GUIDE TO THE AFON SAWDDE
(Llwynfron to Three Horseshoes Pub)
NAME OF RIVER: River Sawdde.
WHERE IS IT?: In the Brecon Beacons, OS map 160. It is a tributary of the River Tywi.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Sladden says access is "fairly awkward to locate" he's not joking. From the Disused Three Horseshoes pub, cross the bridge opposite and bear right and follow the river upstream. You head into the wilds and eventually come to a small group of houses. Turn sharp right just before a telephone box. Follow the road down, take the first left (about 50 yards) then turn right where the road bears left in front of a farm ( cute collie dogs will greet you) head down the narrow lane. Access can be had on your right just over a small bridge. You can't miss it. GR757238. Please note the track only leads to a farm and is a dead end, and to make matters worse it's only a car width wide so think about where you park etc. Take your OS Map. Take out at the Three Horseshoes or continue down to the get out described in the other guide.
APPROX LENGTH: 9 kilometres.
TIME NEEDED: 1 - 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown but we had no problems on the day (Sunday 12th December).
Mark Benson, 15/12/03...'A group of us were challenged by a man just upstream of the bridge at Hen Bont (middle of gorge). We were on the right bank at this point recovering from a lengthy portage around a tree blockage (one of several, though the only one that forced a portage on this occasion). The man drove out on a quad bike from a farmhouse just downstream and questioned our presence, stating that access was available from Horseshoes down only (i.e. lower section). We resolved the situation amicably and resumed our journey on the river, conscious that a little more discretion and a lot more efficiency could have avoided the situation.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Measuring weir on the lower section of the river read 5 when we did our run.
GRADING: Generally 2 to 3 apart from gorge which we felt was a 4. Sporadic rather than continuous.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Big tree after entry drop in gorge, followed by recirculating stopper below!! Trees across the river.
Nick Mawer (7th Feb 2004)...'We paddled at 6 on the most upstream gauge at the weir near Llangadog. Major floods the weekend before the one just gone have washed away a load of trees. However there were several other tree hazards, including a cats cradle of trees down at the end of the upper gorge. At 6 on the gauge a shallow gravel bank river left meant you could wade over and under with relative ease. In higher water the other option would be a portage through a Christmas tree plantation river right. Still a bump and scrape in this level.'
Mark Benson (10th Feb 2004)...'Just noticed Nick Mawer (7th Feb 2004) update re the tree blockage.... the christmas tree plantation high water portage that he suggests is exactly where we encountered the access challenge in December just gone, from people in the farmhouse some 250 metres across the field that borders the downstream side of the plantation.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Starts off shallow at 5 on the gauge.
Round the first bend is fallen tree. Portage ! Small rapids follow for a couple of kilometres then another tree, again portage. Nothing too serious from then on. River bears left and shallows out with a field to your left. You'll see the banks rise and the river narrow ahead of you. Break out to your left, (the breakouts present are few and small so be warned !). This is the entry to the gorge. INSPECT. From the river the entry looks to turn right and narrow to about 2 ft wide. On inspection you'll see it stays a bit wider.
The river goes over an angled drop/slot and hits a vertical rock face before diverting right. You're in the gorge now. Almost immediately there is another small drop with the tree already mentioned waiting at the bottom. An eddy is to the right of this. Use eddy if possible to line up for the surprisingly nasty stopper immediately below. Get speed up and shoot right of centre. A rock platform with a very small eddy behind to the left below the stopper will let you set up what safety cover you can there.
This is the hardest bit of the gorge over. Rescue and safety are awkward to set up for the entry drop and stopper. This could be portaged left or right but didn't look easy. One of our group portaged the entry right angled drop (on river left) and ran the rest fine (there is a small eddy to allow this), another of our group floated over the stopper and got munched, being held briefly out of their boat before being washed out onto the rock slab.
The rest of the gorge is nice and narrow with eddies carved out of the sides (as the lower section). Lots of little drops and slots. Again, nice grade 3.
Remainder of this section is similar in character to the lower section below Three Horseshoes. With unfortunately another portage around fallen trees about 2 km (I think) after the gorge, but a few other small drops as well to keep you interested. Carrying on downstream past Three Horseshoes Pub bridge is recommended.
OTHER NOTES: I would be interested to hear from anyone who has paddled it in higher water. There is a section above this, which is Graded 5 in Sladden's book but we haven't done this. The week before the 12th we drove up the road to see if we could have a look at this section and got shouted at by a farmer(?) saying it was private property (we were still in the car driving slowly round a bend in front of his house). Please note this is quite a way past the get in for the middle bit, well up the lanes in fact, and there were no signs so shouldn't affect the above run. I think the river is great, pretty on the lower section with just enough to keep you interested and places to stern squirt, pop out and try to cartwheel if you want. We took a group of intermediate paddlers down who had this summer gone to the French Alps. They said it was like the Lower Guisane but much better, personally I felt it was a bit like the River Erme in spots. Well worth a paddle if there is H20. I wouldn't want to paddle it at any lower level. Though I have run the Three Horseshoes section on a gauge reading of 4.
Nick Mawer (7th Feb 2004)...'We went to look at the Dulais by the A482 (There are about 7 Dulais or Dulas in the Sladden guide including one about a mile away from this). Much map reading, grid reference querying and general mayhem ensued. Sladden claims that it stays up a few days after rain. A more sorry excuse for a tree infested bone dry ditch, I have never seen. In desparation we went to paddle the Usk from Talybont to Llangenydyr along with the rest of South Wales's paddling fraternity
Caroline Day (paddled and lost her boat 14 Nov 2003)...'The middle gauge read 4 when we started and was 10 when we got off. It was cracking! Big, bouncy with standing waves and boily eddies. There were 3 trees which we had to walk around (between the bottom of the gorge and the Three horseshoes pub) but it was the next submerged tree that got me!'
Overall a fantastic river and I wish I had run it long before now. The gorge is like a G3 version of the Coe gorge in Scotland, a beautiful place. You'd never know there was a road right above it! Those who are happy and confident on the Upper Wye (Llangurig to Rhayader) will be happy on the Sawdde at anything other than high levels.