On the last weekend in February, braving the low temperatures, three members and an ex-member of Nomads set off to mid Wales to run the middle section of the Wye from Builth Wells down to Glasbury, including the infamous ‘Hell Hole’ rapid at Erwood. Arriving late friday afternoon we went straight to the Hell Hole to inspect river conditions, before checking into the luxury River Cafe B&B at Glasbury, which was also our get out.
The river level was just about perfect (an inch over the bases of the bridge piers at Glasbury) high enough to make the Hell Hole a grade 3 rapid and cover the slabs the whole width of the river, but not spate levels, which make a dangerous river wide stopper. Satisfied with the prospects for the next day we retired to a curry house in Hay on Wye for the evening. Ian was recovering from a bad cold and still undecided whether to paddle or not the next day.
Saturday morning we were up early to get to Builth in plenty of time for the 25 mile trip. All were experienced paddlers, though Rob hadn’t paddled for a while and was in his vintage Rotobat – at least it was white water spec. Ian was in his brand new high volume Jackson bus, bought for the trip, Matt in a Burn and James in a club Jackson Rocker. Stopping only briefly for a photo opportunity, the first challenge was a 5 foot seal launch from the bank at Builth, which we all thankfully managed without embarrassment before setting off down the river.
The first few miles were uneventful, with some bouncy grade 2 rapids and all of us checking out our break outs and lines down the rapids in anticipation of bigger water later. The sun came out giving us a lovely view of the beautiful Wye valley as we paddled down, stopping to surf the odd wave. By lunch we’d arrived at the mid way point, just above the Hell Hole, where Ian had the chance to stop and go back to his car if he wasn’t up to continuing, though luckily over a sunny picnic lunch in the riverside field he was feeling better and decided to go on.
Revitalised by our lunch we pushed on the half mile down to the Hell Hole where another group was making a dog’s breakfast of running it. They got their kayaks down OK, but a solo canadian paddler hit the rapid’s final boil badly and crashed into the rocks, somehow managing to stay in his boat. This raised the excitement level ahead of our own run. Matt went down first to show the line, which was pretty straightforward, avoiding the big boils on the right and the stoppers on the left, though the following members of the group all chose their own levels of excitement. Well done to Rob for taking his Rotobat straight through the middle.
Having ‘conquered’ the Hell Hole we continued in high spirits for a couple of miles until the next grade 3 rapid on a right hand bend, which we’d forgotten about. Rob was surprised to see Matt’s boat disappear from view down a hidden drop, but a very enjoyable rapid followed.
Between then and the get out was some flattish water and the final Boughrood rapids, which added the last bit of excitement. All were suitably tired but happy after the long trip, which had taken about 5 and a half hours including the lunch stop. We were thankful for our luck in encountering perfect river levels and a some sunshine.