Organisers gear up for river Wye pilgrimage

By Chris Were   |   Reporter   |
Monday 1st August 2022 10:00 am
@ChrsWr
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Our Lady of the Waters and the Wye by Phillip Chatfield

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An extraordinary voyage is planned to highlight pollution in the River Wye next month (August 15 to 19).

A sculpture named Our Lady of the Waters and the Wye, mounted on two canoes made into a catamaran, will be floated 75 miles, from Hay-on-Wye to Monmouth, stopping at Ross. The pilgrimage aims to highlight the declining biodiversity in the Wye, which the organisers attribute to pollution from chicken farms, overflow of sewage, excessive use of fertilisers, run-off from arable land, and soil erosion.

The group say that 3,000 tons of phosphates a year go in the Wye, when it can only cope with 300.

The voyage aims to raise awareness and to call for radical action to cleanse the river.

The idea of the voyage was thought up by Fr Richard Williams of Hay-on-Wye and sculptor Philip Chatfield. It will leave from the Warren at Hay on August 15 and arrive in Monmouth on August 19.

They plan to arrive at Hoarwithy on August 17, Sellack and Ross on August 18, and Goodrich and Whitchurch on August 19.

Other canoeists and wild swimmers will accompany the canoe-catamaran. Art exhibitions will be held at Moccas Village Hall and Whitchurch Church with a number of events en route, which include: evensong with Ross Choir at Hoarwithy Church and a picnic (August 17); a lunchtime picnic with bagpipes at Sellack (August 18); and evening prayer at Monmouth Church (August 19).

The wooden sculpture is about 4ft in height, on a plinth 1ft high. The sculptor is Philip Chatfield, who nearly drowned on the brig of Maria Assumpta when it sank off Padstow in 1995 and has since carved stone statues for Tintern Abbey, St Mary’s Church in Monmouth and elsewhere.

Canoeists include: Philip Chatfield, Callum Bulmer, and Vicar of Cleeve Nigel Thomas, with the final stretch on August 19 into Monmouth led by the Deputy Head of Monmouth School and his wife, who are both Atlantic rowers. The wild swimmers include Nicola Goodwin of BBC Hereford and Worcester and others.

Plans are to livestream the voyage from a webcam on the sculpture’s crown. The sculpture will eventually be sited at a hillside shrine at Capel-y-ffin, where in 1880 the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to two boys aged 10 and 11, one of whom said to the other: “if that thing comes any nearer I am going to hit it with my stick.”

Further voyages are anticipated to be undertaken in the future.

An exhibition organised by the Woolhope Club, in the Woolhope Room, Hereford is planned from now until the end of August. It illustrates the rich heritage of the Wye, its geology, history, architecture, botany, ornithology, mammals, and invertebrates, and highlights current pollution and shows how sustainable farming practices can help. The exhibition will also visit local libraries and churches and move to the Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre in 2023.

The Gazette reported earlier this month on figures which revealed that a storm sewer overflow has spilled a total of 71 times for a total of 352 hours throughout 2021 at the outlet near Wye Street. At the Homs Road pumping station, the sewer storm overflow spilled 33 times, for a total of 110 hours. A cross-border working group started by MP Jesse Norman consisting of agencies, local authorities, and other key parties has come together to develop a five-year integrated plan to cut pollution in the Wye.

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