Extracts from a 1999/2000 diary
By: Jerry Murland
First published in 'Canoeist' magazine.
Got back from the Alps to find the answerphone had stacked up several messages from John Jones to say the Clywedog was running on a good level all week. The look of disbelief on Joan's face as I shoved my kit back in the car and headed off to Wales was classic, I would get the flack later no doubt! Met Ian Duffy and John Jones at the Dam two hours later to find them already kitted up and ready to go. Bryntail Falls was going like a train and the spectators on the bridge were clearly hoping to observe a mini disaster at least. The whirr of video cameras accompanied me down through the righthand sweep of the run into the fall, an involuntary tail squirt out of the stopper and I was in the eddy, grinning with pleasure. Ian, in his open boat was attracting some fairly smart betting as the spectators gathered in greater numbers to predict his demise, he gave a text book demonstration of open boating and ran the drop with such style they broke into spontaneous applause. John soon joined us and we shot off downstream to sample the delights of Brithdir Falls and the occasional weir. Cracking run but all too short. Went home to face the flack.
Washburn open this weekend, managed to get up there in two hours from Coventry and arrived before they turned the water on. Jones slept all the way and woke up just as we arrived. Three runs of this fun filled Yorkshire ditch and an involuntary backloop in the weir and it was time to go home again. Most exciting bit of the day was falling asleep on the M6 and having to make a quick break out on the hard shoulder to change my boxers after a close encounter with a Polish lorry. This paddling lark can get quite dangerous!
Plenty of rain over Thursday and Friday had got everyone excited, the phone was red hot on Friday night. Early on Saturday we suffered the dawn start to meet outside Woolies in Newtown. The Twymyn was the popular choice, with the Dulas for afters. Raining hard when we got on the water and we were soon down at the good bits. The gorge was high and full of enormous great boils that sucked you back over the eddyline at each breakout. Decided breaking out was uneccesary and ran the last bit with most of the back end of the boat at periscope depth. Interesting paddling. Over to Corris and up the winding road to the 'get in' for the Dulas. Shouted at by a figure in black who looked as if she had stepped out of a fairytale, this encounter prompted a quick launch in case she turned John into a frog or worse, and we were off downstream at a rate of knots. River was running like a train and the breakouts were very tight, well they said they were but I didn't see any! After the 'town section' through Corris several interesting little drops and falls until the grade 6 section, we all walked! Grand day but fell asleep again on the way home, this time on the M54.
Heavy rain all over Wales and the Midlands, headed off to run the Eden-Mawddach but ended up on the Wnion. Put in at Esgair Gawr and made good progress downstream, Ian Duffy ran a drainage tunnel to avoid the portage by the roadworks! Still raining hard and the water was obviously rising fast, by the time we had run the drop by the railway bridge it was clear the river had notched up a grade. Every tributary we passed was pouring water into the river and the section down to the gorge was getting frisky to say the least, the eddies were fast disappearing under the rising mass of brown water. It was starting to look awesome! 'Just like Nepal,' shouted John. Sod that, I got off just by the first big drop into the gorge, Kerry Hill was also off the river by this time. It was beginning to feel decidedly Grade 5. The gorge would be outrageous! John by this time had dropped into an evil looking stopper and not come out, after what seemed like hours he appeared again without his boat, with what was a perfect shot, my throwline landed next to him, our shouts drowned by the roar of water, but he had lost consciousness by this time. I watched in horror as he was swept down the gorge. Ian took off after him with the rest of us running along the bank until we were forced to climb up to the road. Convinced we were chasing a body, we ran down to the get out to grab it as it came past. Meanwhile John had regained consciousness and managed to climb up a slab in the gorge where Ian found him clinging on by his fingernails. Abseiling down, he did a James Bond style rescue and dragged him up the side of the gorge. John ended up in hospital, his boat 10 foot up a tree and we found a bus shelter to change in out of the rain. I went to sleep on the way home but Kerry was driving this time.
Another bandit raid into Yorkshire where we ran the Lune and the Ure, Water everywhere and most rivers in flood. This was John's first outing since the Wnion episode, two days easy paddling was obviously what was needed to get him back in the saddle! Strangerthwaite Weir looked fairly lethal at this level. Met a bloke as we were portaging who seemed to think paddlers were the lowest form of life on earth. "Ignore him," John kept repeating as we dragged boats round the pump house. "Maybe he's a copper or something," He stood watching us until we vanished round the next bend. "We won't see him again," Said John as we approached the Rawthey confluence. "Then who's that standing there with a camera?" Said Tim.
Still raining hard so off to Wales to snatch a quick paddle on the Seoint. Met John at Eddylines, he was on the way to collect his wife from Birmingham Airport. "So what are you doing here John? The airport is the other way." His face flashed envy as he headed off south. The river was big and beautiful, however the 'get in' at the Seoint is not the place to hang around in paddling gear and we were soon ignoring the no canoeing signs and bouncing away downstream limbo dancing under the barbed wire. Never did work out what the fuss is about on this river, run it twice now and no-one has thrown anything at us. The river was continuous quality Class 3 all the way (except for the Class 4 bits) and a real classic bit of paddling. The dodgy bit soon arrived with trees down all over the place, "What happens if we get the line wrong?" Said Tom. "Don't get it wrong." We chorused. Some big holes and a rescue later and we were regrouped to splash on down to the seaside and the big castle in the carpark. The last bit was decidedly bigger than the rest and below every drop lurked some more gnarly holes. This really was a most excellent paddle we decided, as we puddled our way up the steps below the castle.
Some lean paddling lately, Tryweryn, Usk, Yorkshire again to run the Rawthey, but nothing of any note. However its raining again and this time off to have a blast on the Grwyne. This is a cracking little ditch that runs into the Usk and when it gets up a head of steam is almost alpine in character. Put in by Cwm Porth Bridge and straight into the delights of this little gem. John had an Austrian Vet with him caller Oerter, or something like that, she had a bit of trouble stopping in eddies and kept vanishing down drops shouting Germanic stuff at us. The Grwyne in spate is the sort of river where you need to get in the odd eddy now and again to avoid a good stuffing. I never did find out what she was shouting about. We went over to the Usk afterwards and ran it from Talybont down to Crickhowell. Oerter managed Mill Falls in one go and like the Titanic, took a long time to stop before finally sinking.
Red river alerts all over the place again, God must be smiling, probably reminds him of his Noah's Ark days. The Wye and Avon have burst their banks and so had the Usk when we drove over it at Crickhowell. We were off to the Tarell, a little known ditch that runs into the Usk at Brecon. Chris Sladden raves about it in his guide. From the Old Glanrhyd Bridge we were straight into a tricky drop and whoosh we were transported on a roller coaster ride towards the main falls on the river. Distinct lack of eddies. Two main falls, Zimmer Falls and Island Falls, both of these demanded some thought! The icing on the cake was the final drop by the bridge, bad news if you got it wrong, great if you followed John Jones down and avoided the horrible looking stopper below. Sitting in the eddy below the fall we were admiring the dead sheep hung up in a tree when it became apparent that one of our number was missing. Kerry Hill meanwhile was visiting the green room in the stopper and having a fun time until we threw him a line and pulled him out. He muttered all the way down to the Usk about being abandoned. Usk was running huge as we joined it and red tinted water propelled us to the 'get out'.