GUIDE TO THE RIVER USK
(Sennybridge to Aberbran Bridge)
NAME OF RIVER: Usk.
WHERE IS IT?: Flowing through a valley between the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons, past Brecon and Abergavenny. OS map 160.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in beside the Army base in the middle of Sennybridge...follow signs in Sennybridge for 'CENTA' over a bridge and if you turn right when you reach the base (going ahead will get you shot) you reach a small layby beside the river. Take out at the bridge where the Nant Bran stream joins from river left. Anyone paddled this?
It is also possible to start on or at the end of the River Crai, a few kilometres upstream; but I haven't done this stretch as there is an anti-canoeing fellow who frequents Pantysgallog bridge which you would want to use...see the River Crai guide. You can also start on the River Senni which enters the Usk at this put-in.
APPROX LENGTH: 5.5 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours, although I have done it in less than an hour without stopping.
ACCESS HASSLES: There is an access agreement, some details can be found at http://www.welsh-canoeing.org.uk/access/rights_and_agreements.htm#usk. Also see http://www.mountainandwater.co.uk for more info.
CPM Ambrose (October 2005)...'Put-in off the Public Bridleway near the MOD base in Sennybridge. Take out at Aberbran Bridge in the field. Met with hostile comments from two residents at the get in, despite only unloading the vehicles at this point, and then parking shuttle vehicles in the car park in Sennybridge. Another group had left three cars in front of these houses and I was threatened with their being clamped. Otherwise, one friendly fisherman on the river, and no other encounters. A really good paddle for beginners and a beautiful river.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: We have paddled this in low and medium water levels. It is almost always paddleable in winter. If there are dry rocks showing in the river at the put-in then the river is low.
GRADING: Mostly Grade 2 with ledge rapids reaching Grade 3 in medium water levels. These sections which may be harder and dangerous in high water. See below.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Three weir-like natural ledges.
Mike Kelly (Dec 2003)...'There's a large tree in the upper Usk after the first right-hand bend just below Sennybridge - it covers 2/3 of the river on river right and can be passed quite easily on the left, but might present problems to novices.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A section which is highly recommended as an introduction to whitewater; we took a raw novice down last week and she loved it. The rapids are straightforward and reasonably continuous, keeping the interest up. Early in the trip, the hardest sections are encountered. In the space of a mile, there are three successive rock ledges, the last and highest being about a metre drop. The first can be recognised as the river beds right and you hear a roar...the ledges are easy and safe enough but would undoubtedly generate some frightening stoppers in high water. Inspection is recommended. After the ledges the river is progressively easier but with some enjoyable small waves to surf. The take-out bridge has a small 'play' stopper underneath it.
OTHER NOTES: Another stretch of the Usk to consider is that from Talybont to Llangynidr, although we found it less interesting. The River Senni is pleasant and of similar difficulty, if you have enough water.
Nige' Braunton, Jan 2006...'I am an experienced Sea Kayaker (surfing mainly) but have been persuaded to go on a couple of river trips which I absolutely loved! I agree that, for a novice, this stretch of the Usk is perfect. Plenty of places to practice ferrying, enough drops to keep you entertained and if you're feeling brave lots of little play waves. At low water I didn't encounter any stoppers at all but this is probably because I was being led by a BCU level 4 coach who made sure I took safe route down. I'm lucky enough to live in Wales and I shall be waiting for rain so I can do the same stretch again in higher water.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Mike Kelly, Nigel Braunton and CPM Ambrose.
By the time the level is high enough for a line to be opening up down river right, the whole LHS is very unpleasant for weaker paddlers.
We had a beginner get held in a hole today after swimming despite hitting the correct line (hard left) on the 3rd drop (the horseshoe 'weir'). He exited his boat on the upstream side in the pool at the bottom of the drop and was sucked along the face of stopper into the centre of the horse shoe. I can't see references to this stopper holding swimmers online (and I've not heard of it myself before) so I'd advise caution.
This was in low water.
Swimmer was fine and after warming up and feeding was able to paddle on out under his own steam.