Symonds Yat October 2009

Bunny's Warm Up Routine

Our stitched up beginners Tim and Giles - and they're still smiling!!!

It all looked so easy. We didn’t have to tie a load of blue barrels to a few planks of wood and paddle them half submerged across a river and pretend it was fun being shouted at the whole way there and back. All we had to do was launch a few boats into an apparently millpond-still river and paddle them about a bit. They’d taken us down to look at the rapid before we got started and introduced us to a whole new vocabulary of “break outs” and “break ins” and “eddies” and we’d watched a few boats go through it; nothing to it really. Until suddenly you find yourself the wrong way up, the current taking you relentlessly downstream and your head smashing into everything that stands in your path, mostly rocks. Fortunately Miranda was waiting on the bank and is professionally inured to flowing blood.

Welcome to Symonds Yat.

And, to be frank, most of them did make it look easy; Alexa’s relentless gracefulness, Paddy looking as though he’d been born in a boat, Phil in total control, Ellie B. – after she got bored of the bunkhouse sofa – ferry glider supreme, Kevin in his yellow playboat. The swans were so impressed they had to start showing off, floating backwards down the rapid, waggling their tail feathers and chatting as they went.

Fortunately there were others who thought they were there to swim: Marc – without whom half of us wouldn’t have been there in the first place because his large van had lots of space for boats – spent more time than most in the water. We got quite used to that purple helmet emerging from the depths. Five swims on Sunday, according to one count. But that, he says, is because he’s more adventurous than most. Lisa, meanwhile, kept her hair dry all day. As did Lyn. As did Manda, but she did spend the day on the river bank. Antoinette took a couple of dips but seemed to think it quite funny; ditto Theresa, whose grin was as wide as the river itself when she didn’t go over but instead glided effortlessly into the next eddy. Rob chose to swim in the eddy. Something to do with a rock, he said.

And of course Giles swam as well. Only once, but long enough and deep enough to emerge with a gaping hole in his eyebrow. No more paddling for him. Instead first aid from Paddy that left him looking like a Ninja Turtle, and then a short trip to Monmouth, so we thought, for a stitch or two. Except Monmouth doesn’t have the right kind of hospital, but Abergavenny does. So off we set for Abergavenny only to find ourselves in Ross-on-Wye – a bit like heading for London and finding yourself in Bristol. But hats off to Adele, the lovely nurse, who dealt with us both and was hugely complimentary about Miranda’s first aid. Miranda was reciprocally complimentary about Adele’s surgical skills – more new vocabulary – my wound was “well opposed”. (I remain well opposed to hitting my head on another rock.) A big hats off to Miranda too for aforementioned first aid, chauffeuring duties and general good cheer.

Exhausted by professional duties, Miranda – accompanied by Richard, Katie and Ellie G. – decided against the rapid on Sunday morning and instead headed off upstream, destination Splat Rock, a local landmark. You can’t miss it, Phil assured them. Actually you can, and if you paddle far enough you get back to Ross-on-Wye. They didn’t get quite that far, but the portaging involved left them too exhausted to climb the rock when finally they found it.

Others meanwhile spent Sunday morning surfing the wave: Jacqui, Anna, Kevin, Ellie B. Jenny and Daf both took a swim, but then isn’t that what we were there for? Ben didn’t, and kept trying to tell people this was his first time on a rapid. I guess we have to believe him – he took to it like a bespectacled duck to the proverbial.

Olwen and Ed missed the fun on Sunday. The Dart was offering a greater challenge, and both rose to it magnificently, each coming first in their class. Did someone mention the veteran ladies’ class had but one entrant? And that on occasion Ed found himself foundering in the shallows?

Sunday ended with a late lunch and cream tea. Jacqui is the first person I’ve met who has her cream tea as a starter. Do they do everything upside down in New Zealand? The biggest hats off of all to her for her relentless e-mailing in the weeks beforehand, getting 26 of us to Herefordshire and back, into 26 beds and with 26 boats. And she only ended up 50 quid short.

A final tip for those who have a little difficulty reading a map: follow Antoinette. She and her Satnav have, shall we say, a creative relationship.

Tim Mansel.

Photos: Jacqui and Phils Photos

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