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Four men in a dinghy

Updated on September 14, 2014

How it began

There we were – me, Bob, Frank and Andy - at 5 o’clock one bright and sunny mid-summer Saturday morning. We were carrying an inflatable dinghy down to the riverbank. It was one of those hare-brained ideas born in boredom and perhaps a feeling that youth was becoming a memory. "Frank has an old dinghy. Let’s paddle it down the River Wye."

It was mentioned a short while later that "there’s a slow leak in it. There’s no need to worry, though. It takes about a week for it to go down." I pondered how much all this reflected the true condition of the boat, and how much was a leg-pull. As a confirmed landlubber I am inclined to caution on water. When I finally laid eyes on the boat – inflated, though still on dry land - it seemed sturdy enough, and there were no immediate signs of it deflating. It looked a serious sort of dinghy - not a lightweight craft; I decided I could take it more seriously.

Canoes at Symonds Yat on the River Wye
Canoes at Symonds Yat on the River Wye | Source

On the river

We reached the riverbank and inflated the boat with one of those devices that you might use for car tyres. When the boat was afloat with us all aboard we pushed out to midstream.
Immediately, the greenery of overhanging trees and foliage on the banks enveloped us. On the water our eye level was about three and a half feet above river level, and the banks were four or five feet high. With dense foliage on the banks we could see nothing beyond them. Our world was limited to the river and the banks.

It was like a lush green cathedral. Shrill bird-calls echoed around us as we drifted and paddled slowly downstream. Jokes involving a movie about a river in a wilderness with murderous wild-men arose and fell, though I was more struck by the silence – all we heard was our own voices, bird-calls and the splashing from our paddles.

A few miles further on we craned our necks to watch peregrine falcons circling above a towering cliff-top. When our necks began to ache too much we decided we should push on.
We stopped for lunch at Hay-on-Wye, then we bent some more against the paddles. Weary muscles ached too much; we rested, drifting down the river. Once or twice we paused to pump more air into the dinghy.

Finally, we reached our journey's end - Monmouth if I recall correctly - and left the river. We returned to normality and real life, though I would not forget an alternative lifestyle where the humdrum and clamour of modern life are left behind.

Map showing the approximate start and end points of our journey

Welsh Bicknor youth hostel:
Welsh Bicknor, County of Herefordshire HR9, UK

get directions

Monmouth, Wales:
Monmouth NP25, UK

get directions

© 2012 Peter Ray


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