On Saturday 25th October our UK Communications Team, Lucy, Vicky, Anna and Emma, took on the challenge of the mighty River Wye, canoeing 24 miles from Ross on Wye to Redbrook, passing through 2 countries & 3 counties - Herefordshire (England), Monmouthshire (Wales) and Gloucestershire (England) to raise funds for DebRA, the charity working on behalf of people with the genetic skin blistering condition Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Here’s how they got on….
Friday 24th October
We set off late afternoon on Friday, crammed into Lucy’s car with all our gear. As well as plenty of warm clothes and spare ones in case we capsize we have all had to bring sleeping bags and pillows, as we are staying in a bunkhouse, but we manage to fit it all in and set off on our adventure. We take a scenic route through the Cotswolds and there is a beautiful sunset which Anna and Vicky miss as they are snoring in the back. We make it to Symonds Yat in Herefordshire some 4 hours later, and after a bit of searching Emma navigates us to our bunkhouse which is perched at the top of a massive steep winding hill. The bunkhouse is rather bijou….we were wondering how 9 beds would be divisible by two and the answer is that we have a little room with three triple bunk beds where we will be stacked like sardines. The bathroom facilities are good though, and from what we can tell in the dark there is a lovely view. After unloading our stuff we set off to the pub down by the river, which means negotiating the steep winding and very uneven hill in the pitch black. Anna is of course appropriately dressed for this in high heels, but we make it without incident and obtain some food and a very restrained two drinks each, before heading back up to the hill and getting an early night.
Saturday 25th October
0730 We’re all up bright and early and wearing lots of sensible layers of clothing to keep out the cold, as we present ourselves at the Wye Canoes office and meet Stuart, our genial canoeing expert. We are given waterproof barrels to pack with food and water and spare clothes in case of an unscheduled dip in the river, and kitted out with our buoyancy aids, helmets which we are to wear for the grade 2 rapids at Symonds Yat, and paddles, before being given an extensive briefing drawn in mud about how to approach and negotiate the rapids safely. We are loaded into a mini bus and driven to Ross on Wye, stopping for a quick bacon roll on the way to build up our strength, and unloaded with our canoes on the banks of the Wye, where we are given further briefings on danger points and tricky parts of the river.
0900 We’re ready to begin, and negotiate our way round some inquisitive swans to get our boats and ourselves onto the river. Stuart seems impressed with our skills and deems us ‘experts’ and we set off.
Within 5 minutes we come to a bridge, and assuming this is the danger point we were briefed about we are all rather pleased with ourselves when we make it through and round a small island the other side without incident. A couple of miles on we come to the actual danger point, under another bridge on the other side of which lurks a large island with treacherous swirling currents. We are bounced about a bit and have to work hard to keep control of the boat, but we make it through and continue on our way.
1000 We come to a beautiful calm stretch of the river and the sun comes out to join us. Things are going well and we’re all feeling happy and confident. It feels like we’ve been going a couple of hours but when we do a time check we find that we’ve only been going for an hour and there’s a long road ahead. We keep working hard and plough on.
1130 We’re all getting quite tired now as we have been paddling constantly for two and a half hours, and we’re having to switch sides more frequently as our arms tire. We’ve made some friends along the way though – a party of exuberant youths on a canoeing course who are very gentlemanly and pull in to let us past, and a nice man in a kayak who paddles alongside us for a chat for a mile or so, and asks for the details of our Just Giving page. We are heading into a valley now, and we know that our stopping point at Symonds Yat is only about an hour away.
1230 We round a bend and spot the Wye Canoes base where we are to stop for lunch and a brief rest. The currents are quite strong here as we are only 500m from the dreaded rapids. Anna and Vicky go awry when trying to land and end up in a large willow tree, but some kindly passers by grab the rope and help drag the boat out of the tree and to the landing steps. We all make it onto dry land and the minute we stand up it becomes apparent how hard we’ve been working. As well as sore shoulders our legs and tummies hurt, but we are thrilled to discover we are over half way now and have broken the back of it. We feel better after some food and energy drinks, and we’re keen to get cracking again as there’s still a long way to go and we’re all feeling apprehensive about the rapids that await us, so we don our safety helmets and get back on the river.
1300 We feel the fear as we approach the rapids, we can only see the edge as the river disappears, and there is a loud roaring sound, but we steel ourselves and steer towards the ‘V’ of calmer water in the centre, then fighting to steer to the right as instructed as we plunge over the edge and through the foaming water. It’s slightly terrifying, but also totally exhilarating and there’s lots of high decibel shrieking as we all get a soaking, especially Lucy. When we come out the other side we almost want to go round again. The boats now have a shallow layer of cold water in the bottom, but we don’t really have time to stop and get rid of it, so we decide to put up with it and press on.
1400 We are all getting a bit tired and drained. The prospect of a hot bath and some food and a large glass of wine seems pretty far off, and we’re all suffering from bruised and blistered hands, but thinking about the reason we’re doing it pulls us together – our minor blisters are nothing compared to what EB sufferers have to deal with on a daily basis. We’re proud to get blisters in support of DebRA!
1500 We come to a really tough stretch of water, very open with a ferocious wind trying to blow our boats off course. We are all exhausted by now, and it’s a real fight to keep the boats on course against the wind. It feels like we are rowing through treacle. Emma and Lucy’s boat spins twice, and Anna and Vicky are blown to the side of the river and end up in a thorny bush. We’re a determined bunch of girls though and we keep working hard until we make it through to a more sheltered stretch.
1600 We see a very professional looking rowing team, and hope this means that we are approaching Monmouth rowing club, where we are to stop for a second brief rest and call Stuart to let him know we will be at the end point in just half an hour. The rowing club soon appears, and we stop for 5 minutes on the bank, remaining in the boat, and eat our emergency Mars bars for a much needed last burst of energy, before setting sail for the last time.
1630 Vicky is the first one to spot the final bridge and we can see Stuart standing on it ready to take photos as we reach the end point.
We are all utterly exhilarated and aches and pains forgotten we race down the last stretch, before pulling in at a muddy bank and making a rather perilous and slippy exit from the water. Once on dry land we all suddenly feel very cold, shaky and sore, and can barely stand up, but we have a great sense of achievement. We made it! All 24 miles! Way back at the beginning when we first came up with this plan there was a lot of debate over whether we should take the easier more achievable course, or the tougher 24 miles challenge. And a challenge it has been, but we couldn’t be prouder to have achieved it and shown our support for the incredible people at DebRA. We are absolutely delighted to say that we raised over £1k including gift aid, so a big thank you to everyone who sponsored us. And now we’re off to get warm and dry…..
Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) is a group of genetic disorders that result in fragility of the skin and, in some cases, other internal membranes and organs. Blisters, open wounds and sores form as a result of the slightest touch, rub or trauma. EB is likely to affect 1 in 17,000 live births and it is estimated that there are currently 5,000 people with the condition in the UK. You can read about DebRA’s inspirational work and find other ways to support them here: http://www.debra.org.uk/