The canoes slipped into the still water at Monmouth Steps, splitting the reflection of the clouds and sky into a hundred ripples as the paddlers clambered in. Laughter quickly filled the air as the canoe crews got to grips with coordination, balance and communication all at the same time and finally the group was corralled into a small bay of quiet water on the edge of the river.
From here a short amount of time was spent coaching the crew of each canoe how to paddle and control the craft before setting a number of fun challenges and semi-serious competitions to develop both teamwork and confidence on the water. It is amazing to see how quickly people's nerves disappear on trips like this, with a relatively short coaching foundation developing paddlestrokes, skills and confidence before heading off onto the river journey.
Gliding under the Wye Bridge (or perhaps more accurately: under the bridges as the historic bridge was widened in 1879, to cope with increased traffic as the Wye Valley became a busy trade-route by road as well as river, leaving new and old sections of the bridge visible side-by-side) the river quickly shakes off the town and descends past the mouth of the river Monnow and then under the old railway bridge before becoming wide and peaceful as it flows between fields and meadows.
This section of the river Wye is not only picturesque but also home to dozens of different birds and animals, ranging from the ubiquitous Mute Swans to Canada Geese, from Otter to Mink, and from Buzzards to the beautiful Kingfisher. As we paddled we saw fish jumping in the river ahead of us, heard the buzzards calling as they swooped over the woodlands above us and we saw Mink tracks in the soft mud of the river banks.
Feeling the groups leaning towards stopping for lunch we chose a gravel beach, dragged the canoes out of the water and settled into grazing packed lunches (some enviably more extravagant than others ... and by others I mean ... mine!). As lunches disappeared we got the Kelly Kettle lit and soon boiled enough water for tea and coffee to wash the last of the morsels down.
From this point we then began to explore the key areas of bushcraft, with demonstrations and practice in fire lighting (with ferro-rods, flint and steel and bow drills), fire building using a range of locally sourced tinder and kindling, natural cordage and knots as well as shelter building using tarps and canoes ... and a fiercely competitive session of skimming stones!
Individuals had their own preferences and ambitions for what they wanted to master during the day and it didn't take long before some people were sporting the finest nettle-cordage bracelets while others had perfected their bowdrill technique to generate an ember for firelighting.
Putting the canoes back onto the river more of the responsibility for leading was passed to the group as we navigated passed fishing groynes and through the 'boulder garden' enroute to a 'comfort break' at the Boat Inn at Redbrook.
Leaving Redbrook and it's mighty railway bridge behind us we continued a most leisurely paddle downstream, interrupted only by the sound of singing and laughter as we challenged the children to some 'vocal gymnastics' to finish our day.