Just over three weeks to go until we attempt to swim across Scotland. Training is in full swing and I have a couple more weeks to get myself into the same shape I was when I started the River Severn Swim. I wanted to spend a weekend during the run up to this next adventure, doing heavy endurance swimming, combined with camping. My team and I decided to head to the wonderful River Wye for the weekend. Caitriona, Claire, Luke and myself all headed up to Hereford together on Saturday morning to spend the weekend on the river.
At about 10am we arrived at Hereford Kayak & Canoe to meet Sam and we all couldn’t believe the setup they had up there. There were canoes, kayaks and SUP’s everywhere, and all of them seemed to be getting used. The river bank was full of excitement as everyone was preparing to spend their afternoon on the magnificent River Wye. I have to give a big shout out to Sam from Hereford Kayak & Canoe as we couldn’t have done this weekend without his help.
Luke and myself went down to river like overly enthusiastic kids running for an ice-cream van. The water was very enticing. The trees lined the river bank and were overhanging into the river with the branches and leaves draping into the River Wye almost perfectly. We all couldn’t wait to get on this majestic river.
I used to train in the River Severn by Gloucester during the preparation for my last adventure. I would pass Ross-On-Wye on the way back to Cardiff after my training, and Caitriona and I would stop the car at Ross-On-Wye and just look at the river. It really is remarkable.
We loaded up the SUP’s and headed for Hay-On-Wye, which is where we would start our weekend long training session. The SUP’s were strapped down with some rope, but it just felt a little sketchy on the road (especially around corners). We were driving 30mph in 60mph zones, and holding up the cars behind. We got to our start destination and it didn’t look as good as it did on Google Maps. We would have had to carry the SUP’s through a private property. As we got out of the car, we see this man walking towards us. He was marching towards us like a man on a mission. I said to myself “Christ, I have seen this look before”. When I was younger we used to jump the walls on golf courses to get a free round of golf. The golf course marshals would come storming over to us, in the same demeanor. He was about to tell us off, and I knew it. He said we basically can’t launch the SUP’s here, or else the police would be called. What can you do? At least he told us where we could launch them, which was five minutes up the road.
Once we got to our start location, it was heaving with people getting in and out of the water in kayaks/canoes. A lot of companies offer canoe/kayak trips down the River Wye, and it was just one kayak/canoe after the other. There was even a que on the slip to launch our SUP’s.
Caitriona showed Claire and Luke the basics of stand-up paddle boarding, having previously gotten a lesson from Kev Brady, when I was training in the River Severn a few months back. Make sure the paddle length is correct, bend your knees slightly when you stand up and keeping looking forward. That was it.
It was about 22-25 degrees, and I decided that I would not wear a wet-suit for the first time in years, whilst wild swimming. I need to practice feeling a bit cold while swimming in the open water, as Scotland will be freezing. We pushed off and I initially jumped on the back of Luke’s SUP, as it was too shallow to swim. The water came in contact with my body and I couldn’t believe how cold it was. I spent about two minutes on the back of the SUP, not moving, and starting to shiver. I needed to jump into the river fast.
One of the main jobs of the support stand-up paddle boarders, is to let me know when it is too shallow to swim. When they say its deep enough, I slide off the back of the SUP and into the river. “Wow, this is cold”. I was swimming without a wet-suit, which is a lot more liberating than wearing one, but freezing cold.
After about one hour, we got out to take our first break. I was shivering, one of my fingers was pure white, and my feet were ghostly. It was time to put back on the wet-suit. For the first time in about six years, I put my wet-suit on back to front. I never do this, but it just reminded me how cold I was.
We done the usual, swim for one hour, take a break, swim for one hour, and so on. The River Wye was showing off her beauty at every bend. The backdrops were picturesque. The river was incredibly busy with kayakers/canoeists. Every time they passed they asked, “Are you training for anything”. When we told them, they looked quite shocked.
We decided to get out at ‘The Boat Inn’, where Caitriona had got us camping for the night. We covered 8.3km the first day. Once we got out we pitched out tents, had our Chill Con Carne (thanks to Luke and Claire), went for a walk, then bedded down for the night. We were all very thrilled with how the day went, and were now expecting to slowly unwind from the long day. “Oh how we were in for a surprise!”
At about 10pm that night, a group of about ten (but felt like a hundred) rallied up to their tents, which were pitched roughly about ten foot from our tents. They were roaring drunk, and were shouting abuse at each other every minute. It was like the world’s loudest stag party had pitched up right next to us. I was gutted, once I heard them coming over to their tents, I got that feeling that something was going to go horribly wrong. I was on edge to say the least.
At about 2am in the morning ‘the lads’ were still going strong. I was hoping a few of them would fade away after all the drink they were consuming, but this wasn’t the case. Then all of sudden….. BANG!!!! A big explosion went off in the campsite. It felt like we were front line soldiers in the thick of world war three. Someone obviously threw a gas canister into their fire pit. Finally at about 3-4am the world’s best stag party went quite, and the four of us actually got some sleep.
The following day we were all feeling quite rough. I slept about three hours in total, and had to spend a good half hour in the shower just to wake myself up. We had our breakfast and started pulling shapes. Today was our last day of training for the weekend, and we had a lot of mileage to cover.
We started at about 9:30am, and planned on finishing at Brewardine, which was about 15km away. We had the river to ourselves for the whole day, which made it even more special. Luke and Claire were doing such a great job as support paddlers. We were ploughing on and making good progress. We were all a bit wounded after about three hours on the river. Luke was checking his map on his phone, every now and again, to see how much further we had left.
We are all a bit conscious of getting the SUP’s back to Sam, as we initially told him we would have them back for 12pm. It was now 3pm. After 13.3km, we spotted the bridge that I was getting off at in Brewardine and Caitriona was there waiting for us. We decided that it would be easier if Luke and Claire continued on to Hereford Kayak and Canoe, so that we didn’t have to load up the SUP’s on the roof of the car. So Luke and Claire continued on.
Caitriona and I drove to Hereford Kayak & Canoe, and waited for Claire and Luke to arrive. One hour later and there was no sign of them. We were getting quite worried as we thought it was only an extra 3-4km from Brewardine. Just after the hour mark, they arrived, like wounded soldiers. They had traveled 19.5km today. They paddled nearly 28km in two days down the River Wye, with about three hours sleep in between. “They had every reason to be tired”. They put in an incredible effort during the weekend. We left the SUP’s for Sam and went on our merry way back to Cardiff.
It was a fantastic weekend, spent with fantastic people. I really want to thank Sam at Hereford Kayak & Canoe for helping us out. He didn’t have to, but he went out of his way in doing so. He runs a great business, and having seen their operation first hand, I can’t recommend them highly enough. I also want to thank Caitriona, Luke and Claire for all their support this weekend.
We are only about three weeks away from starting the Scotland adventure and after spending the weekend on the River Wye, we are all really looking forward to it.
During the Scotland trip, we will be raising money for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity in Cardiff. If you would like to make a donation before/during/after the Scotland trip, you can do so on my Just Giving page.