I knew it was going to be a good day when I pulled up at the car park with the taste of welsh pork and leek sausages still in my mouth from breakfast, to find that the ticket machine had broken and there was no way to alleviate myself of the £2 it wanted. In a small way I felt like I’d won against the world and walked light footed towards the sign which said it was at least an hour and a half walk to Aber Falls. I had been later leaving the bunkhouse that we’d stayed in overnight and definitely later leaving the pub below, than was good for me. With the sting of conjunctivitis in my squinty eyes, a dull ache in my shoulders and sore head, I took on the sign and raised it’s opening bid, deciding I could definitely do it quicker.
I march up the path, passing a runaway dog chasing a sheep, careering down the path in front of me. Bracing gusts of wind are enough to wake me up properly, as the sun warms my back. Yesterday I paddled with friends on the river Conwy and the Llugwy from Plas y Brenin to ‘Ugly House’, which turned out not to be as ugly as suggested. I’m a bit disappointed and have seen far uglier ones on the website ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’ http://uglybelgianhouses.tumblr.com I note there I not an 'Ugly Welsh Houses' site but that’s not for now. It was my first time back on a white water river since I’d been in hospital and for most of the group, our first time on the Llugwy. My neck is still stiff from the infection and I’ve got various ailments as a side effect of intense antibiotic therapy, but generally I’m feeling well, regaining stamina and flexibility.
We get in and out of the boats to scout different sections and carry for what seems like ages, around a mandatory portage. If you hadn’t clocked this already, carrying a plastic boat on your shoulder, over muddy fields isn’t the recommended recovery for someone with Discits, but I don’t think any long term damage was done. It’s been raining and the rivers are filling up, which makes for a fun, bouncy run down the Conwy and a nice level for some interesting drops on the Llugwy. It feels good to be back on the water again even if I’m a bit tentative. Last weekend I’d been on the Thames in a sea kayak, contending with an interesting tiderace that has cropped up under Blackfriars bridge since they started building the new super sewer, narrowing the river in places. I’d spent the Sunday up at the white water centre at Lee Valley, again slightly tentative, very cold but rewarding. It is easy to forget that just a few weeks before, I’d been unable to make the smallest of movements in my neck and back without debilitating shooting pains from head to toe. The advice I’ve received from many to ‘take it easy’ echoes in my head and I’m not sure if this is what they had in mind.
As I near the waterfall, the fuzzy background noise swooshes in and out like an untuned radio. It grows louder, but the waterfall is hidden behind the barren, slatey escarpment of recently felled trees. By the path the weather beaten specimens have gnarled branches, some scattered on the ground like dismembered limbs. The bright yellow and orange scars of the wood revealed beneath, telling of a recent storm. The pinky granite of the path looks like chunks of gammon and I idly wonder if it comes with pineapple, like it did in the pub. Fluorescent green lichen adorns the mossy, sponge-soft rocks which, set against the shaley ground and hard granite, creates a space-aged otherworldliness .
When I round the corner, the water is in free fall from its craggy ledge. It has a mesmerising beauty to it. Continuously throwing itself off, pulsing and tumbling, both heavy and light at the same time. I blows around like a curtain in the wind, thundering into the tranquil pool below. I get transfixed in my mildly hungover stupor thinking about how long it has been there. When I eventually mange to drag myself away, I remember I’m on my way to Liverpool to take my mum out for (now late) lunch. Joining the growing trail of hikers, photographers, kids in wellies, wet dogs, baby carriers, trendy tracky bottoms and shiny trainers on the way back down, I gazed back at the sweeping, rolling hills. A weather station with its white clapboard housing, anemometer whirring and various antennae, casts a long shadow pointing towards the sea and the North Wales Expressway. It reminds me of the journey that lies ahead and that if I’m a bit achy after a day on the water, I’d better get used to it again pretty quickly.