GUIDE TO THE AFON HEPSTE
NAME OF RIVER: Hepste.
WHERE IS IT?: South Wales, upper Neath Valley.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in wherever you can get to the river, you need to figure out how to walk in using an OS map (no 160). We parked near Penderyn and joined the river at approx GR 934097...but we'd intended to arrive further upstream, we just got lost! To complete this trip, you paddle on into the Mellte and run the bottom half of that river. Take out in the village of Pontneddfechan, park considerately.
Jago Snook adds...(Oct 01) 'Sounds like you found the worst get in...we got in by a farm. Follow the road over the moor and there is a left turn to a farm. We asked the farmer if it was OK and he said yes and promptly ran inside to get his family so they could watch us get on (not the getting changed bit..well at least I think not !). It was a few years ago now but they were so friendly...and you dont actually have to go on to the farm, just by it. The river is right THERE. We got on above a tiny bridge and there was a 5-6 ft narrow slot drop which was great for the farmer and family watching. With a bit less water it might not be possible to get in that far up. We paddled the 15 footer too and it was fine; a warm up for what was round the corner I guess!
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles including the section on the Mellte.
TIME NEEDED: Plenty (3 hours+?).
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: I have only paddled this in low conditions (scrapey on first few rapids). It seems to stay up well, this was days after rain. High water would probably be a suicide mission, for reasons which should become clear below. Medium water levels would lead to a trip with excellent paddling, but major risk for the inexperienced.
GRADING: 4+ (With a major waterfall portage).
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: An enormous waterfall hidden behind a blind bend, you must inspect ahead. If you don't like desperate breakouts above treetop horizon lines, this isn't for you. Trees are a major problem, even in low water. There is also a dodgy weir on the Mellte.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A brilliant trip, but it involves as much walking as paddling. Where we began, we had to lower our boats into the gorge with ropes. There is a section upstream with a 15 foot dangerous waterfall, but our poor navigation meant that we missed this! See Jago's notes above.
Anyway, this section begins with continual steep drops which are hard to boat inspect and certainly keep you guessing. In addition, trees are everywhere and there is a fair amount of dodging and limboing around them.
Keep your eyes open for where the banks suddenly steepen on both sides, for hidden just out of sight is Sgwd yr Eira 'Fall of Snow', an awesome 50 foot drop which is a definite portage for those who detest wheelchairs (Si Wiles quickly inspected this, said "yeah, it's 20 foot, boof it". I'm glad I looked for myself). Get out on river left well upstream, although the climb out is awkward. You then have to descend to the waterfall and walk BEHIND it to the other bank which is pretty cool, really. I tried seal launching THROUGH the fall and this wasn't pretty cool, it bloody hurt in fact.
Don't bother getting back in as there are more waterfalls below. The first three drops looked runnable (Grade 5?) but there is only a micro-eddy before the fourth, which looked appalling. We bottled out. Portaging on river right, you eventually get back to the river just before it enters the River Mellte.
Perhaps the best paddling is still to come, look at the Mellte guide for more information.
OTHER NOTES: It would be interested to hear from anyone who has paddled the waterfalls here?
See also, this sobering story.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley and Jago Snook.