Canoeing on the Wye for a Special Birthday (Review)

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On a summery day, Josh and I wanted to do something special on his birthday, after months of staying home. Over the past months, whenever we walked or drove with a view of the River Wye, he often said ‘it would be nice to go canoeing on the Wye while we were in Wales’. And his birthday was the perfect day to make it happen!

Although we could go virtually sightseeing in Wales, it couldn’t beat real activities in the great Welsh outdoors. Since the Welsh government gradually lifted the lockdown, some outdoor facilities started to reopen. In Symonds Yat, a popular viewpoint of the River Wye, there are many canoe hire companies for the visitors. We decided, if the weather was good, to hire a canoe from one of those companies.

The company we went with for a canoe hire was Canoe the Wye. At the time of our booking (mid-July 2020), only half-day hire programmes were available, complying with the Government’s advice. We were originally doubtful if 3 hours would be enough. But in short, it was just the right duration (certainly for me!) to enjoy the pleasant landscape from Kerne Bridge to Symonds Yat.

Me paddling a canoe along the River Wye in Wales in mid-July 2020, with a view of green woods. Image taken by Josh - Sehee in the World

Wales Trip – Canoeing on the Wye: Outdoor Activity Review

Canoe Hire with Canoe the Wye

I wanted to write about our experience with Canoe the Wye in the context of the post-COVID-19 era. I thought sharing about it could help travellers to consider and decide on any outdoor activity. Of course, depending on how the current situation unfolds, how it operated may improve further or stop again; but if any of you wonder about a trip and canoeing in Wales at this time, continue to read on. 🙂

Pre-booking System

With Canoe the Wye, it wasn’t possible to just turn up on the day and hire a canoe. When we looked up the availability to book a few days in advance, slots disappeared fairly quickly. As I’m writing this, it seems the popularity of the canoeing activity has increased even more. You’ll find Morning Half Day and Afternoon Half Day as active programmes on Canoe the Wye’s booking page. Until further notice on their website, Three Quarter Day, 1 Day, 2 Day, 3 Day and 4 Day ones are not running.

Canoe the Wye’s Meeting Point & Check-in

On the day we booked for, we arrived at a meeting point where Canoe the Wye’s reception was, as shown below. There was a separate parking fee, and I assumed the hotel opposite shares the site with Canoe the Wye. For social distancing, we needed to wait by the rope line until staff came. Soon, a member of staff appeared and confirmed our names from the reservation list. Then we went in over the line and checked our emergency contact information at the counter. The counter desk had a transparent plastic screen to minimise any contact between staff members and customers. We had to sign a confirmation form and if you want to be extra careful besides their hard work in safety & hygiene, I recommend taking a pen for it. At the other side of the counter was a big hand sanitiser for customers if necessary.

Reception building for Canoe the Wye, following the government's COVID-19 policy. Image taken by me - Sehee in the World

After signing the form and receiving life jackets at the counter, the staff disinfected paddles for us. It seemed used life jackets are hung on the line to dry and paddles get cleaned with a disinfection spray every time they are handed over to customers. They also offered a small plastic barrel to keep personal items in the canoe in case we had anything to keep safe and dry.

Safety Instructions & Heading to Starting Point

Where this reception was is actually the endpoint for canoeing, which meant that minivans were used for transport. Along with two other groups, we sat on a bench behind the building for general safety & COVID-19 instructions. Since social distancing should be applied even during the journey in minivans, Canoe the Wye limited the maximum capacity to 2~3 small groups or 1 larger bubble. The slot we booked in had 3 teams in total including ourselves (6 people), and that minivan only had four of them as Josh’s parents dropped us off.

Canoeing on the River Wye & Half Day Programme Route

Despite being a weekday, it felt more like a weekend. Not only did we come across other people on canoes, but also fishermen and families picnicking by banks. Perhaps, like us, they were trying to do things more locally at the minute. Talking of fishermen, one of the instructions was that we should be aware of fishing lines during paddling!

Me looking backwards on the canoe as we slowed down for photos and views, as the River Wye's landscape was picturesque. Image taken by Josh - Sehee in the World

I actually have a funny relationship with water. I say I like water activities (I really do!); but regardless of sea, rivers or even swimming pools, every time going into the water, if I can’t stand with my feet on the ground or I feel as if I’d lose a balance, I panic. It gets fine with time as I gradually find it familiar, but I get unnecessarily nervous. Same for this time at the start, but fortunately, the water level was very low. :p

The route from Kerne Bridge to Symonds Yat provided nice, peaceful landscapes. We didn’t spot unusual wildlife the area sometimes attracts, such as kingfishers and peregrine falcons; still, we saw plenty of ducks, Canada geese, swans and cygnets on the river. In the sky, we saw common buzzards and cormorants as we got closer to the end of the route.

The total time being on the Wye took about 2 hours and 15-20 minutes for us. This included a quick break by a bank near the cliffs and fairly casual paddling (except for some last-minute power paddling due to the wind direction). Because Canoe the Wye gives you 3 hours to complete (to the reception site), there is no need to worry about timing.

Ending Point & Dropping off Your Canoe

Canoe drop-off point for Canoe the Wye. Image taken by me - Sehee in the World

As I mentioned earlier, the meeting point was the ending point of our mini canoe trip. It was all done as we dragged our canoe up to the area where the minivan was parked. The member of staff who gave us the instruction helped me lift the canoe as it was very heavy.

I must have been under stress without realising how much, over the past months of the quarantine, country life in Wales, feeling helpless… This outdoor activity after many months of doing nothing was truly a great way to change my mood. Both of us really appreciated it, especially in that we could do something special on Josh’s birthday! Obviously it wasn’t the easiest to arrange because both customers and companies had to pay attention to safety & hygiene, but at least it was possible. 🙂

If you like the idea of canoeing on the River Wye, do check out the full information on Canoe the Wye’s website. Book in advance, since it seems popular as a much-needed activity and also due to the limited availability!

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