I have been paddling for far too many years so I agreed it was about time I organised and ran a trip.  The Usk in past years had always been a good trip for the start of the year and a nice easy white water trip.  The day before the trip I was beginning to feel a little anxious and horrible ‘what if’s’ began to run through my head.   It was too late, to back out now.

The plan was to meet at the club at 7.15am and yes I was on time, I was not the last to arrive. (Please note this for the records as I am known for being the last to arrive) Canoes were loaded very quickly and we were ready to go.  Anyone need fuel…..No, anyone know the way…..No.  Ok I will lead the convoy of four cars….ha ha!  When do the car journeys for Leamington Spa Canoe Club go according to plan…..very rarely?  This was no exception; all was going well until Jodi asked Simon via text on phone (Lesson1. Do not leave phone in boot of car) if we could stop at the next services. We decided that the next services looked like just a garage so drove straight past while the other three cars stopped. I stopped at the next services and waited while the others drove past to find their own way there. The one car that knew where the start was was now following five minutes behind everyone else!

We got changed in the main public car park and after a discussion of how muddy the field for the get in was, we decided to risk driving the cars down.  There were enough people to give the cars a push if anyone got stuck in the mud but luckily this was not needed. After a quick safety briefing on the dangers of trees and pinning on rocks, we got on the water with Johnny launching from the top of the steps.  We broke out at the first small rapid to warm up and practice our break in’s, outs, ferry glides etc.  Stuart thought it would be best if he tested my rescue skills and see if I was ready to lead the trip by having a quick swim. I think I passed the test as we were soon paddling down the river stopping and playing at any feature/small rapid we came across.

After ½ hour we came to the first ledge, all out to inspect. This is a natural ledge, best line is far right; follow the tongue of fast flowing water into a small hole of frothy white water.  Brian and I went first followed by PK, Johnny and Neil all eager to have a go. After watching the first few down, the rest of the group were soon following.  Congratulations to Simon for having the best line and for making it look so simple.

Ledge no 2 was only a short distance further down from ledge number 1. All out again to double check there was no nasty stopper below.  As the river was low I think this could be run at any point across the river although Roger recommended not far left as it was a little rocky.  We all run it left of middle.  So much fun was had, some of the group decided to run the drop several times.  Hunger pains had settled in and Lunch was mentioned, (surprisingly not by Jodi, she was having too much fun with ledge no.2) It seemed a good place as any so lunch was had just below ledge no2.

The day was going well; people were enjoying themselves, playing at virtually every small rapid.  I am never sure at grading but I would say it was a grade 1 ½ .  Then came ledge no 3, I could see the river drop in the distance so got out to inspect.  This has the biggest drop out of all the three ledges.  Johnny was keen and eager to be the first over; I knew there was a stopper river right but the left looked ok.  Rather stupidly of me, I gave Johnny the ok to go ahead, thinking he would paddle hard and ‘boof’ over the ledge, but no Johnny being Johnny got to the top of the ledge threw his hands up, posed and just dropped over the edge and got immediately carried to the right into the stopper. (Lesson 2, never give the go ahead until you are ready with safety and give direct instructions to the paddler on how the feature should be run).  Luckily Johnny managed to swim to the side, we ran down the bank and caught his canoe and watched his foam foot rest float around and around in the stopper.  After seeing how not to do it, people were debating which was the best line, with throw lines at the ready, Roger was up for giving it a go.   Sadly I think his last crucial paddle stroke at the top of the ledge was on the wrong side and it turned him to face the stopper so when he landed, the water carried him into the stopper.   2 out of 2 in the stopper, not good odds!  I knew from past experience that this ledge was paddle able and had to show the group this, as faces were looking anxious. Before I could let my nerve get the better of me, I jumped into my canoe. The plan was keep left but ensure I was not too far over that I would get stuck on top of the ledge due to not enough water flowing over, keep the canoe facing the bank away from the stopper and paddle hard.  It worked, faith was restored and Matthew, Mark, Simon, Stuart, Neil, and PK were soon throwing themselves over the ledge landing safely in the pool below.

Time had crept up on us and it was now 3pm, I think we were barely half way. Time for more paddling and less playing, we had played at virtually every feature.  Cheers and laughter could be heard as people bounced over the waves. I do believe I could see Emma relaxing and enjoying the rapids.  Simon made the fatal mistake of commenting on how he had not swam, ten minutes later a rock leapt up and attacked and pushed his canoe over. You never know when a rock will strike.  We made it to Aberbran Bridge and farm at dusk and just about had time to get changed in the remaining day light. PK was not convinced that it was only 5.5miles but that’s what the guide book says.

Paddlers: Brian, Roger, Jodi, Gareth, Emma, PK, Neil, Simon, Mark, Stuart, Johnny, Matthew and Janet.

River level:  0.65m on Trallong gauge, E.A website.  Nice level for a beginner’s trip to white water.  Wouldn’t recommend paddling at much lower level as sections would be very bumpy and scrappy. 

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Comment by Jonathan "PK" Pickett on January 13, 2012 at 16:54

Some useful stuff on this site: http://www.wyeuskfoundation.org/navigation/index.php

They're the ones who put up the access signs.

Comment by Tessa Lukehurst on January 11, 2012 at 15:35

A correction is needed to this article, I feel. Lesson One should have been: "Never, ever, let Janet lead a convoy."

We've been there before, it was a disaster. There are still some Doggy Paddlers from 2011 circling on the Longbridge Interchange. Some things never change.

Clearly it is fine to let her lead a trip, though :)

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