Four star kayak and canoe course: 25th - 26th November 2006

Glasbury 1 By the end of the first day of our first 4* weekend trip, we were beginning to wonder why our instructors didn't seem to want to be with us. Maybe they had heard about the gale force winds and torrential rain that had been forecast, but the first one couldn't make it due to double booking, the second due to illness, and the third - well, read on....

After a splendid curry in Ross and an "interesting" drive along Welsh back roads (that seemed more like rivers), we arrived at a rather damp Woodlands, and it continued to rain hard all night. We were a party of seventeen: Kieran, Simon, Rob, Anna, Gabriel, Hayden, Russell, Nick, Joe, Ruari, and myself in kayaks; Penny, Philip, Kate, Thomas (Beaumont, who had kindly shuttled Rob's kayak for him, and also gave him a lift back to Oxford on Sunday, since poor Russell had to travel back to work on Saturday after paddling!) and James in opens; and Jane (not paddling, but extremely welcome since she was shuttling and taking photos). On arrival, we discovered that Kieran had bravely stepped in since Pete Farmer was unwell (and indeed because Bob couldn't make it either).

Glasbury 4 On Saturday, despite the forecasts the weather was beautiful, and we started off playing in the eddies around the bridge at Glasbury, practising ferry gliding & breaking in and out. After lunch we shuttled to Llanstephan bridge, when we saw quite how high the water was, and how fast: as far as we could see from the bridge, the rocks at Hell Hole were completely submerged; but don't think that means it was easy - almost the first thing we saw was a very nice open canoe floating our way (we rescued it, and the grateful owner arrived shortly after). The plan was to paddle down from here to Glasbury, but first we had some more breaking in/out practice (a bit trickier here!) with a chap who asked if he could join us, but after an unplanned swim he decided to play safe and save it for another day (probably a wise decision!) We then headed downstream, whereupon the river settled down a bit and we had a nice peaceful paddle - until we saw some rapids ahead. We approached on the left (normally the best route, apparently) but then realised the conditions were by no means normal, so we started to ferry glide across to the right. Sadly, the flow was rather too fast for our newly-learned skills, and I'm sorry to say I was distracted by the struggle to keep the boat in the right attitude, and lost too much ground. I'm not too sure what happened next, but I'm told I slipped backwards into some turbulent water; all I know is, one second I was upright, the next I was upside-down. Since we were only just above the rapids, and I still haven't managed to roll my new kayak, I decided to bail out, and although Kieran rescued my boat and gave me instructions, there wasn't much choice but to ride it out. Well, it was a bumpy ride! First a massive stopper, then another three big stoppers in very quick succession, and very fast flow, but about half a mile later Philip managed to catch me and take me to the bank. While waiting for everyone to catch up, I saw another kayak and a canoe (both from another group) come down, and both the wrong way up, which at least made me feel a bit better about it :-)

Glasbury 2 I heard later that the others quickly decided to eddy-hop further upstream to allow a greater margin of error before crossing. They also had an interesting time coming through the stoppers - which still looked big even if you managed to stay in the boat. My little excursion meant that we were running late, but fortunately we had left a car half way so were able to leave the river there, before it got dark. We negotiated a muddy track and a few horses to get to the road - but don't think the drama was over yet. Just after Rob gave Kieran a bad cut on his lip by throwing things at him (he says it wasn't deliberate), our trusty photographer/shuttle bunny Jane drove over a shoddy BT inspection cover, which broke a nd dropped her rear wheel into the chamber! Luckily the boy scout (and girl guide) spirit was fully present, and we were able to lift the car out again. Then we went back to Woodlands for a splendid meal (kudos to Anna and the others who provided the food), while Kieran went off to collect 4 stitches, and then had to eat his dinner through a straw! Seems a bit unfair after he did such a good job organising us after standing in. The only problem now was figuring out how to run the second day when our instructor wasn't allowed to get his lip wet...

So, it was quite an exhausting day. In fact, I have it on good authority that the water levels weren't the only thing of record-breaking potential - apparently it's rather unusual on a kayaking weekend for everyone to be in bed by 22:30!

On Sunday morning the clouds cleared, and we had a beautiful sunny day ahead. We again started in Glasbury and were amazed by how much the water level had dropped, as it was probably over 2ft lower than Saturday morning. After a few exercises like avoiding obstacles (and what to do if you fail to manage that), or ferry gliding with eyes closed, we set off downstream for Hay on Wye, while Kieran drove there and walked back to meet us for lunch. Compared to the day before, this was a nice gentle bumble, although there were a few strainers to watch out for, some gentle rapids, and we all (opens too) had a go at surfing a nice standing wave - great fun! We had our picnic on a grassy bank in the sunshine, then did some throwline practice, before continuing to Hay and the drive home.

Glasbury 3 So in summary: It was a great weekend with good company, and of course we all improved our skills and comfort in fast water - everyone did very well in tricky conditions - but there were also some lessons learnt... Firstly that water conditions are hard to predict, and you need to be ready to change plans. Secondly it's a really good idea to leave a car part-way. Thirdly, if things are getting hard, it might be good to back off and take another look rather than trying to force through - especially until you are comfortable with your skills. Lastly, while it's an interesting experience running rapids without a boat, once is quite enough, so I think I'll be working hard on my bracing and eskimo roll skills before next time!

- Andrew Bond