Following on from spending the week before kayaking in Scotland, I was already bored with England and had to escape again. The destination for this weekend was to be South Wales, and my accomplaces were Martyn, Emma and Dave Birkett and Tim – who had only started one year previously.
The preceeding Thursday saw some frantic discussions as to whether we thought that there would be enough water around to make the trip worthwhile. Once we had concluded that we were going, the panic turned to trying to sort out accommodation. Luckily, this was sorted by about 1000 on Friday morning, with us due to leave in approximately seven hours time – nothing like being prepared!
The drive across to Wales was fairly uneventful and we arrived at our “4-berth self-catering apartment” at Absolute Adventure with enough time to unload the cars and head off down the road to sample the local hospitality at the Pen Y Cae Inn.
Saturday morning arrived earlier than we would all have liked – I decided that we needed to be on the way by 0730 – and after collecting the car from the pub, we headed off to find a hearty breakfast before we got down to what we were there for.
Afon Dulais was to be our first river of the weekend – a nice grade 3 run with one 200 metre grade 4 not far from the end. This proved to be a nicer river than we had all been expecting, with some nice playwaves / play stoppers to enjoy before we reached the grade 4. As we passed under the railway bridge we were greated with an impressive horizon line. Paddling towards the lip, in order to inspect what was below, I could not see enough of the rapid in order to make the decision to run the rapid. This meant that we all got out of our boats in order to make a more detailed inspection and we were glad we did. The rapid I could see from the top turned out to be only part of a much larger rapid! Following inspection Martyn, Dave and myself were all up for running it, with Tim and Emma providing safety cover. The line we had chosen proved to be easier than we had expected and soon we reached the eddy at the bottom, where Tim and Emma were waiting to join us to carry out down to the get-out.
The second river of the day was the Afon Nedd Fechan – which both Martyn and I had run in the summer of 2007, although at a lower level. Emma heard the pub whispering to her and decided to stay in the warm and do some work in the pub. Just around the corner after getting on is a three-metre double drop. This was Tim’s first ever ‘drop’, and the first experience of rolling out of the hole at the bottom.
The first waterfall portage (we had already had to portage a tree blocking the river) was made and the following drop inspected at the same time. We took this opportunity to teach Tim about running drops, but he decided that he would demonstrate to us that he knew what to do when he completely missed his line and ended up in the eddy on the wrong side of the drop! The second waterfall portage was next up and Tim proved that he still had stuff to learn about running this kind of river – by sliding down the steep bank back to the river on his behind!
Tim and Dave both portaged to next drop – Horseshoe Falls – which is a drop into a short pool followed immediately by a double drop, with a cushion wave on the right to miss and a stopper at the bottom to stay clear of. Martyn went first, running the fast, long slide above the falls. Dropping off the first ledge he was straight into the double falls before he had time to think. He made it through the stopper, despite looking like he was going to end up sideways in it! I went next – the speed at which you travel down the slide above the fall was quite astounding. Before you realised you had travelled the 100 or so metres and were at the top of the first ledge. A quick boof on the left, a brace on the right, a couple of quick strokes, a brace on the left as I hit the cushion wave and a stroke on the right saw me reach the eddy at the bottom of the falls – only 5 seconds after the initial boof. A few more rapids followed, including a one-and-a-half metre vertical drop – which Dave pencilled and completely disappeared underwater, resurfacing shortly after a few metres to the right of where he went in. Just above the confluence with the Afon Pyrddin, the river-left bank had collapsed and thrown a few trees across the river, completely block our passage at this level.
A tricky portage on slippery, boggy mud was required before launching back in and carrying on. Thinking the worst was over, Tim let his guard down and was pushed up against a rock at the entrance to the little gorge. Going over, he washed off downstream only to hit his cheek on a rock causing him to let go of his paddles and then swim. A rapid rescue was performed and we got back on for the remaining 20 metres until the end of the river was reached. This run had taken considerably longer than any of us had expected – it was only a 3.5 km run – but the four portages and required inspection meant that it took us just over three hours. We didn’t get on until just after 1400, which meant that it was getting dark as we paddled the last section and it was completly dark within 10-15 minutes of getting off.
Saturday night was spent back in the Pen Y Cae Inn, where we all enjoyed their very tasty food and a few drinks.
Sunday morning saw a slightly more relaxed start to the day, not leaving the accommodation until almost 0900. The next hour was spent trying to source another hearty breakfast, which was eventually found in the Wetherspoons pub in Neath. Happily fed, we headed off to locate the Afon Afan, from Pontrhydyfen to Aberavon. The get-in proved slightly tricky to locate, and we eventually set off downstream just after midday! I have never seen so many weirs in one section of river. I stopped counting at about 14. Considering the entire section is only 8km long that is a lot! We were theorising that either:
- This was a section for the EA weir building team to practice and try new designs on, or
- The competition was run at a local school to design a weir and so that none of the entrants felt discriminated against, all of the entries were built
The worst weir we came across was a so-called ‘Box Weir’, where all the flow at this level ran down a concrete channel forming a walled in hole at the bottom. We portaged this.
In addition to the many weirs, there was also a large number of signs, erected by the local fishing club, stating ‘No Canoeing’. You can read my stance on rivers access here.
Whilst doing the shuttle, I had taken the opportunity to inspect the final weir – Slaughterhouse Falls – which is a huge broken drop of about 12 feet. As we approached, Martyn and I agreed to play a game with the others. We would put a short distance between ourselves and the other three and just paddle off the lip without saying anything to the others, to see what their reaction would be. All they would see from upstream would be us approaching the lip and the drop vertically out of sight! I had previously told Tim what the line was, and what the falls entailed so we were confident they could handle themselves. Tim promptly followed myself and Martyn down and Emma and Dave followed a minute or so later.
This rounded of a great weekend of boating, and we headed off on the 4 hour journey home, exhausted.