On the 19-20 May a group of us consisting of the Dallaways, the Woodhalls, Dave Hughes and myself did a white water safety and rescue course with Leo Hoare.

I woke up early on the Saturday morning and travelled to the meeting place at Corwen. It started to rain, as it had for the previous few days and it was promising to be a great weekend!

Sure enough, I arrived in Wales and the rivers were up and suddenly a huge smile came on my face followed by the daunting thought of having to swim a raging river. I started thinking to myself - god I hope today's going to be the paddling part of the course. I reached Corwen on time (yes I said on time, and in fact early, fine don't believe me) to meet up with Leo who also had a smile on his face, and what was even better he then went on to say the lower Llugwy was up and we were going to paddle it and not swim it.

Phew!!!, I thought to myself, fantastic!! Just one problem, my arch nemesis the mighty swallow falls stood in my way of a great days paddling. This is the site of a few of my misdemeanours, the very mention of this place fills me with fear and flash backs of tumbling down the steep muddy bank hitting allsorts I'm sure Dave was thinking the same. We got changed and headed for the get in.

The course started off with river leading skills on the easier stuff before the mighty swallow falls. Then came the long arduous portage, and the next lesson, rope work for belaying and lowering kit, now this was something I really wanted to learn!

Now Swallow Falls is a 3 tier waterfall. Leo starts walking down the bank after the first fall and begins setting up the ropes for descent. I thought to my self what the hell is he doing? Leo then says "right we've portaged the hardest part of the falls lets run the rest of it". This is still a serious undertaking and we all looked at each other with rather white faces and almost soiled underwear. This turned out to be a joke as there was no intention of any of us actually running any of the waterfalls. Oh, how we laughed, the b*****d!!!

So off to the horrid dirt track that leads to the river to make use of our newly learnt rope skills, no more tumbling down the hideous muddy bank for me! At the bottom we spend some time learning how to scout drops and how to make an efficient and safe decent.

The rapid below swallow falls can be quite tricky especially if you've never done it before as Bec proved getting it a bit wrong and getting stuck. Leo dashed to her aid, but forgetting to take his boat out the water beforehand. His boat than made a pilotless decent of the next rapid, much to his discontentment and our amusement. Fortunately Ce was on hand to save him from too much embarrassment with a big grin.

Moving off downstream to Bench Falls, where John showed off his natural talent for making a relatively easy rapid look hard! Ok, it is a slightly technical boulder garden, culminating in a small drop with a stopper at the bottom. John's line was sideways on the right. A better line proved to be pointing downstream on the left (for future reference)!!

Without further mishap, we reached the egress at Betws y Coed. We had had a great days paddling and now off to the Goat for some much needed beer and food, oh and to play with throw bags in the carpark there. It was fun but I'm sure we all looked daft to any passers by!

All worn out after a hard day, it was time to have another legendary night at the Goat, with the usualspilling of drinks over John and random conversation (which as always isn't suitable for printing, Shame on you Dave, always lowering the tone, tut tut).

Bright and early the next day Leo comes to the Goat to round us all up for the next exiting part of the course, the wet bit! This was held at the Dee at Llangollen, entailing swimming and rescuing from the infamous grabby middle stopper, GASP!!! This was definitely the day to be grateful for the creation of dry suits, I was certainly wearing mine.

After a bit of faffing, it was time to bite the bullet and get in there, we crossed the river to face the inevitable. Leo jumped In first to show us how it was done, followed by John, Ian, Dave and me. We all went in and out quickly apart from Ce who seemed to quite like it and decided to stay in for a play. The courageous John jumped in to fish her out.

After a bit more stopper action it was time to head up to Serpents Tail for the rest of the day, this was where the fun started. Most of you may think we were going to paddle this stretch of raging fury but no, ay? I hear you say, surely you didn't swim it? Oh yes we did and it was ace!! Jump in at the top and ride the storm all the way down through the sting of the tail. It feels a lot more powerful when you swim it, like a wet roller coaster, and just as much fun.

So on with the course - throw lining on moving water, quite interesting when you've got some one like John on the other end, I wasn't quite expecting that much force on the rope as I got dragged across the rocks letting go, leaving poor John cluttering down the rest of the rapid.

Now comes the best and most fun part, the live bait rescues. This is when all else fails and you have to jump in on a line to rescue some one. This was ace as one person had to swim, one person jumps in off some high rocks and another acts as an anchor / belay. The job of jumping off some high rocks and body slamming a pringle thief (you know who you are, damm you) was by far the best and most satisfying as the aforementioned person gets a good dunking. However the person acting as belay doesn't have such a good time as poor Ce found out trying to belay John and getting pulled over, the good news is, as she was tied down, she is now a few inches taller after being stretched.

As usual I can't go a day with out trying to be a smart arse and paid the price dearly. The final part was to show what happens when the live bait goes wrong and you have to release the harness and as I had just been a smart arse and took the mick out of Leo, it was I who was to demonstrate this, oh dear! For this Leo moved everything where the water was the most powerful, gave me a lot of slack on the rope so I'd get more speed before it pulled taught and as it pulled taught I'm sure he yanked it for good measure. Dear God when I ran out of slack, man does it hurt! I tried to be clever and hang on, nope straight under, rather an interesting experience. It's quite a challenge to try and get your release lever especially when your chest feels like it's in a vice. I find the lever and whoosh I'm fired through the tail at the speed of light. That showed me!

What a fantastic weekend, we all learnt a great deal, if any of you need to do a course that the club can't cater for then I'd definitely recommend Leo Hoare, top bloke, top course.

Birmingham Canoe Club