It was August Bank Holiday 2012 and I was doing what I do best. Well I am World Champion at it, with my Guinness Book of world Record title and All, Fastest man in a Bathtub over 100 m. Tristan Bawn, had been along to the World Bog snorkeling Championships in my Welsh home town of Llanwrtyd Wells to turn his hand at Bog Snorkeling. I might add that I was at that time the 5 years running title holder of the Fastest local Bog snorkeler as well. At the time I was only 15 secs off the world record !!, In the end I had to move away as to let someone else win the local title for a change, lol.
Tristan and I got talking, he was asking about the Bathtubbing World Championships and mentioned he and his mates were wanting to paddle the length of the Severn River on Stand Up Paddle boards. I’m a country Boy, Right. I had a picture of some guys standing on a board and paddling, OK that’s a bit different, just like me. Yep, sounded good to me. I asked him what was stopping him. He started telling me all the issues they still needed to overcome, didn’t have land access permissions, no funding for film crew, didn’t have bikes, Helmets and PFD’s.
He started to suggest that this would all take time to arrange and they didn’t know when that would be in place. Well, I said if you’re up for a 4th person joining you then I can get you access permissions done on Tuesday morning, Speak to people about securing tourism funding for a short film, I have a fleet of mountain bikes as I’m a MTB guide, and I also have water sports PPE. So that was that, no excuses now.
We set a date in April 2013 as the start date, the plan was to start at the Source of the Severn river on the Pumlumon, the source of the Severn River is marked by a Large wooden post that stands at 620 m. 2034 ft. From there the plan was to walk down to the National Resources Wales (NRW) forestry car park, from there we were going to cycle to our river start point, and then paddle the rest of the route of the River Severn to Sharpness Docks. That was the point that the river was then deemed to be the Sea.
The aim of the trip was to have our boards with us all the time, while walking, riding the bikes, travelling in the car, and paddling on the river. To show how easy it was to transport your ISUP around and go places, paddle places etc. Our aim was to Journey the length of the Severn River for 8 days, at the start of each day we would journey to the start point with our boards, then journey the day with them, after that days journey we would load our stuff in the support vehicle and then travel to a campsite and spent the night, the next day getting up, packing up and then starting the next section. Some evenings we were lucky enough to be able to camp right on the Banks of the Severn at campsites which was a great experience.
Day one we got driven up as high as we could in the Hafren Forest and walked the last few kms to the Source of the Severn marker post and set off back down the walking track to the Car park to our waiting bikes. From there we were going to head for a bridge on the B4385 near Garthmyl to start our water sections, with the flows being quite low at that point in the year that was the point we reckoned we could paddle from. Walking up and down the hill with the boards in the bag was easy enough, A well made rucksack with a board in it isn’t any worse than going on a camping mission with a full rucksack of gear. Cycling was a bit trickier, starting and stopping could be fun, but actually the cycling was great. After all that’s why they put gears on bike? Day one flew by and this adventure was just starting.
Day 2 arrived and we found ourselves back at the bridge and beside the river pumping up our boards. The excitement of the day ahead was intense. The 4 of us fill of it at what lay ahead on the river, after a short briefing on that were likely to be the issues of the day, Sleep grassy or sheer soil walled river banks, willow trees or branches laying in the river, Swirling eddies, and lets not forget the animals in the fields to talk too. It wasn’t long till we were off, the first section of the river meanders sort of parallel to and follows as if teasing the border with England in a northerly direction and then turns to the east. At the end of day 2 we found ourselves at our get out point at the Bridge on the B 4393. We deflated our boards put them back in our bags and loaded them in the vehicle and off we went to the nearest campsite.
The Next morning, we were back again to our last night’s start point to blow the boards up again and set out for our days journey. This wasn’t a break neck speed journey this was a paddleboard journey to enjoy ourselves to explore and experience this newfangled thing call Stand Up Paddle boarding. I was hooked from the first days of our pre trip paddles, I had a board for about 6 moths before the trip and was loving exploring the Irfon river and white-water sections on it near Llanwrtyd Wells. The adventure on the Severn was still tame and young, as paddlers our experience was growing as the river got bigger.
The days followed the same routine each day, journey to the river, pump the boards up start paddling, paddle all day then deflate the boards and find a campsite. Returning the next morning to start over. The meanders of the river started to give way and the villages and towns started to give way to cities. Shrewsbury, marked the first of the bigger cities and we were now firmly in English lands. Below Shrewsbury the river generally got straighter it was wider and we were looking forward to seeing more on the river. In Powys it was a more farmland experience and towns were built away from the rivers and flood plans because of the geography of the valley and river types. As we got further into our journey that gave way to industry around the towns and the towns were built on the river banks as the river was navigable by boats.
After portaging at Shrewsbury weir our next point of interest on the river was Jack Field rapids, but before that was Iron Bridge from the heart of the Industrial Age. I had always wanted to see the bridge. But never had the chance to get there. So, to see it from the river, and actually pass under it was a truly awesome experience. While that was great, I was personally looking forward to getting to the Jackfield rapids, south of Telford. This was the only bit of real bumpy stuff on the upper Severn River and that’s the kind of water I like. We took a few swims and I and the others had a few runs down the rapids but in the end, it was time to move on.
The River generally had a relaxing feel to it, nothing to be to worried about, our boards were 12’6” explorer boards. Ideal for river trips, now you can get a 13’ explorer board as well in most ranges. The longer the better especially if you have a long way to go and carrying all your supplies with you for a 10 day across the country somewhere. The boards were 6” thick which gives you a high center of gravity and with lots of load sitting high can increase the tip factor in rough water, but we were travelling lite with only our days needs with us.
The towns of the river side were drifting by and we were drifting into Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, the muddy waters had been with us for 6 days now and as we were getting further down the only thing that had changed was Spring was here, was that because we were closer to sea level and it was warmer down here ? or had it been the length of time we had been on the river, I wasn’t really sure. For the Trees were in Blossom down here and the Daffs were out and we hadn’t seen much sign of them when we had started in Powys.
But flowers and blossom’s aside, as pretty as they are. The mighty dirty coloured waters of the Severn enters the sea and or the sea enters the Severn. Whichever way is technically correct at different given times. Ahead of us lay the best part of the trip in my eyes anyway. The end of day 8 found ourselves sitting out at Arlingham and setting up camp for the night. We had been joined by a number of Tristan, Dean, and Robs Severn Bore rides group friends, who had paddled with us from Gloucester to Arlingham. Although we had camped nearer to the river, the Red Lion at Arlingham was warm and inviting for our last night on the river.
The next morning, we had to be on time, ready to go, As the tide was pushing past our location, millions of gallons of water were being forced up the Severn River. What we were seeing was the Severn Bore. If we had been on the river to early, we would’ve been going the wrong way, back to the beginning, Surfing the Severn Bore up the river. It would’ve been fun for sure. But ahead of us lay our goal for the day. Sharpness Docks where the canal network meets the open sea.
With the Severn bore safely above us with its million or so gallons of water, it was now time to get on the river as the water below us in the Severn estuary was now already on its way back out to the sea. We needed to get a move on as just around the corner is an area known as the Noose, and on an outgoing tide it can produce a mighty wicked tide race affect. Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA) were there to watch over us to our journeys end.
SARA, briefed us that morning on the river conditions ahead and the wind speeds. It was going to be very windy, probably to windy to stand, gusting so we were likely to be blown off our boards, they had advised us to stay on the welsh side of the river as we were approaching the Noose, but that didn’t really happen. The strong winds pushed as wide, back to the center of the river flow, as we arrived at the “Noose” and we ended up being sweep wide of the corner and that gave as a much longer and harder paddle route which was more like straight down the middle, where the big stuff would be, and not where we were meant to be going. After a bit and I mean a big bit of hard paddling, on our knees I might add as the wind was very strong, we managed with the assistance of the strong head winds to push too the side.
I stood on the muddy shoreline on the Welsh side looking across the river and down towards the Sharpness docks in the distance while I waited for the others to come ashore. One Sara craft stayed off shore and the other followed the rest of the group in. I stood there, I knew I was standing as I could see my feet on the grown, but feeling them was a different matter. We were all pretty much the same, numb from knees down, from clenching them and holding the board with our knees to stay on.
The final section was just as epic, Wales to England. I set off first and followed the Welsh bank down to a point above the old railway bridge crossing, then set out across and with the flow, the wind had died a bit but there was still quite a flow and wind over tide was producing a wicked chop effect. I remember learning that day that your board is so much easier to handle standing up, but if you really want to get some power down in the head winds, kneeling is brilliant for that.
As we neared the Lifeboat station at Sharpness, we could see the people lining the hand rails of the dock’s outer sea defenses. Friends, Family and Facebook followers had come out to watch the Source to Sea Team in. I remember standing on the muddy beach as I watch Dean land, Wow that was a paddle and a half and then as Tristan and Rob arrived and wandered down the mud, Thinking I want to do that again. I’m sure we were all glad to be on dry, well wet muddy land at that point, but I’m sure as we sat with friends, family and Facebook followers eating cake, that secretly we wanted to still be out there.
At that time out Trip was the longest Stand Up Paddle board journey in the country, The Severn River is 321 kms / 200 miles long and is the longest River in the UK. Our 9 day trip started on the 20th of April and over the next 8 days we paddled 281 kms /175 miles
This is the link to the short film that Level films compiled from the footage taken during our Stand Up Paddleboard expedition from the River Severn’s Source, to the Sea. The film was shown at the London Surf Film Festival, The Honolulu Surf Film Festival and the Portuguese Surf Film Festival.
Here is a short clip of the Source of the Severn in the deepest of Winter.
and Here is a few more photos of the trip