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Thread: From Usk Till Yawn - Marauding across the border

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    Default From Usk Till Yawn - Marauding across the border

    OK. I'll get the apology out of the way - the title is somewhat contrived just to get to use the phrase, and its probably back to front chronologically. And we also went to the Wye. But a late night was involved leading to definite yawning, and at least one person looked like the undead by sunrise.


    Stewart had kindly organised a return the eccentric delights of Shobdon Aerodrome, an unlikely place for paddling accommodation. After a day out biking in the Welsh Valleys, I arrived at a darkened mobile home park, and correctly identified the right caravan by the number of canoes on cars nearby. In it I encountered a smell of tinned chilli, and a bunch of drinking paddlers. Before we hit the pub, we roughly planned out a day on the Usk for the Saturday, as the nearer Lugg was likely to be low, full of trees, and short of daylight for the obvious runs. It was also flipping freezing, the pipes supplying water to the caravans already frozen solid, and bottled water supplied as an alternative.

    There's a little bar/pub attached to the aerodrome, a former RAF training base, which is basically an old Nissen hut. On a Friday night, and only a Friday night, its open to the public/residents. It also has a little bit of an open-mic type music jam. The 12 of us outnumbered the musicians and the rest of the audience combined, so it only seemed fair that I, once suitably embrazened by a few ales, swapped side and joined in with the guitar. An excellent evening all told, and a new experience for me, taking turns at a song in a public place other than a drunken paddlers' fireside! In the small hours, we eventually all retired to our beds.


    I hear you all clamouring for some paddling, not just tales of drinking, so here we go. We'd plumped for a moderate and fairly short whitewater trip on the Usk, heading down from Aberbran bridge to Brecon. I'd not done this grade 1-2 section before, so was very much looking forward to it, especially as I haven't been on proper moving water since the Tarn in June. After a fairly lengthy drive and shuttle, we gathered by the bridge. It wasn't a warm day, the fringes of the river decorated by patterns of ice.









    Immediately below the bridge, is a sort of weir, actually one of the harder drops of the whole trip. With the water low, dodging the rocks was the issue, but a wading inspection proved there was a cleanish line in one place. With this knowledge, we dropped down in turn, conscious that we had a few folk with us who have never experienced moving water before.












    Nicky got away with this one....but...






    ...whilst we sorted out the last paddlers and got ready to continue, she drifted backwards into a low-hanging branch....and was soon on the bank emptying the kayak and changing clothes.

    Soon enough, though, we were moving on downstream, an eclectic bunch of paddlers, with an eclectic bunch of boats.









    What followed was a pattern that continued for the day. Modest sections of easy flowing water, with the odd shallow gravel bed to avoid, were punctuated by small sets of rapids, either simple grade 1, or a few grade 2s. The main issue was rock dodging, so our newbie white water paddlers had their work cut out trying to move canoes and kayaks around in a different way to what they were used to, at an entirely different speed! The rest of us tried to advice, and to demonstrate lines.









    Dave had an interesting moment on a small drop....









    ...and recovered to prove that Apache is not so twitchy as some report!






    Others followed him down.











    As always, much time was spent in eddies, chatting. And panting, if your are a whitewater dog.









    Nicky, being in a low-slung kayak, was enjoying getting intimate with the modest standing waves!









    Kennan followed, in his entirely still water orientated Hemlock solo cruiser.






    The Usk is a truly lovely river, winding its way down the green valley, overlooked by the high hills. On a day like this, it was a stunning place to be, gazing up at the slopes, or concentrating on missing obstacles such as rocks, trees, and some more rocks.












    After an hour or so, the valley sides closed in and the Usk entered a series of big meanders. I was partly expecting this to mean more regular rapids, but no, it actually eased a little. Here we paused for lunch, before continuing onwards.












    Shortly after we stopped, we came upon a series of little drops, each with a few rocks below them to dodge.
























    Swimmer!!! The good thing about SUP paddling on whitewater is that you can self-rescue really easily. The bad thing is that you can fall off really easily too...






    Slightly more complex rapids appeared, very shallow so without real danger, but requiring some quite good water-reading skills, and rock-dodging ability.


















    At some point, Nicky required more kayak emptying...that's her first two swims ever out of the way, handled without any sign of stress.






    This was another tree, on this occasion waiting whilst we rescued Kennan from his own first dunking, and made sure dry clothes were donned.






    Another rapid...






    ...another swim! Note the reassuring grab of gunwhales to ensure efficient spinning of canoe without delay.












    We'd already used up one set of dry clothing, so it was time for a clothing whip around to get Ken warm quickly. Meanwhile, there was a slight problem. The lovely composite canoe had lodged against a rock, and sank, pretty much completely. Hmm, pin time. Unusually though, the lack of buoyancy may have helped, as the canoe sank straight down, gunwhales level, and whilst it was full of water, the flow wasn't pushing into the canoe, but flowing over the top. Whilst I helped get Kenan to shore, and sort out clothing, John and Ian worked out the best direction to heave the canoe and got it free unscathed. Phew. We had a conflab, and decided that, given the short remaining hours, the temperature of just above freezing, and a new paddler in an unstable craft who'd already swam a couple of times, the best approach would be for Kennan to go in tandem and for Ian to tow his canoe for the last 45 minutes or so we had to go.






    Onwards we went, not too far now. We were conscious of the time lost to recoveries, and whilst pressing on we were taking greater care to avoid more swims.









    We had one more incident. As I entered a bit of a rock garden, ahead of me Nicky got stuck against a rock, couldn't hold up her upstream gunwhale, so was quickly filling with water. A few minutes work was required to get her out of the kayak, and to empty said boat before recovering both to the bank. I was glad I was in a nice warm dry suit whilst stood thigh deep in a river in December.


    A little later on, our final real rapid was passed without difficulty and we were on the home straight to Brecon.












    I'd really enjoyed the day, just enough difficulty to add interest for the more experienced paddlers, at the same time offering a safe place for a first whitewater trip for our less experienced friends.


    On Paddle Points: http://www.paddlepoints.net?R=231&A=9070


    We headed back to Shobdon, and spent the evening in the excellent Bateman Arms, where a truly superb meal and some excellent ales led to more yawns and a slightly earlier night...



    Next - a day on the Wye. Give me half an hour!
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

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    Nice one Mal, was this the weekend of the frozen water pipes?
    Cheers
    Tim


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    Excellent photography as usual Mal. Luckily the water didn't feel as cold as I thought it would ... and the dry-suit malarkey all makes sense

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    Quote Originally Posted by tim View Post
    Nice one Mal, was this the weekend of the frozen water pipes?
    It was indeed the weekend of the frozen water pipes

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    Default Wye wouldn't you?

    We awoke to a sharp frost. Now it wasn't just our caravans' water which was frozen, the main site taps were also blocked. Fortunately we had enough water left between us. It was a lovely start to the day, but I was actually glad not to have to take down a tent! Or packaway a "pod" like Dave's or Steve's.









    The morning was stunning.












    We were headed for the Wye, via a car-drop off at the very friendly Whitney-on-Wye toll bridge campsite/get out. This was to be a simple few hours paddle in a lovely valley on a crips winter's day, with one gunwhale in Wales, and one gunwhale in England. A few folk had other things to do today, so the group was slightly smaller. We put in below Hay-on-Wye bridge, and immediately had some easy riffles to negotiate. These proved to be the "hardest" of the day.












    It was a glorious day, and more relaxed than the previous one, with plenty of time to chat as we paddled gently onwards under sun which offered the barest hint of warmth.


















    This is a beautiful but easy stretch of the Wye, offering time to relax. Lots of birdlife came to see us, though it all evaded the camera as I'd forgotten my remote controllers .

































    It was only a short couple of hours paddle, but we still found time to have a decent lunch break of course!






    Don't ask! I didn't...






    The last half hour was just as nice. Soon enough, the lovely old toll bridge appeared and our trip was over.















    A short day, but a highly rewarding one, before the drive home.


    On Paddle Points: Hay-on-Wye, Whitney get out



    I had a pleasant diversion over the Gospel Pass on the Black Mountains, heading from Hay to Abergavenny. Pleasant apart from the 3 attempts to get up the icy road, thanks to black ice and oncoming traffic on a singletrack road! The views were worth it though.















    It really is a lovely part of the world.


    Thanks to all who joined us, great weekend!
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

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    Where we stayed: http://shobdonairfield.co.uk/

    Very welcoming and slightly quirky. I like it.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

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    Looks like a couple of nice if chilly days.

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    Lovely, and looked like fun.
    I'd like to have made this one but we were pre booked for family affairs in London
    Nin Wanakiwidee Tchiman

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    Superb title Mon Amie, with pics to match...and well beyond!
    Noting very much now that there's no stopping that Kmac fellla!
    Outstanding Ken, totally outstanding, love it!

    Ken,
    At one point prior to the paddle, at that precise moment when you noticed that everyone else was wearing a dry suit, did you grasp the opportunity then to ask them all why? ....Before then wondering why so many cameras were out and poised just as you went through the dodgy bit!

    Brilliant recovery by the way, and then you 'sub-zero soldered on' regardless...outstanding!

    MB

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    Nothing wrong with a contrived title Mal.
    Loved the pics of paddlers' faces at the moment of doom or relief.
    Well done Ken & Nicky for soldiering on.
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

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    Would love to have joined that! Great to see other novice paddling winter swimmers - I'd have felt right at home


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    Great blog and pics, as always. Looked a great fun paddle, loved the variation in water craft.
    great to see people getting back on with it despite their mishaps. Nice one.
    Atb Terry
    PS
    Wouldn't be surprised if Kens water pipe was also frozen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tim View Post
    Nice one Mal, was this the weekend of the frozen water pipes?
    Certainly was. Another night and it would have become a problem, but we'd stored just enough water already to be OK.


    Quote Originally Posted by kmac View Post
    Excellent photography as usual Mal. Luckily the water didn't feel as cold as I thought it would ... and the dry-suit malarkey all makes sense
    Hah. Definitely need a dry suit....but I'd use a difference canoe next time too, and you might not need it so often.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bonarmbj View Post
    Superb title Mon Amie, with pics to match...and well beyond!
    Noting very much now that there's no stopping that Kmac fellla!
    Outstanding Ken, totally outstanding, love it!

    Ken,
    At one point prior to the paddle, at that precise moment when you noticed that everyone else was wearing a dry suit, did you grasp the opportunity then to ask them all why? ....Before then wondering why so many cameras were out and poised just as you went through the dodgy bit!

    Brilliant recovery by the way, and then you 'sub-zero soldered on' regardless...outstanding!

    MB
    Yeah, my positioning below a rapid with a long lens should warn people really!



    Quote Originally Posted by Patterdale Paddler View Post
    Nothing wrong with a contrived title Mal.
    I've noticed you like those!



    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Starr View Post
    Would love to have joined that! Great to see other novice paddling winter swimmers - I'd have felt right at home
    Its a really good stretch for a first trip. And by default, its always going to be chilly, there's no water most summers!


    Quote Originally Posted by terry. young View Post
    Great blog and pics, as always. Looked a great fun paddle, loved the variation in water craft.
    great to see people getting back on with it despite their mishaps. Nice one.
    Atb Terry
    PS
    Wouldn't be surprised if Kens water pipe was also frozen.
    The variety of craft is always good to see. I was properly impressed with how unfazed both our newbie swimmers were.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

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    Great pictures as normal Mal and a great weekend all round.

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    Another lovely blog.

    I like the facial expression capture but far too easy to read their thoughts!

    The group seemed very keen to swim?

    Doug
    When there's trouble on shore, there's peace on the wave,
    Afloat in the White Canoe.
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    Gaffer tape around hands would've been good to stop the gunnel grabbing by some

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    Quote Originally Posted by dougoutcanoe View Post
    Another lovely blog.

    I like the facial expression capture but far too easy to read their thoughts!

    The group seemed very keen to swim?

    Doug
    Indeed Hopefully it was a useful experience that will reduce people's fear of falling out, carried out in a fairly controlled environment. And add a little lesson in avoiding hypothermia!


    Quote Originally Posted by Sirus View Post
    Gaffer tape around hands would've been good to stop the gunnel grabbing by some
    Chuckle
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    Brilliant as usual,yes the expression on paddlers faces,D'oh.

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    Excellent weekend, and great photos Mal.... would we expect anything less from you....

    Thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a fun weekend..

    Cheers

    Stewart

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    Great trip and blog.... nice pic of Hay Bluff - walked up there a couple of months ago. Lovely part of the world.... just not managed to get there for canoeing yet . Must try harder!!!
    If I could only paddle like a doggie oughta paddle

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    Quote Originally Posted by BaldMan Jump View Post
    Great trip and blog.... nice pic of Hay Bluff - walked up there a couple of months ago. Lovely part of the world.... just not managed to get there for canoeing yet . Must try harder!!!
    Indeed you must, dear boy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sirus View Post
    Indeed you must, dear boy.
    Tis my New Year's resolution
    If I could only paddle like a doggie oughta paddle

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    Thanks for the write up Mal.
    Some great photos too.
    Looks like we missed a good paddle on the Wye the following day.
    Looking forward to the next one.

    Paula (KP)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mal Grey View Post
    OK. I'll get the apology out of the way - the title is somewhat contrived just to get to use the phrase, and its probably back to front chronologically. And we also went to the Wye. But a late night was involved leading to definite yawning, and at least one person looked like the undead by sunrise.
    "Never apologise, never explain"
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    Nice blog with fine pics. Mal.

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    Another enjoyable read with some great pics. Always look forward to your blogs, thank you.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bonarmbj View Post
    At one point prior to the paddle, at that precise moment when you noticed that everyone else was wearing a dry suit, did you grasp the opportunity then to ask them all why? ....Before then wondering why so many cameras were out and poised just as you went through the dodgy bit!
    This actually happened. I knew I was in trouble when we arrived at the put in and every one pulled on a dry-suit. There I was with regular clothes. Was like taking a knife to a gunfight!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patterdale Paddler View Post
    Well done Ken & Nicky for soldiering on.
    If there were any other options, i would have taken them

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    great pictures and blog, it was a good weekend, I have no idea how you managed to get those action shots of ken...Err...it was almost like you were poised waiting?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kmac View Post
    This actually happened. I knew I was in trouble when we arrived at the put in and every one pulled on a dry-suit. There I was with regular clothes. Was like taking a knife to a gunfight!!
    You'll do for me fella, get the Chai on!
    Keep yer paddles wet, and powder dry....

    MB

    `..`. ><(((( ((>
    `..`..`. ><((((>

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    Wonderful photo's and a great story! It was a good weekend, steep learning curve but thouroughly enjoyable. Water wasn't too cold, considering it was early December. My kayak has a few more battle scars now!

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    Thanks once again Stewart for organising it. It was great fun!

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    Interesting stuff! I'm looking to try a different river than the Wye, the Usk being a prime contender. There's not a great deal of information out there on the web re. this river. Most of it is off-putting saying that there's no access in summer (only winter - out of fishing season etc).
    ANother bit of info tells me that it's paddleable between Sennybridge and Llangynidr. Never straight forward information when you need it. As you seem to be held in high esteem on this site, may I ask you for some info? This stretch looks cracking, another stretch I'd like to do is between
    Brecon and Talybont.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Squeeler View Post
    Interesting stuff! I'm looking to try a different river than the Wye, the Usk being a prime contender. There's not a great deal of information out there on the web re. this river. Most of it is off-putting saying that there's no access in summer (only winter - out of fishing season etc).
    ANother bit of info tells me that it's paddleable between Sennybridge and Llangynidr. Never straight forward information when you need it. As you seem to be held in high esteem on this site, may I ask you for some info? This stretch looks cracking, another stretch I'd like to do is between
    Brecon and Talybont.
    Hey

    Your main problem, putting aside any issues on access for a moment, is simply lack of enough water to make it an enjoyable paddle. Even in the last few winters, its been a bit of a scrape, in summer conditions its likely to be very difficult to paddle down without constantly getting stuck and having to get out and push. I would say its unlikely to be somewhere to paddle until the late autumn.

    I don't know your moving water experience level, but much of the Usk requires a reasonable level of whitewater experience to paddle safely, and should be done in a group as inspections and safety cover will be required at points on the first and last of the trips below.

    Sennybridge to Aberbran is proper whitewater, with 3 ledge drops that are grade 3 ish, followed by fairly continuous grade 2. That needs experience of such waters and a group to make sure safety is covered.
    Aberbran to Brecon is shallow rock dodging most winters, but at a reasonable grade 1-2. Its a step up from the Wye though.
    Brecon to Talybont I haven't done, but is supposed to the the easiest I think. Suspect the levels will a similar issue though.
    Talybont to Llangynidr/Crickhowell is proper grade 3 whitewater at times, needs a good level, and is the most serious of the 4.


    As for access, much of what is said by other interests is out dated and ill informed. However, it should be noted that many of the access points are on negotiated private lands, and as such some respect should be given to those who allow it.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

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    I can see why you are held in such high esteem, many thanks for that knowledgeable reply. I wouldn't say my white water experience is extensive at all. I've done the Wye various sections now, but maybe it would be good to get some
    whitewater tuition before heading out on the this river (esp. in winter for sure). Thanks again for your speedy reply, much appreciated.

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