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CAP’s whitewater trips are an experience, as if some crazy dream has escaped from the recesses of Mike’s fevered imagination, grabbed a paddle and a pint glass, and run amok in the UK’s rivers and vales. Take a mixed bunch of paddlers–some experienced, some enthusiastic, and some green as the mountains–add in a bunkhouse, a banquet of food and alcohol, throw in a gallon of chaos, and finally add some rivers, ideally ones containing water, and shazam, you have something as full of magic as Harry Potter’s left testicle, or, at a push, Tom’s.

Very much like the best of rivers, the Welsh October trip meandered, twisted and turned in odd ways, making it unclear for all concerned if the weekend was really a paddling trip, a sightseeing tour round the Brecon Beacons, an extended drinking session, or a group suicide in a gnarly, tree-infested gorge.

Meeting Friday midday at the River Ogmore, the day was feted as a pleasant introduction to white water, and for the chocolate box assortment of CAP old timers–Mike, Gary, Allie, Jay, Remy, Ivan, Adrian, Sarah, Will, Rob, and Mark–the day was pleasantly reminiscent of previous trips from years gone past. Of course, to live up to its name, a beginners trip also needs some fresher meat, and joining the ricketty members of the group were Tom, Thomas, Tamsin, Becky, Caroline, Ian, Ruben, and Kris. Finally, there was incomparable Jen, who was in the unique position of not only being an old time member, but also being recently returned back into the fold. Now for reasons of sanity and self preservation it’s not often old members return to the mix, but when they do it’s a sure sign that our paddling endeavours have tickled the river gods in just the right spot.

Breaking into three groups, we set off surprisingly on time. The water was fresh without being cold, the chat excitable, and the flow just enough to practice breaking in, breaking out, and ferry gliding, without being strong enough to drench the group in fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We paddled along at a good pace, taking the river very much in its stride, and aside from a minor upset when a gaggle of bong-smoking locals rained down clods of earth on us, the day served as a perfect entree for the weekend ahead of paddling.

Afterwards we drove to the bunkhouse, and in striking contrast to the rigours of the day’s paddling, we settled in for the evening’s entertainment. As Golem is to Frodo Baggins, as Bruce is to a Kangaroo, and as eddies are to flow, Friday evening was a perfect counterpoint to the day’s healthy river running. It was a chance to get warm and dry by the fire that Remy so lovingly stoked; a chance to gorge ourselves on the sumptuous meal cooked for us by Rob and Gary; and a chance for the elder members of the group to drink themselves merry on a concoction of odd tasting gin, whisky, and a vast collection of beverages that Ivan was under strict instructions to finish. Sometime after the spirits had been finished, the evening descended into the seven pits of hell, dragged down under the fiendish but charming leadership of Tamsin and Becky. 

Now describing a game of Super Charades is like like trying to describe JFK’s assassination: it’s nigh on impossible to explain it to anyone who wasn’t there, and, even for those who were there, it’s nigh on impossible to understand what actually happened. A game of Super Charades is like melting your darkest thoughts in a crucible of fear, throwing in a toy sheep for luck, and then using that murky concotion to craft a game of chess-like precision. It was as if the bunkhouse was teetering on the event horizon of a black hole, the game warping the evening in all manner of strange and quite unfathomable ways. In little time the bunkhouse was filled with shouting, cavorting, and an assortment of deranged hi-jinks. At some point the game finished, only to be replaced with the cereal box game, which quickly became a tangle of young things and Rob, all of them doing the splits until finally Rob and Becky were forced to lick the carpet to prove their extreme suppleness. And while nothing was damaged during the games except for the cereal box, Mike was extremely lucky not to put an eye out of joint. The end of the evening was nebulous. Jen demonstrated her martial prowess by decimating the bunkhouse’s furniture, the drinks flowed wildly, polite conversation was dashed against the rocks of profanity, people fell in and out of love, and it was only when the lateness of the night finally struck home that the final revellers traipsed off to fall into their own rotten stupors.

Saturday morning started early, some might say too early. Early enough for some of the group to be spritely, early enough for some to be hungover, and early enough for many to still be drunk. The breakfast crew sauntered around the kitchen prodding at sausages, guzzling coffee, but dreaming of bed. Meanwhile Gary, Rob and Adrian heroically headed off to the River Tywi to clear fallen trees, saws in one hand and their heads clasped firmly in the other. 

After breakfast the main group headed off to the river to wait for the advance party. The morning was all set to be uneventful, when the main group chanced upon an entertaining local farmer, who, knowing that paddling can involve a lot of waiting, put on an enthusiastic song and a dance to entertain us. He danced between the cars, ridiculed the universe and chanted about the art of confrontation in times of peace. We laughed and applauded, and while we’d happily have paid him good money, in lieu of payment he asked us to think a little on the human condition, and departed with a wave of his big, farmer’s hand. 

Shortly afterwards the main group hooked up with the advance party, and we descended on the river like a haggis in a herb garden. Once again splitting into three groups, we set off, paddles in hand, and our heads full of contemplation. In comparison to Friday, the water was a touch more frisky, the features a touch steeper, and the paddling a touch more frenetic. Slipping past the tree cleared by the advance party, we were quickly surrounded by an ageless landscape barely touched by human hand. With water lapping gently against the hulls of our boats, we paddled along and silently meditated on the joys of being human. Against the hungry pull of the river we were all so small, and thinking back to the dancing farmer, reminded us how small minded we all are. But watching the sunlight shimmying across the river, and being overwhelmed by the vast wonder of nature was a great reminder that the secret to good living is to not let the smallness of our minds constrain our thinking. Small minds can think gigantic thoughts, just as puny bodies can work the flow of even the mighties  rivers.

After a solid day’s paddling we headed back to the bunkhouse, and then on to the Glynn Arms for supper. Now as lovely as it always is, dinner at the Glynn Arms is always a touch strange, and when we turned up the inn keeper seemed as surprised to have visitors on a Saturday night as he would have been if Kate Winslet had turned up dressed like a hooker, beer bottle in one hand, jammie dodger in the other, and wearing nothing but a spray deck and a pair of snow shoes. But alas, instead of Kate Winslet, he got us: twenty tired, bedraggled paddlers, excitable, but without a jammie dodger between us. A few drinks later and Ruben was forced to watch another episode of adults behaving badly, perhaps made slighly more tolerable when the food was delivered with the speed of Usain Bolt, and the plates being piled high enough to scrape the ceiling.

After a decidely blurry night, and haunting dreams of George Bush and Thomas’ left tricep, Sunday morning started with a buzz. Rob served up his speciality of bacon, sausage and eggs, and the bunkhouse came alive with a flurry of excited movement. Floors were swept clean, bags were quickly packed, and before you could fritter a pineapple the group was lining up for a group photo and then squeezing back into our cars for a final day on the river Ogmore.

With Remy eschewing his boat and taking on the role of official photographer, the group got on the river a couple of miles up from Friday’s paddle. Taking in a mammoth portage that was as gritty as a pair of Donald Trump’s underpants, and then tackling a number of bigger features, the morning proved the perfect practice ground for nail biting and endless eskimo rescues. The highlight of the day was the ever smiling Tamsin, sitting in her boat, pinned neatly between two rocks in the middle of a noisy feature, while three coaches noisily argued about how best to get the boat back. The afternoon then ran as fast as armadillo on a mountain bike, the group hammering the section from Friday with panache, style, and only the occasional yelp of fear.

The weekend ended as it began, the 20 of us huddled on the bank of the River Ogmore. We chatted nosily, fumbled with our boats and our kit, and pulled weeds and duck poo from our hair. As a group we’d achieved an experiential gravity, and no one wanted to be the first to leave the shared experience behind. But leave we must, and after some farewell hugs, we started trailing off in our various directions, off down the meandering rivers of our everyday lives. Above all else, a CAP weekend is an experience. A chance to meet new people, to meet old friends, to fight and frolic in the water, and help our small minds think of bigger things. While the trip was slightly more Jackson Pollock than it was Dane Jackson, it was a perfect weekend for everyone to push themselves on the river, and to revel in the sacred joys of playing in boats and indulging in white water wetness.

On Sunday 23rd September CAP returned to the magnificent Lee Valley Whitewater Centre. Having seen it in action during the Olympics we were keen to get back on it.

 

We hired the course for CAP but to help fill it and spread the cost we also invited our friends from Putney Bridge and Battersea Canoe Clubs to join us.

 

Prior to the main party arriving Jez, Gary and Jay decided to take on the monster Olympic Course. Both Jay and Jez confess to getting spanked big time. Jay went over the big drop, got sucked in backwards and then did a reverse somersault into the monster's jaws. Not liking the taste of this young Ransom upstart, the monster eventually spat him out and Jay promptly proceeded down the course, upside down and over the next two big drops. Grabbing each precious breath of air, whenever he could, Jay eventually rolled back up, a big smile showing his contempt for the monster! Gary being the more sensible, watched Jay's line and carefully avoided the monster's jaws.

 

Eventually, after battling the other monster, the M25, the rest of the Club arrived, all cursing the nightmare traffic which existed both ways around that orbital car park. There were fifteen CAP paddlers who quickly got to work in taming the Legacy Course. For six of our members it was their first time at the Lee Valley. Patrick, Caroline, Rich, Adam, Nathan all started off on the final downstream stretch but quickly moved onto tackling the whole course. All did incredibly well and the smiles that they displayed as they mastered the course was evidence of their exhilaration and their achievements!

 

Young teenager Emily decided that the water was slightly bigger than she anticipated and opted to watch enthusiastically from the side. Having none of this, coach Gary quickly positioned her in the front seat of the Duo and proceeded to take her on about six laps of the course. As the nose of the duo complete with the nose of Emily surfaced from each big wave their was a huge smile of enjoyment on Emily's face, brilliant !!! Granted that smile turned to consternation as Gary surfed the Duo in the bottom wave and Emily lost her paddle but despite throw lines being at the ready Gary paddled out. Next time Emily will be showing us just how to paddle it, on her own, but no doubt with one of our enthusiastic coaches glued to her side. (memories of Ed !) I decided that I should also get my nose wet so my boat and I promptly went for a swim !

 

At the end of our session, Patrick, Caroline, Rich, Adam & Derek all passed their Legacy assessment. Well done to them all. The assessor said to me afterwards that he was extremely impressed with the dynamics of how the CAP contingent had worked together during the afternoon, the diligent small group coaching, the motivation and the way people were buddied up and he was confident that as our

members progressed onto Whitewater rivers they would be extremely well looked after.

 

A nice unsolicited compliment, from an experienced level four coach, to the work that Gary and Darren, very ably assisted by Mark, put in on this occasion and indeed on every occasion that they’re out with the Club. With our three day Beginner’s Whitewater Weekend in South Wales looming up in mid October, magnificently supported by 20 members, it will be interesting to see how all their paddling progresses ! We have no doubts of course, they will all perform brilliantly!

 

Darren managed to find a few minutes away from his pupils and displayed his usual paddling, looping and cart-wheeling skills whilst Chris paddled extremely competently and showed just how she has really progressed since her last visit.

The first party arrived at Llangollen on Friday afternoon. You couldn't have asked for better weather or scenery.

Wern Isaf Farm 

Tents pitched, beers out, the fun started. Chris did threaten to get the twister game out whilst waiting for the rest of the motley crew to arrive but beers, a bbq and chatting took preference. 

Saturday

Morning started with Chris playing mum by cooking some bacon butties, then off to JJ’s to tackle, in my case, the river Dee.
 

We split into two groups. Chris’s group and Ivan’s group being named half way through the day Ivan’s Angels. 

Ivan’s Angels were shown and practiced ferry gliding, breaking in and breaking out etc. Most entertaining when you have never done it before.

Even more entertaining were the three drops, epically when I had my first view of the river bed and tiny fish trying to escape my bulging eyes and flapping arms whilst I was trying to get out of my overturned kayak.

Ivan was at hand to make sure I was ok and both Ivan and Melanie did a great job in keeping my confidence up. 

Ivan’s Angels did all three drops round JJ’s and it was great to watch other people going over the drops and play in the bottom of them. 

Gary and his assistant Rolo were taking photos of all the days activities.

Saturday night we all went to a brilliant choice of Chris’s, an Italian restaurant called Fouzi’s apart from Rob G as he thought that watching England play football (if that’s what you can call it) was a better choice (ed – a brave man to be doing this in North Wales).

Later some of the CAP group went on to a pub and I heard Rob E decided to walk along the wall of the bridge in his drunken state.

Fouzi’s

Sunday

After a cold night of trying to sleep we woke to another glorious sunny day. After packing away the tents we made our way to Horseshoe falls.

 

Ivan’s Angels looked worried and the main question was “where are we getting on this part of the river?” Ivan gave us our instructions but it was a battle for us all. Sue ended up going backwards down the first part with Ivan in hot pursuit, I decided to park myself on a rock and stay there and in the distance, I could hear Mel being quite firm with Ivan.

Once we got going, we were heading towards Serpents tail. Once again, I scared the fish while Ivan rescued the kayak, after making sure I was ok. Ivan’s Angels then parked their kayaks so we could watch our more experienced paddlers ride the Serpents Tail.

Serpents Tail is perfectly named, with all the water disappearing into a narrow channelon river right which will scare the be-jesus out of some. But our brave paddlers did it. Caroline was brilliant to watch as her face said it all. Full of smiles she made her way down. Once at the bottom she shouted. “Can I do it again”?

Gold medal goes to Mike who admitted he was worried but really enjoyed the excitement of making it to the bottom. Then there was Derek. Well what can I say but smooth operator. Yes he did capsize but with ease got himself back up not once but twice.

Serpents Tail

When everyone had finished with the excitement of the Serpents Tail it was an easy paddle for most, but not all back to JJ’s.

The cars were loaded and home we went. What a great weekend. Thanks to:

Chris for organising this great trip
Ivan for being so patient
Gary and Rolo for the photography
Both Robs, Gary, Chris and Ivan for ferrying everyone about

Mike I hope you enjoyed the rest from all your usual organising

 

 

 

 

I’ve been meaning to write about CAP’s Easter trip to the Lake District and the Tees since before we headed home, but a deluge of rain, work, and life kept on washing over me, and to my sin I’ve only just reached for my keyboard.

I was going to write about the serious lack of rain that lead to low water levels, of gambling on sheep, of chasing sheep, and of midnight sheep rides, of the poor quality of Coniston beer but CAPs nonetheless insatiable appetite for it, of quaint walks that turned into mountain scrambles along knife edge ridges, of the fussy nature of Youth Hostels and their inability to stock Kendal mint cake, of mass planking to amuse Chinese lesbians, of sitting against walls without chairs, and of swimming in mountain lakes, but none of it’s particularly relevant for what was, foremost, a club white water paddling trip.

 

Even though lack of rain and low water levels would usually spell disaster for a white water trip, Mike’s meticulous planning pitted us against the river Kent on Friday, the Tees Barrage on Sunday, and then the river Tees on Monday.

The river Kent was mostly a story of bump ‘n’ grind (not the kind of bump ‘n’ grind that a certain coach practices regularly within the confines of their bedroom) and there was just enough water to make it passable, with coupled with a couple of features made it the perfect entrée for the weekend.

 

Afterwards, full of hope and desperation, we eagerly traipsed to Backbarrow bridge hoping the river Leven would be paddle able, but alas, the flow was little more than the offering generated by two hung over Squirrels relieving themselves after a particularly heavy night. It most certainly didn’t even vaguely resemble the angry water demon of legend. It was pretty obvious to all concerned that the Lake District had little to offer our intrepid group, so we headed to the youth hostel for a night of commiseration and of beer.

After spending Saturday mountain climbing Helvellyn, we headed across the Pennines to spend Sunday at the Tees barrage. Although resorting to a man made courses instead of rivers seemed a touch dirty. Given the dire state of the rivers, and the wonderful flow of the barrage, it was the most excellent choice.

The course was not only practically empty, but the combination of its short, 95m course, and the changing levels of the longer 300m course made it the perfect paddling day for everyman. From playing the waves, through to fast, furious wave-train runs, a lot of swimming, some more playing, some fast demonstrations by Darren of his Hand of God, and some paddle-smashing high jinks by Rob, it was a brutal and enthralling day that ably showed how much fun a well-placed man made course can be.

Suitably tenderised from Sunday, the final day of the trip saw us head up the River Tees for a sojourn from High Force to Low Force falls. Recalling that the last time CAP undertook this paddle, the Tees almost drowned half our winter membership, the day was hotly anticipated by all. However, after starting with some more bump n’ grind it was quickly obvious it was a remarkably different river.

Salmon Leap falls had movement but was pretty dry, which made for a tight but passable run, after which it was on to Low Force falls. Low Force was noticeably light on the water, and a pale shadow of the beast that almost swallowed Darren two years ago. Even so, it made for a pretty drop and still had enough power to make a paddler defecate their dry suit.

As I said at the beginning, I’d been meaning to write about CAP’s Easter trip since before we headed home. While I was worried there wasn’t much to say bout the trip, it was a most excellent weekend. Water levels were bad, there was a serious lack of rain, and the Coniston beer really was poor, but the combination of cunning planning and the group’s natural inclination to misbehave made for a tub thumping getaway from Easter’s deluge of religion and chocolate.

CAP's Easter trips are, without doubt, the only way to go at Easter, and even although the country was descending ton the darkest depths of drought and all the group (including Ed) were old enough to know better, the combination of paddling and pleasure made the trip worth writting home about.

White-water paddling in Wales makes for an odd sport. Take some beautiful countryside, the kind that’s peppered with hills, woods, oodles of stinking mud, gullies, the occasional walker, rocks, sheep, and an excitable rush of water, and then throw in some garish paddlers with their bright plastic boats.

The rugged idyll of nature gives way to a chorus of effing and blinding as a noisy maelstrom of hijinks, invectives, and bright colours flushes its way downstream, leaving a wash of soft eddies in its trail. It’s perhaps not surprising that fishermen of Neath valley try their darnedest to keep paddlers off the Afon Tawe. 
 

Having awoken early and driven to Wales on Friday morning, Ivan, Chas, Stuart, Gary, Darren, Jay, Tom, Steve, and I were happy to slip off quietly down the river, leaving the local fisherman to remonstrate with our support team for the day, Mike and John, informing them the rainbow hues of our boats would scare the life out of the fish, if not the limbs off them. 

Given the profusion of rain in the week, it was a little surprising when the run played out as a medley of scrape ‘n’ grind, mixed with the occasional tree, a 10-foot waterfall, a couple of fun rapids, and then and then an encore of scrape ‘n’ grind. To add to the excitement, Mike and John drove the length of the river, jumping out from bushes at every other bend, snapping hundreds of shots on their cameras like a pair of paparazzi. 

It was a tidy day–if you ignore the mountains of sheep droppings that littered the river banks–and after a few hours paddling, we arrived at the get-out and decamped to our luxury bunkhouse just outside of Pontneddfechan. We quickly threw our wet kit all over the place, chatted with the landlady about her dogs, and then slunk off to a local pub to imbibe the night away. 

On CAP trips drinking is a necessary part of the proceedings, and our first night was no exception to the rule. It’s the club’s way of giving something back to the community, paying something into the local economy in gratitude for using their rivers. Over a few hours we proceeded to show much, much gratitude, and just as we were calming ourselves down the reserve CAP group arrived, adding Jo, Danny, Pam, Ed, Keith, Gemma, Chris, and Jez into the fray. 

This renewed gratitude continued well into the night. John demonstrated a flair for Mexican a-holes, and Adrian (the valley’s renowned cocktail waitress) dished out sex with a sheep, virgin pussies, and, if I recall correctly, a couple of cocktails as well. Staggering back from the pub the night descended into games of Kick Chaos Jenga, Humping the Kitchen Table, and all other manner of unique CAP perversions. 

Saturday started with the requisite hangover and an amazing cooked breakfast by the CAP ladies. Stuffed to our gills, we put on our makeup and John headed off to conquer Wales, while the rest of us got ready for a day of paddling and walking the Afon Mellte. Due to Mike’s exceeding cunning and considerate planning, the put-in was but a short, ten-minute walk from the bunkhouse. Traipsing off over the fields we were barely out of sight of the bunkhouse when we arrived at the river. Unusually for CAP we were quickly on the river, and hurtling toward all manner of watery dangers. 

Less than ten minutes in, there was trouble. Tom was in his boat getting humped raggedly by a tree. Since these Welsh woodlands don’t get much in the way of fresh chicken, the combination of brisk morning air and Tom’s youthful looks had been too much for this particular tree to bear. Tom was eventually pulled from under the trunk, and CAP’s very own riverside nurses delicately helped him out of his drysuit. Some painful swelling made it clear Tom’s paddling was over for the day, so the rest of us said our goodbyes before pootling off down the river. 

Another bend or two, and it became clear that the Mellte deserves its exciting reputation. Faced with a big and gnarly, stepped waterfall, we portaged up and along some ridiculously steep woodland, before setting up some cameras to watch Darren, Steve and Gary threw themselves over the waterfall’s last section.  

 After Jay took a reflective moment to pull a perfect Buddha pose, we squeezed ourselves into our boats and were off down the river. Pulling ourselves over the occasional shallow, we rocketed down a couple of well-tempered slides, shot any number of nice rapids, and yanked our boats and our bodies over some zany woodland portages. In no time at all we arrived at the Mellte’s highlight, Sgwd y Pannwr.

  

Sgwd y Pannwr is a 25-foot waterfall whose vicious roar attracts walkers from miles away and on cue, a couple of them appeared who rocked back and forth in their climbing boots, foaming at the mouth, when we told them we were going to paddle over the waterfall’s monstrous lip. 

As a waterfall virgin I couldn’t make much sense of the situation, but while on the one hand I was scared witless, on the other I was fuelled by an unfathomable urge to paddle myself recklessly over the fall. I watched the others sacrificially throw themselves at this goddess of the river, and it was quickly my turn to make the lonely walk back up river to my boat. Perhaps it was fear, or perhaps just water between my ears, but paddling out into the flow I felt nothing except a tinge of bemusement at how surreal death looked. 

Paddling over a 25-foot waterfall is an odd sensation. One second you’re paddling along, minding your own business as you approach the noisy precipice, and the next you’re rushing through the air, splashing into the water and winding yourself rotten, although it all seemed to happen very much at once. I swam, but it was a victory; if I’d been wearing a wetsuit, I’d have had a victory pee as well. 

The rest of the paddle passed in a haze. Some scrape ‘n’ grind, a few juicy rapids, and then we rushed headlong into the Mellte Gorge. We played at the notable Gunpowder Mill weir for a while, and some of us tried to drown ourselves in the 40-foot deep pool, while the experts looped manically like a flock of demented, bobbing ducks on speed. Heading off there were a few more rapids, perhaps another dirty portage or two, and then in no time at all we were at the get-out. 

The evening passed in a torrent of drinking. One minute we were sober; the next we were peeing on our shoes, and slurring our words as well as the locals. 

Sunday morning began with another grand breakfast, during which time the cursory hangovers made their appearance, and we listened to the girl’s stories of Darren’s night time antics. 

For the final day’s paddling we traipsed off to the Afon Nedd Fechen, but try as hard as we might to will it full of water, all we could find was a trickle of muddy water, so quickly changing our plans we headed back to the Afon Tawe. Unlike Friday’s paddle the dour local fisherman couldn’t see off their hangovers to come and warn us about the inherent evils of kayaking. 

Nonetheless, we climbed into our rainbow hued boats, and set off for our final day of sheep droppings, imposing rocks, waterfalls, soggy lunch, and all the river could throw in our path. We paddled hard, frolicking our way down the valley, happy to be in the fresh air, happy for our helmets to bounce off rocks, and happy to leave bloody trails of knuckle-skin in our wake. 

Because while white-water paddling in Wales makes for an odd sport, it is, without doubt, the only real way of getting rid of a Welsh hangover. Perhaps that’s something we’ll one day teach the fishermen.

By Mark Easton

Photos courtesy of Jez Clark

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