Canoeing on the Wye

From Dorstone we are a short drive from many good canoeing launch points along the Wye. I have enjoyed many days and half-days paddling the beautiful river.

I have done half-day trips with Paddles and Pedals canoe hire: from the launch point by the Hay bridge, it takes about 3 hours to paddle downriver to the Boat Inn at Whitney on Wye, where you can recover with a drink in the pub before being picked up and taken back to Hay. The views on this stretch of the river are gorgeous – you can see over to Hay Bluff marking the start of the Brecon Beacons, and there are lots of sections of open fields where you can hop off to enjoy a picnic (or just a leg stretch if the paddling position gets too much).

Recently I did a full day trip with Monmouth Canoe Hire. We got kitted out at their rather swanky centre in Monmouth, then they drove us up river about 15 miles to Kerne Bridge. We were in the water around 10am, and made it back to Monmouth around 3pm. That was going at a fairly energetic pace with a leisurely picnic stop just before the Simmonds Yat Rapids. We took our own picnic, though there are a couple of pubs just before the rapids. The scenery is different to the Hay stretch – though just as pretty – with forestry on either side most of the way, and the rocky cliffs (including Simmonds Yat Rock) in sight for a good while. There was quite a suspense built up around “the rapids” on the day. There’s a short stretch of quick water were you need to point the boat between the rocks and just keep paddling – it’s over before you know it!

Things to know: the water level will effect whether or not you can get out – if it’s too high and fast flowing it can be deemed too dangerous or if it’s too low it’s impassable by boat. Check the day before with your hire centre.

Both centres I’ve mentioned offer kayaks and Canadian canoes of different sizes, so accommodate sporty types, leisurely types, big groups, small groups, odd numbers etc etc.

You can opt to have your canoes rafted together, making the canoes more stable. Good for kids (or nervous passengers).

The centres provide you with lifejackets, helmets, maps and a watertight barrel for possessions (and picnics!).

Granary Book Blog: Fiction

Resistance by Owen Sheers (fiction)
The women of a small Welsh farming community wake one morning to find that their husbands have gone. Soon after that a German patrol arrives in their valley.

‘Sheers creates around his imagined history a credible and moving story of loyalty and quiet courage… Resistance is an impressive debut and confirms Sheers as a writer whose talent encompasses a variety of literary forms.’ Stephanie Merritt, Observer

The Olchon Valley - setting of "Resistance"

The Olchon Valley – setting of “Resistance”

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin (fiction, also a film)
Evoking the lonely tragedies of farm life, and above all the vibrant land of Wales, this is a tale of two brothers who never go anywhere. They stay in the farmhouse on the English/Welsh border where they were born tilling rough soil and sleeping in the same bed, touched occasionally by the advance of the 20th century.

The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes by Barry Grant (fiction)
Starts as a curiosity, quickly becomes an entertaining mystery, and concludes with a powerful revelation of deceipt and inhumanity‘. Quoted from The Newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London No 302 – April 2010.

The original super-sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, is back on the case – When James Wilson retires from journalism, he decides to settle down in Herefordshire with a room-mate, a Mr Cedric Coombes, and at first thinks little of his new friend’s eccentric behaviour. But he can’t shake the feeling that he knows him from somewhere else. As Coombes displays his magnificent deductive prowess, and becomes embroiled in the police investigation of the apparent murder of a man in bathtub, Wilson, or should we say Watson, begins to wonder just who this Coombes really is . . .

Granary Book Blog: Autobiographies

Kilverts’s Diary 1870 – 1879 Selections from the Diary of Rev. Francis Kilvert by William Plomer
The Kilverts, originally a Shropshire family, had migrated to Bath in the eighteenth century. Francis Kilvert spent his early years at Harden Huish, was educated privately, went in due course to Wadham College, Oxford, and entered the Church. In November 1977 Kilvert became Vicar of Bredwardine. His Diaries paint a unique picture of country life in mid Victorian times.

An Evacuee in The Hay (and other stories) by Eddie J Stapleton
Illustrated with several period photographs, this book is a collection of Eddie’s reminiscences of his life as an evacuee in Hay on Wye.

My Kingdom of Books by Richard Booth (not availably electronically but a signed copy is on our bookshelf)
Richard Booth offers many reflections on a society increasingly centralized and dominated by distant authority whether bureaucratic or capitalistic.  His views are controversial, provocative but unfailingly entertaining. Monarchic, socialist and separatist, he is politically incorrect four times over – and a rare free spirit in a world of increasing orthodoxy.  He tells the story of Hay-on-Wye, a small town on the Welsh-border that became a mecca for book enthusiasts and collectors from all over the world. The hilarious events surrounding the town’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain are described, as are the author’s more serious thoughts abut rural regeneration.

Granary Book Blog: History

Possible holiday reading relating to the surrounding area. A jumble, in no particular order, of books and electronic publications – Further suggestions welcome!

The Best of the Golden Valley and Herefordshire’s Welsh Borderland by Karen Wren (Kindle £1.99)
A short guide giving an insight into the villages, sites and walks of interest in the Golden Valley and Welshborderland, offering an overview of the history and heritage of this peaceful area of outstanding natural beauty. (Not intended as an exhaustive or definitive catalogue of the area’s history!) An excellent new publication.

Dorstone 1890 to 1990 – a centenary celebration
Fascinating history of the village with many period photographs. 70 x A4 pages downloadable as a pdf. You can purchase for £4 and all proceeds go to St Faith’s Church, Dorstone. Have a look at the contents and read some extracts before you buy!

The Folklore and Witchcraft of Herefordshire by Ella Leather (Kindle £4.49)
This is the most detailed account ever published relating to the folk beliefs and superstitions of the people of Herefordshire. Covering subjects as diverse as witchcraft, charms and seasonal customs. First published in 1912, it remains a classic of English folklore.

Champagne and Shambles – The Arkwrights and the Country House in Crisis by Catherine Beale
Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure.  It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up.‘ – Oscar Wilde (1895).  ‘I am in an awful state of depression which nothing but champagne can remove.‘ – Johnny Arkwright (1870)  the largest landowner in Herefordshire at the time.  Of interest to those who have visited country houses in Britain and wondered why they ceased to be homes, this title uses the real-life period drama of Johnny Arkwright (1833 – 1905) to illustrate how landowners saw their world disintegrate and disappear.

Ancient Crosses of the Three Choirs Counties by Marion Freeman
Having been fascinated by all things that epitomise the British countryside and its many facets since childhood, Marion Freeman has long been interested in bee boles and bridges, cairns and canals, maypoles and markets – the list is endless and a never ending source of research and investigation.  Chief amongst these are the many countryside and churchyard crosses that can be discovered throughout the land. Built in a variety of styles and consisting of a selection of materials, they stand (in spite of order from Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth period to destroy them) in different stages of preservation, an historical and nostalgic throwback to the past.

Bloody British History: Hereford by David Phelps
Hereford has a darker side to its history, filled with strange – and sometimes unlikely – true tales.  Was King Arthur a Hereford man?  Why was its patron saint murdered by his would-be father-in-law?  Why did another of its saints become the only saint to die excommunicated?  Was a Bishop of Hereford involved in the murder of a king by the most frightful method imaginable? Did bones from the Cathedral graveyard really cure every disease know to man?  Was a ghost really responsible for the destruction of the cathedral’s west front? Was the Hay Poisoner really guilty?  Was a Hereford clerk the rightful Kind of England?  These, and many other strange stories, will be revealed in this book.

The Hay-on-Wye Cycle Sportive 2013

The alarm clock failing, I was awoken last Sunday by the sound of rain lashing on the window and wind howling round the Granary garden. What a lovely day for a cycle round the Brecons I thought!

We had signed up for the inaugural Hay-on-Wye Sportive and had come up to the Granary especially for it, so there was no ducking out now. Furthermore, we had eaten a significant amount of cake the day before, in preparation, so we had some calories to burn!

Turning up at Drover Cycles, we found a good number of cyclists, all trying to smile at the weather ‘situation’. We signed in, layered up and got on our way. (See the route map here.) Doing the 65 mile route, turning left out of Drovers, the first section was up, up, up. At the first junction a gaggle of hefty white geese had aligned themselves to guide us the right way by threatening to peck our legs. I was glad to have my full length lycras on!

The road from Hay up to Craswall is a tough climb, but there are some rolly bits where your legs get a few seconds respite. Nearing the highest point, the road becomes free of hedges and the view of the Black Hill is brilliant. It is however very exposed – metres from the final crest, I was blown clean over! Just a little graze but my pride was somewhat hurt!

Onwards and, now, downwards. We enjoyed the cruise through Craswall, Longtown, and Michaelchurch, stopping at Vowchurch where some very friendly sportive helpers greeted us with tea and flapjacks in the village hall.

After the Vowchurch stop was a decision point – turn back to the cottage or continue on the route. Feeling re-fuelled, and now out of the wind, we continued. Through Abbey Dore, Kentchurch, Skenfrith, the route rolled on past some great buildings – manor houses, castles and country cottages. Mental note to come back this way again on a more leisurely cycle – there were a couple of potential coffee-stop places.

Passing the half-way point, we plugged on to Pandy, crossing the A465 (there’s a central section on the road so it’s easy to cross on a bike), and the Black Mountains were again in view. We knew we had to head right into them! Feed Station No. 2 awaited us at Cwmyoy – this time coffee and more flapjacks.

We past Llanthony Priory and pushed on to Capel-y-Ffin. Although I was somewhat suffering by this point, the wonder of the Llanthony Valley pulled me through. I have been in the valley countless times, on horse, bike and foot and never tire of it. The route took a final burst up the Gospel Pass and we rounded the corner of Hay Bluff, revealing a rather bleak but still magnificent view of the Wye Valley below. We had made it! Although still 5 or so miles from the finish line, we knew it was down, down, down to Hay from here.

All in all it was a great ride. A super route, well organised – and fantastic flapjacks!

If you’re interested in the preparation… “Carb-loading” started on Friday night – we made it to Dorstone just in time for a Caribbean bread and butter pudding at the Pandy Inn. Absolutely divine. We spent Saturday in Hay – great soup and rolls and milkshakes at Oscar’s Bistro – then a mooch round the bookshops and antique emporiums before coffee, carrot cake and tiffin in Tomatitos – a great find. Dinner at home in the Granary then off to the Pandy again for pud – this time sticky toffee pudding….

I didn’t manage to get the camera once on the ride, the weather being so awful. I did get a few of our day in Hay, and Tomatitos carrot cake:

Hay on Wye Sportive Routes 2013