On the weekend of the 8th and 9th of January seven negatively COVID tested Nomads led by Matt travelled to Wales to paddle the middle Wye. In the end only three of us made it to our lovely self catering accommodation at Trefecca farm near Talgarth on the Friday night with the remaining four joining us on the Saturday morning at the put in in Builth. An unfortunate brush with a dodgy Burger King double cheeseburger the night before also meant Amie was unfit to join us for the first day’s paddling.
We needed some water in the river, with the level at Erwood having fallen from 2m to 1.5m over the past couple of days, but we could all have done without the grey overcast and continuous rain at the put in as we prepared our boats for the 19 mile trip and had our safety briefing. Nevertheless we were in good spirits as we set off with Graham, Britta and Tom paddling this beautiful and interesting section for the first time.
We avoided the ‘rock of death’ 100 yards downstream of Builth bridge that caught Anthony and David on previous trips by the simple expedient of not mentioning it and proceeded river left, as Britta and Tom got used to the considerably faster flowing water than they were used to. The first mile or two had only slight waves until the river turned south to parallel the road and the first of many rapids started. With the fairly decent water level these were more long sections of bouncy and exciting grade two waves than anything too challenging, but we were enjoying the feel of being on the water and the spray, which took our minds off the rain. The river was flowing very well so we seemed to just breeze through even the flatter sections, where instead we could focus on the majestic scenery and the wildlife. As well as the obligatory sheep we spotted herons, kingfishers, cormorants and one otter.
Tom, our most recent addition was enjoying being on the water and had no problems with any of the waves and rapids.
Progress seemed very easy and in under two hours we were approaching Erwood with its bigger rapid and bridge. The rapid was largely washed out across most of its width and considering the make up of the group we skirted the handful of difficult looking waves on the left to come to a rest by the trees below Erwood bridge. It wasn’t yet 12 and the Hell Hole was only a mile away, but we decided on an early lunch/snack stop and as if to confirm our decision the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Maybe you can’t see the sun in this photo, but it was there! Suitably refreshed and pre-warned of the Hell Hole we set off again staying river right through the few rapids down to the Hell Hole. Naturally we stopped to inspect before deciding how to play things and strangely to both me and Simon the Hell Hole looked exactly as it had done two years before with 2.05m of water. We didn’t complain as it gave us more options and in the end Simon, Tony and Graham chose to run it via the traditional route down the right with Matt providing safety with a line at the bottom.
Simon nearly came unstuck but made it…
Graham confounded our safety preparations by capsizing after the rapid and out of throwline reach…
And Tony breezed it looking very professional, before heading after Simon to help rescue Graham, which all ended ok.
The following rapids all seemed to be running very, very well, particularly the one on the right hand bend, which after a confusing explanation and choice given by me, everyone followed me down river centre giving us a great view of a horrible big stopper we’d avoided on river right!
It didn’t seem long before we got to Boughrood bridge and the long final rapid through the village. There were lots of trees and bushes, but the river centre route took us safely clear of them through bouncy waves to the corner and the start of the couple of mile home stretch to Glasbury. Unlike other years we weren’t exhausted or longing for the end and cruised to a very light and early stop by Glasbury bridge.
We even had the energy left to smile! Well done everyone and especially Britta and Tom who’d not paddled so far or so big before and took it in their stride. Lee Valley here you come!
An hour or more of car shuttling followed to get back to our accommodation, where Helen our host had promised us a slap up beef casserole meal. We had time to clean up (apart from Tony) and were soon sitting at the table ‘feeling lucky’ enjoying our meal while ‘Nigel’ regaled our hostess at the expense of his dinner getting cold. The food was delicious and plentiful and a good time was had by all.
A quick check of the water level for the next day revealed the reason for the seemingly higher water level during the trip – from the start of the trip to the finish the water level at Erwood had risen from 1.5 to 2.4m. No wonder the rapids were all running so well!
The next morning, suitably rested we were joined by a much recovered Amie for the narrower section of the Wye from Newbridge down to Builth. Despite not having paddled since September she was keen and proved this by being unfazed by capsizing in the first 50 yards of admittedly very fast current and getting cheerfully back into her boat. No doubt the full body steamer wetsuit helped.
The first mile or two were quite exciting as the steeper, narrower river descended through twists between trees, but then settled down for a while to allow us to enjoy the bucolic scenery with the odd secluded log cabin and plenty of sheep. We were moving pretty quickly and soon rapid followed rapid as we kept on paddling without a lunch stop through the glorious scenery till we got to just above Builth rocks. The water looked very high and we went for a good inspection and detailed safety discussion before Simon and Tony decided to try the much easier upper rapid and then see how they felt about Builth rocks itself.
Tony went first trying to find the line through the very confused water and not quite managing it, but after taking the rapid upside down he was saved by his roll and came out unscathed. Simon followed and found the line Tony had been looking for, making it look very easy. Well done Simon.
After congratulating Tony and Simon we put back in below the rapid and meandered the half mile or so down to our get out in Builth car park feeling like we’d had a good paddle.
Well done to Britta, Tom and Amie for acquitting themselves very well on their first more serious trip and to Tony and Simon for paddling Builth rocks. Thanks to Britta and Tom for their videos and photos and to everyone for coming and making it a great weekend’s paddling.
Matt, trip leader