The River T 33 years on
Try to picture what had not happened yet in the summer of 1988. Before Brexit (yes there was a time), Ear Pods, iPhones - even Ipods, Tesla and the internet were not only not invented - they were not comprehended or envisaged. We did not know what we did not know. You listened to music on a walkman with thing called a cassette tape in it. And you had to arrange to meet people in a place at a time and hope for the best. A notice board was made of wood and social media involved watching TV and talking about it to people - in person. A strange and foreign land!
That was the last time I paddled the River Tyweryn. But it must have been good back in 1988/9. Despite all the stuff I have managed to forget since then I still have vivid and visceral memories; the top seal launch (although I am sure it was much bigger then) and dropping below a bridge into a huge wave (ditto) and a monster stopper somewhere near the end. So it was a really amazing thing to be back there again this summer, this time with my three boys aged 12, 14 and 15, and believe me that is something that my 15 year old self would not have imagined in the summer of 1988 either! How incredible that not so much has changed there. Wales (the best bits of it) does not change that much really, which is always a good lesson in perspective. It was every bit as fun, challenging, but also friendly and inviting of an adventure, as I recall.
Having had a chat with Rhob and Jude Williams (fellow UHCC members) about the art of the possible (and the sensible) before we left Downton in July I aimed to spend three days camping right by the river with my boys and some friends. For the total non-paddlers in our group we had booked an afternoon with the Get Wet adventure company - who set off on their Rafting trip from the campsite put in. Compared to the rafting at the National White Water centre this appears a different package - more of a jour
ney - they spend a few hours getting down to Bala Mill Falls. All my gang loved it - enough white water and challenge, but also some messing about bits and a chance to float down by the boat and swim. To be fair it is not as kinetic as the sessions you see on the course above, and if you want your rafting to be as white water packed as possible then that might be the better choice, but I reckon if you want the full ‘deliverance’ package (not all obviously!) then this is your better bet. Also they were kind (and open minded) enough to let me and another dad paddle the section at the same time. Which meant we were on hand to provide big paddle splashes for the folk in the rafts, as they looked a bit hot. Beware however as the rafts are pretty effective at steam rollering little kayaks and easily tip them over if you imprudently get too close in busy sections (ask me how I know).
But our main aim was for James (aged 12) and I to do some battles with the big T in ‘proper boats’. James has started to do some paddling with me locally in the last year. Since we bumped into Rhob, literally on the wave at the mill in Downton, we have been following his advice and have joined the UHCC, who have been amazing and very kindly given James (and his dad) some really awesome guidance and coaching. Again, other things have changed since 1988: apparently all this high brace stuff is bad, as it wrecks your shoulders! Paddlers box is not something I had ever heard of, but I love the logic, and my now old shoulders are thankful.
Boats have changed a bit too. My last big T outing was in a fibre glass Olympus V with a ‘right angled’ paddle which no one seems to use any more?? You literally felt the bumps as the bottom of the boat flexed - it never actually sank but added a level of excitement. I don’t miss the metal foot pegs and rubbish wet trainers though. In keeping with the theme of ‘blast from the past’, this time around I was using a trusty Acrobat 270 of mid 1990’s vintage, although I have allowed myself to upgrade my paddle to a Werner Powerhouse - what a difference! The tiny boats and equipment used now would have been unimaginable back then, but I see there are still the purists in glass (and now carbon) slalom boats, looking every bit as determined, cool and very low in the water as they did back then.
James had the most awesome adventures. We took on some of the bumpy sections from the campsite. Seal launches and proper views. Fast flowing water with proper eddies, in practice as well as in theory. A couple of successful rescues (great for confid
ence) and a couple of swims, where he managed to exit the boat immediately - also good. We were able to pick nice sections lower down and spend time doing break ins and outs and a bit of low-level play on friendly grade 2 stuff.
Also I was able to return to my youth and smash the top section at will when the campsite teenagers were ‘chilling out’ - which seems to involve staring endlessly into the void of telephone/interweb land. Easy walk from the campsite and even on weekend days lots of space and time on the river to throw yourself in and play. The ‘up lift’ (and walk up) is such an easy system (I can hear my old teacher fitting at the concept). I foun
d I completely loved the confidence that I seem to have gained since I last paddled there, and the river is so much fun. As ever from me there is little to no technique but lots of effort and commitment. My ‘power roll’ is handy too!
So a total success - a brilliant time for the children and the dads. Thanks to Rhob and Jude for their totally top tips, and I hope to be back up that way soon. I have a few other amazing memories of teenage paddling to relive and tick off - North Stack to South Stack sea paddle anyone?
Steve and James Sutton.
* By way of explanation - I was ‘super’ fortunate (as we can say nowadays) to be at school very close to Nottingham White Water Centre AND have a biology teacher called Dr Tim Gunn who was a pathologically committed paddler. I now realise how lucky I was to have been given the opportunity in my teenage years to paddle there, and to be taken on trips to Wales to adventure on the River T and other classics such as the Conwy. For about three years I was on the water all the time and did what I now realise was a hefty amount of white water paddling. However I had a really nasty swim at the end of one day, at the end of a trip, aged about 15 or 16. Sadly that day we did not get back in the river - and (I can’t remember why) it was a while before we got paddling again. Something changed for me and I developed an uncomfortable wariness of the water which meant I did not really follow on with paddling, turning instead to rock climbing. I stopped completely when I left school. I literally did not paddle again until about two years ago I was given an old Acrobat 270 since its owner had no use for it. I am pleased that after my 33 year lay off the wariness (but not the caution) has gone and I find I now love the thrill and the chill of paddling. Fab to meet Rhob and Jude - and to start to meet the folk from the UHCC. Perhaps when you see me paddle this will explain why I may display a bit too much retro high bracing for you young folks.