Paddle Boarding The River Wye From Glasbury To Hoarwithy
Paddle boarding is something I got into a couple of years ago during a holiday in San Sebastian. We saw a couple of guys playing in the calm surf, stood upright on a couple of oversized longboards with long paddles. We decided this looked fun and hired a couple of boards ourselves for a few hours paddling out to the pontoon and back off La Concha beach. An addiction was born.
Cut to today and I’ve recently sold my canoe and a bike to fund a new inflatable Red Paddle Co board, the 10.6 Ride (and Sarah got herself one too). After a few refresher dunks at the local lake (Top Barn) and a quick camping trip to Croft Farm Park (great watersports lake near Tewkesbury) we decided we needed a decent paddle trip and having canoed the bottom stretch of the Wye before in a canoe, from Hoarwithy to Redbrook (via Symonds Yat rapids), we figured we should do the top stretch on our boards; 50 miles from Glasbury to Hoarwithy (via Monnington Falls rapids) on our new boards – ace. Here’s a video of our trip…
A quick Google lead me to a chap called Ed Carne. Ed had paddled the Wye on a paddle board a couple of years previously. He’d done the full 80 mile stretch from Glasbury to Monmouth a few years back and was more than happy to fire over plenty of advice on what to watch out for and how bloomin’ lovely the whole experience is. Thanks Ed. (You can check out his adventure here)
How Do You Paddle Board? A Quick Primer…
If you’ve ever surfed then you’ll be familiar with the idea of getting up on a board of some type for the purposes of catching a few waves. You’ll have learned how to ‘pop up’ on your board and will have devised your own version of a regular or goofy (but always sideways on) stance, generally quite low, knees bent and all that jazz. A paddle board is just a big surf board; nose, tail, rails, fins and a leash, that you stand upright (and facing forwards) on, propelling yourself through flat sea or river waters (or gentle surf or mental river rapids) with a long paddle, kind of like an extra long canoe oar (only about a foot taller than you are). It’s go anywhere paddle/board action. I love it so much I started my own paddleboard adventure company, Wittering SUP.
Did Our Inflatable Paddle Boards Survive The Trip?
Our boards are 10’6” Rides made by the Red Paddle Co. These are inflatable boards that pack down into an airline friendly (yay!) rucksack that you can take anywhere (no strapping cumbersome stuff to car roofs with these puppies). I was a little hesitant to get anything inflatable given how they can pop and all that. But these boards are not like 80s li-lo’s, when they’ve been pumped up to their recommended 20psi, they are very robust.
A Mini Review of My Red 10’6″ Ride Inflatable Paddle Board (iSUP)
By way of a mini review for these boards, we paddled through some pretty choppy water, and through some very low water with rocks everywhere. We were extremely cautious at the start of the trip, trying to navigate our way through the rocky bits with the boards inevitably scraping over the top of some of the bigger ones at some pretty decent speeds. In a typical inflatable scenario you’d expect utter poppage but these boards took a walloping and came out the other side without a ding. Solid – we were very impressed. Not only that, there was no air leakage from any valves either, we just pumped them up, chucked the pumps in the car and headed off for 4 days paddling and they were just as rigid at the end as in the beginning. 10/10 for the Reds.
Our Minimalist Gear (Kind of…).
We took a small 2 man tent, a couple of highly compressed Snugpak jungle sleeping bags (pack down very small), a small gas burner and a few bits of clothing (Sarah – 5 pairs of pants, me – 1 pair of pants) and some other odds and ends and stuffed the lot in a few dry bags. These got wedged under the cargo nets on the front of the boards. Good to go.
Day 1: Friday: Glasbury to Whitney Toll Bridge.
The first job was dropping my car off at Tresseck camp site in Hoarwithy so we’d have a mode of transport when we arrived there on Monday lunchtime. Then Sarah’s mum and dad gave us a lift (thanks Ruth & Dave!) over to Glasbury for a sensational cooked brekky at the local riverside cafe before we inflated our boards and hit the water about 10am. The first day was amazing (everyday was amazing but the first day was extra amazing because it was the first day). It takes me about 10 minutes to find my paddle board legs and get the gyroscopic hips going so I can stop thinking about keeping my balance and start taking in the scenery. Crikey oh blimey, what scenery.
We paddled about 10 miles or so to Hay on Wye (that place famous for it’s book shops and book festival) and bought a couple of books. And some beer and some lemon meringue pie. And some tapas. Maybe some more beer. Then we headed back down to the carpark where we’d left our boards (bike locked together so they’d be very awkward, but not impossible, to steal) and headed off again. Around 4 kingfisher sightings later we arrived at Whitney Toll Bridge. If you’re traveling down the Wye, this should be on your list of campsites. Run by a lovely couple who own the bridge, we were made very welcome, looked after, had some amazing local beer and were treated to a very nice breakfast in the morning to boot.
We did learn a lesson in camping that night though. Traveling light meant no roll mats. We figured we’d be ok. But the ground was obviously lumpy and stonkingly cold. It wasn’t the most comfortable night and we decided that the next night we’d find some cardboard to insulate us a bit – it’s bloody August, it should be warmer than this! But we were dry and a wicked breakfast sorted us out. And 3 coffees.
Day 2: Saturday: Whitney Toll Bridge to Byecross Farm Campsite
We set off nice and early and headed for Bredwardine, a small village along the river and our lunchtime destination.
On the way we saw another 10 or so kingfishers. I mean, if you want to see kingfishers, this river is absolutely packed with them. To the rafters. It’s kingfisherville. I got bitten once or twice by some sort of horsefly type insect but it was nothing really, don’t think I got mossied or midgied the whole weekend, and I’m serious biter bait usually.
We passed through a few shallows and a few mini rapids, dodged a few rocks and generally cut our paddle boarding on the river teeth. And all this in the utterly serene setting that is the river Wye. When you’re stood up on a paddle board, being carried by the current, dipping your paddle in now and then to gently guide your direction, the perspective is entirely different to being in a canoe; you can see so much more of what’s happening beyond the banks and you’re generally feeling a closer to everything. It’s so quiet as you drift along, just the splash of water on rocks and wind through leaves in the background. Very zen. And a few kingfishers.
We parked up near the Bridge at Bredwardine, I stripped off and hung my gear over some tree branches to dry off (having been wiped out by an unexpected sideways current) and showed most of the folks crossing the bridge all of my undercarriage and bum. Which nobody seemed to mind. We hiked up to the village and hit the Red Lion for some sangers and rum. Mmmmm, rum. Because we’re river pirates now. Then back onto the river (after a corrective coffee…).
Byecross Farm Campsite was fab. Check them out here…
Tony, Rob & Barbara looked after us from the moment we got there. They fed us, got us drunk and sold us the Yurt that just happened to be available for the night. Put up the tent and find some cardboard or hire a Yurt and sleep off the ground on a futon with rugs and candles and stuff? Yeah, well us too.
Barbara (AKA Posh Spikes the roller derby girl) has inspired Sarah to buy some roller skates and play mental roller derby (rugby and extreme fighting on skates) in Hereford. I must admit, I fancy a go myself….
Obviously it was a lovely night and this is another campsite you need to put on your list.
Day 3: Byecross to Lucksall Campsite (via Hereford)
We left Byecross around 9.30 and immediately hit the Monnington Falls rapids. They weren’t too rocky so we could really enjoy zipping down that left hand channel, even if I did do some of it backwards, without worrying about dings or punctures (neither of which we needed to worry about anyway but we didn’t know that then).
And then it happened. The holy grail of river Wye navigation (at least for journeymen – the locals are probably bored of them) – I saw an OTTER! My first ever wild otter. A great big stoaty, small dog shaped creature floated across the river about 20 yards ahead of me. He turned towards me, proving he wasn’t a log, and then slipped under the water in an oily, serpentine motion. Then he was gone, we didn’t see him (or any others) again. Box ticked though.
Getting to Hereford Rowing Club around 1ish we pitched up and forked out £3 landing fee to leave our boards on the steps (the only landing fee of the trip) whilst we headed into town to find a pub. A couple of pasties and some beer saw us through the Liverpool Vs Spurs game (of course it was a penalty, a shirt tug is a shirt tug) which the Reds were kind enough to win for me (sorry Dave) before we set off again a little later than expected to try and get to Lucksall campsite in Mordiford before they shut down their reception at 6pm. Or at least before nightfall. And we saw more kingfishers. Always with the kingfishers. Pigeons of the river Sarah calls them.
With our cheats camping heads on we got to Lucksall around 8pm, it was getting dark and reception had closed. Now, I’ve been to Lucksall a few times before, camping with my boys, and it’s a very well kept site. It’s friendly, perfectly placed on the river and there’s a shop and cafe on-site that sells wine and beer too. They were more than happy to accommodate us and we even managed to get into a pod (yes, the actual camping part of our camping trip stopped on day one, but it’s holidays!) – which was warm and lovely and I slept in it for about 9.5 hours which I’ve never done before in my life, at home or anywhere else.
Day 4: Lucksall to Hoarwithy and then Home…
WIth a slightly heavy heart we set off from Lucksall mid morning for the final leg of the journey. The sun came out and we paddled slowly, making the most of the serenity while we still could. Marred only by more bloody kingfishers, the last stretch was warm and perfect. We got to Hoarwithy around 1, deflated our boards (and our souls) and headed up to the pub, the New Harp Inn, for lunch. The chef there has a Michelin star to his name and I had a mega pudding (an Oreo stack with cheesecake and white chocolate mousse and something and something, Mmmm pudding) so that cheered me up.
And that’s it. Time to drive home, pick up Indiana Bones from the doggy hotel, turn on the wretched phone and head back to roads and work and buildings and humans.
At least there’s be no more god damn kingfishers for a while…
So what’s next? Well, just lots more paddle boarding – I love it. In fact tonight we’ll be heading down to the local canal for a paddle, just to see how far we get. Probably as far as a pub of some sort… But next year we’re aiming for a charity run down the Great Glen Canoe Trail in Scotland. It’s basically the length of the Caledonian Canal that intersects Scotland and joins Loch Ness to the rest of the canal and loch chain. Can’t wait…