Blogs – where we’ve been and what we did

Lockdown exercise…..

May and June 2020

Paddles on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal

Easing out of lockdown

Lockdown meant that we couldn’t get out in the kayaks.  I’m just glad we’d booked our rolling course at Plas y Brenin for the beginning of March – our other choice would never have happened as it was the weekend where we all saw life as we knew it pretty much stopped by Covid 19.

At the end of May Wales eased the rules on exercise, so after careful checking we were able to take our exercise in the kayaks as we are lucky enough to live within a stone’s throw of the lovely Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

A beautiful place with a heritage from the industrial revolution

The Mon and Brec is like all the canals in our country: it has a great industrial history, a fall into decline, followed by loving restoration and now a new lease of life as a tourist and leisure destination.

It has 35 navigable miles, 6 locks, 167 bridges and notable tunnels and aqueducts.  These days, it runs from Pontymoile Basin to Brecon, where, in good times you can easily stop for a wander round near the theatre and have tea or ice cream. The Monmouthshire canal was opened in 1799 with a branch from Malpas to Crumlin; the original Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal went from Brecon to Gilwern in 1800 and was then extended to Pontymoile in 1812.  It is the Brecknock and Abergavenny stretch which is what we mostly see as the Mon and Brec canal.

Both canals played a crucial part in Welsh industrial history, serving the coal mines of the South Wales Valleys.  200 miles of tramroads connected to the canals which took coal, limestone and iron ore to be transported around Britain.  Some of the history can still be seen from the canal – limekilns are to be seen near Gilwern and the wharfs at various points including Llanfoist – and many other great historical sites can be seen within a short distance of the canal. Big Pit, in Blaenavon, was granted World Heritage status in 2000. (

The commercial use of the canals had pretty much finished by 1915 and throughout the 20th Century parts were completely lost to roads. In 1968 work started on restoring the stretch from Brecon to Pontymoile.

Happily for us, this is the part where we can take the boats.

Paddling a small part of the Mon and Brec.

Our route

We start at a small car park by Preacher’s Bridge (number 76) at grid reference SO315 072. It can be busy on normal sunny days as there’s only room for a few cars.

This trip is just under 4 beautiful miles with wooded stretches, open views across to the Skirrid and Sugarloaf and places with wildish edges which are home to yellow flags, reeds and wildlife. Our finish is at bridge 93, and then just a short walk home.

Bridge 76Small car park by Preacher’s BridgeHappy start!
Bridge 77Old Abergavenny Road On the way!
Bridge 78Mill Turn Bridge (then Mill Turn aqueduct) 
Llanover Winding HoleThere are big fish here! Watch out for fishermen
Bridge 79Lower Mount Pleasant Bridge 
Bridge 80Mount Pleasant Upper Bridge 
Bridge 81Llanover 
Bridge 82Llanover 
Bridge 83Beech Tree Bridge 
Bridge 84Ty Coch (Bernie’s) and the barge hazard I used to work nearby 🙂
Bridge 85Thimbles 
Ochram Brook AqueductGrade 2 listed and near the weirLovely open view
Bridge 86Ochram Turn Bridge Pretty and wide
Bridge 87Poplar Bridge 
Twyn Glas Wharf‘Robert’s Farm’ and wharfFlowery approach
Bridge 88Twyn GlasPretty cottage
Bridge 89Barn Bridge 
Bridge 90Morgan’s Bridge 
Bridge 91Wooden BridgePath to Llanellen
Bridge 92Heol Gerrig 
Bridge 93Llanellen Farm (Pant)Bridge Farm
Total distanceJust under 4 miles 


We’ve noticed a few different things about the canal this year. It seems that the lack of motor traffic and narrow boat holidays has allowed the water to be clearer and we have seen astonishing numbers of tadpoles and many fish – mostly rudd or roach I think. We’ve also become practised ‘midge-snorters’(!!): “Quick, stop smiling and move away form the veritable clouds of midges”. 

Rudd or roach?

The banded Demoiselles that we saw on The Wye last year are here in huge numbers – they were at their best at the end of May.  If you’d like to know more about these beautiful ephemera and their relatives, have a look at:  . There are also lots of delicate blue damselflies, (I’m guessing they are the ‘Common blue Damselfly’), but please don’t expect me to separate it from its very similar relations!


There are mallards and moorhens – the latter hiding in the reeds and remaining a bit shy.  Mostly, you’ll know they are they from their high pitched squawk, or from the splash as you pass – when they move swiftly deeper into the reed-bed. Mallards lay between March and July, so we are seeing ducklings of varying ages. They are quickly taken to water by Mum – within 10 hours of hatching- and will already be able to swim.  At 50-60 days old they will be fully fledged.

I’m only just learning to identify birds, so there are still a lot which come under the LBJ species (little brown job).  However, the birdsong along the canal is outstanding. We haven’t seen kingfishers this year, but we’ve seen a couple n the past. Maybe we are just too noisy? We hear Chiff Chaffs (and also see them dart from tree to tree), Robins, who sing so mellifluously, blackbirds and, where we have more open skies we’ve seen buzzards wheeling and on windy days, hovering and diving.  There are red kites round here too now – it’s such a joy to see this amazing bird with its distinctively chestnut back and forked tail. Their huge wingspan is a full foot more than the buzzard at around 70 inches. Yes, that is not far off the height of a man.

Kingfisher – thank you Somerset Girl @sGirl1966 on Twitter for this lovely photo


We’ve also enjoyed the flora of the canal banks.  When we started out in Mid-May the yellow flags were at their best, with Hemlock Water Dropwort just starting to bloom.  The water forget-me-nots and water speedwells came into their own in beautiful clusters a little later (late May, early June) and were abundant at Twyn Glas where the canal edges are wonderfully wild and wide. Ragged robin showed its delicate thread petals and waterweeds waft gently under the surface.

Yellow Flags at Twyn Isaf

At this time of year, the trees are in full leaf with a great range of greens, and the reflections in the canal are spectacular. In May we had seen a long dry spell and the waters had a thin film of seeds and leaves which collected as scum on the kayak hulls (and took a good scrub to remove). After night-time rain the waters were fabulously clear again and the surface of the water was renewed as a mirror of the sky, drifting clouds and shimmering trees.

Invasive species are a problem on canals and in August 2019 weevils were introduced further down the Mon and Brec to help control duckweed.  Lots was also cleared by local anglers.  Along the canal we see horsetails which grow vigorously, and the battle to keep canals clear is a constant one.  The “Check Clean Dry” campaign encourages us all to do just that after every trip to help prevent spread of unwanted species. (Have a look at ).

Maintaining the canal

The Canal and River Trust have a big job on their hands: all Winter we were aware of the work they did draining, repairing, bank-building and fortifying the canal infrastructure. In the past ten years or so we’ve seen huge amounts of work done on the tow paths to make them user-friendly for walkers and cyclists alike, and we see the dredging carried out to allow the passage of the holiday narrow boats.

We caught up with some of these works (caught on the video, where we had to squeeze past at times) and learned how they manage to preserve the fish stocks by moving them away, upstream of dredging works.


Although we have been frustrated at not being able to get out on the sea, we are using our canal time as an opportunity to focus on technique.  Goodness, when you’re on a canal you can really tell if you can paddle forward in a straight line!! I spent ages drifting right and only after 4 weeks do I feel happier about my direction.  Nonetheless, this ‘struggle muscle’ has taught me lots about things to look at if straight lines just aren’t happening:

Am I sitting straight? Am I holding the paddle centrally?  Where does each blade enter the water? Where does it exit? Are the footrests properly set? Are the hip pads sitting me comfortably? Am I holding the paddle shaft too tightly? And so on….

I’ve been able to try a variety of paddles: very old New Waves that weighed a ton, long Corryvreckans on a bent shaft, Werner Ikelos on a bent shaft and Werner Shunas on a straight shaft.  Clearly the most important thing was having matchy matchy kit, and blue blades have finally got me paddling more comfortably.  Of course, it might be the fact that they are the right size blade (Shuna), a straight shaft with a grip suitable for my arthritic hands and the right length at 210cm. But they are also very pretty.

We’ve tried out bow rudders, stern rudders, edging, low braces, draw strokes and backward paddling.  It’s be great to try things out on still water, in a safe place, but we’ve also built some fitness and stamina so when we finally get out to play on the sea, we’ll be raring to go.

…and if you would like more pictures, here is my slideshow on You Tube:

Making Plans……

Looking forward and keeping motivated

Making plans

Looking forwards, peeking backwards

As I write, we are entering our 4th week of the Corona virus lockdown.

I am an optimist and I believe that looking forwards is healthy and that looking back, whilst providing opportunities for reflection, for learning and for re-lived joy, can also lead us into thinking about the things we are missing. That in turn can spark little embers of sadness. Particularly at this time, I don’t want to go there.

So, let’s look at how we can meld the two together to make sure that when the chance arrives, we are not left thinking that we have missed our chances.

Using the past to make our futures

Don’t get me wrong, memory is a valuable thing and remembering what we have done and seen in the past informs our decisions for the future. So, for example, I know that one of the things that will bring me real joy and a sense of satisfaction is completing a challenging, multi-day trip in the kayaks. I know that I will be awed by amazing scenery, fascinated by local history and made to smile by spotting wildlife.

Scottish Wildlife – Nessie?

So, my first link from past to future:

Scotland. That place of amazing scenery, terrible midges and more rain that you could ever want. (Yes, even more than Wales I think). Specifically, the Great Glen – that huge rift which splits Scotland from coast to coast. That’s where I want to go.

I’ve had many, many memorable trips to Scotland, so I see it as a happy place – even in the most inclement weather. My husband proposed to me on the top of The Pap of Glencoe, so that has to be a top memory, but Scotland has also been the scene of some of my own, personal (sporting) achievements. Among many others are: we have walked amazing ridges (Aonach Eagach); caught a train after a two minute wait (and no timetable!!) from the most remote station I’ve ever visited; we ice-climbed on Buachaille Etive Mor, we’ve camped in Winter and celebrated Hogmanay at the Clachaig Inn. I’ve walked solo in the Arrochar Alps and spent happy childhood holidays in Mallaig, Oban, Fort William and the islands. Conversely we’ve had long walks in the Grey Corries and stayed in bothies, we’ve dealt with a broken ankle and spent time in A and E in the Belford hospital. We’ve had holidays where it has rained and blown a gale, putting paid to any number of plans – BUT – Scotland is still a happy place. So, memories tell me that we should go, make a plan A (and possibly B and C too!), because we will have a memorable time.

Rain will not deter us (midges might!)

My second link from past to future is:

I know I’m not in a position to paddle the length of the Great Glen now, but by the time we go, I will have made preparations that build my confidence, my skills and my knowledge, I will know where we start and finish and I’ll have researched places and history that will ensure that it is a memorable trip for the right reasons!

Feeling motivated….

The maps…..

I love maps. I can spend ages looking at them – especially the OS ones. They tell you so much and even provide pointers to history. Scotland’s OS maps are some of the best value (far more contour lines per page than any other), but also the worst value (all that sea around the islands). At this point, I could so easily digress to looking at the history of our beloved Ordnance Survey maps, but that is, perhaps, a thought for another stage in my Great Glen trip planning. It is said that we might enthuse others, but we can only motivate ourselves, so again, thinking back, I realise that garnering heady detail on the things which bring a country, its geography and its history to life will bring me the enthusiasm to research more. I love to have things in 3D – not always literally, but through understanding background and what make things and people what or who we see in the present.

Recognising our boundaries

I used to think I was quite happy being independent and likened that to being solo and to some extent that remains true – I’m not a real party animal. However, when I left the corporate world to work for myself I suddenly started to see what connections with other people can do for us. It isn’t always about asking for help, but it’s about sharing experience, seeing where perspectives coincide or diverge and to learn from others. I’m not sure if it’s a British thing, but sometimes we are shy about asking. Asking anything at all. The real truth is (as I have discovered through coaching people) is that most people enjoy sharing things about themselves, they love to tell you about their adventures, how they made them happen and what a great time you could have too. This is important. We learn to value other people and to get to see things differently. It helps us to draw our own boundaries and to recognise where we are in a greater scheme of things. There’s no judgement, it’s just placement.

Engaging and connecting

Like it or hate it, Facebook is full of opinions and if you can filter what you engage with, it’s a great place. Ask for recommendations or information and you will get plenty of replies. You’ll ‘meet’ new people (and here we are, in a new world where virtual meetings, virtual friends, virtual conversations are becoming more normal). So, I’m intending to share my planning for this trip with you and, not so much to get everyone going to the same place (please no!!), I’ll share links with the people and groups who have interacted with my questions and helped to encourage me to make this trip happen. The only thing I won’t be able to do is set a date. But let’s not allow that to get in the way.

Sea Kayak
Lovely new toy just waiting for some water


Here are some of the links that are enthusing me, keeping me going or just making me smile at present:

UK Kayakers and canoeists – a great FB group, well moderated and with a variety of members.

West Coast Paddlers – a private group but I found this when asking about the Great Glen trip and I had a lovely answer and pointer to a useful trip report.

World Backyard Rolling Championships – nothing at all to do with the trip, but inventive, creative and a bit of fun for Spring 2020. (2008 members in just 20 days, must tell you something!)

Womens Paddling Community – some great posts, lots of super photos and a cohesive community #shepaddles

Maps – website. One of my favourites. You can look at road view or OS view and you can measure distances point to point. Brilliant fun and far too many hours browsing this!

Paddling in the Chrimbo-Limbo

Perfect conditions on the Taff, Ely and Cardiff Bay between Christmas and New Year

Hoping for the best with the weather…

A misty start

Getting a pleasant paddle in during the Winter months is a challenge – especially if, like me, you aren’t yet that competent or confident in your paddling. I seem to live with the BBC weather app open on my phone- how windy will it be, how cold, how much rain? Sometimes you just have to take a chance…. This is what we did, first on 30th Dec 2019 and then to celebrate New Year’s Day 2020.

As we unloaded the kayaks on 30th December 2019 we stared into a murky distance, but by the time we were on the water we needed sunglasses to travel up the Taff.

New Year’s Day was lacking the sun, but unlike the racing yachts, we were delighted to have millpond conditions for our trip into the lagoon to start our New Year.

Setting out

Cardiff Rowing Centre

We started out both times from the very small car park by the Cardiff Rowing Centre and launched easily. (And with great excitement to try out the Christmas present – super new Werner paddles to replace my 30 year old New Wave dumb-bells). For our first trip we headed up the Taff to get a completely new view of Cardiff.

Sunshine on The Taff to see out 2019
Taff – our little trip

We wanted to see some of Cardiff’s great landmarks by Kayak – modern buildings and old ones too. Idling past the St David’s Centre we thought that a bit of shopping and taking in a film at Vue might be an idea; Kayak and Ride might be a plan?…

On reflection, spraydecks might not look that cool whilst shopping in central Cardiff.

Industry …

I was loving the novel view of the Castle and the grounds around it, Pontcanna fields and the rugby stadium, Bute Park and Sophia Gardens. We passed under the Millennium Footbridge between Bute Park and Sophia Gardens. If you are a cricket fan, you’ll know that Sophia Gardens is home to Glamorgan County Cricket Club and the Sport Wales National Centre. It was named after Sophia Crichton-Stuart, Marchioness of Bute (1809-1859). She wanted to provide open space in Cardiff for recreation in memory of her husband (the second Marchioness of Bute) who was an industrialist, heavily involved in coal and iron in South Wales and in the building of Cardiff Docks. (Wikipedia).

Being novice…..

New paddles!!!

So, being something of a kayaking novice, I’m never sure if I get tired because of poor technique, general fitness or the equipment and its setup. Up until now I had been using a heavy set of paddles with metal edges, large, thick blades set at 90 degrees with a straight shaft, (apparently great for canoe polo, though I don’t know why). Today, I’m out to test my Christmas present from the wonderful Christopher: Werner Corryvreckans. Well, what a difference. First, the drip rings! (OK, so you are all going, ‘whaat? these are a novelty??’. Well yes. But they are a great improvement). Next? The size and shape of the cranked shaft meant my hands were not rubbing and getting sore. And I reckon that it’ll help when I get disorientated when I’m trying to roll. Did I mention how light they are? That helps too. The blades are quite big but felt stable in the water and buoyant coming out, so they made the paddling itself much easier. All in all, I’m a very happy paddler!

Oh, did I say how light they are? Ah well, they are that good it’s worth saying twice.

Sunshine on the Taff

As we left Penarth and Grangetown we went under a number of bridges – roads and then rail, as Central Station is surprisingly close to the river. On up and we passed Brains Brewery and the shopping centre before seeing the Millennium Stadium come into view.

As a beer enthusiast, I’m going to take a slight diversion here, Brain’s website tells their story ( Their founder was a Bristolian and having trained as a brewer, managed to marry a girl whose father owned a brewery. Well done that man! The first pint of Brain’s was brewed in 1882 at the Old Brewery in Cardiff (previously Thomas’ Brewery.

I love seeing Cardiff from a new perspective – I hadn’t realised how much the central part is lined up along The Taff. You can see history developed too -the stone bridge carrying the A4161 has clear brick additions to either side to accommodate all our modern traffic.

We had to watch out for the Aquabus as it wake is noticeable (!) and it cannot pass through the central bridge arches – it all looks rather shallow in places. It’s OK, easy to identify the right route because there are clear red and white no entry signs on the prohibited arches.

The best bit about the aquabus is riding over the wake – just enough ripples for me!

Heading back down the Taff and into the Bay

Towards teh 4232
Towards the A4232 and the lagoon

After a while, paddling upstream became a bit tiring, so we headed back down to the bay and on New Year’s day continued the trip towards Cardiff. We started by heading straight out and under the A4232. (Watching out for the aquabus and water taxis of course). We were lucky with the weather – millpond (just my kind of white water!!)

Cormorant – a mystic symbol?

It was an easy trip across to the barrage where we slowed to look at the ornamental sails, the people walking round and taking in the sunshine and the cormorants diving or finding perches on buoys or solid structures to rest and dry their wings like some strange kind of washing, or a mystic symbol.

The Paddling Community

I am quite sure that this won’t be the first or last time that I write this, but we’ve met some lovely people through paddling (even in my very short experience). Not just friendly, but interesting too.

As we headed across to Mermaid Quay we spotted a moored yacht with a man shouting ‘stop! I’m coming with you’. He quickly released his kayak from the side of the yacht, went below board and came out ready for a kayak trip in Winter.

Off we went, two, now three on New Year’s Day.

Not much later we glided gently past the Cardiff Wetland Reserve, just between the St David’s Hotel (with its distinctive architecture) and beside the yachts at the mouth of the Taff. It is a great habitat for wildlife, created on former salt marshes.

From there, we went towards The Ely where we gained fellow kayaker number four – Roy Beal. He was piloting a very beautiful wooden kayak and I’m going to give him a mention because he does some interesting fund-raising and awareness raising projects. Have a look at his site:

We four had a little trip up the Ely towards the Cardiff International White Water Centre (Olympic fame!) and site of my first proper canoeing course (see my previous blogs about the very spinny little boats. I am endlessly grateful that Tess the Scorpio is better at going in straight lines). Periodically the pleasure craft would come past, pilot shouting ‘beware Tsunami, beware Tsunami’. He slowed down enough for us to just rock gently on the Ely though, and after a few minutes wondering how often the yachts left their moorings and whether it would be possible to go underneath the catamaran (decided ‘no’!), we turned and headed back tot he Taff and to our start point, Roy and the yachtsman heading back their own ways too.

Sea Kayaking – confidence and motivation

Gaining confidence in and on water has been a slow game for me, but the struggle-muscle, once developed, is always there

A bit of ‘chop’ in Cardiff Bay

It was a bit late in the year when we bought our sea kayaks, so it was something of a race to get out and play before Winter set in.


I have a love-hate relationship with bodies of water – on the one hand I am very nervous of it and not a natural swimmer.  On the other, I have always loved being by it; childhood memories of happy seaside holidays, rock-pooling and collecting ‘Eye-Spy’ points (anyone else remember those?).  30 years ago, in an effort to overcome this rather overwhelming fear of water, I took a Winter course with a canoe club.  It was all about rolling BATS and the first thing we had to do was dive in and swim two lengths of the pool. I can swim two lengths, (not stylishly), but not dive and it was something of a ‘swim of shame’. The kindly (I think not!) instructor selected me to sit in the BAT first and told me to capsize it.  Well – for all you water-babies out there you probably wonder what the fuss was about, but it was a move of terror for me.  To cut a long story short, I never really got into kayaking from that point. (I wonder why?) As a coach in my current life, many years later, this makes me absolutely cringe…..

Surely this ditch-and-retrieve things isn’t that hard?

A few years on I met the love of my life who was a keen sport diver.  He is a complete water-baby, and even now I’m not sure how he hides his gills.  It took me a whole Winter of weekly pool training to get my basic SAA qualifications and I remember my poor husband watching in frustration and splashing his fins on the pool surface while I tried vainly to duck dive and to swim a width under water.  I got there with a lot of support, confidence-building slowly – oh, so slowly – until I could successfully complete my ditch and retrieve in 5m of water. Only such a non-water-baby as me could have chosen a club that used the pool used by SBS for training. 

I now believe that the struggle muscle that got me through not only sport diving, but qualifying as dive supervisor, and later to technical and mixed gas diving was powerful in making the sport enjoyable for me.  It wasn’t something that was going to happen fast, but the small steps to confidence were lasting.

Diving – the freedom of 3 dimensions

I loved diving – not the boat trips (sea-sick), not the agony of warming up after Winter dives in a wetsuit, not the fast drift dives in murky water over rocky ledges, not the heaving about of hefty kit.  What I loved was the sea life, cute tompot blennies peering out of pipes under Swanage pier, the velvety sea slugs in the Mediterranean, shoals of manta off St Helena.  But some of the best were the seals. Those wonderful, curious, elegant swimmers that I first came face to face with on the Barrel of Butter up on Orkney.


And now? Now I want to go out in a sea kayak and see seals.  This is where my kayaking story really starts.

With a determination that a few waves aren’t going to deter me from getting out in a kayak, it was important to build my confidence; diminish the fear of capsizing; learn to be calm in this alien environment and go out and enjoy the coast. 

First steps were a course in basic flat-water skills at Cardiff International White Water in August 2019.  Next, get out there on the sea and have some fun. Now, starting out for 2020 I want to try and get confident enough to roll and avoid wet exits form the kayak….

So here we go.  While waiting for our plane to go skiing in January we booked our places at Plas Y Brenin in March this year.

We set out on a blustery wet Friday afternoon for North Wales and by the time we arrived at PYB we were ready for a relaxing beer in the bar.  Many moons ago, it was almost impossible to get a decent pint in Wales (lager or Brains only, and never on a Sunday) PYB’s bar has great beer and decent, filling food; so that was a good start to our weekend. It’s always handy to be drinking alongside another beer drinker, so Christopher wasn’t surprised that after he’d ordered a pint, I checked it to see if it was worth having, or whether I should choose differently.

Here we go!

The pool sessions were great, with excellent coaching. I suppose that some might see it as a fail that I wasn’t rolling in two days.  I see it as a great and steady foundation on which to continue slowly building confidence.  My big ‘aha’ was finding my orientation upside-down and under water.

Christopher got the hang of rolling …..
Assisted rolling – finally bringing my head out of the water last

It’s a shame that I can’t get to pool sessions with the local clubs, as I am sure that this would be a superb way to build my knowledge, experience and confidence.  Sadly, work either takes me away too much, or I am coaching equestrians in their spare evenings. Nonetheless, we live within easy distance of lots of water – rivers, lagoons, seaside.  So, keen to get out, we took the kayaks down to Cardiff for a paddle in The Bay.  It was rougher than it was on our New Year’s Day trip, and rather colder, so in spite of our best intentions to practice capsizes, wet exits, rolls…. we succumbed to the idea of hot soup and warm clothes…

Anyway, thinking back on my first trip in Two Tonne Tess (my rather weighty blue Scorpio), in September 19, when even a ripple sent me rushing back to the safety of dry land, it seems that the trips we’ve made have started, just slowly to build that -oh so precious, oh so important and ohhh so elusive – confidence.

I can’t wait for warmer weather and gentler breezes….

Christopher at Solva Autumn 2019

Gloucester and Sharpness Canal: Sharpness, Purton, Patch

A very damp but worthwhile trip

Kayaking on GLos and Sharpness Canal
A wet start to our trip as we set out from Purton

October 2019


The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal is an impressive canal, just over 16 miles long and once the deepest and broadest in the world. It opened in 1827 and at 86ft 6 in wide and 18ft deep it allowed ships of up to 600 tons to avoid the treacherous stretch of the River Severn between Sharpness and Gloucester. Even now, boats 64m long, 9.6 m wide, with a 3.5m draught and 32m headroom can pass through Sharpness and travel to Gloucester. There is, however, very little commercial traffic, so for three of us in our sea kayaks, on a wet October day, we had LOTS of space!

The journey

Points of interest (POI)Distance from start (miles)Distance from last POI (Miles)
Put in Purton
OS 162 SO692 042
Lagoons on left bank1 mile1 mile
Severn Railway Bridge Piers1.180.18
Sharpness Docks1.640.46
Purton to:
Water treatment works0.5 mile0.5 mile
Shepherd’s Patch Swing Bridge2.431.93

Getting started

It was one of those days when it was, oh so tempting to stay indoors. However, the great thing about making an arrangement with a new kayaking friend is that there is a determination to carry on. Oh, and of course there is always the knowledge that once dried off in the pub, the ‘Smug Factor’ will be 10/10.

Waves on the canal
Waves on the canal!!

So, we met in the little car park just by the church and by the more southerly of the two swing bridges at Purton. There is a little jetty there, parallel with the bank; it was a bit high, but we all got in without incident – the biggest challenge was getting in before the boats filled with rain.

Paddling on….

We headed under the bridges (about 1.5m headroom) and into the most astonishing headwind – 15mph. Doesn’t sound too much when you read it off the BBC weather forecast, but the waves would have done justice to the start of a sea trip. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected for a trip on the canal.

leaving Purton
Heading out under Purton’s swing bridge in the rain

Anyway, there was plenty to see. The canal runs very close (and parallel) to the river. A little way on to the right is a weir which is near to the Purton Hulks (ship’s graveyard). Here there are a number of barges and trows that were grounded to help support the bank. We didn’t get out to have a look this time, but it would be an easy move to go and explore from the bank. On the left bank of the canal, a little further on, we saw two sunken barges which were proving a perfect roost for a cormorant. Continuing the battle with wind, rain and waves we next spotted two bridge piers – the only remains of the original ‘Severn Bridge’. The large circular one (on the right bank, between the river and the canal) had formed the base of the swinging section and housed the steam engine which powered it. On the other, landward, side stands a stone arch – the original abutment to the swinging section.

Bridge piers of the old Severn (Railway) Bridge (pity about the raindrops…)

A bit of history

One of the great things about paddling on canals is that they all have great stories to tell of engineering, economy and trade.

In 1793 Industrialists of the Midlands obtained an act to construct a ship canal that would avoid the stretch of the Severn between Gloucester and Berkeley. Like many other big engineering projects to build canals it hit problems – landowners, finance, confidence in the lead engineers (this one was Robert Mylne), weather and so on. Eventually, in 1816, matters improved and agreement was made to build a slightly shorter canal, closer to the river; Thomas Telford acted as consulting engineer. Hope that Gloucester would become a rival to the great port of Bristol was revived.

The Severn Bridge was built in the 1870s by Hamilston’s Windsor Ironworks Company of Garston, Liverpool. It spanned the river between Sharpness and Lydney to transport coal from the Forest of Dean over to the docks at Sharpness. The bridge had 22 spans, one of which crossed the canal and was built as a swing bridge. The bridge was 1.3 km long and 21m above high water. It was never used to its expected capacity as coal mining hit problems and then in 1893 the bridge was taken over by Great Western Railway and Midland Railways with freight and passengers carried until 1960. A series of accidents in which barges hit the piers lead to the demolition of the bridge in 1967-70.

Sharpness Docks and back up to Shepherd’s Patch

It took us 40 minutes to travel from Purton to the docks at Sharpness, (against that stiff wind!) Sharpness docks are still active and access needs to be granted by the Canal and River Trust, so we stopped at the Swing bridges. We were pretty wet and on the way back to Purton Sam decided that testing his rolls should be on the cards.

Sam getting even wetter…..


…..And up the other side. brrr

We were lucky to get a break in the weather, so our paddle back up past Purton and to the Patch was calmer and provided some respite. We headed under the low swing bridge (only 0.6m headroom here) and took out at a low bank on the left (river side). Watch out for the gaps in the bank covered in weeds, I think we all found them accidentally. We traipsed soggily over the bridge to the Black Shed Café where we had very welcome hot drinks – luckily they must be used to wet visitors! Slimbridge wetlands are just nearby, sited between the canal and the river.

Weather window!!!


We saw lots of mute swans and some smaller migratory visitors. I’m not sure if they were Whooper or Bewicks but as they were littler and lacked the bump on the top of the beak, I’m hazarding a guess that they were some of our Winter visitors.   We saw cormorants, divers (but they were too far away to identify, grebes maybe?), possibly a kingfisher in the distance, a few mallards and moorhens.   On a recent trip Sam had seen a deer (!) and an otter. Oh, and a grass snake. So plenty to see and probably far more if we were quieter and more attentive!

Smug factor?

By the time we’d got back to Purton, changed and loaded the kayaks, it was definitely time to eat. A good meal at The White Hart in Little-on-Severn sealed the smug factor. Yes, it had been terrible weather at first but we even saw a glimpse of the sun and got no wetter on our return trip. Yes, I’d say it was a 10 out of 10.


OS maps Landranger SO 162

More practice in the Sea Kayaks – Mumbles and Swansea Bay

Swansea Bay from The Mumbles
Setting out into Swansea Bay from The Mumbles

Getting going

Forecasts for good weather in late September cannot be ignored. Autumn is well under way and Winter, long evenings and miserable weather will be around the corner.

Meanwhile, I’m determined to get as many paddling hours as I can to build my confidence on the water – every small, every barely noticeable incremental change is a positive for me, so I want to keep them coming.

The sun had brought out more crowds to Swansea than we’d have expected, so the traffic on the promenade was heavy and bayside restaurants were full. There are a number of car parks along the promenade and several possible launch points, but the public car park by The Mumbles Yacht Club Slip (Knab Rock Car Park, just before the pier), was convenient and didn’t demand a long carry as we were there not long after high water.

leaving the slipway
Leaving the Knab Rock park slipway

The water in the bay had enough of a swell (and small waves) which were quite enough for me – enough to be interesting but not alarming.

Practical learnings on tides…….

We were there on an ebb tide – this was no problem for us in The Bay, so we headed to have a look beyond the pier. Here we could see the white horses between the rock and the headland and I’m just not that brave. Yet. Knowing that the tide was moving quite fast we headed back (against around 4 knots, so I was glad it a short paddle back under the pier). Finding balance, using different strokes for different power and staying aware of the direction of any swell was all part of the day and was all added to my piecemeal learning.

Slopping around the bay

Swansea Bay
Swansea Bay enjoying the Autumn weather

It isn’t unusual for me to be cold so I often end up wearing too much. The great thing about being on the water is that you can just get wet, so 90 degrees with the boats and a swift dip with some roll practice. That’s better… So we had lovely bimble about, heading for seagulls, (which are clearly rubbish transit points 🙂 ), discussing past exploits and dives and the generally making the most of gentle seas and warm sun. We paddled about for a couple of hours and were still in time to have water up to the slipway. Don’t go at low water – the sea goes a long way away here – and it would b quite a walk over the sand with the boat. (Enough of that last week at Solva!)

Day at the seaside

Clearly it isn’t a proper day out without chips in paper and having used up a few calories paddling squares and triangles and doing half rolls, we clearly deserved lunch. We were just in time to catch Yallops before they closed. They were the best chips I’ve had for years, fresh, crisp and generous. I usually get bored eating chips and finish halfway through the serving. Not this time.

Useful links

It’s easy to check the tides:

We have a great book: ‘Welsh Sea Kayaking: Fifty Great Sea Kayak Voyages’ by Jim Krawiecki. There are great pictures and practical descriptions as well as clear information on tidal flows, races, tricky spots and exciting places (if that’s what you want).

OS Map 165

Sea Kayaks…..

Working towards a dream of seaing seals from a sea Kayak, but knowing I have a long way to go to become confident out there in the big wide sea

So, the grand idea is to go touring in sea kayaks. I dream of seeing seals from the sea, get to beautiful bays with empty sands or dramatic cliffs. I love seeing all wildlife, the wonderful fauna and flora of our country. I like the idea of hearing the gentle slip slap of (tiny!) waves on the hull of the boat, some physical effort in paddling so that I feel that I can justify a good pint and hearty meal later. There is just a small problem ….. I am afraid of water. I can cope with shallows, but once there is a body of water beneath me, it all feels rather nerve-wracking.

Sea Kayak off Solva
Christopher at Solva

Overcoming the fear

There is an argument made by psychologists that it is less about overcoming a fear and more about putting it in its right place; managing it, living with it, accepting it, but working to minimise its negative effects. Let’s face it, our gut instincts are there for good reason; a degree of ‘nervousness’ is important. That touch of adrenaline gives us an edge. We just don’t want the full-blown flight response.

In practice this means that we need to follow a process of building confidence through technical skill and experience. We need to reflect on our experiences and take the positives forward, but put right the things that didn’t go so well.

It cannot happen overnight and confidence can remain a fragile being. It’s important to nurture the good bits, celebrate every small success and always be mindful of how far we’ve come. Mitigate the risks (let’s avoid big tide races, bad weather, crashing swells), wear the right gear and get used to it, then go for a paddle. Test out the fearsome capsize in a safe place, don’t try too much too soon. For me then, it will be about knowing that a capsize will get me wet, but I’ve done several now and I’m still going back for more. I can get out of the boat and also back into it. This is the practical stuff, this is the bit about building the right neural pathways and muscle memory so we can react swiftly and correctly when we need to.

Getting started

The first question is one that is far too rarely explored. (And it is the same in so many sports and I have seen it often enough in my equestrian coaching). It is: ‘do you want to be doing this? or do you like the idea of doing it?’

Are you sure?
Do you REALLY want to do this?

Most sports get expensive pretty quickly, so this is a good first test. (Will I spend the money necessary?). The next is to commit. Some people are great at getting going – me, I need deadlines and fixed times so there was really only one answer – book a course. Wednesday evening equestrian sessions were quiet for the Summer holidays so I swapped them for an introduction to kayaking at Cardiff International White Water. The idea was to prove to myself either that there was no way that I was going to put up with unexpected and unceremonious dips into cold water, or, alternatively that it would all start to feel rather less terrifying. Christopher (who is a complete water baby) is convinced that a ducking in the sea is far less dangerous that coming off a horse whilst galloping over fixed timber at almost 20mph. Maybe, but I have spent the last (ahem) years practicing falling off horses and for me it’s just one of those things. It doesn’t play hugely on my mind every time I get on.

There’s the first learning, then. Develop a normality and a realistic perspective.

Three weeks into my course (still not drowned!) and we have learned the basics of going forwards in a straight line (‘haha’, laugh the little Mamba kayaks that only want to spin!), going sideways (I can do that one, it’s about getting the paddle in the right place, so it felt rather different from the same stroke in the canoe), stopping and getting out. All good and some fun exercises.

I think that a number of things have helped – in a kayak you need core strength and flexibility, which are also essential when riding a horse. Tick. A determination to get out on the sea and feel comfortable with it. Tick. Some experience on the water – certainly some of our experiences in the canoe have helped here – especially having paddled in moving water (and being spat out in rapids). Tick.

What next?

After far too many evenings trawling ebay, I gave up and finally found a P and H Scorpio nearby: a short trip to Up and Under in Cardiff where Elan was a mine of information. Walked out with Beautiful Blue.

up and under Cardiff, a gem of a shop
Picking up a new toy from up and under in Cardiff

On the premise that I now need practical experience and paddling hours to increase my confidence on the water, this is what we got up to next.

First, a great trip to Solva where the Beautiful Blue proved a lot less tippy than the very smart Tiderace that Christopher paddles – I wont be swapping! (OK OK, when I stop being a tippy paddler, it might feel better…)

Kayaks at Solva

We had fabulous weather and warm seas, so we found a sheltered bay and practiced all kinds of useful things: capsize drills, getting back in the boats (not as easy as it sounds!), forward paddling, and lots of other useful strokes. We also tried the start of rolling by putting the boats at 90 degrees so we could hold on and lie into the water then pull up.

We are lucky to have the flat water of the Monmouth and Brecon canal almost on our doorstep (1/4 mile!), so we have been putting in the hours getting used to the feel of the boats, seeing how they react, finding the edge and avoiding the narrow boats (not as scary as Steve Backshall and the Greenland Icebergs that we watched on TV this weekend).

Tippy and Blue
Getting the hours in

There is a lot to be said for exploring our actions – Marianne Davies of Dynamics coaching explains this far better than I can, but it comes down to practicing, pushing and understanding our (sporting) environment. You can read one of her excellent blogs here:

….and for our next trick

Next we will be going away with the Kayaks and take out next steps (paddle strokes) towards longer exploration around our amazing coast.

Symonds Yat – the lessons continue!

Canoe the right way up
NOT an upside down canoe

Not getting wet (well, only a bit)

At least it was warm. And it was a weekday so we had the river to ourselves – what a treat! Since my unplanned dip, we’ve been back once (and down the River Tarn in France), so I am gradually climbing the learning curve.

Learning curve
A rather wet learning curve

I’m not sure if I will ever be fully comfortable on the water, but falling in has lessened the nerves – a bit. As a child I always had terrible butterflies before my riding lessons, but I’d still go, and still fall off the pony, and still go back for more. So I think we just have to get used to it all.

Last time we visited Symonds Yat there was a bit less water than the time I went in (after nudging the hidden rock); today ‘THE’ rock was completely visible. This meant there was a flow just about right for playing and building on the things we’d started on the last (dry!) trip. Today I only got wet because of those pesky crabs….. (Amazing how much water can be splashed up with a paddle in just one stroke).

rocks and eddies
Rocks and eddies

So we found that putting the nose of the canoe at the right angle and breaking out from the eddy would take us into the flow of the river (just a bit frothy man!)and let us ferry glide across to the next gap. I’m loving starting to read what the water does, to see how the speed of the flow doesn’t just mean faster, (or wetter!!), and by getting the positioning of the canoe right for the flow, we can do almost nothing and get just where we want to be. It’s amazing how, although the river is flowing fast, we can go across the stream. In the eddies, we actually feel the canoe move upstream as the eddy circulates.

We had an audience (!) a couple with their phone, videoing our games, so I was keen not to fall in. I’m getting better balance, so the temptation (instinct?) to lean upstream is a bit more under control. With luck this will mean fewer tips into the water……We carried on with ferry gliding into smaller spaces, turning the canoe into the flow to go down forwards (how novel is that?!), making ‘C’ shapes and ‘S’ shapes.

Draw strokes and stuff

So, having hauled the canoe back up into the flat river I had a chance to practice some different strokes. I’ve used the ‘OMG-I -need- to- be- quick- and- avoid -a- rock’ draw stroke, this time I was shown a less dynamic stroke that is great for getting to the side of the river. It’s all coming, slowly, but I still have the panic rising when there is anything but flat water. I guess I’ll get there one day.

…and relax..

Time for a pint, so we got out and loaded the canoe back onto the Landie and headed for the pub. What could be better than a pint in the sunshine and a bite to eat?

£15 for a burger???
£15 for a burger?!

Well, the answer, it seems is that we weren’t prepared to pay ‘holiday prices’ – no lunch. And on any other day I might have returned the very cloudy, rather sour pint of Doombar to the bar. We were reminded of a time in the (now disappeared) Rock and Fountain on Black Rock. We were there for an evening social with the roughie toughie guys who do the maddest sport (Cave Diving Group) and as we were a bit late, we were the last to get our pints. Mine was so awful that I inadvertently spat it straight back into the glass. Bad beer really is BAD. Oddly, when I took it back to the bar and asked for a properly kept pint, all the divers started to say things like ‘hmm, I thought it tasted off’, or ‘mine isn’t great either’. And then returned their drinks to the barman. Nothing like setting a trend!

What next?

I’m keen to get back very soon to consolidate what I’m learning, with luck we will have a bit of rain so the river will be different again. I’ve also taken the first of what I think will be too many plunges and signed up to a course at Cardiff International White Water……Watch this space.

Bycross to Hereford

Continuing our trip down the beautiful River Wye

July 2019

Banded Demoiselle and River Water Cowfoot
Banded Demoiselle and River Water Crowfoot


Continuing our trip down the Wye in stages this weekend we filled in one of the gaps- Bycross to Hereford. It is a pretty, rural and peaceful trip. It was 12.2 miles in all and took us 3.5 hours.

In July the water was quite low, so the trip down Monnington Falls was a mild grade two, with the passable channel very clear. Nonetheless, please note that it can be dangerous and warrants checking beforehand.

The journey

Points of interest (POI)Distance from start (miles)Distance from last POI (Miles)
Put in Bycross campsite
OS 148 SO373 435
Monnington Falls0.250.25
Bridge Sollers3.21.3
Cannon Bridge5.42.2
New Weir5.80.4
Lower Eaton (Island)7.92.1
Lower Breinton (Church and NT)9.81.9
Hereford (Take out OS 148 SO396 509)12.22.4

Getting started

The Bycross campsite was busy! Although the orchard was busy with lots of hire canoes going out we didn’t see many travelling downstream. Quite a lot of people hire them for a ‘play’ without going far from the campsite. That tells you something about the flow just there…. We dropped the canoe near the ‘canoe slide’, and parked in the seasonal car park just 100 yards East of the canoe hire entrance. Check in the café – we were charged just £4 for launch and car parking.

Paddling on….

Monnington Falls comes up very soon. As a fairly new and nervous paddler I’d read about it online, looked in books and then asked the lovely man from Hereford Canoes what it was like on the day. In higher water, the river passes both sides of an island, but in the low water conditions that we saw this July the bedrock was dry on the right. There are lots of trees that grow into the channel (many have been cut back), but it was easy to see how they could create a serious difficulty and in higher conditions it would be important to check. We’d been at Symonds Yat the day before and this was an easier rapid, just a fun run down a bit of faster water, coming shortly to a wide pool. The ‘Wye Canoe’ publication has a good description and clear map of inspection points.

Part way through Monnington Falls
Part way through Monnington Falls

The trip calmed after this and we were reminded that large rivers can use quite a bit of paddling energy. Still, it was a great opportunity for me to learn (thank you Christopher, nothing like having your own personal canoe coach!) and practice my strokes. It’s hard when you need to re-learn or adjust how you do things, even if you know it will be more effective in the long run. Our three and a half hour trip gave me plenty of time to try and get it right.

After Monnington, the river meanders left into some weedy shallows coming up to Bridge Sollers (road bridge). In the Spring this just looks like flowing weed but in July we were treated to amazing blankets of delicate white flowers. The Wye is a JNCC Special Area of Conservation (see link below) and has some rare fauna and Flora including ‘River Water Crowfoot’ which grows in mats and, provides a sedimentary filter, a haven for invertebrates and fish and will modify the flow of water. Certainly the ducks that we saw sitting in lines on it, were eating heartily.

New Weir
Approaching New Weir (National Trust)

The beautiful river continues with well vegetated banks (Himalayan Balsam not in flower quite yet), but there were many other plants adding splashes of colour. At ‘Field’s Place’ (just one house) there are wooded banks and a small brook coming in from the right (we heard it rather than saw it!) There is no bridge at ‘Canon Bridge’, just some houses on the right.

There are plenty of places where it would be possible to rest for a picnic but a dearth of pubs and villages on this section of the river, so remember to take some food and a drink. The next notable point is the National Trust property at New Weir, (It’s OK, there isn’t a weir!) The gardens are high above the river, but the well-tended walled garden and walkway are easily seen. The manicured grass and varied trees add a completely different texture to the greens of our native deciduous trees. I could imagine that artists would make much of this wonderful variety in their paintings, but it’s not a talent that I have. The river meanders round to Sugwas from here and we are back to the local greenery.

There are houses on the right at Lower Eaton (Breinton) just before an Island that has a channel to the left, and a little further on is a Church and National Trust gardens at Lower Breinton.

It’s a longish paddle from here with minimal flow, but great if you want to lie out on a canoe and drift in gentle Summer sun (like the guy we saw just having a laze in the river). At this point the river gives up its meandering as though it suddenly thinks it needs to get to Hereford, so the bridges are visible from about 20 minutes away.

The first bridge is a pedestrian one just before you pass Hereford rowing club (left bank). Go under the road bridge and past the first set of steps and to a grassy bank on the right which goes up to the public park – hopefully right by the car park where your pick up vehicle awaits!

It’s quite a steep haul out, but not difficult if you have a longline.


The fauna and flora were wonderful, the only thing we thought we might see (but didn’t), was a swimming snake. (We saw one last year, but it was, apparently a rare sighting as both adders and grass snakes are in decline in the area).

There were lots of Mute swans, Canada geese, Mallards, Goosander, Dippers (flying low to the water then lining up on rocks), heron and…..not one, not two but THREE kingfishers. So excited to see them and actually all quite close to Hereford.

We saw HUGE salmon jumping, but the fishermen (to whom we gave loads of space) weren’t catching salmon though one reported catching a 5lb Barbel.

Also amazing were the dancing dragonflies, in particular the fabulous, dark blue ‘Banded Demoiselles’.


Hereford Canoe and Kayak: Office  01981 257 258, Mobile 07747 837 554,

Wye Canoe:

OS maps Landranger SO148

Playing in White (ish) Water

White (ish) water

It’s a learning experience

I am always trying to encourage the (horse) riders that I coach and get them to achieve more; achieve things that they thought were beyond them. That is just a part of it. The most important thing is that they actually ENJOY it.

Well, canoeing is a test for me. I have been riding and around horses all my life so I’ve fallen off and done my bit to fill medical records in X-ray and A&E for as long as I can remember. Falling off is all a part of being around horses and is mitigated by getting that thrill when it all goes well and we fly over an oxer or gallop across country.

Water is another matter….. I’m not sure why it makes me so fearful, but it does. I can swim (moderately well), I have endless diving qualifications and have dived deep, dived on mixed gas and dived in murky caves. But waves? In a canoe? ……..

Anyway, if you’ve seen my past posts, you’ll know that I am gently trying new things and after a fabulous trip to the Tarn Gorges (a story for another day) I have come back inspired and keen to get a bit more ‘splish splash splosh’ in our open canoe. I should say here, that I am in the front of said craft and my husband (who is really a water baby as well as an experienced canoeist) is in the rear doing the steering. (And shouting /encouraging/ coaching/ laughing).

To keep the spirit going, we went to Symonds Yat today. It was a fair class 2 (unlike the last trips which were more hairy!!), and a great chance to learn some of the technicalities in fair conditions. As we launched from the steps I could feel the butterflies and compared this to how my riders must feel when they are facing a bigger fence, new horse or other new challenge. It seems only fair that I test myself too.

Last time we were here we sided to a large rock on the left and I had my first ‘swim’. It was a turning point – we need to do this to know we are OK and can come back another time so it is an important experience.

So to skip to the end, I didn’t swim today (though we saw plenty of people who did!). but it left me wondering about our standard joke: if you don’t snowball when skiing then you aren’t trying; if you don’t take a fall and test the protection when climbing – are you really trying? Perhaps I should have done more, pushed the boundaries to the point where I tipped us in? I’m not sure. I enjoyed what we did, learned lots and probably stayed in the canoe where I wouldn’t have done before.

We did lots of ferry gliding, so I learned that (bizarrely) if you have the boat at the right angle you can go across the stream rather than just down; I learned that I can get the nose of the canoe right behind a rock and not get washed under. I found that I could paddle in stronger water. I found the difference in angle of the boat to the water that meant we reached out eddy – or not. I started to understand the ‘less is more’ idea (how often do I say this to my riders??)

We did ferry glides (half pass backwards), ‘S’ shapes where we let the nose of the canoe come round (a bit more scary where the waves were deeper), and crossed over ( a bit like two half circles with a change of bend over X)and the big half circles where we came out of an eddy into the stream and back to the same bank.

So, I’ve learned lots technically, I have learned plenty experientially and I have reflected further on how we can deal with things that make us anxious. When we ride, the challenge is that we are partnered with a living being that may have it’s own ideas. In the case of canoeing, it is nature. Pure and simple: we could go back to Symonds Yat tomorrow and the water would feel different.

So it was a great day, I’m feeling good and we’re off touring down the Wye tomorrow (I’m expecting calm water after Monnington Falls…..).