Friday 29th March:
After a lack of rain scuppered original plans to go to Devon, 10 of us made the journey to North Wales in search of water. The early risers (
Max and Rob) made it to Bala by lunchtime where they took advantage of the sunny weather and (apparently!) circumnavigated the entire 8.5miles of Bala lake. They were kind enough to send pictures of their view and lakeside pint with those of us stuck in a tailback on the M25. In spite of the traffic the time flew by in our car, largely thanks to good company and the 3-disc 70s cheese CD that Esther had requested I bring along for Daniel to sing along to. On the approach we drove along winding and sometimes muddy roads and were welcomed by a blanket of stars and the majestic silhouettes of the Welsh countryside.
The cottage we stayed in was lovely, although some managed to bag (slightly?) better sleeping arrangements than others. En-suite rooms with freestanding baths, double beds, and electric blankets are, I’m told, no comparison to the comfort of the living from floor. Lesson learned: don’t dither and book early!
Saturday 30th March:
We woke up early to a dawn chorus of cows (there was one outside the window) and sheep, with a beautiful day dawning over the hills. There was no time for breakfast at the cottage as we were under strict instructions from Esther to be ready to leave by 8am to make the most of a full day of paddling on the Tryweryn.
After a round of bacon butties the coaches did a quick blast of the Upper T before joining with the rest of us at Chapel Falls to run the Lower T. The group split into two groups, one led by Adrian (Jen, Max, John M, Dave) and the other by Danny (Esther, Rob, me) whilst John K paddled his canoe with a friend that joined for the day. Our group worked on ferry glides, catching eddies, playing on the waves, and learning to read the water and use it to our advantage. We recalled the all-important mantra ‘look where you want to go’ (and don’t look where you don’t want to go!) as we dodged the rock garden obstacle course.
Rob may have done well to remember this advice after a close-encounter with a rock saw him marooned on an island like Robinson Crusoe, without his boat. The other group joined just in time to catch the action and the rest of us watched on in awe as Danny and Adrian used their white water rescue skills to rescue the boat and get it up and across the river back to Rob. A really impressive demonstration using throwlines ensued – but I missed this bit as I was talking to Max. After several hours (probably just 20 mins) Rob was back in his boat safely. None of us were willing him to capsize on re-entry.
Drama over we saw John K having lunch on a nearby riverbank and we stopped briefly for a well-earned sugar refuel. Realising I’d left my Jaffa Cakes back at the cottage, Danny threw me a snickers, which only narrowly missed landing in the water. Rob then retrieved a flapjack from a dubiously placed pocket in his drysuit trousers. We have young readers so I won’t go into details but it’s all on the go-pro (enjoy editing that Dave!)
About 4 hours in we were nearing the end of our time paddling the Lower T. Max, Rob and I did the narrow leat portage to a safe vantage point where we were able to watch the more experienced paddlers tackle the Grade 4 Bala Mill Falls – one definitely not for the faint-hearted! Whilst all made it down safely there were a couple of swims (and excellent rescues by John M and Adrian). Incredibly, those that swam seemed most concerned about the scratches they’d received to their helmet. Lesson: ACC club is a tough bunch! (a fact further exemplified by Esther who paddled the entire 2 days with a frozen shoulder)
After a quick lunch break the more experienced paddlers did a final run of the Upper T whilst their film crew ran alongside them. Danny did a helicopter spin down the ‘graveyard’, he and Adrian demonstrated textbook ‘rolls in anger’, and Jen made a late bid for ‘swimmer of the year’. Lesson: rolling and swimming are no bad things and show you are pushing yourself and learning!
After 6 hours of paddling we headed back to the base and with one hour before we were due to head out for dinner those who still had the energy joined me on what will surely become a traditional post-paddle walk. During our walk through the spectacular countryside we saw a dead sheep, smoke in the distance (which we had to double check wasn’t a flare set off by Rob and that we had indeed rescued him from the island), and I destroyed the only shoes I’d brought by miscalculating a jump across a muddy poo puddle (which I’m sure Dave encouraged). Returning to base and having found a clean pair of socks we then headed out to dinner at a local friendly pub. Here the Welsh Lamb was so good it converted our resident vegetarian (apparently what happens on tour, stays on tour!) and Max’s dogs got spoilt with divine dog biscuits courtesy of the pub’s landlord. After the meal we spent the evening huddled around the log burner in the cottage, reflecting on the shenanigans of the day. A great end to another seriously awesome ACC day.
Sunday 31st March:
We woke up to the sounds of more cows, sheep and the buzz of a killer bee that had infiltrated the cottage. In less of a rush this morning we indulged in the treat of a cooked breakfast by Max. After breakfast we drove through the valleys of Llangollen where we paddled the Dee. We were sad to say goodbye to Dave at this point who had to make an early return home. We did however meet John Russell in the car park who joined our group for the paddle. The experienced group entered the Dee via Horse Shoe Falls whilst Max, Rob and I seal launched or entered via the bank. All of the ladies then nailed Serpent’s Tail, showing the boys how it is done! There was some talk of putting a request to the club treasurer for an order of ‘paddle like a girl’ t-shirts.
After the excitement of Serpent’s tail we paddled down alongside passing steam trains to Mile End Mill for some wave play and a demonstration by Esther of how to get ‘stuck in’ (and unstuck from) a hole. After some play the novice group got off of the water whilst the more experienced group paddled ½ mile on to tackle Town Falls where all made it down safely. We reunited in the car park to say our goodbyes ahead of the journey home.
Before setting off Danny, Esther and I stopped off to look at Town Falls from the bridge in the small town of Llangollen. As a treat for the way home Esther introduced us to the Welsh Oggie and head coach Danny bought me a chocolate ice cream as a well done for my efforts (I call it surviving!) Danny was then delighted to find out that we still had the 3rd CD of the 70s pop classics to listen to on journey back.
Everyone was home by 10pm and our FB group chat was full of the group thanking our excellent leaders and trip organisers Danny, Adrian, and Esther and expressing what a lovely time they’d had in such great company – which sort of sums it up really nicely. Whilst in many ways these trips are about paddling with friends, learning loads, and having a great laugh while we do so, it’s also clear that each of these friends has your back, wants you to do well, and would be there in a heartbeat if you find yourself in a sticky situation on the water. Lesson: ACC club is the best