The only snag being that the weather warning was for ice on Monday rather than any seriously sustained rain. Unperturbed, a quick email on Friday evening gathered precisely zero punters so it was just me, Mr Riches and the boy wonder off in search of pastures new.
With a constant eye on the forecasts during Saturday showing most of the rain due over the western edge of the Brecons in South Wales, a plan was hatched. Getting up at 4.30am is always a shock but anticipation of decent levels for once soon replaced the bleary eyed feeling!
A short breakfast stop at McDonald's in Malvern refreshed the brain ready for the painful trek through Welsh 'main' roads and lanes but after about 4 hours or so we had reached our first target. I have been looking at photos and guides for the Tywi for ages now, waiting for the necessary water level and prerequisite skill and balls to grow. This, I was hoping, would be my first real opportunity.
The rain had been falling heavily since the wee small hours, the ground sodden, roads awash and tempting torrents hurtling off the hills – looking good! Unfortunately, when we got to the get in at the base of the dam, no water was flowing down the spillway (which looks amazing fun for the slightly deranged!) and no pipes were releasing. Poo! Everything looked proper low.
After a brief conflab and flick through the guidebook we decided to head up over to the next valley and check out the Irfon, another first for all of us. Fortunately, this looked good to go! A quick hurtle along the slightly dicey single track moor road led us to several potential get outs along the 13km suggested length. However, seeing as we only had my car and we were in a pretty remote part of the world, it was highly likely that I was going to be walking back to the car - a shorter paddle suited me just fine (and as it happened, everyone else too!).
In sheeting rain, we kitted up and squelched down to the river just below the 5' wide gorge and put on. This was definitely the most remote moorland paddling any of us had yet done and felt really good. It wasn't long before an ominous, jagged horizon line appeared and being rather cautious, not knowing what to expect, we jumped out to have a look. After a brief discussion, we ran what turned out to be a good g4 rapid. This was pretty much the theme for the rest of the trip - a couple of hundred yards and then out to inspect the next blind sequence of drops. Some were paddleable and the odd one was a portage at this level. On reflection, we needn't have got out to inspect quite as much as we did but not having paddled the river before, we all felt better having done so.
Just before we began to enter civilisation, we found a sensible get out and dragged ourselves up the hill to the road. This had been a good paddle overall, slightly annoying that many of the rapids were so gnarly despite a relatively decent water level but a run I'd do again someday, in bigger water (definite theme emerging).
The walk back to the car wasn't too long but the rain had really started coming down hard now – never good when you are trying to get changed! It was now getting a bit late in the afternoon and without reliable knowledge of the area and levels (so much water everywhere but comparatively little reaching the rivers as yet) we decided not to try and paddle anything else today.
Instead, we headed back the way we had come to have a proper look at the Tywi. A pretty rough path runs almost the entire length of the upper section to Junction Pool which would give us a good look at the two gorge sections. The first of which looks every bit as good and doable as the guides and photos suggest – a technically demanding and excellent g4 run. However, the second gorge was an entirely different beast! This was scary. Huge sumps where 9/10s of the river disappear beneath huge rock slaps and boulders the size of my house! At this level, significant parts of this gorge where unrunnable by anyone's standards and the rest were simply diabolical – not for us.
By the time we got back to the car, wet through and shattered, we headed to our bunkhouse for food and beer. The bunkhouse, Hiraeth Bunkhouse near Llandovery, was great as it turned out – warm, clean and furnished to a very high standard...we'll stay there again!
Frustrations ran high again later in the evening when we managed to get a phone signal and could check on the levels...the Tawe had risen from low to near huuuuge after dark and knowing the nature of this otherwise excellent run, would be back to near low levels by the morning. Oh well, fingers were crossed that the rain would hold on for a little while and give us at least a medium level on Monday.
After bacon butties, we headed off south to see just how much the Tawe had dropped off overnight. Fortunately, we had just enough to avoid a scrape, the gauge at the Craig-y-nos country park showing about 0.63m.
Having paddled this stretch from the country park down to Abercraf and the lower section before, we decided to continue down below Abercraf to finish just after the mini gorge section. The benefit of not having a shuttle is that you have the freedom to just get out when you've had enough!
Most rapids were g3/4 read and run so we quickly came upon the 10' drop. With a little more water than we had the last time we were here, a discussion ensued as to the most suitable place to run it. I decided that the far river left edge looked most friendly but we couldn't decide whether there'd be enough water to actually get to my intended take off spot. Oh well, better find out! Sure enough, there was but I got stuck right on the lip and stopped...oops! I needn't have worried though, even pencilling the drop just pushed me out uneventfully. Time for another go! The river right side had a lot of water going over it and disappearing deep into the pool beneath. Craig's boat was sacrificed and sent over the edge to test...again uneventfully. Excellent, let's go! Again, I hit my line perfectly but just missed timed my boof stroke – no matter, the softest landing in the world greeted me with barely a splash!
That was enough to persuade Alistair to have a go so off he went with me waiting below, beneath the undercut and Craig on top with the camera - safety first! He hit his line but followed the tongue straight down and disappeared...completely! A split second later (that felt a lot longer) a blue helmet emerged followed by a complete person and boat, intact and the right way up! The smile said it all - fantastic!
Further down, several massive trees demanded caution and one portage before passing the usual get out and running the fun little gorge at the beginning of the lower Tawe. We picked a suitable get out close to the main road and dragged ourselves up the hill.
Hitching a lift, I stop counting at 35 cars, but eventually a kind sole took pity on me and shortened what would have been a long walk. Back at the get out, we loaded up and headed off in search of a couple of other rivers none of us have looked at before, the Twrch and the Geidd. Both needed lots of water and so would undoubtedly be too low to paddle but it would be useful to know how to get to them for future mad dashes.
The Twrch looked a great run and would probably have gone at the level it was at – definitely one on the list for next time. The Geidd however, prove elusive to say the least. The boy wonder was in charge of navigation and found an interesting route along what can only be described as a dirt track across rough, boggy moorland! Not the type of 'road' you want to be driving an already low slung go-kart of a car fully laden with 3 boats, kit and blokes with enough Welsh mud to sink a battleship! Craig was made to walk after not too long and then eventually I kicked Al out too before turning round rather precariously and calling it a day! As it happened, and as suspected at the time, we were in completely the wrong place – nevermind, I now know exactly where we should have been and how to get there...and it looks an excellent run too so worth the added walk to the get in – we'll just put Craig on Sherpa duty as punishment!
All in all, an odd 'weekend' with probably the least number of rivers paddled ever on a blind mice trip. However, we now know a little more of what this less paddled area of Wales has to offer and also have a new bunkhouse to add to the 'good' list.