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Guest Blog - Pam Bell

Generic Paddling

By Pam Bell, member of the British Canoeing Access Advisory Group.

In March 1988, about 150 paddlers travelled Afon Seiont, from Llanberis to Caernarfon, passing their boats over barricades manned by anglers.  A strong police presence ensured a peaceful event and Geoff Wood appeared on Countryfile to state the paddlers’ case. BCU however, condemned the ‘trespass’, and Geoff Wood was expelled.

“Will the BCU lead us in this fight?  Will it hell! Not without fundamental changes.” Geoff Wood.

I heard only recently that Geoff Wood died a few years ago. We never met, but I was inspired by Campaign for River Access for Canoes and Kayaks  (CRACK) back in the day, and by learning of his exceptional dedication to the cause. This is my tribute.

At his tribunal, Geoff said that “canoeists had gone cap in hand to anglers for 50 years with no progress achieved and he could not identify even 10 reasonable access agreements”.  While these words still resonate in England and Wales, we have come a long way. The Seiont paddle was not trespass, but like the Kinder Trespass which inspired it, highlighted the injustice of denying public access to our natural heritage.  

Both events played their part in paving the way for a new type of campaign, and we owe to pioneers like Geoff Wood that we no longer need to take militant action, but can engage directly with the legislature.  Scotland led the way with open access legislation in 2003 and Wales’ first step towards legislation came in 2008 when a Welsh Assembly inquiry reported “Access to inland water is a matter of equity and social justice”.

Thirty years, to the month, after the Seiont paddle, Ivan Lawler and I spoke at the BC AGM about a Joint Statement on access with the BC Board.  This was possible only because fundamental changes have happened in BC: a clear statement of belief that a PRN exists on all rivers, rejection of unnecessarily restrictive ‘agreements’, commitment to campaign for open access, and crucially, support at the highest level in the organisation.   

Sadly, Geoff Wood did not live to see the changes he fought for, but I hope he would approve.  Maybe he would say: “Hell - BC WILL lead us in this fight!”