For canoe-trippers there’s always been something special about a border river. Take canoeing the River Wye for example. As you trace the border between England and Wales, ancient neighbors and one-time foes, the Wye serves up stunning scenes of natural beauty with a frisson of historical intrigue. Won’t you come along?
Why canoe the River Wye?
A unique gem of a river
Born in the Cambrian Mountains of Wales, the Wye flows for some 135 miles, meandering into England before reaching the Severn Estuary near the Welsh town of Chepstow. The upper reaches are fast, narrow and lumpy, but from just above Hay-on-Wye, the river slows and widens, and for the next 112 miles is a gem for the canoeist.
The Wye is one of the few rivers in England and Wales available to a canoeist, but even without such distinction, this river is very special. The Wye’s Latin name is vaga, an adjective meaning “wandering.” True to its name, the River Wye winds through some of the prettiest countryside in either land, following a route that abounds with wildlife and wildflowers.
Expect all four seasons in any one day. These are British seasons though, so nothing a waterproof coat, a woolly jumper and a good sun hat can’t cope with.
Assistance with shuttles and canoe hire abounds—simply Google Wye and canoe and sort through the many options.
If you make it as far as the tidal reaches below Bigsweir Bridge, take the chance to visit the breathtaking medieval remains of Tintern Abbey, forcibly closed by Henry VIII in the 1530s.
If you enjoy a good read, Hay-on-Wye can’t fail to please. Home to the Hay Literary Festival, and more than 20 second-hand book shops, it’s the National Book town of Wales.
Wye Canoe? Canoeists’ Guide to the River Wye is available online at fisheries.or.uk. Mark Rainsley’s book River Wye Canoe and Kayak Guide is published by Pesda Press.
The Wye’s smooth flow glides through unspoiled farmland and woods, dotted with swans and broken by the odd leaping salmon. Below Bigsweir Bridge, about 14 miles from the sea, the river becomes tidal and demands respect.
In spring the banks glow with bluebells and primroses. In summer, and benefiting from the famous U.K. mix of rain and sun, the valley shines with a range and depth of sparkling greens only these islands can provide. Fall offers a bounty of color.
Camping on the River Wye
For the touring canoeist, there are plenty of formal campsites along the way with sites catering specifically to paddlers. Most importantly, there are quite a few good pubs on route.
What to do while canoeing the River Wye
If You Have A Half-Day
With only 5.5 miles between Glasbury and Hay-on-Wye, a journey along this popular section should take about two hours. Launch from the beach on the river left bank above the bridge at Glasbury, landing at Hay. In low water you may need to wade a few shallow sections. In agreement with local anglers, access is restricted to between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If You Have A Day
With a paddle of between six and eight hours, set out early to enjoy the 18 miles between Hereford and Hoarwithy. Launch from the right bank below the old road bridge in Hereford, landing at steps on the right just below the bridge at Hoarwithy.
If You Have A Weekend
After paddling from Hereford, spend the night at the Hoarwithy campsite, enjoying an evening at The New Harp Inn, the local pub, before continuing the next morning to Ross-on Wye. The Italianate church at Hoarwithy is also worth a visit. In total, the journey from Hereford to Ross is about 29 miles, and the second day takes four to five hours. Land at the steps on the left bank below The Hope and Anchor—yes, another pub awaits.
If You Have A Week
Paddle the whole river, or at least, unless you feel confident in dealing with a tidal river, as far as Monmouth or Tintern Abbey. Most of those traveling the whole river will launch from Hay, or the beach at Glasbury. Confident and experienced paddlers with a tide timetable can exit at Chepstow, landing on a slipway close to a pub called The Boat Inn.
This article was first published in Issue 55 of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
The Wye Valley has been declared an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty and is an internationally protected landscape. | Feature Photo: visitwales.com