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

Mid December, the depths of winter but hey for CAP this was going to be a day to remember !!

Woke up to see the sun streaming through the windows, bright blue sky and for December, a very mild temperature. All good, as about a dozen of us were to visit the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre, soon to be the venue for the 2012 Olympic Kayaking events. Martin and Ed were taking their assessment Martin did well and despite a controlled swim or two still managed to pass for the Legacy Course. Ed jumped in his trusty little red Sub 7 and absolutely thrashed the assessment on both the Legacy and Olympic courses, as Mum Pam proudly looked on. Well done Ed, once again you were a marvel, an inspiration!

 

Ivan and Chris spend a couple of hours enjoying themselves on the Legacy course and Chas, Stuart, Darren, Gary and Jay had a great time descending the course, shooting the big drops, riding the wavetrains and playing in the various meaty holes that followed every drop. Both Ed and Jay were given their Olympic baptism, ended up upright, upside down, in and out of their boats at the meaty mid course hole, the monster didn’t want to let go but eventually spat them and their boats out as they then swam off down the course.

Sunshine yes, blue skies definitely, but even so they seemed to have run the clear blue waters through the freezer virtually turning all our paddlers in to CAP Ice Lollies ! . What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon !

Exhilirated, shattered, exhausted and frozen …. but the day was only just beginning !

Saturday evening wasTHE CAP XMAS DINNER !!!

We all met up at our local, The Crown and Sceptre, and got in the mood with a couple of pints. Then we set off for our return to LITTLE BAY, 30 of us upstairs in their Swiss Cabin style restaurant. As always, the food was good, plentiful and a bargain at £10 pp for the three delicious course. A good time was had by all, lot’s of alchohol smoothed the evening, the Chairman’s top table enjoyed some more sedate laughter and banter.

However, our three coaches, more than ably assisted by John Delrio, ensured that every one on their table had a riotious time. Lots of drinking games and crazy antics. Coach Gary has great memories of the evening, well that is until he fell off his chair catapulting his dessert across the room, did I really do that, did we really go to the pub afterwards, did all those things really happen during the pub lock in ??????

YES they certainly did !

Prior to the end of the evening Chris made a presentation, on behalf of the Club to our three coaches, Ivan, Gary and Darren. Appreciating all the time, dedication and motivation that they constantly put in they were each presented with a bottle of wine. Very well deserved, it’s those guys that have helped many of you to really develop your paddling skills ! I had believed our coaches to all be tee-total but maybe they’ll make an exception this time around ?

Not leaving it there however, Chris then made a presentation to ME, a fantastic shiny brand new bright red paddle, for some supposed work or whatever that I occasionally do for the Club ?

VERY, VERY much appreciated folks, a real surprise and I’m extremely grateful to you all.

I thought the idea was to give an old codger a pair of slippers etc not a shiny new paddle to enable

me to carry on doing much more of the same ? THANK YOU VERY MUCH EVERYBODY !

…. and so the end of the day …… don’t be silly !

off tolocal lively pub THE FOLLY where the local DJ kept us all busy on the dance floor. Gary and Darren landed on the dance floor and were immediately awarded a wee shot each

for their lary distinctive shirts, Gary promptly wipped his off and bared his four pack for all to see, excitement, next thing Gary was pinned on the floor with a pile of writhing bodies on top of him !

The pub was supposed to close at midnight, but we were all having far too much fun for that, so John Delrio promptly negotiated aCAP lock in and we all kept dancing to the music

right through till 01.00am. This truly was then the end to a memorable CAP day. I believe all concerned had a fantastic time, as I said in my little speech, it was good to see everybody

but really great that as the Club expands we seem to be attracting more and more really nice, friendly people, all fitting perfectly into theCAP way of doing things, both on and off the water !

A final big THANK YOU to Martin for organising the evening’s events, once again a brilliant job, WELL DONE !

A HAPPY XMAS and hopefully prosperous NEW YEAR to all our members !

This year we’ve really made an effort to include a number of “Summertime” Whitewater events. This was the latest in a string of such outings but was to be a mix of Whitewater on the Saturday and Kayak surfing on the Sunday.

On Friday night the first contingent set off en route to Bristol,
where the journey was to broken up by an overnight stay. The plan was to get down in time for “A Cap invasion of the Bristol pub scene” but in the event we settled for a sociable en route drink in a Cotswold Pub, followed by more beers in our cosy Travelodge rooms.

Chris was acting as trip organizer and Mum for the weekend and had bought along a selection of flavoursome cheeses and crackers for us to nibble throughout the journey. Full marks for the very spicy Salami cheese, wow, did that have a kick to it. These were then washed down by copious cans of Stella.

U
p bright and early on Saturday and off for the one hour drive to Cardiff’s relatively new International Whitewater Course. We stopped for the compulsory BIG BREAKFAST at the local Morrison’s and then on to meet the others.

Ivan and Mel had stopped overnight near to the course in real Welsh Wales and Rob Gilroy, Remi, Ben and Mark were driving down on the Saturday morning. Sadly, disaster hit Rob’s recently acquired Gilroymobile. Refueling close to Heathrow the gleaming new People mover was inadvertently fed Petrol rather than it’s preferred tipple of Diesel, thus ending that car load’s Kayaking ambitions and they limped back home some eight hours after setting off, a real shame and sympathies to all ! (Maybe you should have tried Stella instead ?).

 

 

 

 

The Cardiff course has been substantially improved since Rob and Mark's first visit a year ago.

 

When both of them had tried to head butt the underwater obstacles and enjoyed a resultant visit to meet the lovely Nurses of Cardiff General and be rewarded with a brace of stitches each. What met them this time was a challenging, relatively shallow but fast flowing course.

Over the day the level of flow was changed at roughly hourly intervals, ranging from 4 cumecs up to 10 cumecs.  It was amazing to see how quickly they could drain the course, move the obstacles around, and within ten minutes or so re-open with completely changed features.

 

 

 

 

Our brave Whitewater paddlers were Ivan, Gary, Chris, Ed, Keith and Tom.

 

Chris gave it her best shot and did a good first run, but after swimming on her second descent decided to chill and watch the others.

Ivan spent most of the day on the course with a very determined and serious looking face
captured by Mel’s ever handy camera.  He was dogged by a rather lengthy Jackson Duo which seemed to enjoy completely blocking the complete width of the River whilst playing in the stopper. On the first encounter Ivan just managed to sneak past one end but on the next encounter that clearly wasn’t an option, quick decision, collide with it, crash over the top or go underneath.

Ivan took the underwater approach, he capsized, went over the drop and then under the Duo,
rolling up on the other side and avoiding their thrashing paddles. Very impressive Ivan, particularly as that stopper was so very shallow.

Keith and Tom were excellent, putting in some really good paddling in a range of different boats, both showing just how much their whitewater paddling has improved, thanks to the encouragement given to them by CAP.

 

 

 

It was good to see Gary in action, really enjoying himself for his own benefit as opposed to looking after others. He’d borrowed Darren’s minute little playboat and repeatedly demonstrated just how precise and technical his Kayaking ability is.

He seemed to enjoy pulling endless cartwheels and blunts etc in the various vicious stoppers that most others just seemed happy to be able to shoot through.

The FEST was due to continue on till 10pm, with four Bands playing and novelty races, but we all decided that following a quick look around the various trade stalls, and collecting lots of helmet stickers that we’d hit the road at about 4.30pm heading for the fabulous Gower Peninsula.

The sun had shone on and off all day but as we headed West along the M4 so the heavens absolutely opened. Torrential rain and very poor visibility did not bode well for our overnight camping plans.

Chris was in poor humour, as driving Mike’s passion wagon for the first time, she was not amused to find that the automatic car did not actually posses a gearstick, but her mood was no where near as foul as that of the weather.

 

 

Lo and behold, as we pulled into the Bank Farm campsite at Port Enyion, the rains stopped and the cloud lifted, enabling us to remain dry whilst pitching all our tents.

That evening we paid a repeat visit to The Smugglers Haunt, a lovely bistro-pub type restaurant serving tasty high quality food and copious amounts of alcohol. A really merry evening was had by all, following which we staggered the two miles back to the campsite, getting somewhat rained upon in the process.

All then crammed into Tom’s tent, for a final late night chat and nightcap, whilst Mike snored away in his sleeping bag.

 

 

Sunday morning and a leisurely start. Really nice as we sat there in our cliff top campsite overlooking the whole of the beautiful bay below. Chris woke us with mugs of steaming hot tea and then cooked us a tasty hot breakfast, superb.

On then to one of the best surfing beaches on the peninsula, Llangennith, much favoured by the surfing fraternity.

Ivan, Chris, Keith and Tom went out and had a good time on the endless rolling surf waves, performing some brilliant surfing maneuvers in the process. Gary once again enjoyed himself flying Chris’ kite, showing just how it should be done.

Eventually the long drive home and an early crash into bed for all, exhausted but exhilarated. A BIG thank you to Chris for agreeing to co-ordinate this weekend, a superb trip very well organized indeed.

Finally, this was probably Tom’s last paddling trip with us, for a while, prior to moving up to Loughborough University to study Mechanical Engineering. We wish you well Tom, work hard and play even harder, as CAP have trained you !! Looking forward to seeing you out on some raging waters with us sometime during the Winter.

There and back again in the dark

This paddling write-up comes to you through the medium of verse...mainly because I couldn't think of anything to say about it other than it was very pretty and quite dark. Also, I've never seen Gary paddle as fast as when he thought we might not make it back to the pub in time for a beer :o)

Thanks to Adrian for the piccie and, as always, to Mike for organising and Gary and Jay for shepherding,

Ali

While sunset spread across the lands
Glow sticks wrapped round arms and boats
Twelve set out in groups of four
Soon all that showed were coloured bands
Up the Medway against the flow
Reflections all in silver strands
Through rising mists that hugged the banks
Enveloped in a moonlit glow
On to canoe shoot and to weir
Down the frothing torch-lit slide 
Then back at speed, with flow behind
To reach the pub for food and beer
 
 
 

After January's fun and the cancelled River Mole trip we all woke up to glorious sunshine and a nice paddle from Byfleet to Weybridge. Only 11 paddlers but lots of ducks! We've got the Organiser - Mike, Coach -Jay, usual suspects - Will, Adrian and Sarah, newer suspects - Andy, Vicky, Nick, Lucy, Chris and Simon.

Quite a few trees and some current but we'll all doing fine up until we find the tree of doom....a river wide monster hiding behind a sharp bend preventing all progress downstream? No its a small willow on the side! Eddying up just downstream was followed the sight of Nick, kayak and paddle being escorted by Adrian to a reuniting point and Vickys boat going for a ride by itself before I pushed it into another eddy. Unfortunately on the other side from Vicky, now rescued by Jay and Chris who fished himself out of the same tree. Jay came and fetched the boat and we all carried on to Brooklands Museum for lunch plus a lovely show of Austin and Morris cars there for the day.

There's quite a few signs of the floods down the river with debris all over the place and the odd sunken boat plus one stuck on the bank. Lots of houses down here from tatty through half built to new, modern and very shiny! Not that we were being nosy at all.

Next is the weir, Jays says it's fine to run but there are trees down in the channel below so we all have to portage but we can run the second weir. For some unknown reason Adrian decides now is a good time to try rolling (not the Thames) this actually went quite well (he almost got there) but the rescue saw a slightly popped deck and a boat full of water but a least he didn't swim. Everyone with a suitable boat is game for it and after being lowered down the bank (thanks Adrian) we're ready to go. With everyone down the little drop successfully it was going so well that playing in the wave seemed like a good idea.....Jays says its a bit retentive so Will and Adrian try anyway. Alls going well until Adrian ends up sideways and stuck! Only one way out now, over you go, out you pop and here's a nice bow for you to grab. What a lot of new scratches on your paddle there are now.

Congratulations to everyone who stayed upright especially Simon, you have excellent get and stay in eddy instincts and if you swam now you know why the 'not swimming this timers' were wearing those silly suits....

Just need to sort the video out now and yes it was caught on camera :)



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