I am an adventure-seeker and an adventure-lover. Trying new activities inspires and energises me and I find it enriching. After all, you can’t say you don’t like something unless you’ve tried it. But as many of my friends know, I have a silly, irrational fear of going underwater and this makes me think twice about any activity involving water. No matter how much I want to try surfing, kayaking, coasteering, white water rafting and scuba-diving, the thought of potentially going completely under water makes me shudder! But I’m missing out because of this, so it’s about time I faced my fear.
I decided to start off with a water-based activity with a (hopefully) lower risk of me ending up in the water… canoeing. My friends have been canoeing several times before and I’ve heard great things about it. Unlike a Kayak, there is less risk of capsizing – an added bonus in my eyes! So, canoeing seemed like the perfect stepping stone for me.
Wye Valley Canoe Centre was recommended to me by a friend, so we booked our canoes for the Bank Holiday Monday and looked forward to our adventure. However, the weather ended up being a total washout on the Bank Holiday weekend and we received a phone call on Monday morning from the Canoe Centre to say that the river was high and they wouldn’t recommend canoeing if you’re inexperienced. But my friends have done it a lot before and felt confident that we would be more than capable. So, I agreed, feeling a little unsure, but ready as I’d ever be for our adventure on the river Wye.
After a safety briefing and being fitted with buoyancy aids, we got into our canoes. We shared two canoes between five of us, with the experienced boys steering from the back and the girls (doing all the hard work!) at the front of the boats. We set off, paddling hard with our oars, to find that the high waters carried us away. We paddled five miles along the beautiful river Wye and it was a lovely scenic route, but the fast flow of the river pulled us in different directions, meaning that we had to row as hard as we could to stay on track. Once or twice, we veered off to the sides of the river, scraping the bottom of the canoe on the shallow river bed or finding ourselves tangled among the low-hanging branches of the riverside trees. It took us about an hour and a half in total as the river was moving fast, but we also stopped on a small beach to eat our lunch and skim stones on the river before continuing our journey.
With the river levels being so high, we had to negotiate some small rapids along the way. Each time, I panicked, shut my eyes and stopped paddling, but I secretly enjoyed the little adrenaline rush as the water splashed up over the front of the canoe! The best thing of all, despite a couple of rocky moments, we didn’t capsize our boat and I didn’t end up falling in the river, so I have successfully taken the first step towards overcoming my fear. It was actually a lot of fun. It was relaxing and peaceful floating along the river and enjoying the views and getting out into nature. Yet at times, the rowing was quite hard work, involved a fair bit of splashing and a lot of laughter. I would highly recommend canoeing for a fun outdoor activity and I will certainly be going again!
My top 10 tips for a canoeing adventure are:
- Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. You might stop on a beach like us and have to jump out the boat to drag it onto the shore.
- Take a change of clothes, because you will get splashed by muddy river water, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
- Make use of the barrels provided to store your possessions in. It keeps them safe and dry. No one wants to eat a soggy packed lunch.
- If you want to take photos, use a waterproof phone or camera. If you don’t have one, store yours in a sandwich bag to keep it safe.
- If you collide with shrubs or trees on the riverbank, don’t hold on to them. The canoe will keep moving, even if you don’t!
- Make sure the person at the back of the boat knows how to steer it properly. Our “driver” certainly had room for improvement…
- Don’t rock the boat! Stay balanced by paddling on opposite sides of the canoe. If your arm gets tired, agree to swap sides from time to time.
- Wear layers that you can easily put on or take off. You’ll get surprising warm when you’re paddling fast.
- Wear your buoyancy aid at all times. It might not be the most fashionable accessory, but when you can’t see the bottom of the murky river, it is worth it for peace of mind.
- Have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously and just get stuck in. You might temporarily end up with a numb bum, wet clothes and an aching back, but you’ll have memories that will last a life time!
I loved my little canoeing adventure, but the big question is… What should I try next?