I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of gorge-walking, or canyoning, but low rainwater provides river levels which can permit entry to a gorge usually inaccessible – your task is to take a journey through the gorge which may involve, walking, swimming (sometimes down rapids), jumping, climbing, abseiling and so on. The sunny weather and lack of rain this week allowed me and four friends to take a trip to a gorge about 20 minutes from Aberystwyth. Despite the sunny weather of late, none of us were under any illusions. A week ago it was winter. It was going to be cold.
Clad in wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets, we clambered down a wall next to the road. As the road disappeared from view, all signs of civilisation went too. You could be mistaken for thinking you were miles from anywhere. It was beginning to feel like a real adventure!
I’ve been gorge walking a number of times before, and it always makes me laugh how despite the knowledge that within minutes you will be swimming in the water, every effort is made, by all in the group, to delay getting wet! A minor tributary is crossed tip-toeing precariously from rock to rock. What a disaster it would be to get a wet foot, huh!? This shows how precious the warmth is.
Eventually the moment arrived, it was time to get wet. At this time, the world can be divided into only three types of people. Those who will jump in straight away, embracing the plunge, getting it over with and those who will delay, teetering on the edge, awaiting the inevitable. Inside there will be a battle raging, but eventually, after some coaxing and positive peer pressure (if required) they too will jump. The third category is those who simply will not get involved. Our band of 5 had ambassadors for the first two classes, however thankfully, the final class remained unrepresented.
I realise now, that many may still not actually be aware what gorge-walking is. The astute of you out there will have established that it is walking in a gorge, but there is more to it than that. In the Ystwyth where I was yesterday, we stayed in one area for a while, where there was a nice pool to practice some cliff jumps into; the highest in this area being around 35 foot, enough to get some excitement as you’re standing on the top. There is also a small waterfall which slides across the rock, before a 5 foot waterfall. All being members of the kayak club, we had brought a kayak to drop off the waterfall, however this is an unnecessary extra when you can just slide down and drop off on your bottom! If you approach the waterfall from the bottom pool, there is a small ledge, which you can actually use to get behind it – you’ll find you only get so far round however, before the weight of water falling on your head becomes too much and you are forced under the water. This ‘down time’ as it’s called is made all the more sensational by the fact that this hole is aerated meaning you can feel water rushing all around you, but also it is harder to float as the water is less dense. I found this nerve-wracking the first time, as it feels like you’re under the water for minutes, but within a second, you are flushed out and are suddenly in the pool, breathing in sweet air, grinning widely.
After a short while, we decided to actually move up the gorge. The cold has taken over all my thoughts and my hands and feet have lost all feeling. High above, blue skies can be seen, the sun rays hitting high on the gorge walls, but this is out of reach, tantalisingly close, but entirely of no use to us!
Along the gorge we encounter many obstacles, which require us to climb and traverse along the side bypassing certain rapids, abseil down the wall (using a sling as a make-shift harness and descending on a throw-line: a sketchy but completely bomber set-up), clamber over tree trunks washed down, and even swim down certain rapids!
As we reach the end of the gorge, the water we have followed continues its journey to the sea, but our adventure is complete. We clamber up a waterfall, and slowly the road comes into view. Amazingly, we can see the car, only about 250 metres away, although it feels like it was a lot more! Within seconds of leaving the gorge, the suns rays tickle any exposed skin it can get at; hands, feet and face begin feeling again. A warmth can be felt through the wetsuit. And in fact, the rose-tinted glasses are already on: it feels hard to remember being so cold, and if you were cold, that is of little significance now, as the experience has been had, the memories have outlasted the cold, and the warmth is once again being enjoyed (but maybe slightly less taken for granted). All that remains is a short journey home (with the heating on high, obviously) and to tell everyone about what you’ve been up to that day!