The River Wye is the fifth longest river in the UK and, in parts, forms the border of England and Wales.
As such, it's an ideal venue for multi-day canoe expeditions, and that's what some of the instructors for A to Z Expeditions were doing during a very hot week in May, 2011.
As well as having fun and a good get together,the aim of the expedition was to act as a feasability test for some of our Gold canoe expeditions.
The plan was to paddle from Hay-on-Wye to Monmouth, spread over four days, with a jolly evening paddle from Glasbury to Hay-on-Wye the evening before, just to get everyone paddling in the same direction!
After an enjoyable evening paddle and a visit to Hay-on-Wye, we set out on the exepition proper, heading for Bycross, just above Monnington falls. Present were Chris, Darren, Jo, Matt, Rosie & Jim, Caroline, Mike and last but not least, Simon from Timberwolf Adventures, who kindly lent out quite a few boats, paddles and bouyancy aids.
A distinctive point after Hay is Whitney, home of the Boat Inn, which has a convenient landing point for canoes!
This was a nice spot for lunch, and broke the next leg up, which took us to the Bridge at Bredwardine, to be met by Zoe and James.
Zoe then swam the next 3km to the campsite, alongside the boats!
The trip from Bredwardine to Bycross was enjoyable, and made all the more so by such a beautiful, quiet place, so near to the river bank.
This was a wonderful place to wake up in, and was only a short walk from the village pub - although after a 'short cut' through fields, ten qualified mountain leaders had to get back on the road to find the place!
We also welcomed Steve on board, who joined us for a couple of days.
Day 3 was from Bycross to Luckshall, just East of Hereford. This was another 32km day and the sun, once again, was shining brightly upon us.
The paddle down to Hereford was pleasant, with the river meandering it's way down through green countryside, before a long straight, and civilisation!
The first site of Hereford was the Greyfria's Bridge, followed shortly after by Victoria Bridge.
Going through Hereford gave the trip a distinct 'urban paddling' feel, and this was consistent with the sights and smells of the city.
Simon and Matt did their bit for the environment, collecting beer barrels and handing them over to the Bunch of Grapes pub, on river left a few kilometers past Hereford. I'm sure Simon kept a full barrel though!
The river then meandered once more for a few kilometers, before the next road bridge, indicating the campsite at Lucksall.
This was different again to Bycross the night before, with manicured grass, a shop and twice the price, but at least it was near the river.
The following day, 4 of 5, was from Lucksall down to Ross-on-Wye. This was another 30-odd km day with more pleasant scenery, sunshine and sights. Simon and Darren left us on this one, but we made up for that by saying hello to Rachel, who was a newcomer to paddling, but had bags of enthusiasm and energy.
Our target in Ross-on-Wye was the White Lion pub, positioned just after the second bridge on river right. Dave was very friendly and helpful, and although we were camping just the other side of the road, we kept our boats there, had a few beers and fine breakfast the following morning! The most exciting part of this leg of the journey was Rosie stabbing herself with a cheese knife!
And so began day 5, with Rosie taking great care not to drip blood in the water and attract the un-wanted attention of Pike, and the task of a 30 km paddle Monmouth, via Symond's Yat.
The river, by it's meandering nature, took us both upwind and downwind, but ending with a battle to get to the end.
Some of the scenery was familiar here as we passed the Forest of Dean, and Biblin's campsite, as we had done land-based expeditions here before. However, it was refreshing to see it from the river.
With Monmouth in site, we started to see rowers coming down the river and soon realised we were nearly done. The traffic of the A40 reminded us that we were back to civilisation, and reality, and that our journey was at an end.
One of the aims of this expedition was a feasability test for Gold DofE Expeditions, and this was certainly realised. It's a fitting challenge for groups to get down here, with plenty to see and do along the way.
Thank's to all those who came along, to all those that helped support us - in particular Simon for his help with his boats and trailer and to Zoe for meeting us with cakes!
I look forward to getting our first Gold trip on the water...
Chris Bryant, A to Z Expeditions