A Wet Welsh Weekend

This SOC weekend trip (staying at Bangor Youth Hostel) was to be my first introduction to North Wales paddling. The rain, very heavy at times, barely ceased all weekend, which made for some epic levels. I was also paddling not only with SOC members (all of whim were much better paddlers than myself) but also Neil Bridgstock’s various local mates who knew the rivers well and had lots of contacts to find out where levels were up (or not, if we wanted to avoid ridiculous floods). We soon found ourselves putting on to the little lake at the top of the Glaslyn which did not seem too huge. Indeed, this was a rather pleasant paddle, within my ability, as far as Beddgelert, where we found the Colwyn joining from river right, to be brown and swollen. Things got a bit harder, but by then I was well warmed up and paddling above my normal level, so survived this down to the take-out above the Aberglaslyn gorge. I had no intention of paddling this, but some of the SC paddlers had a look and some put back on. Pete, I know, had seen Neil paddling in a low-volume boat and thought, “if he’s OK in that, I’ll cope”. A short way downstream, he noticed that Neil had changed to a much bigger volume creek boat… The other Pete noticed his legs feeling wet and a glance down showed his deck had imploded some way before it started to get really difficult. Clive and I watched as various levels of carnage (and some paddling with great success, it has to be said) occurred. At one point I was stood looking at a young lady, a boat, and two paddles being recirculated in a huge stopper. I had a throw line but not a secure place to deploy it, and the thought of tying all those items into one big tangle did not seem sensible. All washed out in good time. Imploded Pete baled out and managed to swim without being caught in the stopper, the other Pete managed a line which saw him sidle successfully round the edge. Neil, Tom Parker and various others boofed the drop, carved over the big cushion wave and away well clear of the stopper. It had sounded quite optimistic and implausible when they’d described this approach, but worked perfectly in practice !

Next up, we headed to Bethesda where we found the Ogwen leaving just enough room to get under the bridge at the put-on. “Round the bend, it’s just big and bouncy – nothing too hard at this level” they said. Big and bouncy soon transpired to mean big waves sweeping in from both banks, meeting in the middle. Staying right in the centre where these met probably wasn’t the best plan, and I swam fairly early, dropping down neatly onto an island. Here I found Pete in an eddy with his paddle in his hands, but somehow with a large tree enclosed between his arms. He was not keen on letting go the paddle with either hand…. I assisted him to get one arm out from the tree, and he broke out and ferried at frightening speed to an eddy river right before what looked like a big blank wall. This apparently was where the river turned sharp left and started the Bethesda gorge proper. After I’d been zip-lined across from the island to the mainland river left, and reunited with my boat some considerable way downstream, I learned that Andy had lost his paddle, whilst Clive had not only swum, but his footrests had been sucked out of his boat. We all took out before the start of the much harder Fisherman’s gorge whilst the Bangor lot carried on (also having several swims, and losing at least one paddle). We walked down to have a look at what we were escaping from.

The entry rapid of Fisherman’s gorge, Ogwen

Sunday saw perhaps slightly less biblical floods, but stuff was certainly still “up”. We started on a section of the Conwy which I found relatively straightforward, but still managed to swim rather inattentively. Surprisingly enough, so did Dave, who survived everything else all weekend. Must have dozed off… We then moved on to a section of the Llugwy. This was well up, and threw me into a big, steep, fast boulder garden which was well beyond anything I’d paddled before. I paddled much better than I ever had previously, and only took two short swims, being fished out very promptly, and well in time before the take-out above the grade 5 section. All portaged this, though Tom and Giles did put in river right part way down to run the bottom half.

Giles breaking in to the Mincer, Llugwy

Someone kicked Neil’s paddle off the into the big boily pool below, and he instantly jumped in after it, reasoning that it was a very expensive paddle and there were plenty of folk to fish him back out. I decided that the seal launch was beyond my nerve, which was probably a wise choice, as Miners’ Bridge gorge was probably beyond my paddling ability, too.

Dave West emerging upright from the bottom of Miners’ bridge gorge

Putting back on below this, the rest of the run down into Bettws-y-Coed was much more my style and I finished the weekend well pleased with my paddling.