Four star training course - 2nd session, 27th/28th January 2007

Day 1: Pont Panysgallog to Aberbran
Date: 27th January 2007
Start: SN 90355 29183
Finish SN 98732 29171
Distance - 13.0 km
Time 4.59 hours

Seventeen intrepid open canoeists and kayakers from the ISIS Canoe Club set off from Oxford for the second instalment of our Four Star training in late January. We were bound for the Usk in Mid Wales, a classic river.

We stayed in the appropriately named Star Bunkhouse ( at Blwch. Great accommodation in all respects except for the hot broom cupboard that served as the drying room. Nicest of all was the amount of room available for preparing food and dining, most appreciated when the whole group enjoyed a four course dinner on the Saturday night. The coaches did their best to corrupt the innocent paddlers (mostly twice their age!) by setting up a professional-looking poker table. They even pretended to know the rules. Penny and Tom created a mellow atmosphere with a beautiful flute duet. Don't we sound like an interesting club!

So to the paddling. We split into two groups, the open canoeists (7) and kayakers (10) swapping routes on the Saturday and Sunday. As a kayaker I can only vouch for the conditions we paddled. First we tackled a lengthy route above Brecon, putting in above Sennybridge and paddling to the bridge at Aberbran. The GPS in my pfd (yes I am a gadget freak) reckoned it was 13km. It was a great day paddling as, although the water was perhaps a little low, there was plenty for us intermediates to play on. The major drops of the day, which our chief coach Bob told us were called Drop 1, Drop 2 and Drop 3 (do we believe him?), were great fun. All were about 4-5 ft but not too difficult. The first had a slightly tricky approach. Andrew reckoned there was a really interesting section of riverbed just below this drop so rolled over to have a look...

We found a fun play spot where the Cilieni stream joined the Usk. Although we all seemed quite tired by this point, it kept us entertained as we surfed a small wave for some time. I counted 9 dippers during the paddle, driving most people crazy with my ornithological enthusiasm, although even Neil could recognise one by the end of the day!

The evening was taken up with theory with map reading from Bob and a discussion on safety gear with Rob. Amazingly, no-one went to the pub just 50 metres away. Truely dedicated to our sport!

Day 2: Llansantffraed to Llangynidr Bridge
Date: 28th January 2007
Start: SO 12270 23335
Finish SO 15270 20305
Distance - 8.4 km
Time 3.39 hours

On the Sunday we headed for the well known Mill Falls (SO 13490 20176) below Taly-Bont-on-Usk. After a rather long featureless section we arrived at the falls comprising a 5-6 ft drop and rapids below. We were not the only group on the river and there was a collection of paddlers looking at the section when we arrived. The amount of chin itching, head scratching and tightly folded arms amongst the inspecting paddlers gathered nearby indicated this was a good section. Most of our group got out too for a good look. Rather stupidly I didn't, only as my new spraydeck still requires 10 minutes to stretch on each time. After some gesticulating from my peers, and when the boss had run the easy route river left so was ready to collect any pieces, I ran the drop on river right blind and negotiated the first section of the rapids below. It was a real rush and I was well pleased to get through it in one piece. All our group ran the section successfully and we were well entertained as we watched another group come through with less success, one paddler ending up stranded on a rock without a paddle.

The next few hundred metres were great with some good waves and features. A huge wave train (3 waves?) was the final epitaph to the section. I played for a while until capsizing but managed to roll up in the middle of the last wave ' dead chuffed! We had an interesting session on rope work and some throw rope practise after lunch. I think all the candidate kayakers really progressed, being able to put our skills honed on the Thames Double since our last weekend away, to real effect on a river section for the first time. Personally for me, it was great to christen my new boat and paddles.

A huge debt of thanks to Penny and the coaches for making the weekend such a success. And to the drivers and cooks. Couldn't have had a better weekend in my view. Can't wait until next time, even though it's the assessment weekend.

- Gabriel Hemery