framework but also a potential second round. In order to tick a square I need to find at least one thing mentioned, in most cases all of the objects were found. I set out on 4th July and by the end of August I had completed 77 squares.

The very hot weather was against me each time I headed into the north moor but I could sometimes do ten a day; especially if driving. I have decided to give myself an academic year, that is starting at the end of the summer term and finishing before September. This would give me a clear year plus, the option to aim for a year but the realistic time to complete them all.

I still need to come up with a precise strategy and I think there are more squares in the book I have been to in the past but I am at least moving forward based on one per day …

My two main trips over the summer consisted of a overnight excursion from Widgery Cross into Cranmere Pool letterbox. The second was car based initially moving westwards from Hattie towards Bellever and then basing myself at Princetown. After a loop around the moor north of Holming beam I moved across to the Warren House Inn before looping down to Becky falls and the Ten Commandments.

My main finding was that with some organisation and goof mountain legs you can hit several tops in a day. The main disappointment was my reliance on the car and I will explore a bicycle next time.

Rounding the Harrot; a coastal adventure.

A return to all things canyon in Cumbria and Yorkshire, made us realise we missed all things black water. With modifications to kit we were well prepared for coasteering but would need to work out some strategies for ourselves.

We rose early arriving at Tyneham at nine; two tourists were parked up. I had checked that the abandoned army village was open, also that the high tide was at 9 with neaps of 2m height. The wind was westerly meaning that if we rounded clockwise the waves on the steeper side should push us into the Pondfield cove.

Our kit had been adapted with a throw line each. Purcell prusiks were used as cow tails and toss lines were removed. We also both had goggles on board.

Dressed up, the walk in took us 15 minutes and we soon dropped down to the beach at Pondfield approaching the caves from the East.

The start drops at about 45 degrees to the north which means the ends of each rock layer are cut away to form a vertical cliff alongside the sea.

Initially we traversed gingerly discussing our options but soon the sea level option petered out and we had to enter the sea and swim. This became the norm. Sea level traversing, sideways swimming or climbing up to access horizontal bands. A traverse line was at about half height ensuring there were always options.

By weaving westwards were worked our way towards the Tout; the seawards most end or nose. The final obstacle was an impassable overhanging buttress with a series of parallel rocks trending gradually out to sea. We sat on the highest point a while and considered our options. H’s plan was to utilise these to bypass the buttress before swimming in perpendicular towards solid rock again. The rocks gradually become more submerged as you traversed their tops.

I made the second rock before being swept off and Harry wasn’t far behind following me. The swim ashore was quick and accessed the other side.

Here the character changes and we played in the sea and climbed over the beds as we returned towards the shore.

The whole trip had taken 90 minutes and as we walked back to the car we reflected on what we had learnt: the kit was good and practicing with the throwlines welcome preparation. The rock is very sharp but it is easy to get quite high quickly. The race on this occasion was minimal but it is important to build experience before pushing the grades.

We explored the Thimble on the way home, a great pub in Piddletrenthide.