It is always good to have a local run, or at least a run that is as local as possible that can be paddled on a regular basis. One of my favourite stretches of river is a section of the River Usk that is just over an hour away from where I live. It isn’t extreme, usually being around a grade 3 maximum, but it is easy to get to, extremely picturesque, offers many practice opportunities, and is short enough to be run on a summers evening.
The section in question is around 4km long and runs near to a little village called Llangynidr and takes in a nice rapid called Mill Falls. The run itself holds water well and is perfectly runnable at fairly low levels.
Not long after the start of the run some grade 1 riffles lead into an innocuous looking old broken weir. At very low levels the water does not go over the remaining ledges at the sides. However at normal levels this rather innocent looking 10cm high pour over has dealt out it’s fair share of embarrassing capsizes and swims! I have long since learnt my lesson not to listen to my kayaking pals saying that I should give some side surfing a go!
It is at this weir that there are some opportunities to warm up with some ferry glide practice before making your way further down river. Not much further down the first drop, again formed by a broken weir is encountered. There are two options here. The first, given the shortness of the run, is to eddy out river left at the remains of the weir slope. Here some basic surf fun can be had on the waves here. There are further eddies on the left for a rest.
When you have had enough you can break back into the main flow and into the main Mill Falls rapid. If you prefer you can eddy out river right to get out and inspect the rapid. Mill Falls is an absolutely superb place for beginners and intermediates alike. There are three main lines, with many sub lines. The three main routes are far river left. This is, at normal flows, a grade 2 wave train with plenty of eddy hopping potential on the way down.
The second route is to pass down a central chute . This is a much more bouncy wave train with an often meaty stopper at the end. You can eddy out on the right at the end or you can carry on down some more bouncy waves to the end of the rapid.
The third is a small ledge drop. This can form some fairly hefty stoppers in high water, but usually it is a small ledge drop.
The great thing about Mill Falls is that it is the ultimate practice venue. It has a ledge for practicing straight forward boof skills, as well as boofing into eddies. It has plenty of areas for practicing eddy hopping, not just on the sections I mentioned above, but also on the rapid just below. There is also a great wave for practicing surf and spin skills. If you are a coach you could spend a great deal of time here. Once you have run it it is an easy thing to walk back to the top and do it all again! If it wasn’t for the silly access situation it would make a great slalom course!
Relatively flat water follows for a short while until the river splits into three routes between islands. As far as I know all three are runnable, with the furthest left and right channels being the most common routes. There is also a sneak route through a much smaller channel far river right a bit further up from where the main islands start. Through these channels the rapids are around a grade 2 with some rocks to beware of.
A short piece of flat follows, with a house visible on a hill river right. This marks the confluence with the Afon Crawnon, an apparently very nice, if extremely short, grade 4 spate run. At this point it is time start readying yourself for the grade 2-3 rapids to follow. Again there are a good number of routes through these depending on the water level. The centre route gives the most fun, with eddies and potentially meaty stoppers to cope with. Halfway down the rapid there are often some very nice surf waves to stop and play on. At medium levels it is a case of taking your pick!
Continuing on down there are good opportunities to practice your breaking in and out skills on the bouncy wave trains. Before long you will reach Llangynidr bridge, the place that most guidebooks tell you to get out at. To do so cuts out more fun further down river however so ignore that! Head on along the left side of the island towards the bridge.
At this time the bridge has a huge tree lodged in the centre arch. It looks to be in half and passable. I can assure you that it isn’t and at the wrong water levels has the potential to be nasty. Run the arch on the right!
Just after this there is another bouncy wave train before another small drop is reached. This drop often forms a stick stopper and has caught more than its fair share of paddlers out! Don’t worry though, it is mostly friendly in a capsize your boat for a laugh kind of way! The higher the level the more meaty it becomes.
Grade 2 riffles follow for a while before the last feature of the run is reached. Another ledge drop with a few different route options. This is another great place to practice boofing skills. The higher the water level the more route options become available, with some really nice solid stoppers forming on the way down. At medium levels opportunities arise for playing in the waves at the base of the ledge.
A short fairly flat paddle follows and the river eventually splits by an island again. Take the right hand route, and just as you are nearing the end of the island your take out is by a public footpath on the right.
This is a lovely little run and looks stunning in the Autumn. It won’t satisfy the hardened adrenalin junkies, but for those who wish to refine their skills, or who want a run that would suit beginners while giving them a bit of a challenge it would be ideal.
I should note that the Usk itself is a highly “contested” river in that the angling based associations such as the Wye & Usk Foundation wrongly believe that control of navigation belongs to them. Unfortunately despite the so called Wye & Usk Foundation “agreement” holding about as much legal weight as a feather and having as much reason as a selfish two year old who doesn’t want to share its toys, many clubs and paddlers are put off paddling the river during the Spring and Summer months.
So that I can get the whole access situation with the Wye and Usk out of the way, there is no agreement. There is no signed piece of paper, and even if there was the agreement only holds between the parties who agreed it! In this case BOPA, those same lovely people who have recently set back access on the River Dee by 20 years.
It is a fact that can be shown through Parliamentary statute (e.g. the Act for Wears and Fishgarths), case law, and the fact that there is no evidence anywhere to show that Riparian’s have control over navigation as part of their rights. To the contrary in fact. Public rights take precedence over private rights, and in the case of rivers they have been classed as a public right of navigation since time immemorial. By abiding by access agreements such as those imposed by the Wye and Usk Foundation you are giving credence to those who claim to control navigation, when in fact they simply do not.