I’ve done a few IK paddles in Southeast England between Rye and Portsmouth, but the Sussex and Hampshire coasts aren’t that inspiring. So it’s about time I started exploring the far more interesting and much more extensive Southwest Coast. From the Isle of Wight to Cornwall and back up to the Severn there are scores of inshore excursions possible in an inflatable. Just as in the far northwest where I mostly sea paddle, all you need is a fair tide and paddle-friendly winds, the latter a bit less rare down south.
So in the face of predicted moderate winds I cooked up a 50-km Jurassic overnighter from Weymouth to Swanage in Dorset. I’m pretty sure they opportunistically rebranded the plain old Purbeck or just ‘Dorset’ coast as the ‘Jurassic Coast‘ soon after that 1993 movie and haven’t looked back since. Like much of the Southwest coast, the beaches and country lanes become a logjam of holidaymakers on a warm summer’s day. On the water, our paddle would pass below sections of cliffs a couple of miles long and take us to the famed landmarks of Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door arch (top of the page) and Dancing Ledge. We could even carry on back north past Old Harry’s Rocks and across Studland Bay right into Poole Harbour to catch out trains home.
Compared to using regular (solo) packrafts, my confidence in my TXL for sea paddling is a revelation. After all, it’s still just another blobby, single-chamber packraft. It must be a combination of the added size giving a kayak-like perception of security (as I found in my MRS Nomad), as well as the responsiveness and speed from a longer waterline and, I now recognise, the sometimes noticeable added glide from the Multimat floor. There’s also the fact that paddlechum Barry was up for the Dorset run in his similar MRS Nomad, making this untypical packraft outing less daunting.
For some bathymetric reason – possibly the Atlantic tidal surge backing up in the Straits of Dover, plus hidden offshore shelves – the tides off the east Dorset coast are very odd: they can rise or drop all day, but have a range of just two metres, about as low as it gets in the UK. That ought to mean moderate ebb flows pushing up against prevailing westerlies, plus we were heading into neaps. And while often cliff-bound, if we stayed alert to escape routes we could easily bail and walk or climb out with our packrafts.
East of Lulworth Cove the Jurassic Coast‘s bucket & spade Babylon is interrupted by a 5-mile wide Danger Area – an army firing range. This was probably not one of UNESCO’s criteria for World Heritage status, but the SW coastal path also gets closed for a similar distance. Barry’s Reeds Almanac had a page or two on this (left), as well as useful tidal flow charts (drops to the west; rises east). I left it to Barry to call the ‘0800 DUCK!’ number, but imagined surely they’d leave the target practice to the off season. In fact they’re all it most of the time Mon–Fri, including an evening session 9pm to midnight: all we had to do was click this.
With a plan taking shape, I in turn bought a copy of Pesda’s South West Sea Kayaking in the hope of being alerted to local anomalies. I’m glad I did. It turned up with just hours to spare and identified that the run from Kimmeridge Bay round the Purbeck corner to Swanage was a grade up from the easy section from Weymouth. With headlands, submarine ledges and long lines of cliffs, without a foot recce I decided we may be better off skipping this bit.
I just dug out this story I wrote a few years ago about our packrafting adventure in northwest Australia. There’s more here, including vids. Originally published in Terra magazine2011.
In the far northwest of Australia is a barely tamed region of spinifex-clad tablelands, big seasonal rivers and the world’s largest expanse of tropical savannah woodland. About the size of California but with a population of just 40,000, the Kimberley hosts marginal, million-acre cattle stations, tracts of land returned to local Aboriginal people, remote wildlife conservation ventures and undeveloped national parks.
But the Kimberley might be better compared with Alaska, a wilderness that is under threat. Inaccessible by road for the rainy half a year, the Kimberley is such a relentlessly tough environment that unlike in the rest of Western Australia (WA), exploiting the valuable mineral resources known to be here only now become viable. WA itself is a state the size of India but with 3% of its population, and continues to thrive on a century-old mineral boom. The Kimberley is under pressure to join the party, but as a parallel environmental awareness to conserve Australia’s last tropical wilderness has grown, industrial development of the region has become controversial, not least with the current plans to turn the ochre cliffs of James Price Point 20 miles north of Broome into a vast LNG plant. No one wants to see the Kimberley end up like the Pilbara highlands, 600 miles to the southwest, criss-crossed with private railroads and pitted with huge iron ore excavations as hills are turned into holes to ship the ferrous rubble to resource-staved Far East. But the Kimberley one other abundant resource which the populated southern rim of Australia is crying out for: water.
Most visitors experience the same Kimberley; they transit the 450-mile Gibb River Road, a dirt track which bisects the region between the former cattle ports of Wyndham and Derby in the west. With a branch track leading north to Kalumburu on the coast, it’s the Kimberley’s only track, dotted with fern-clad gorges, waterfalls and swimming holes. It was an area I’d visit eagerly when updating an Australia travel guide, often spending too much time and fuel money researching out of the way spots that ended up as just a few lines in the finished book. But even then I knew I’d barely got beneath the Kimberley’s skin and my work there left me wanting to see more. Specialized trekking outfits used local contacts, helicopters and seaplanes to access outback areas, but charged several thousand dollars.
Follow a river – that was the way to do it. With high humidity and average daytime temperatures over 90°F, the constant need for water was solved, while the boat took the weight off feet and shoulders. I’d researched short trips with inner tubes or float bags, but they weren’t really sustainable. Then in 2010 I discovered Alpacka packrafts and knew I had a tough, lightweight craft with which to explore a Kimberley river.
All that remained was to choose a river. Most of the big Kimberley rivers, the Durack, Drysdale and King Edward drained into the Timor Sea lapping an uninhabited and fjord-riddled coastline of 1500-miles on which the small Aboriginal outpost of Kalumburu was the only settlement. But up here the presence of estuarine or saltwater crocodiles as well as 35-foot tides heaving through rocky gaps to form ‘horizontal waterfalls’ made bobbing around in a tiny raft a risky idea.
The key for this visit was to pin down an amenable stretch of water with easy access and exit points and without the menace of saltwater crocodiles. I knew well that no matter how easy you made it – the coolest period, the flattest river – the harsh conditions in the Kimberley would take its toll. My mate Jeff and I didn’t want to be abseiling down ravines, hacking through snake-infested rainforest or looking twice at every passing bit of driftwood in case it slowly started swinging its tail from side to side.
The most likely candidate was the Fitzroy, at 500 miles the Kimberley’s biggest river and in peak flood, the highest volume river in Australia, flowing at up to 30,000 cfs under the Highway 1 bridge at the town of Fitzroy Crossing. Running the churning Fitzroy in the unpredictable Wet sounded a little extreme for me. The good thing with packrafts is that extended portages are relatively effortless; the excess payload adds up to a 5lb raft and a 4-piece paddle. So Jeff and I decided September, the end of the dry season, would make an easier introduction; cooler and less humid just as long as we were prepared to walk between the pools.
The take out was obvious: the bridge at Fitzroy Crossing, the only town for a couple of hundred miles along Australia’s peripheral Highway 1. And some eighty miles upriver, Mornington Wilderness Camp seemed like the best place to start. A former cattle station spread across the King Leopold Ranges. I’d visited the Camp a decade or so earlier, soon after the Australia Wildlife Conservancy had taken it over and de-stocked it. It’s one of nearly two-dozen sanctuaries the AWC manages on the continent and at nearly 800,000 acres, one of the largest, with a range of unique ecosystems as well as high levels of biodiversity which included several rare and threatened species.
When we arrived at the Camp, following a 30-minute flight from Fitzroy Crossing, the Camp’s manager Diane was midway through a pre-dawn finch census lasting several days and assisted by volunteers from all over Australia. The ranges around Mornington are one of the preferred habitats of the stunningly colourful Gouldian Finch, an endangered passerine or ‘songbird’ whose breeding patterns and habitats have been disturbed by changes in the bushfire regime as well as introduced predators, topped by the feral cat – the scourge of indigenous birds right across Australia.
When I think of the Kimberley, it is above all the chorus of the largely unseen birds which evokes the spirit of northern Australia’s wild and remote corners. From just before dawn until sunset the bush resonates with avian chattering, from the strident squawks of the corellas, cockatoos and kookaburras, to the milder coo-ing of the crested pigeons. This would be the daily soundtrack for our five-day descent from the Mornington to the highway bridge.
On the water soon after dawn, by the mid-morning of the second day we arrived at Dimond Gorge on the southern edge of the Ranges. Here the Fitzroy cuts back on itself as it pushes past the gorge walls, scoured smooth by the monsoonal torrent. At the southern exit where the gorge walls are just a few hundred feet apart, a dam had been proposed to match those on the Ord river in the eastern Kimberley. In 1960 the original dam enabled the development of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme (ORIS), the new town of Kununurra and with the much bigger Ord River dam completed in 1972, the 400-square-mile expanse of Lake Argyle was formed. But the ORIS has been slow to reach any potential. Thousands of kilometres from its domestic market, the produce, mostly sugar cane and high-value sandalwood, gets shipped to Asia and the power generated from the huge dam only supplies Kununurra and a nearby diamond mine.
Water has become an acute problem in the populated southeast of Australia where the steady depletion and raising salinity of the Murray-Darling basin which fills most of New South Wales and Victoria has led to water restrictions. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, the Fitzroy’s wet season run-off spills into the Timor Sea at a rate of a ‘Sydney Harbour’ every nine minutes, or evaporates from the vast 1000 km² surface of Lake Argyle. This potential was anticipated in the 1980s ago when a 1200-mile pipeline to already drought-stricken Perth was proposed, until it transpired that the cost of securing and delivering water to be six times that of local desalination. And so by 2006 the world’s first desalination plant to powered by a nearby wind farm was opened just south of the city Perth, supplying nearly a fifth of the city’s needs.
Emerging from the uplifted sandstone escarpments of the King Leopolds at lunchtime on the second day, we were having no such shortages. The preceding Wet had ended five months ago breaking all Kimberley records, and as we’d flown into Mornington a couple of days ago it was clear that, against our expectations, below us the Fitzroy was still flowing and four-fifths was open, paddleable water. There’d be a lot less walking than we’d anticipated.
Now, ahead of us lay the cattle country where we expected the river to lose its depth and definition as it meandered southwest among granite outcrops towards the highway. Sure enough, after lunch the flow soon dissipated into a jumbled rock bar with one particularly tough portage over huge boulders which left me croaking with thirst. Walking consumed so much more energy than paddling and we fully expected the stage across the cattle plains of Fossil Downs station to be tough, fly-ridden and with the menace of semi-feral stock.
Although we’d end most days exhausted, it in fact turned out to be the highlight of our traverse. There were no more rock bars but periodically the river’s main channel became choked with flood-borne sand which diverted the remaining flow into the trees along the banks. Here, under a cool canopy of river gums replete with twittering of birds, we’d wade the sandy shallows for hours, towing our rafts like sleds. Occasionally we squeezed under- or climbed over a log jam, or sank to our hips in quicksands.
Jeff was using a $30 PVC pool toy rather than a fancy, $1000 Alpacka, so had to nurse the limp raft and repair punctures almost daily. The cattle and harmless freshwater crocs (a species unique to northern Australia) usually scuttled away or stared indifferently as we sploshed by. At one point the acrid reek of urea announced a huge colony of riverside bats which once agitated, took to the wing in their hundreds with a high-pitched screech. Come the evening, we’d spread out on a sandbank with plentiful firewood within arm’s reach, and set about steadily rehydrating ourselves from the day’s efforts.
By the fifth day we sighted the Geikie Ranges, the northern gateway to an unbroken, deep channel which flowed past the distinctive ramparts of Geikie Gorge National Park. Here, eons of flooding had eroded the former limestone reef into bizarre, scalloped forms. Freshwater crocs laid their eggs on the adjacent sun-baked sandbanks while out in the 100° heat, we paddled into the twilight to complete a marathon 12-hour, 20-mile day on the river. By the following lunchtime we crawled up the steep bank below the highway bridge at Fitzroy Crossing. Jeff could barely face another moment in his excrable pool toy, but like me, he’d followed the river.
Once we were let out in the Covid summer of 2020, we did a very nice coastal walk from Hastings to Rye along the Sussex coast. Hot, but not so windy, it would have been just right for paddling. Today conditions were similar for a westbound transit from Rye back towards Hastings. High Water (and a spring tide too) was at a very reasonable noon in Rye, with a forecast of 8-14mph from the east and a bit of a kick at 3pm. I was hoping for the upper limit and a bit of splashy sport, so brought the WindPaddle I’d used on the packraft last month in Scotland in much stronger winds.
It’s only a 10-minute walk from Rye station to a boat ramp on the quay where the water was still inching up the concrete as I pumped up the Gumotex.
I was taking a gamble trying my untested new rudder set up. Because I expected it to play up, I fitted the stock skeg so I could lift a problematic rudder and carry on as normal without coming shore. To be without a rudder or skeg with a backwind at sea would not be ideal. Being the ever recirculating goldfish, I forgot to try out my sail stick mount idea.
Rye hasn’t been on the coast since 1287 or so when, along with gradual land reclamation, the biggest of a series of 13th-century storms filled the adjacent marshy inlet with silt and shingle which finished off semi-abandoned Old Winchelsea and radically redrew the low-lying coastline where the Kent and Sussex borders meet. It was the same in Pevensey to the west. The gif on the left from this interesting regional website shows how the coastline of southeast England was transformed in the late medieval era. Where the Rother river once flowed directly east to enter the sea at New Romney, the filled-in bay saw it diverted south below the old hill town of Rye, now stranded two miles from the sea. The then important port of Winchelsea was rebuilt on its present site in 1288, but eventual silting saw both it and Rye’s maritime importance decline. What this area may lack in epic spaces common to the north and west of Britain, it gains in fascinating history. 1066 and all that.
I set off along the River Brede which wraps around Rye’s south side like a moat, and soon joins the Rother. It’s about 5km to the open sea.
I’m into the wind but the grass banks are under water and the wind turbines are spinning merrily; all good signs.
Rye Harbour. The tide is high and I’m moving on.
In 45 minutes I reach the old breakwater opposite Camber Sands where I recall bucket & spading as a child. The sea looks depressingly flat.
Seals at the river mouth (a few days later).
It’s nearly 10km to the distant cliffs, a two-hour haul. And with the breeze from behind, I’m soon streaming with sweat. I’m not sure my water will last.
Going with the Flow A few years ago while planning Newhaven to Brighton, I learned an odd thing about Sussex and Kent tides. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flood, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straight of Dover and spills back down the sides. That makes HW is around the same time in Folkestone, and 140 miles to the west, past the Isle of Wight, but HW at all the places in between lags behind. Tidal steams are not that strong here – wind will have much more of a bearing on paddling – but this means you get only four hours eastboundflow with the flood tide and prevailing southwest winds. But if you time your run with a warm easterly off the continent and go westbound– as I did on this occasion – you get a much longer run with the tidal current; eight hours or more; maybe 45km all the way to Eastbourne. The question is: can you paddle that long.
A breeze picks up so I flick up the sail. I check my GPS and am doing 3-4kph, while I can paddle at around 5-6kph. Then the breeze drops away. I wasn’t really planning to paddle the full 30+ clicks to Cooden station, but I can always get off at Hastings, a few stops before.
At least the rudder seems to working as it should, though any quick response is dulled a little by the skeg. A rudder’s not really needed in these conditions, though it compensates for me being blown gradually onshore. I’m trying a rudder lift-line only, not a rudder lowering line as well. But once in the boat I find I can’t turn enough to even see the lifted rudder to flick it down with the paddle, so I’ll probably fit a drop-line later.
I creep along the expanse of Winchelsea Beach. It’s hot work in a backwind. Eventually I reach the start of the cliffs where the coast turns more east-west, putting the wind directly behind me. But paddling at effectively wind speed, there is no cooling effect. More familiar with paddling at the other end of Britain, I’m not used to 27°C.
Then, as predicted, around 3pm the breeze picks up and I can get the sail up.
Paddling half a mile from the shore, initially it was hard to know if I’m moving and at what speed. So waking up the GPS screen was a handy way of telling if the sailing speed was worthwhile. With the odd gust I reach nearly 7kph, but average less than 5kph, a bit slower than paddling, but I’m not dripping like a leaky tap or needing to drink. In fact I could nearly doze off.
The cliffs inch by. This is the sea end of the Wealden sandstone formation, less high and steep than the better known chalky Seven Sisters to the west, or Dover’s white cliffs to the northeast. Both chalk cliffs are part of the same formation or bed, but when the land was squeezed and uplifted to the dome or hump was eroded away to expose the older sandstone below. This is what they call the Weald, and near Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead and Frant, the weathered sandstone ridge produces small outcrops where I started rock climbing as a teenager (right).
I pass the Stade, the east end of Hastings where the cliffs drop back down. A few souls are enjoying the last day of summer on the shingle beach.
I keep going to the pier and decide to have a leisurely take out there. It’s gone 4pm so another 10km to get the train 6.15 from Cooden would be a rush.
Landfall by Hastings pier. Compared to the fabulous Summer Isles, for me these southeast coast paddles lack drama and interest, but are easy to reach if tomorrow’s weather looks good. We walked Hastings to Rye again a day or two later; it took about the same time and was more enjoyable (though it was cooler). The rudder foot pivot worked fine, though needed a bit of re-tensioning at the pier. Next time I can confidently leave the skeg off, though I can see a rudder would only be needed when sailing or paddling in windier conditions. That is all I have to say for now.
Nicely shot vid with drone footage of an Ozzie father and son’s tough, 250-km paddle and portage through Alaska’s Brookes Ranges in a pair of Advance Elements Expedition Elites. After getting dropped off at Summit Lake on the Continental Divide (see map, right), they followed the Koyukuk River south, with a plan to climb the 7500′ Mt Doonerak, Alaska’s ‘Matterhorn’, not far from the river and 20 miles west of the Dalton Highway. With extra gear piled high on the decks, you do wonder if this made the 4-metre Elites unstable in what looked like relatively easy but shallow white water. That led to a couple of capsizes and the loss of the crucial sat phone. Other dramas ensue.
Looming over the Sound of Sleat opposite the Isle of Skye, Knoydart is a famously rugged peninsula that’s inaccessible by road; part of the so-called Rough Bounds. Rising north of Loch Nevis, the mountains top out at the 1020-metre (3346′) summit of Ladhar Bheinn (‘Larven’), before dropping back down to LochHourn. On an OS map, contour lines here are as dense as spaghetti and to the south, Loch Morar is Europe’s deepest body of freshwater. Sounds like packrafting country!
It took just a morning to stitch together a challenging three-loch loop via Loch Quioch, but once I got there the initial 20-km stage down the channel of Loch Hourn looked a bit daunting alone in the untried packraft sailing outfit and required a 4am start at Low Water if I was to do the loch in one tide. By the time I tried something else, I was pushed back by wind and tide, so I settled for a good look around, tested the sail on the Rebel 2K, the Six Moon Designs Flex PR pack harness and a new tent before returning a fortnight later with Barry with whom I’d paddled the River Wye last April.
Driving up to Mallaig freed us from train timetables, which left the weather and 18-kilo packs as our main constraints. Unfortunately, the forecast dropped an F5 headwind on the Friday we planned to paddle out of Loch Nevis back towards Morar or Mallaig. Along with agreeable tide timings, I realised this was a limitation of circularpackrafting routes on the Scottish west coast: chances are you’ll hit a prevailing southwesterly which may slow your packraft to a crawl (as I’d found). Depending on where you are, that can mean turning back or a tough walk out. Maybe both.
So Barry and I flipped the plan: hike 16km from Inverie (the only village on Knoydart) over to Barisdale, paddle inner Loch Hourn (7km), walk up to Loch Quoich (8km), cross it and then head 6km to a bothy in desolate Glen Kingie. From here, on Windy Friday we’d walk 6km over another pass to the 20-km long Loch Arkaig and try and sail the F5 west, maybe getting as far as Fort William via the River Lochy, though gusts out here were tagged at 40mph. At Fort William we’d catch the train back to the car in Mallaig.
Around here the inshore sea paddling is exceptional, even if packrafting the inland lochs is also pretty good. Having done most of the latter routes, I thought I might try some coastal packrafting. Garvie Bay arcing west to Achnahaird Bay looked like a good one and happens to parallel probably the best walk on the peninsula which we’ve done many times. That route could be a 20-km combination of cycling, walking and paddling, but as it was the last calm evening for a while, we thought we’d go out together in the kayak and I’d try the packraft on the way back. That way everyone got to play.
A light NW breeze blew onshore as we cut across Achnahaird Bay like a blue fin tuna. The approach of HW meant we slipped through the submerged skerries of Rubha Beag and into the crab’s claw inlet of Camas a Bhothain (Bothy Bay). This seemed a good spot to deploy the packraft with the aid of my exciting new gadget, a mini electric pump. I unrolled the boat over the water and let the pump buzz away for a couple of minutes, topped off with the hand pump, then clambered aboard.
Paddling away, I realised this was the first time I’ve paddled my Rebel 2K unloaded and I was a bit shocked by the bow yawing. Now fully back-heavy, one good swipe of the paddle and it could flip a 180°, just like my old 2010 Alpacka Llama.
Ah, but in my haste to launch the lifeboat I’d forgotten to fit the also-untried skeg which comes standard on the 2K. I waddled over towards Rubha a Choin beach and slipped it on easily, while the Mrs transferred to the Seawave’s front seat.
I’ve been ambivalent about the value of a skeg on a packraft, but now back on the water the yawing was notably reduced. If you think about it, a packraft actually pivots from a point around the middle of your swinging paddle, not from the stern, as it feels from the seat. The centre of mass behind the pivot point does make an unladen bow yaw more, but the stern will yaw too; just less and unnoticed.
On the Wye my 2K was fully loaded with the centre of mass moved forward and which minimised any yawing, even without a skeg. (With a heavy load over the bow a reduction in yawing is well known with packrafts). Now unloaded and with the bow riding high, swish-swosh yawing was exacerbated, but is actually happening at both ends of the boat. So any type of fin or extension of the stern (like the post-2011 Alpackas – right – and all subsequent copies) will constrain this, while not affecting steering. So, bottom line: skegs work on a packraft and are easy to retro-fit.
All the remains is a packraft’s agonisingly slow speed. These are not boats made to enjoy the sensation of flatwater paddling; they are boats to enjoy getting to out-of-the-way places easily. Any type of disturbance to progress, be it wind or current, may slow you to a stop, or worse. Something like the longer Nomad S1 I had would be better for this while still being packable. Still, in these ideal conditions it’s nice to float along observing the coastal features.
Paddling back down the east side of Achnahaird Bay, a back-breeze made progress feel achingly slow. Lately, I’ve come to value metres per second (m/s) as a metric of wind or paddling speeds. Something moving past you (or vice versa) at three metres per second is easy to visualise, though I suppose we can all visualise a 3mph walking pace, too. It’s what YR uses and is easily converted to ‘double + 10%’ for miles per hour (so 5 m/s = 11.18 mph). Or just double it and you nearly have knots (5 m/s = 9.8 kn), for what that’s worth. Crawling past the rocky coast it looked like I was doing 1 m/s at times. We had a race: diminutive Mrs in a big, long kayak; me in the packraft. Within ten seconds the Seawave streamed away while Bunter frothed up the water like a cappuccino machine.
Oh well, you’re as fast as you are. Like cycling in Tajikistan rather than Kazakhstan, for the best experience match your routes with your mobility and conditions. Next calm day I’ll do the full Garvie loop.
Another forecast of calm winds in the Summers. Or is it? The BBC and YR reports are contradictory: the former has too-strong-for-IK winds from the south; the latter shows light winds from the north. Others show light winds from the south. How can they all be so different? Maybe I should just look out across the water? All looks serene so let’s make paddle while the sun shines. I wheel back down to False Man’s Harbour and set off with two hours before high water.
No side PRVs? Am I missing not having added pressure release valves in my side tubes, as I did to my original Seawave? Not really. I am running 0.3+ bar in the sides (official: 0.25) but temperatures up here in NW Scotland are hardly tropical. I try and leave the boat in the shade at the house and de-air the side tubes for a couple of seconds after a paddle, effectively manually depressurising the sides to about 0.2 bar, rather than having fitted PRVs do it for me automatically. The more vulnerable stock PRV in the floor purges automatically at 0.25. On my next paddle I have to top up all three chambers with the K-Pump as I would have to do with all-round PRVs anyway. About 30 kpumps brings the sides back up to over 0.3 bar. The difference now is I use a manometer to check the sides are about right. Before I would just pump until the side PRVs purged. It’s about a minute’s more faffing. As with a lot of things I do to my IKs: sails, rudders, decks and now, trolleys and headwind weight transfer – it’s fun to experiment. But in the end they’re all largely over-shadowed by the simple enjoyment of paddling. With sides pumped to >0.3 bar I find I can cruise easily in the near-still conditions at 6kph.
After a fortnight of chilly north winds and a diminishing woodpile, today was one of those rare days in the Summer Isles (far northwest Scotland) where you could paddle pretty much where you liked in an IK. It was also a chance for me to try out my new skeg-wheel trolley which Jon, who was staying down the road, had made for me. With no boat of his own this time, we set off in mine to see what we might see.
With the exception of a few rivers … (Lugg … Severn … and the Wye), there is no confirmed Public Right of Navigation on other physically navigable, non-tidal rivers in Wales. Canoe Wales
The Wye is the only river in (mostly) England where you can paddle for days and over a hundred miles, and not need to dodge a weir, portage a lock or confront a scowling angler. Even the few towns are historically intriguing. The whole valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (‘AONB’), or ‘countryside’ as some call it. You don’t even need a BC licence: from Hay-on-Wye the river uniquely has PRN (‘public right of navigation’; like a footpath’s ‘right of way’). There is no other river like it in England so I don’t know what’s taken me so long, other than the prospect of another staycated summer makes you reappraise your own backyard.
I invited myself to join Barry who lives near the river and who’d just bought himself an MRS Nomad. He’d done Hay to Hereford once and pronounced it a bit tame, so proposed Hoarwithy (Mile 51 from Hay) to the tidal finale at Chepstow (Mile 107 according to the table, left, or Mile 100 in the same sourced EA pdf guide.
Fifty-odd miles: two long days and a bit, we estimated (wrongly). Our riverine transit had to be timed to meet HW at Brockweir, 7 miles from Chepstow’s sole jetty, otherwise we’d be stranded by tidal sludge or swept out into the Severn and end up in Tristan da Cunha.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tidal profile like Chepstow: on a Spring tide the water can rise nearly 9 metres is less than two and a half hours, then take over ten hours to drop. This is because your Atlantic Ocean is piling into the western edge of the European land mass, including the funnel of the Severn (with Wye) estuary, creating among the highest tides on the whole darn planet. The game of ‘grab the jetty’ would make an exciting conclusion to our trip, especially as we’d have to be on the water before dawn to time it right. The guidebook warns: continue beyond Chepstow at your peril. Most canoeists dodge the tide timing game and take out at Brockweir.
I thought I’d do the Wye in my Seawave, but then decided all that space and speed and glide would be too easy. Anfibio did me a deal on the Rebel 2K I tested last autumn (they’ll readily drop the tax to the UK so you don’t pay it twice). The three-night paddle would be a good test of their internal storage system for packraft touring. And the wet bits in between, a good test of the boat. My review of the 2K here. Short version: with a good, rain-fed current, the Wye is a fabulous, easy and scenic paddle. We saw just a couple of Gumo Safaris on a bank, and some club rowers out of Ross. Plus loads of parked up canoes waiting for the rental season. I hope to do it again in the summer. With no lifts, I’d try to leave Hereford early for Symmonds Yat free camp (see below). It’s 43 miles but in the conditions we had could be an easy ten hours. And if you don’t make it, no bother. Then it’s five hours paddling to Brockweir where an early afternoon HW could bring you two hours into Chepstow for a train home.