GUIDE TO THE AFON RHONDDA FAWR
(Porth to Hopkinstown)
NAME OF RIVER: Rhondda Fawr ('big' Rhondda).
WHERE IS IT?: In the Rhondda valley, following the A4058 up the valley from Pontypridd. OS map 170, Vale of Glamorgan.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Consider a start on the easier upper section.
Or...put in anywhere you can get down to the river near some warehouse/ factory units on the south (river right) side of the valley, roughly 015916, just upstream of a footbridge. Get out just after the last rapid and bridge following it, on river right, 060904. You may have to park in a sports club (rugby?) car-park, exercise discretion. These spots are rather awkward to find, apologies if you have to spend some time tracking them down! Note that not all possible parking places in this district may not correspond to your notion of 'safe'; the night before we first paddled this, we spent a night in the local pubs and our guide, a Rhondda local, insisted we leave someone with the cars...
APPROX LENGTH: Three miles.
TIME NEEDED: Two hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This can carry a huge volume of water; in November 1998 there was extensive flood damage on bridges thirty feet above the water. Basically, if there is enough water to float at the put-in it's low but paddleable. The more water the merrier beyond that, but be prepared for some surprisingly large and committing white water.
GRADING: Grades 3 and 4.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Urban debris and pollution!
Spanker (August 2003)...'DO NOT leave boats on your roof for ANY period of time as a local STAKED OUT the carpark, and managed to have 2 kayaks away off my roof in under 10 minutes. However, with some help from the local CID we caught the thieving rascals. Either lock them in the car, or keep em on your shoulder!'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Urban boating! This short section of river contains some quite excellent rapids, displaying some characteristics of 'big water' in a good flow. However, the natural environment is nothing short of awful; the river stinks and the scenery is grim at best. Having learned to kayak on Coventry Canal, I love it, but some fellow paddlers feel otherwise.
From the put-in near the footbridge, Grade 2 rapids take you to where the River Rhondda Fach ('little' Rhondda) joins from river left. The river widens considerably and passes under innumerable bridges. Look out for a weir which has a grabby stopper, with little opportunity to inspect or portage. The river now speeds up, with many small weirs and ledges in the riverbed.
When you reach a large railway bridge with square 'tunnels' through it, try to land on river right and inspect through the (hopefully) dry river right tunnel. Avoid the river left tunnel. This really is a remarkable section of river. All you can see through the centre tunnel as you run it...is sky! For all you know, there may be an immense waterfall at the end. Thankfully, if you've inspected, you'll know that this isn't the case. The river pours out into a stopper, and barely settles before hurtling down a very long and windy series of natural ledges/ slabs. This brilliant Grade 4 section is the best of the river, with BIG waves and stoppers in high water. Playboaters will want to linger over this section. One river-wide stopper works equally well in high or low water, usually giving those who play in it a minute or so more surfing than they planned upon! The final stopper in this section is a nice loop/ cartwheel spot, before the river widens again and eases in Grade.
L. Nettleton adds...(12/3/00) 'In full flood the section below the railway bridge (your photo) would be suicidal. In real flood there is an enormous diagonal stopper below the slope feeding almost all the way across but meeting a reflection wave stopper about 15 feet out from the RL. In low water we found that short section great fun and it should be possible to get out and walk back up to the top very easily to go round again using RR. This is owned by the Local Authority and is adjacent to the Rhondda Heritage Centre. Rumour has it that the RR section enclosed by the road (between the railway bridge at the top and the road bridge at the bottom) will be come a public park.'
Further on, a large bridge with a choice of two arches should definitely be taken on river right. All sorts of appalling concrete and metal junk lurks below the other arch. The final rapid ends the river with a bang. When you see the take-out bridge, you are directly above a wave train leading into a final stopper. On river left a sharp broken pipe sticks out...giving plenty of incentive to head river right. This rapid is Grade 3, but probably a Grade harder in high water.
OTHER NOTES: This trip makes a great 'stop-off' on the way to or from other South Wales rivers. The grim industrial environment isn't so bad; for instance, we found the ten foot high shopping trolley heap which appeared in an eddy after the Oct '98 floods quite amusing! The river can be paddled further up the valley.
Nige' B (Jan 2011)...'In 2010 a group of us used the grade four stretch for some practice (before going to the Alps).
It seems unlikely but in good water this stretch provides continuous grade four rapids between the square tunnels of the get on and the next large bridge (with 3 arches).
Not only is this a highly entertaining stretch to hone your skills it has a very handy footpath running (adjacent to river right) all the way from the bottom bridge to the top bridge.
It’s not pretty and we were warned by a local not to drink the water but it really is a fantastic 500 metres of water which you can run again and again.
We witnessed plenty of evidence of polluted water including an astonishing amount of used nappies in the bushes and trees further up (yuk).
But if you’ve had all your jabs and you fancy something fast and furious this section makes for great fun.
You can paddle/walk through the far left tunnel (looking upstream) and then just break in to the middle arch. From the drop at the end of there it’s all go.
The middle arch of the big bridge at the bottom of the section has a stopper that’s a lot more grabby than it looks. One of our group got a real beating there and took a swim.
Get out if running using the footpath described above is underneath the road bridge, 50 metres below the 3 arched one, river right.
The stretch described is liable to some odd urban litter so best have a good look from the footpath to the put in and check to make sure it all goes! Pictures of Rhondda Fawr grade 3+ (4) section.
Simon Neenan on the first slide, just after the get in tunnel. Picture Rhys Parks.
Looking upstream to the put in tunnel. Nige Braunton can just be seen dropping into the point of no return... Picture Rhys Parks.'
Rob (NACC)...(October 2005)...'There is now a nice play wave/hole below the first road bridge in Porth, created by the construction forcing water into just the river left section of the river and under the middle arch only. There is just about an eddy in both sides, if you have a quick roll. We paddled it at medium levels (pipe at the final rapid was half covered) and there were no problems here only a reasonably nice play spot.'
Spanker adds (December 2002)...'There is some scope for a park and play at Trehafod here. There is a nice ledge formed stopper under a foot bridge, a chute to a river wide stopper, then a boulder garden near the take out. take out just above the road bridge on river right.'
Spanker (August 2003)...'If there is no stopper/ wave just upstream of the little footbridge, the Nant Clydach (next valley up) offers an excellent park and creek experience at Glyncoch, and legend has it that there is a massive standing wave on the Cynon (2 valleys up) on a weir near the confluence with the Taff.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Nige' B, Hywel, Robert Warren, Rob, Spanker and L. Nettleton.