GUIDE TO THE AFON MELLTE
NAME OF RIVER: Mellte.
WHERE IS IT?: South Wales, upper Neath Valley.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in directly below Porth yr Ogof Cave, near the village of Ystradfellte. There is a good manned carpark here. Take out in the village of Pontneddfechan, park considerately.
Mike Kelly adds (Oct '01)...'We normally egress this river at Dinas Rock - using the car park there. This carpark is locked at night and the key keeper lives in the cottages in the neighbouring village - he is the bailiff and jealously protects his river. I've been locked in when I paddled it out of season (only once!) thinking there was a spate agreement as there is on the Usk.'
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: Plenty (4 hours+?).
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: I have paddled this many times, but only in low conditions (scrapey on first few rapids). It seems to stay up well, 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 major waterfall portages).
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Enormous waterfalls hidden behind blind bends, you must inspect ahead. If you don't like desperate breakouts above treetop horizon lines, this isn't for you. There is also a dodgy weir.
Pete the Kayaker ADCC...'Paddled on the 14/01/06 - no sign of the avalanche above Sgwd Y Pannwr and the centre line down the fall goes. The line on River left effectively blocked by a tree.'
Mount Severn...'Lovely river. We paddled in low water 15.2.05 only one tree required a portage although it could have been avoided by dropping into a nasty grabby hole river left. This was about 3/4 of the way down the river by a right hand bend. Portage and egress no problem at this point. Almost at the end there is an awesome looping pool. Big pool with very little current and a very rapid jet of water. This is just below a sluice wall river right.'
Richard Pinchin...'Ran the River Mellte with Bristol Canoe Club on Sunday 8 February 2004, couple of things worth noting:
* There's a tree jam requiring portage on the first rapid leading into the looping slot and bony drop in the Mellte Gorge. Easy launch in above the looping slot or portage everything on the left bank.
* We were one of three groups of paddlers on the Mellte that day. Each group had a car parked at the get in, each car was broken into. Don't leave valuables in cars at the get-in and it might be better to park somewhere other than the public car park at the get-out.'
David Bishop, UWC Cardiff CC (Jan 2004)...'Paddled the Mellte on Saturday in med flow, and the Sgwd y Pannwr landside situation has changed. The large tree has found itself in the slot near the river left edge of the lower ledge. As such, this line is no more, but the drop can and was run successfully, as before, from the top lip. This river is as fun and stunning as ever. Happy days.'
Simon Morse...'Little update to the Afon Mellte. Paddled it yesterday afternoon (22/01/03) and there has been a landslide above the third waterfall Sgwd y Pannwr. The slide has totally blocked the usual line onto the slab for the 'river centre' route. The 'river left' two stage drop is still an option, however this involves two fairly sketchy tree limbo's plus the little skip turn move. Would suggest a quick recce rather than the usual blast down as the water level would greatly affect the feasibility of the line! Hopefully a load of rain will come and wash it all away, but this will most likely send all the debris into the gorge!'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A brilliant trip, but it involves as much walking as paddling. Put in where the river emerges from Porth yr Ogof Cave. Easy Grade 3 rapids lead shortly to...
Swgd Clun Gwyn, mega waterfall one. There is a slot rapid directly above this waterfall, which is fun but probably a bad idea to stuff up. Portage on river right, and it's a bloody slog. This is an alternative starting point if you follow a long track from another car-park.
A short way below (watch out for a tree limbo) is Swgd Clun Isaf Gwyn (or something similar), mega waterfall two. The waterfall is hidden around a righthand bed and the river slopes gently down towards the lip of this one, you wouldn't have a chance in high water. Portage on river right, and it's a bloody slog (is a pattern emerging?) Directly below is a 15 foot slot drop which looks shallow and undercut but runnable, and a small slide drop where most people put back in. A series of drops lead directly to
...you guessed it, mega-waterfall number three, Sgwd y Pannwr. This is diagonal across the river, so you can find yourself peering over the lip as you carry on downstream desperately looking for an eddy...portage river left before you reach it, and it's a bloody slog. This waterfall is much more runnable than the other two.
The river now actually involves 'paddling' with a series of reefs and a Grade 4 fall needing an inventive line through rock ledges in low water.
The River Hepste enters from the left.
You are now entering the Mellte gorge, the best part of the trip. Numerous Grade 4 rapids and drops will keep you interested, but the most memorable is a backlooping slot which then leads to a bony drop onto rock. We portage this second drop river left, but then we quite like our kit. Watch out for trees in the gorge.
After the gorge, an 8 foot vertical weir offers a dodgy boof into 6 inches of water or a recommended portage river right. It hurts like hell if you 'piton' into the river bottom below the weir. I know.
Comments from Jamie Wright...'The dodgy weir on the Mellte has got a 'fun' alternative to the dodgy boof into a puddle. In anything around medium water you can sneak under the log across the unlikely looking black hole in the brick shed, river left... no, honest. Once inside it all goes black (it freaks me out) until you enter a pool on the other side. Now this bit you might want to think about, 'cos you have to paddle off a lip, making a 90 degree turn. The pool's deep enough, et voila (or something) you're in the pool at the base of the weir... and no portage. You see I just don't like walking. You may prefer it, but it's a laugh?'
More rapids rapid lead down to a small three foot high slot weir which provides an excellent playhole, to make up for all that walking earlier. Endless loops, cartwheels and canings are randomly available here...
Mike Kelly adds...'The Gunpowder Mill Weir described as a 'looping spot' is particularly dangerous in medium/high water. It is 60 ft deep! The bottom is strewn with cars and other debris.'
A final weir has a nice surf wave in low water.
Look out for somewhere discreet to get out on river right in the village of Pontneddfechan.
Video of the Mellte from Nick Clendon
OTHER NOTES: Well worth a walk in summer. Marvel at the first two waterfalls and the 'skill' of those who have paddled them. Is this you? Let us know, it'll be interesting.
Also nearby is the excellent Nedd Fechan which requires a bit of rain.
Jamie Wright notes...'The falls on the Mellte. The last one's a definite goer... in high water... but pad your seat very well. Line is way right, and over the obvious rise on the lip. There's a ledge below which kicks you fairly flat... breathtaking, you might say... my back hurt a tad after. Oh, and it'd not absolute suicide in high water. Paddled the river later Sept. this year, and the river rose a good five feet while we were on it...and we didn't hang about. It's exciting, yep, very exciting V all the way; and don't run the drop after the looping slot. I had the beating of my life (almost) against the, now WELL undercut, cliff face directly infront of you. When there's six foot of water under the get out bridge and the water's chocolate... BEWARE... I think the river gods let us off! Happy paddling, Jamie Wright
Daniel Barker adds (July 2000)...'I was looking at the description of the River Mellte and would just like to comment that I and several friends have run the Sgwd y Pannwr waterfall several times to date. In fact the last time we ran it I was in a Mr Clean and my friends were paddling a Medieval and a Glide. Also, the bony drop onto rock after the backlooping slot can easily be run by going over the drop sideways by running at it diagonally from left to right. In fact on our last run we ran the whole river except for the two big waterfalls at the beginning of the run Swgd Clun Gwyn and Swgd Clun Isaf Gwyn.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, Mike Kelly, Jamie Wright, Simon Morse, Richard Pinchin, David Bishop, Mount Severn, Pete the Kayaker ADCC and Daniel Barker.