A Racing classic. The river Usk rises in the mountains of south Wales to the west of Brecon. It flows generally
west to east past Sennybridge, Brecon, Crickhowell and Abergavenny, then turns south before
Raglan to enter the Severn estuary at Newport.
The headwaters above Sennybridge are too small for paddling. The stretch from Sennybridge
to Brecon offers about 10km of grade 2-3 touring in winter, followed by 3km of flat slog to
Brecon weir. There are many natural vertical falls as the river drops from one bedding plane
to another. A good water level is required and because of the drops this section is not suitable
for river racers.
The 13km from Brecon to Llanddetty Hall is flat grade 1-2. Here the valley narrows providing
5km of grade 2-3 (some 4 in flood) rapids with gentler sections between – the race course.
From Nantyffin (Cider Mill PH) onwards the valley widens again and the river flattens. There
are some standing waves near the A471 road bridge north of the village of Usk, but I do not
know the extent of these. (Maybe a possible sprint site for the future ?)
The WCA RAO for the Usk and Wye is Pam Bell (01873 831825,
bridge and Nanytffin, where the river flows through the Glanusk Park Estate and the woods
on the north (river left) bank are frequently used for duck shooting etc. This comprises the
lower 60% of the race course and is completely closed November – January inclusive.
Do not paddle any of the river, other than on agreed race dates, without first checking the
current situation with Pam.
These are available via the Environment Agency Rivercall service on 0906 619 7755.
1.6m on Llanddetty guage constitutes “spate”. Above this level there used to be open
permission to paddle between Talybont and Llangynidr bridges in winter months, but I don’t
know if this still applies; check with Pam if you intend to paddle.
At present I do not have guidelines as to what levels constitute “low”, “medium”, “good”
The Race Course (not to scale)
Pre-start, Talybont bridge
Pipe(a) Mill(c) Waves(e) Ledge(g) Islands(i) Islands(k)
Start(b) Islands(d) Llangynidr(f) Sphulers(h) Ledge(j) Finish(l)
The race start (b) will be near the small chapel at GR129202 (OS Sheet 161), downstream
rather than upstream. There is NO ACCESS at this point; it is necessary to get on at the prestart
at the WCA access point at Talybont bridge, GR122233. Turn off the A40 between
Bwlch and Brecon onto a minor road signposted Talybont-on-Usk.
Park on the south side of road only (left side as approaching from A40), to the west (beyond)
the river bridge. River access is through the field on the north (upstream) side of the road, on
river right. Please do not paddle upstream from here; there is more than enough space for
warm-up before the race start.
What follows is based on my recollection of the river from the early/mid-90’s. I consider my
memory to be good and accurate, but anyone who has paddled the river more recently is
invited to provide corrections and updates. Distances are for guidance only and cannot be
guaranteed to be accurate.
From Talybont bridge you have a 3km grade 1 – 2 warm-up paddle from the pre-start to the
start (about ¾ of the length of paddle-in on the Tay from Aberfeldy). The route down this
section is easy to find. About half way down just before a left bend there is a pipe (a) running
across the river just below the surface. In decent water this creates a small stopper; in low
water be careful where you cross it so as not to hit it with your bow. After this bend, when last
I paddled it the main channel was in the process of switching sides, creating some sandy
islands and toppling trees on the right side. After the next significant left bend there is a small
shallow rapid, with the chapel up on the right bank. The race start (b) will be shortly below
From the start of the race the river is initially flat. After about 300m there are two concrete
groynes, one sticking out from each bank. In low water these are uncovered and simply
quicken the flow a little between them. In medium water they are pourovers with stoppers and
eddies. In high water they create standing waves. After another 200-300m you come to Mill
Falls (c), the first and biggest rapid on the course.
The top of Mill Falls consists of a man-made sloping weir with the race line on the right. In
low water the downstream face to the left of the main channel is dry; in high water it is
covered. Do not be tempted to take the left even in high water, as the weir face is studded
with anti-scour blocks which will do considerable damage if hit. Immediately after this weir
there are some standing waves and the main flow bends left. Follow it; straight ahead is a
rocky vertical drop formed by a bedding plane. Although this has been shot in places in spate
it is not recommended. Follow the main flow, which in all but spate levels goes left across the
top of this drop and below the downstream tip of an island to your left (upstream) side.
Continue until about 2-3m before the true left bank (a small cliff) and then turn right down a
channel about 2m out from the left bank. There are a few rocks in here to watch out for, but
the main ones are normally visible.
Once the river has flattened, the left bank bulges into the river and 3m out from this bulge
there is a large rock underwater, just on what would otherwise be the race line. In high water
it is not a problem, but in low water pass to one side or the other.
At the end of the straight is the first of three sets of islands (d) along the race course. Two
small tree-covered islands beside one another split the river into three channels. The race line
used to be the left channel, but all are prone to blockage by tree fall, so be particularly careful
on early practice until you are certain which is clear.
The islands are followed by a pool which leads into a rapid on a left, then right, bend. The
main flow follows these bends. On the left bend it is left of centre, then moves back to right of
centre on the right bend. In high water it is possible to straighten out these bends by taking a
small slot about 3m out from the right-hand bank, just to the right of a large rock. In lower
water it’s too shallow.
Immediately after the right bend the river slows, and this produces a large wave chain (e),
possibly the biggest waves on the race. The flow also narrows as it comes off the right bend,
so it is difficult to avoid these. However, there are no rocks, so just force your way through.
The straight after the waves is wide and flat and you will see Llangynidr bridge (f) at the end
of it (GR 152203). The closer the river gets to the bridge the wider and shallower it becomes.
You start the straight on the right and end it left of centre by going under the second arch out
from the left bank. Pick your way through the rocks at water level as you approach the bridge
(a bit like those just before the finish of the Tees race at Cotherstone footbridge).
Immediately after Llangynidr bridge there is a shingle bank on the left. In high water you can
go between this and the left bank, at lower levels go right of it and bend left below it. This is
followed by a small fall over a natural rock ledge (g). There are two main slots over this; one
by the left bank and one about 4m out. The right-had one is preferable, as the river bends right
after the drop and the left side tends to collect tree debris just below the drop. The next rapid
is taken down the centre and leads into a left bend.
The next main fall is Sphuler’s (h). At the end of a wave chain the river widens and bends
left. On the right bank ahead there is a small rock outcrop. Another natural rock ledge leads
back across the river from here to the left bank; the left end is further upstream than the right.
There appears to be an obvious channel close to the left bank, but do not take this as the
outflow from it contains many large boulders beneath the surface which will do considerable
damage. Instead, cross the pool above the ledge to the right bank and shoot the fall on the
extreme right through a narrow slot just below the rock outcrop. You may tap the stern as you
go over. In high water there is a small slot somewhere near the centre of the ledge, but there
are flat slabs of rock blocking the approach line and it is difficult to find.
Below Sphuler’s the river narrows again and the next rapid is an obvious wave chain taken
down the centre. At the end of the straight after this is the second set of islands (i). Again, the
race line used to be the left channel, but again watch out for fallen trees. As you take the left
channel the island immediately to your right peters out into a line of shingle banks. Choose a
suitable channel and cross through these from left to right. Shortly afterwards is the next rapid
which should be taken in a channel about 5m out from the left bank. This is followed by a
slight left bend.
My memory of the next straight is hazy, but it ends with another natural rock ledge on a right
bend (j). Take this close to the right bank, but watch out for the overhanging trees. The main
channel is fairly narrow at its foot and has a large flat rock in the middle (rather like the one
below the roadbridge on the lower Tryweryn just above where the big dead tree was stuck in
the middle). Pass either side of the rock.
Move from river right to left as you cross the next pool, to take the left channel at the third
and final set of islands (k) at the end of the straight. Again, watch out for fallen trees. At the
end of the island, as the channel to the right merges back in, there are some surprisingly large
waves, which can be skirted on the left shoulder if you are prepared.
The river now bends to the left and flattens. At the end of the straight you will see the
Glanusk Park Estate bridge (l) (GR192198). The finish of the race will probably be at the
bridge, or maybe a bit before.
Please adhere closely to race information regarding access and parking at the finish. At
present, I am not sure exactly where this will be.
Spectating is possible near Llangynidr bridge at GR 152203 approx. 40% into race course.
From here there is a rough public footpath on the south (river right) bank running upstream
for approx. 1km and downstream for approx. 2km.
Note : the road to and over Llangynidr bridge is narrow, steep and twisty. Minibusses and
trailers should not attempt to cross the bridge. Spectators should approach from the B4558 in
Llangynidr village on the south side. It is necessary to park near Llangynidr school and walk
down to the bridge.
Spectating is not practical at any other location. In particular, there is no land-based access to
Shops in Crickhowell (3km east of finish)
Pub (Cider Mill) at Nantyffin by the finish, also at Talybont & Llangynidr
Nearest towns : Brecon (10km west of start) and Abergavenny (12km east of finish)
Public conveniences : at layby on A40 approx. 1.5km towards Abergavenny from the start
(assuming they’re open !)
Public telephone : Llangynidr village
Mobile signal coverage : unknown
Youth Hostel : Crickhowell
Tourist Information : Brecon & Abergavenny
Hospital (A&E) : Abergavenny
Thanks and appreciation are due to Richard Harvey of the WCA, whose careful negotiations
with the Glanusk Park Estate on behalf of WWR has made a race possible.
We are most grateful to the Legge-Bourke family of Glanusk Park for granting their
permission for us to use the river.
Pam Bell has also provided much valuable information in the past.
Phil Caunt stepped in and attended the final meeting on behalf of WWR with Richard at the
Glanusk Park offices at short notice.
Finally, in anticipation, to all those paddlers who will get their entries in on time, turn up in
their droves and demonstrate how professional and responsible a body of sports people we
are, so that we may hopefully make this event a permanent feature in the annual calendar.
UskRaceGuide v1 John Embrey 11/9/04