Seeing the canal frozen earlier this week I found myself reminiscing on a self conceived adventure duathlon I had here in South Wales a few years ago. I remembered I had written a blog on it and thought it seemed a great time to repost it to my new website.
I wanted to test the Pyranha Speeder on some whitewater but was alone training in the Brecon Beacons in February and had no support. I hatched a plan to park at Llangynidr and paddle the Monmouth and Brecon Canal to the aqueduct where it crosses the Usk where I would carry down to the river and paddle back to Llangynidr via the Usk’s grade 2-3 whitewater rapids. It would be a long day but achievable.
Alas, when I parked up at Llangynidr the next morning there was a substantial problem; the canal was frozen! A quick test showed the ice was too thick to break easily and the constant effort of ice breaking with the bow would therefore be exhausting. I needed a new plan…
I decided to take a few risks with equipment and found a discreet place to lock my mountain bike at Llangynidr before driving to Brecon. With my ‘transition’ prepared I stashed a stripped down biking pack in the Speeder’s cavernous hatch, made some dressing compromises between the requirements to bike and boat, taking into account the freezing weather, and got underway.
The first stage was a straightforward 2 mile canal paddle from the centre of Brecon to the aqueduct. Despite the temperature it was otherwise a bright, sunny day and this stage passed quickly and easily. This was followed by a short carry of the loaded Speeder down to the river’s edge where the real adventure began.
I had not paddled the Usk from Brecon to Talybont so this section was not only the first time on moving water in the Speeder, it was the first time running this part of the river. That said, the Usk is fairly benign at this stage and only one horizon line posed enough menace to warrant inspection and this was run with ease by the surprisingly capable boat.
I was familiar with the river from Talybont to Llangynidr and knew the challenges I would face. The Speeder was handling well but it is still a long, fairly cumbersome boat and I was alone on a very cold winters day; an unexpected swim could very quickly develop into a serious situation. It was with this in mind that I peeled out of the eddy above Mill Falls and concentrated on making the line I had just inspected. Mill Falls was the most serious rapid I would encounter and I came out unscathed, even having the confidence to try out a few ferry glides at the bottom of the rapids.
Shortly afterwards Llangynidr bridge came into view and stage 2 of my challenge, the 9 mile river paddle was complete. I shuttled my boat and kit up the bank, stowed everything as discreetly as possible and prepared for my bike leg. Taking the risk of leaving my deck, buoyancy aid, dry suit and paddles with the boat, I was off and away on the bike.
The final stage was the 11 mile cycle on the canal towpath back to Brecon. With most of the risk behind me I was able to relax and enjoy this stage, although I didn’t want to hang around too much knowing a lot of expensive kit was stashed by a riverside!
The ride was pretty uneventful but did lead to a discovery that the icy morning had been a blessing in disguise. A section of the canal was drained for repairs so had I been able to paddle away from Llangynidr that morning I would have faced a difficult portage of over a mile or a premature end to my plan. Sometimes you don’t realise that a perceived set back is actually a bit of good fortune!
Back in ‘The Dub‘ I quickly recovered my boat and kit before heading to a wild ‘vamping’ spot to reflect on a day well spent and plan my next adventure…
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