04 June 2007

A water free weekend in Wales

I had booked on my Five Star Training at the beginning of April thinking it was a long time off, however the weekend rolled around fairly sharpish. Friday afternoon saw me packing up my clobber and getting an early night so that I could be up at the crack of dawn to make the 8:45am registration in Wales. We packed everything up on Saturday and were leaving sunny Preston at 6am heading south for the M6 and then onto the M56, M53, A55 and finally the A494. This would bring us into Bala and then there was just the short drive up the side of the Tryweryn to the The National Whitewater Centre, Canolfan Tryweryn, where we arrived in good time with a half hour to wait before I could register.

It was however unfortunate that the weekend I had chosen to do my training for the highest BCU personal award was a weekend Wales was with little water and the Llyn Celyn Dam was not releasing for the whole weekend. This meant that once registered we loaded our stuff into the back of a centre minibus and headed, for an hour, down the roads we had previously driven back to Llangollen where JJ's Rafting is based and a short stretch of rapids known as Mile End Mill can be found and negotiated in all but the lowest conditions. Here we geared up and then spent sometime on land talking about kit, boats and all things which can be talked about by a group of six paddling addicts. We eventually headed to the water for some personal skills work.

We started off on the flat water experimenting with edging and body position in the boat before discussing river signals and heading off down the river to the first rapids of note. On this short, shallow, rock filled rapid we did a little bit of eddy hopping using the hand signals previously learnt to communicate to the rest of the group . Once at the bottom of the rapid we looked at crossing the current and using the hole formed at the bottom for a bit of side surfing fun. I think I may have taken this a bit to far as I found at one point that my head was under water bashing the rocks before I rolled Roger up for the first time in anger. We moved on downstream to the next feature, which had been the scene of my first Freestyle Competition two years ago and it had not been a great experience. What with a flip on my first ride as I moved into the hole and then a rather slow roll meaning that I had flushed a bit too far downstream resulting in a low score, which did not pull me off the bottom of the score sheet. Anyway at this feature we looked some more at side surfing and edge control as well as speed before finally breaking for lunch as it seemed that every raft in Wales had joined us in the eddy.

Over lunch we discussed kit and this has left me with a bit of a shopping list, which will have to be full of ticks before I go for assessment. We then headed back to the water for some work on the Slalom Gates. This absolutely finished me off, and I think I may have to alter my views on Slalomists as all credit to the guys what they do requires some great reserve of stamina, which it seems as a river paddler I, and a lot of other paddlers, just don't have. This, I suppose isn't a good thing as we need a reserve of strength just in case we need to pull harder, go further or do some great strength sapping task like rescuing a pinned boat. Once finished on the gates we moved on downstream for some more boat control sessions in the final rapid and then it was back up to the minibus and home to Bala for a night under canvas.

A rather interesting flower pot at the campsite. In the background you can just make out my boat on top of the car.

When booking this course I had put a shout out on the old UK Rivers Guidebook for the name of the campsite by the Tryweryn. Within minutes I had numerous replies, one giving the information I needed, and the others telling me not to go there. I ignored them, booked a pitch for the night and it was at Tyn Cornel Camping and Caravan Park we spent the night. Regardless of what everyone said about the place it was one, maybe even the best, campsite I have visited over my short lived camping life and I'll probably go back there if I was planning another weekend in the Bala area. The only disappointment of the night was the poor and rather expensive meal we had in Bala.

Looking up the river on Saturday night before the tap is turned on at the Llyn Celyn Dam.

Sunday morning rolled around and it was back up to the centre to meet the coach at 9am for registration. Today the Llyn Celyn Dam was releasing 9 cumecs of water so no driving was required for the course to run. We were on the water soon after ten once we had, had a brief classroom session on CLAP, leadership styles and methods of descending a rapid.

Reaching for the lip, maybe a bit too early, in order to boof the hole beyond.

Once on the water we were worked hard and it was common for us to get out of the boats walk back up the rapids and repeat a stretch of water looking for the most economical way of moving from one eddy to the other. At every occasion it was drilled into us that we should be using the water to aid our movement and not hinder it. At times it felt like hard work getting Roger to move as I was fighting the water, however over the day things improved and my paddling felt a lot better. We eventually moved onto the Graveyard section of river where Leadership Skills were put to the test as each of the students took it in turns to lead a longish section of river.

Ferrying across a wave into the eddy.

Looking down on the main building of Canolfan Tryweryn.

The section, which I first lead down was from the aptly named Cafe Wave, which is by the cafe, down to Chapel Falls. I think I did relatively well, making eddies so that line of sight could be maintained on the sections which needed it, moving the group as one when the water allowed and getting out to inspect at the right times as well as getting some safety set up on Chapel Falls. This was all communicated by hand signals, which as a paddler I use infrequently. I know this is wrong and it won't be happening from now on in when I am on a river trip.

We headed back to the centre where the Rafting buses took our boats back up to the Chipper whilst we had a spot of luncheon sat on the river side at the bottom of Ski Slope. Once lunch was finished the afternoon session looked once more at Group Leadership skills with each student taking on a different section of river.

The group of Five Starers sat at the top of the river before entering the main rapids found on the river.

Ferrying across the current lining myself up to eddy out.

Posing for the camera.

Crossing International Wave to make the eddy on the other side.

After descending the river to Chapel Falls we headed back to the classroom for the debrief and some final words on the assessment before getting changed and headed off into the setting sun for Preston. All in all it had been a cracking weekend and a great success, even with the disappointing dry Welsh rivers, but I think this was down to the great group of paddlers on the course which were taught by a really nice chap (Richie Watson) and helped by an equally top bloke (Geraint Rowlands) on the Saturday.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

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