Turning left into 2017..!
Paddlers - Keith, Chucky, Colin, Samantha, Michael, Rob, Jamie, Alex, Dylan
Venue - Afon Conwy - Ysbwy Ifan to A5 bridge and A5 bridge to lay-by - Approx 8km in total
Paddling in 2017 has been off to a faltering start, with a couple of planned days being abandoned due to no rain, it has been a VERY dry start to the Winter season. So the midweek plans were tentatively made with keen eyes watching the weather forecast and becoming meteorological experts. By Thursday it seemed fairly clear that there would be some water around so the beginnings of plans were discussed and continued through to Saturday night, with a few excited bodies itching to get back on the water, in some cases for the first time in over 12 months!
Meeting before 8am at the club in the rain, ensured everyone wanted to get going and hit the road so we were away at 8am precisely, unfortunately Rob was running 10 minutes behind and although he had text to say so, we didn't get the message until we were already on the road - Communication mishap number 1...
We made plans to meet at Dobbies for the obligatory Subway brekkie, then on to Mile End Mill to meet Alex and Dylan from Shrewsbury CC. Introductions were made to those that didn't know each other and a quick conversation about skill levels - enter Michael, with only Symonds Yat and a single visit to MEM today was going to be a steep learning curve and real step up in River Running! The plan was made - Afon Conwy 2 sections to go at.
Next stop the big lay-by near the get in for the Middle section and a chance to take a peak over the bridge to assess the level, Rainchasers indicating that it had just peaked and levelled off. It was also good to bump into Alex (BOY!) a friend from our Alpine adventures. Then off to the get in... a very friendly local (no, really he was friendly.) asked if we would mind using the footpath rather than seal launching the bank - absolutely, good to keep local relations on good form.
But before we could get on we needed to Shuttle cars down to the get-out, a fairly simple task...... Dylan headed off with me in hot pursuit as I didn't know the way, trying desperately to keep up with Mr Dylan 'Colin McRae' Roberts was no easy feat, but we made it to the lay-by in one piece and probably record time! Rob pulled in a minute later followed by........ no Sam! I asked if Sam was following Rob to which he replied "probably?" As it turns out Sam turned Right onto the A5 and was happily heading towards home! - Communication mishap number 2...
After re-tracing some steps everyone was reunited and ready to hit the water, which was bloody freezing (unsurprisingly). We decided to split into 2 groups rather than trying to tackle it as a 9. Alex, Rob, Sam and Dylan took point and headed off, leaving Chucky, Colin, Michael, Jamie and myself to follow on. This section is a nice gentle Grade 2 start and we soon found a series of boulders to play with so after an explanation of river strategies we did some eddy hopping practice and discussed the reasons for doing so. A good idea as it turned out as the features started to increase in grade and complexity it is a strategy we used several times on the route.
There is one drop on this section that requires inspection and planning, a few nervous looking faces whilst inspecting the feature and a few discussions on lines and techniques. Colin, Sam and Jamie decided to run safety and weren't fussed about running it at this point, the rest of us split into 2 groups to tackle the feature, including Michael - a brave decision for his first outing on a proper river. I maintained an air of cool indifference to the drop (or tried to) and felt pretty confident so headed down first, spotted the run in and picked my line, then realising that from river level it didn't look nearly as good as it did from above!!!! But I was committed and off I went, trying a 'flair' off a sloping rock, which kind of worked but did result in a rather heavy landing and cracking my paddle off the rocks.
The following boaters did the same line and all made it look rather smoother, except Dylan... Dylan became a time lord and on arriving at the lip managed to instantly transport himself and his boat to the rocks on the right hand side facing the wrong way and be completely clear of the water, a very impressive feat to witness. His only option was a reverse seal launch off the rock, which he styled like a pro. Michael managed the drop perfectly and looked in full control, however feeling the relief a little too soon he got pushed against an overhanging rock and after a couple of brace attempts and a roll attempt, saw an unfortunate swim.
We reached the midpoint safely and agreed there was enough time to head into the Middle Conwy section, it soon becomes apparent that this is definitely a step up in grade from the section above. The river running strategies and techniques we had practiced further up came into their own here, Chucky was leading on a section with tight difficult Eddy's to hit and signalling became all important and this was where it went a little astray. A signal to 'stop' got passed up the line as a 'one down' and as a consequence saw 2 paddlers heading into a section with eddy's already blocked and a blind corner ahead.... luckily we managed the situation well and all was fine, however a valuable lesson learned and a timely reminder to really practice these skills - Communication mishap number 3...
Some good fun river leads to Bryn-bras falls, a little misleading as it isn't really a falls, more an S-bend rapid with some decent waves and features. A quick inspection and watching another group run through meant everyone was happy (read nervous) to get going. We decided to run it alpine style - spaced out, one behind each other, read and run. It worked fine and everyone made it through unscathed and with big beaming smiles. Shortly after we hit the get-out and the seemingly never ending hike up the steps to the muddy lay-by.
The return journey was broken up with a visit to The Boathouse at Chirk. This fantastic pub at Chirk Marina is run by paddlers and they love to see groups coming in after a day on the river. Ordering drinks also saw the ordering of chips 1,2,3? make it 7.... However when they arrived there were 10 bowls of chips, then shortly after there were 2 more, then another 3!!! I think the chef was desperate to get rid of chips! But they were warmly received and very much appreciated. We even got our photo taken for their Facebook page (please visit and like The Boathouse at Chirk - www.facebook.com/theboathouseatchirk/ and don't forget to call in after you've been on the river)
A superb end to another superb day on the river, lots of lessons learned, lots of happy faces, welcoming a new face to the water and a Huge welcome back to Colin after a forced break, not to mention some very welcome full tummies!!
Thank you all - I had a great day - 2017 paddling has officially started!
Keith - Chairman