GUIDE TO THE AFON TAWE
(Glyntawe to Abercraf)
NAME OF RIVER: Tawe.
WHERE IS IT?: South Wales, flowing off the Brecon Beacons near the A4067 Swansea Brecon road. Map.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in for this section is the village of Glyntawe (SN 8462 1652), where there are a number of places you can access the river. Even so, definitely consider starting on the storming upper section. We finished the trip at the bridge just before Abercraf on the A4067, (SN 826127). See also Martin Harrell's comments below.
The following notes came from Ambrose Hearne .... 'Some time ago a National Park Warden told me that above the strange weir (upper section) at the start of the gorge the river is on land administered by the Brecon Beacons National Park, who have a policy of free and unhindered access to non-motorised members of the public. A kayak should count as such, I'm sure. Thus access to this stretch of river is possibly less problematic. I still remove roof-bars etc, and try to make the car look as little like a boatie car as possible. Better still is to shuttle the car down to the bottom of the river before you start the run, but this needs a non-paddling driver, or a person prepared to cycle back up and hide the bike to be collected later, a good trick for solo runs.
Safe parking can be had in the OAP home close to Abercraf Bridge, but ask first. We've never had problems parking there, or lower down in the little residential road in Pen-y-Cae. This may be pushing it though, it is the heart of 'Angler Country'. The anglers are VERY possessive about the river, and I have received all manner of threats in the past. The secretary? (he drives a dark coloured foreign 4X4) tries to be very persuasive indeed.'
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2- 3 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not too good. This is one of the few rivers I have been challenged on, on the upper section AND lower section of the river. We were told that we weren't allowed on the river, whilst waiting for the shuttle at the get-out described above. To be fair, said fisherman was perfectly friendly.
The WCA website says this in October 2002...'WCA has successfully negotiated an Access Agreement to sections of the River Tawe and its tributary the River Twrch with the Angling Association that owns the riparian rights. The Agreement Allows Canoeing on these two rivers during the closed fishing season between the 18th October and the 28th of February. There is no agreement for canoeing outside these dates, and there is no agreement for spate paddling outside theses dates. Please adhere to these provisions, as paddling outside the allotted dates will jeopardise the agreement.'
Laurence Jones, Secretary to the Tawe and Tributaries Angling Association (5/02/03)...'My name is Laurence Jones and I am the Secretary of the fishing club in the area described and I would like to point out that the information given is inaccurate. In October 2002 the angling club reached an agreement with the Welsh Canoeing Association which then allowed canoeing on our waters during the closed season for fishing. Therefore there will be no hassle from the anglers providing that canoeists abide with the terms and conditions set out by the Welsh Canoeing Association. These can be obtained from Richard Harvey who is the development officer for this association. The Welsh Canoeing Agency will also be responsible for policing the waters and will take action against any canoeists breaking the conditions reached.'
Rick Plummer adds (March '00)...'To add to the access situation for the lower section of the Tawe, A group of us paddled it over the weekend and at the get out, we found that some fishermen had let down three of the four tyres on our car which stranded us. A kind local helped us out and did the shuttle for us and he said that there had been a lot of problems. A couple of fishermen also told us that it was illegal to paddle the river once the fishing season had started but I don't Know the reliability of this claim, do you?'
Ambrose Hearne...Bad but bearable. Being local or speaking Welsh does not seem to help one bit. I suggest small and discreet groups, moving sensibly.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: I have paddled this in medium-low conditions and high water; all rocks well covered. Both times were directly after heavy rain. Very high water would probably be awesome paddling, probably the more water the merrier...but it will get much harder...
Duncan Saunders (June 2006)...' The gauge on the weir at the put in (possibly at the very bottom of the Haffes, just before the confluence with the Tawe) was reading 7.4. The river proper was definitely bank-full, and up in the trees in places. This made for continuous, big and boily paddling with some BIG waves and stoppers. With the exception of Pen y Cae falls it would have made an exciting if ballsy play-run.
Other things we observed at this level...
...the small weirs on the stretch from the country park office to Penwllt form some very clean green waves.
...there is an eddy on river left immediately below Pen y Cae bridge from which the falls can be inspected. Don't miss it! All the slides run together and the stopper on the third drop looks decidedly terminal.'
GRADING: Grade 4 in the levels described above. Undoubtedly harder in very high water levels.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Small weirs. Pen y Cae Falls. A major 10 foot waterfall.
Kevin Dingsdale (March 2006...'A tree is overhanging the Cliff, just after the big waterfall. It's massive. If it goes, it will block the whole river. See this picture.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A fantastic river, among the best anywhere in the UK. This section is remarkably different to the steep and narrow upper section, even taking on 'big volume' characteristics. It's hard to believe you are on the same river.
It's a bit quiet for a while through and after Glyntawe, with only an easy series of tiny weirs (which might be a hazard in very high water?). The easy mellow paddling continues for some distance, until a series of ledges and stoppers (grade 4) above a bridge. This makes for some good play waves and stoppers.
Below the bridge you reach Pen y Cae Falls, a series of enormous slabs which made an exciting grade 4 rapid when we've been there...but which will no doubt produce the mothers of all stoppers in very high water, due to their weir-like characteristics...inspection is essential. The falls are followed by a long series of reef rapids with big surf waves.
A little way down the river, where cliffs rise on river left, is a horizon line which will keep you guessing right up to the brink! Inspection will reveal that it hides a river-wide 10 foot waterfall (although Chris Pottinger's inspection comprised of him going "Aaaarrggh" as he missed the breakout and disappeared backwards over the fall). Plenty of routes are available.
It's not over yet! The river next delivers a fabulous ending, a long series of grade 4 rapids through a limestone(?) gorge with some big surf waves and stoppers if you are up for playing. The takeout bridge is not far below.
Martin Harrell adds: 'If you continue down the river to Abercraf, you come to a fairly big weir (about 6 feet high). After the weir the river is a big bouncy roller coaster ride (big grade 3) down to another road bridge (A4067 again) which is where we got out. I reckon this would only add about a mile or so to your trip, but is a good place for the shuttle bunnies to set up for photo shoots because there is a footpath following the river from the get out up to the weir. By the way, we did not shoot the weir, because of the high water conditions forming a nasty looking river wide stopper, and because we had heard rumours of metal stakes in the weir.'
Mark White adds (19/5/00)...'I live in the village of Abercraf and know for a fact, having walked the river for 15 yrs or so, that on the weir there are some stake-like things sticking out. These are the steel reinforcing rods where water has worn away the top layer of concrete. The actual size of round steel rods is 6 or 8mm. Every so often these "stakes" are cut by the Tawe and Tributaries Angling Association because of the fish travelling the river.'
OTHER NOTES: It's highly recommended that you combine this with a trip on the upper section of the Tawe...there is plenty more up there, although in very high levels you'd probably want to stick with the section described here!
Let us know if you have paddled this in higher water: From Ambrose Hearne 12/00...'I noticed that you were interested in hearing from paddlers who have done the river in big water. I have paddled the river many times and when I ran the river during big flood a few years back I very nearly paid the price.
The normally innocuous grade 3ish fall just upstream of the Penwyllt Bridge was a grade 5 monster, but it did have a tongue, river left. Yours truely ran it, and according to the rest of the party took the perfect line, only to end up in the hole from hell on River Left. Rolling was a riduculous idea, no paddles, no idea where I was, maybe you've been there. And so cold. So I swam. I don't really mind swimming, it can be fun - apart from the ritual humiliation from one's pers. This swim frightened the shit out of me because I was all too aware of Pen y Cae Falls not too far downstream. I fractured my skull there once, and as mentioned elsewhere in the river description, it is not an easy place to be in big flows.
So I swam, and made it to the shore. Grabbing a tree, and bidding farewell to the boat, I tried to pull myself to my feet. First problem, I could not get two hands onto the tree, the flow was so fast that I could not bring my left arm up to join my right. I managed after a few tries. Second problem, standing up was really hard in the strong current. I managed eventually, to find myself in less than 12 inches of water.
Moral, in flood the river is a very serious proposition indeed, and if things go wrong you will really need to fight hard. it is the only river, bar none, that I have ever felt that I have to do something, NOW, just to stay alive!
There is more to the river downstream...have you done it?
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, Duncan Saunders, Mark White, Laurence Jones, Kevin Dingsdale and Martin Harrell.
Locals paddle it at low levels a fair bit as the river often holds for a day or so after rain. It's one of the most consistent rivers in the region for levels.
Locals throw hammers, freewheels and megaboofs off the drop in the photo, which is not possible to do that on class three features.
The picture isn't the only fall/slide on this section that starts at class four in low levels (and increases with difficulties when higher). There are several undercut cliffs on this section, the remit of hazards rises above class three even in low flow.
If you only have class three river skills/experience and class three paddling skills, this section is a step up.
For comparison this section is a grade about the Dart loop at low to medium levels. At high levels it's two grades above the Dart loop. In Spate, I've seen plenty of team/sponsored paddlers walking sections on the Middle Tawe, the same paddlers who will be in play boats on a spate Dart loop.
Levels were showing as 3 on the gauge above the mini weir at the country park, and 6 on the gauge just below (which looks like it's the same as 0.6 on Rainchasers) and our group ran everything with no problems. There was nothing much above grade 3, with some slightly harder lines for those that wanted them. Obviously at higher levels it's a different proposition, but at lower levels don't be put off by the guide book but do watch out for trees in the river. We didn't encounter any access hassles at all, and there's even a section of bank river right above Pen-y-cae falls that has a "kayak friendly" sign up :)