Canoeing through life

Over the summer I went on my first ‘staycation’ since childhood and spent some time in the beautiful Wye Valley countryside. One of the most popular tourist attractions is canoeing the Wye but due to the Covid restrictions the river was far less busy than usual, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see the area from a different perspective.

I’ve only canoed a handful of times and I’m always slightly terrified of capsizing – once I’m sat down and settled I’m fine, but taking the first step into the boat and feeling it lurch is not a sensation I enjoy and I become very aware of the need for balance to stay afloat! Luckily, there were no calamities on this trip and my boatmate and I set off on a tranquil morning, with calm water, a light breeze and blue skies breaking through the clouds.

I find being on the water so peaceful. I love the gentle sounds of nature, seeing swans paddling past, feeling a sense of stillness and the knowledge that there are no distractions and nowhere else to be totally relaxes my over-thinking brain! Which is probably why my mind started wandering as I rowed, and I began to contemplate the parallels between a journey down the river and a journey through life.

As you row you see other people in their canoes – some are belting down the river, intent on getting to the finish, some are having a leisurely day and stopping for a rest and a picnic when they find a beauty spot, a few are struggling to navigate their oars but there’s no judgement, just a friendly hello as you pass. How much happier would we all be if this were the general approach to life?! Less comparison and more acceptance that everyone is making their own way to their own destination at their own pace.

There are points where you are zipping down the river, helped along by fast currents and patches of rapids and rowing feels effortless and smooth, you are totally in the flow. And it can be a great moment to take a little break to appreciate the surroundings. Then eventually you realise the pace is slowing and the arms are working harder to cut through the water, so you have to rely a little more on grit and teamwork to keep moving forward. And moving forward is all you can do…

By mid-afternoon we were approaching our landing spot. The sun was beating down, we were tired and the water was so still it was a real slog to the end but I wanted to savour every last minute on the river, surrounded by trees, water and the open countryside space.


On the last day of the trip, I stopped off at Symonds Yat Rock, the best lookout point to see views of the Wye and surrounding countryside. Gazing down over the river as it snaked into the distance, seeing the gentle loops leading round the trees, it was a totally different perspective to being on the river. From up high, the twists and turns are so clear and it’s easy to see the exact route the river takes, but on the water with no bird’s eye view, you can only see what’s directly in front of you. This drew my mind back to the life parallels - zooming out and looking at the big picture can guide us in the right direction, but we lose the detail. Or, alternatively, we zoom in and get so caught in the detail that it’s easy to forget to zoom out and check we’re headed in the right direction.

Recognising that we need both perspectives and knowing when to switch between them is key, so really the answer here is finding the balance… because as long as you have balance, you won’t capsize.