Wye, Oh My! A river adventure

A 10k journey down the River Wye - and how to plan your own trip

South West Seal Pups during their River Wye adventure

On the hottest weekend of the year, the South West Seal Pups decided to embarked upon on a meticulously planned 10k microadventure down the River Wye. There was floating. There were leaping fish. There were flapjacks. Pup Henry Parker describes the trip and gives some tips on planning your own river adventure.

The South West Seal Pups is the youth/student wing of the South West Seals – a community of open and cold water swimming enthusiasts based in and around Bristol. Our first river swim of the year started from Lower Lydbrook, Gloucestershire, meandering through the Wye Valley and finishing at the historic Symonds Yat. The River Wye is perfect for all abilities with few obstacles and plenty of entry/exit points, there’s even a pleasant current to help you along your way! Located about an hour drive from Bristol and only half an hour from Newport or Gloucester, it’s the ideal day trip.

With the temperature approaching 30°C the wildlife was out in force, birds of prey, ducks, and even the occasional leaping fish joined us. Canoeists looked at us with a mixture of confusion and envy, while dog walkers waved us past. Half an hour in, we opened the flapjacks (they didn’t last long), with some members of the group using this opportunity to top up their tan. 

“With the temperature approaching 30°C the wildlife was out in force: birds of prey, ducks, and even the occasional leaping fish”

Shortly, we were back in the water and swimming past the iconic Yat Rock. We floated, paddled and drifted our way downstream, stopping once more to rest before continuing downstream. Whilst it was a hot day, the water was cool, so it was a much-needed thermal break on the riverbank. We only realised later on how strong the sun really was, but it was nothing a little aloe vera couldn’t solve! 

We hopped back in the water, suitably warmed and ready to continue (although it did take a bit of persuading to leave the sunny riverbank!). However, all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, we were at our destination where a cold pint awaited us. 

Finding your own river swim

Here are some pointers for finding and planning your own river swim near you:

  • Do your research
    • There are articles online detailing suitable swim routes, you can even find some on the OSS swim map.
  • Canoeing maps
    • Canoeing maps can be a really useful resource.  There may be maps or articles online detailing routes, complete with points of interest along the way.  If a route is described as anything other than suitable for novice canoers we would not recommend swimming it!
  • Scout out the location
    • Ideally, visit the location before you swim.  Get an idea of the strength of the current, ease of access to the river, and if there are any problem spots.  
  • Ask the locals
    • Ask around, see if anyone knows of any good swims or spots to avoid.  They may even know of some secret bathing spots.
  • If you’re unsure, don’t take the risk. 
    • Do not attempt a swim unless you are 100% sure of the route and its risks.  

 

Safety

River swims come with their own risks, here are some tips for keeping safe on your swim:

  • Don’t forget your tow float and dry bag!
    • Your tow float is necessary for boats, fishermen and canoeists to see you, do not swim without one!  You should always have at least one member in your group with a dry bag containing plasters, a towel, phones, emergency rations, and any other emergency equipment you may need.  You could be miles from the nearest road – be prepared for any eventuality!
  • Keep your eyes forward
    • Keep you eyes ahead, looking for any obstacles in the water, this includes any disturbances on the surface which could indicate submerged obstacles.
  • If it gets shallow, walk
    • If it starts to get shallow, walk.  You do not want to run the risk of grazing your knees on the riverbed. 
  • Tell people where you are going and when you expect to finish.  
    • Tell them to expect a message or phone call from you upon finishing.
  • Know the route
    • Know how long you expect to be in the water.  You can always measure the of the route on Google Maps to gauge the length of the swim.  If there are obstacles in the water, make sure everyone in the group is aware of them before swimming.
  • Know the finish
    • There’s nothing worse than overshooting the finish and having to walk back upstream.  Know what landmarks to look for and start preparing to exit early. Do not hope to stumble across the finish

The logistics of a river swim

Unlike a lake or quarry, river swims require a bit more organisation.  Here are some tips for executing the perfect river swim:

  • Plan where you will park
    • This applies both upstream and downstream, keep it as close as possible to the start and finish points.
  • You will need two cars
    • One to be left downstream and one to take people upstream.
  • Moving stuff between cars
    • Anything you will need after your swim (including clothes, food, and drink) will need to be left in the car staying downstream.  You may need to get changed and drive upstream in your swimming costume!
Henry Parker