Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LAST weekend - February 10th-11th 2007 - in search of snow.

Yeah, I know I've not even finished blogging about Thailand last OCTOBER, but...
I promised to write the Trip Report.

This is the 'suggested itinerary' as emailed me by Sal:

South Wales Kayak Trip Details


(approx 2 miles north of Abergavenny)

Smithys Bunkhouse,
Lower House Farm
Tel 01873 853432

What you need to bring:
All food for weekend (except Sat eve – Pub Grub). If you want fry-up on Sun, bring your bacon etc. Wine/beer for evening. There’s a supermarket in Abergavenny if you forget anything.
If you are staying in bunk house, you need sleeping bag!
Walking boots (in case there is no water and we need to resort to other activities)

Friday 9 Feb – arrive (after work) journey takes approx 2 hrs from Exeter. First one to arrive, please speak to Katy Smith for keys etc. If you are staying in the cottage, the double bed is not yours unless you are called S or G.
Food for Friday – bring your own tea or test out Abergavenny’s take-aways. (I don’t recommend their fish & chips)

Sat 10 Feb – planning to paddle 2 rivers with quite a long drive to start off with so early start and later finish
Evening - pub (a short walk up the road)

Sun 11 Feb – a more relaxed start, Richard's famous breakfast fry-up, tidy up & leave accommodation. Paddle a section of the River Usk. Plan to finish weekend no later than mid afternoon.

I was really, really reluctant to go. I’d signed up for the trip before Christmas in a burst of enthusiasm after paddling the Lower Dart (an easy grade one/two stretch) in glorious autumnal sunshine.

Steve (- DH and erstwhile paddling partner) had declined the trip – he doesn’t like driving all that way just to paddle COLD water in February (for goodness sake).
The last time I’d paddled before this had been in Thailand – and the water had been WARM. I’d also made it to the bottom of a grade 4 drop but had bailed out when I’d been faced with what appeared to be an impenitrable large wall of water and then failed to roll up and then swum for several hundred metres in the fastest water I’d ever swum in. I was fished out unceremoniously into the bottom of the raft feeling like I now KNOW what it’s like to be flushed down the toilet. It's all in the mind. Really.

I haven’t got a roof rack on my Volkswagen Polo so unless Steve going paddling coincides with time off work, it’s difficult to get any paddling in. Sally was organising the trip and she’d said something about ‘experienced’ grade 3 paddlers reccying some new rivers – the more I thought about this and the more I thought about my rusty whitewater skills the more I regretted signing up for the trip.

It was with these thoughts uppermost I told her I wanted to pull out when she phoned to confirm details. I was quite happy to forfeit the money paid up front for the accommodation. What a wimp I am. And, I explained, I didn’t want to be a liability or put a dampener on the weekend for everyone else. Sally told me not to be so silly and come anyway – K was going just to walk so I could go and not paddle. Alright, Alright, I’ll go.
Thursday evening and I’ve still not packed. I half heartedly throw all my paddling gear into a heap in the spare room. I hear news of the biggest snow blizzard in years hitting Britain and schools closing. HUH. There’s no snow in Devon! for all you folk who live in parts of the world where snow showers are a regular occurrence, be aware that everything grinds to a halt in England if there's a centimetre of snow on the roads!

You will observe that the itinerary above contained perfectly clear communication about what I needed to bring. So how come I forgot to bring any food ?? (apart from a single loaf of bread, admittedly home baked, and plonk that is. I also remember to roll up sleeping bag but forgot to put it in the car. See? I'm evidently not committed.

Friday I manage to get off work at the phenomenally early time of 15.30hrs, aiming to get to Sally’s by 16.30hrs… Get phone call to say weekend may be off as the farm is inaccessible. We are to await communication from our leader. Am I disappointed? Envisage more time to knit and read and do other such slovenly activities over weekend.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) Sal doesn’t manage to get through to Ian and Richard who have already set off. Never mind – they can act as probes.

Next morning I get up at some ridiculously early time and packing takes on some urgency– Richard and Ian have apparently succeeded in getting to farm (brave lads!) and we are to attempt to get away by 8am. I have it on oath that my dogsitters, K and B, will not mind be woken at 7am. When I get there with dogs they are obviously up but not hearing doorknockers or shouts (or glass breaking -) (kidding!). Am just about ready to dump dogs in back garden when door opens. By time I leave dogs it is already 7.40hrs. I don’t think I’m going to be at Sally’s on time. What’s new? I leave message. We are on our way about 08.50hrs.

As we get into Wales I get excited – SNOW! I see it so rarely – I’m like a big kid. The itinerary has changed – we will go for a walk that afternoon, then pub supper. The next day as planned – we'll paddle a familiar section of the Usk. This sounds far more like my cup of tea and I'm eager to get started.

We arrive at around 1100hrs. WE are seven: Chris and Jude (sans young Alex), Ian and Richard (sans the misses), sharing cottage, Sally, K and moi in the Bunkhouse.
The cottage has a woodburner which is blazing away and well stoked by the time we arrive (Thanks to those probes).
The weather is mild and the big melt on the way – but the snow is still a foot deep. It is lovely snow – soft, pretty, cohesive, good to make snow balls, snow women and even to eat (pistachio flavoured).

The accommodation has just about everything we need – we don’t discover the communal kitchen and lounge for the bunkhouse till next day but the cottage fits us all in cosily.

We are on our way to walk to Skirrid (Ysgyrryd) Fawr in the snow by midday, complete with packed lunch (cheddar and marmite sarnies) and flasks of hot drinks.
Skirrid Fawr, as seen from the Bunkhouse on Sunday morning, when it can be seen that the snow is disappearing rapidly :-( (Saturday it was shrouded in mist). We walked across and up the right side(south) and down the left (north slope)- the hill runs roughly on a north south axis - see map below).We’ve parked up at the pub just in case we can’t get up the driveway (Pantygelli and the Crown pub is to the West of Pentre Farm, the other side of the railwayline you can just see up in the left hand corner of the map). We immediately start off by going the wrong way – the farmer points out the correct gateway and we trudge down a lane and climb over a stile into a field full of sheep. There are lots of snow balls whizzing around to begin with. Most emanating from Jude. But these start to lessen off as the effort of trudging through relatively deep snow takes its toll – it’s like walking on a shingly beach and just as tiring. From the fields we cross over a railway bridge and then reach the main road. We cross over this and wonder on past farms. Richard has some r and r!
After walking up a lane and turning onto a narrow bridle path which got more and more like a stream than a path we finally come out on a road from where we reach the foot of Skirrid Fawr. K has to eat at this point ( she being 'fair clemt wit' 'unger'!) - the rest of us decide to wait to eat until we reach the top – shrouded in mist. The way to the top of Skirrid Fawr is well trodden and we pass several dog walkers and a couple of families.
The weather deteriorates as we ascend – until we can only just see each other in a white out gloom like an untuned TV screen. K is finding the going hard as her back is now in considerable pain. The Greens and Sally lend her several arms to lean on.

The footpath is marked as going down beyond the trig point – but that way is virgin snow, untrodden territory. Chris takes a compass bearing and points down a steep slope – that way, but not too far left because there’s a cliff! The best way to go down is on our bums. I’m like a big kid romping down roly poly lovely. YOu can just about see the rest of the gang up the hill behind me...Richard says make sure you can stop - as he thuds into my back! Ian's not got any gloves so I loan him my spare pair - see, I wasn't totally unprepared!At the bottom we find our way into some woods and sit amongst the dripping trees for sarnies and mulled wine (Richard's recipe: heat up red wine, orange juice, cranberry juice: mmm).

We lose the path in the woods and trespass across farmer’s fields to come out into a farmyard. K is seized up by this time so she and Jude knock at the Farm door to ask for shelter while the rest of make it back to the bunkhouse in quick time just as its getting dark. Chris goes with Sally back to get the refugees who have been treated right royally with tea and a warm fire. We are completely soaked through and a massive drying operation gets underway. Only criticism: luke warm showers - but there were hot baths in the cottage.

Then that evening we all trudge up to the Crown Pub where the food and hospitality is excellent: Brilliant bunkhouse! With lovely pub at end of drive - what more could one ask for?

Jude and I stay up the longest chatting (and me knitting of course) in front of the woodstove – a pile of steaming boots cooking in front.

After a restless night (the heater was on and it was actually too hot!) – we all get up bright and early and begin the task of packing up while Richard makes one of his famous fry ups: bacon, sausages, eggs, toast.
Jude goes and looks at the river down at Llangynidir with Chris and thinks it’s too full on to paddle so decides to walk with K. Back at Talybont at the 'Put in', the river level is actually lower although still brown and fast flowing: most of the snow melt has already gone on down and the level is dropping not rising.
sunday morning is glorious sunshine (and it's raining in Devon teehee).
I decide to go but my mouth is dry and I’m nervous. Fortunately there is a mile of flat river before the river drops more steeply – plenty of time to relax and warm up.

We are joined by Liesl, an old friend of Sally’s and known to many of the others – she’s driven down from Hereford to paddle. She is officially the most qualified paddler present: a level 5 coach. What with three level 3 coaches and a level 5 coach, Richard and I (the relative novices) are in good hands should we get into trouble (was going to say ‘hot water’ but its not, it’s cold brr).

WE all get on by sliding down the snowy bank – excellent seal launch.
And ferry glide across to the far bank. Warm up time. The river flows fast and we soon get to the top of Mill Falls – Chris gets out to reccy while we wait in an eddy at the top – It’s mostly washed out (you can normally see lots of rocks!) and it’s a straightforward bounce down standing waves on river left. River right is to be avoided – not at all nice. Check out the expression on my face. Hilarious - I look like I've been punched in the mouth!And in this picture, Richard comes on down.
And so does Sal. (paddling pics courtesy of K - ta!)
Everyone makes it down to the eddy at the bottom safely. From here on in the river gets bouncier and the eddies smaller to get in to. What with red wine and the late night I can feel myself getting tired so Ian and I get out a couple of drops before the end and stroll up to the carpark in Llangynidir. Richard paddles on to the official get out. The sun is hot and the day fine.
What a fab weekend and I’m soooooo glad I didn’t chicken out. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Must get roof rack and paddle more. Thanks, Sal, for organising this so well - Brilliant accommodation, food, drink, brilliant weather, excellent company! I'm so glad you talked me in to it.
And next trip I'll remember to bring some grub.


sarala said...

The last two pics are awesome. I have always wanted to try some kayaking--I think I'd like to try some ocean kayaking--but have never had the chance.
Lucky you.

Rain said...

That looks like fun.

Only paddlers could get excited by rain!

Riggwelter said...

looks like you had a great time! I hate it when it snows everywhere in Wales except where I am!