You know me, I love a quick bucket list tick on a random weekday afternoon, and so when I had the opportunity to join Inspire2Adventures for some gorge scrambling in South Wales, I absolutely jumped at the chance.
I’m a fan of scrambling in general; while I’m no climber or mountaineer (by any stretch of the imagination), I’ve always enjoyed finding my way up hills or tors of boulders, using my hands and knees to help me reach the top to get a decent view. So gorge scrambling should be right up my alley – the obvious difference being that this time there would be water flowing down the rocks to add to the fun. Having made my way up Grinds Brook to Kinder Scout more than once, I was quite happy with the prospect.
Our gorge scrambling group. Thanks ALS Marketing for the photos on this page.
Unfortunately for us it was a very cold day. Despite being the end of April, the temperature wasn’t particularly spring-like, and we were warned we would probably get cold. Inspire2Adventure supplied each person in the group with a dry suit top, a helmet and a harness, but the rest of our gear was up to us. They recommended good trainers or walking boots on our feet, joggers or running pants for our legs, and a couple of layers on top – I went for my old trail trainers (with socks), some running style leggings that I knew wouldn’t fall down when they got wet, and a tee over a long sleeved top. This seemed to be the uniform worn by most of us, and was certainly a comfortable choice.
After our briefing we made our way to the gorge, which involved walking about 10-15 minutes from the random village car park in which we’d met, up onto the hill. And then our task was very simple; get in the river, and walk up it through the gorge to the top. The distance was short on a map, but would take around two hours, and would mean a significant height gain.
Making my way up the first roped waterfall climb. No comments on the technique, please!
To begin with our instructors – we had two looking after us – suggested we tried to stay on the rocks to keep our feet wet. Of course this was a pointless task and the point was we just needed to get in the water and enjoy being in it. No problem – I love the water, and thoroughly enjoyed making my way up the river, working out the best route for me and my little legs, and watching my new friends do the same. The rocks were hugely slippery and it was often difficult to stay upright, but the going was relatively easy in the most part.
There were three sections that were a little more challenging than simply striding or clambering across the rocks; two waterfalls and a tunnel. For the two waterfalls we roped up to keep us safe; the first involved making our way under a ledge so we were stood in the waterfall pool before clipping in and climbing up the waterfall itself. It looks easy when you watch others do it from a distance, but you don’t realise how much the rushing water impairs your ability to see the hand and foot holes when you’re up close! It was also very loud, which meant you had to concentrate to hear the short pointers shouted across by the instructors.
The second waterfall was the best climb of the day in my opinion; the pool was at least waist height on me and the ascent much longer and therefore more fulfilling. By this point I was getting used to the rocks and water and how best to hold myself to avoid falling over, and I clambered my way up the waterfall with a huge grin on my face. I’ve never found scrambling easy, but it is very enjoyable; it took all my effort to get up that section of the course, but reaching the top was very satisfying. This climb is the last section of my little video below.
The tunnel involved a little less smiling – I’m not a big fan of tunnels or caves, and it was very dark in there! To get to it I had a short swim because I could only reach the river bed on my tip toes (oh the joys of short legs!), before climbing up a short waterfall and wading through the water in the dark. I think it was an old railway or mining tunnel, certainly man-made anyway, and it was one of those ones with a kink in the middle – I’ve never understood why man-made tunnels have bends in them! Inside, thanks to the lack of light, the rocks were very grippy rather than being made slippery with moss, which definitely helped making the going a little easier than it could have been. We made a line along the left side of the tunnel and felt our way along, it was a little unnerving for me but not unpleasant by any means.
Once out of the tunnel we had a short scramble up to our exit point, when we were a little higher than the top of the viaduct in the picture below – we had definitely climbed a long way even if it didn’t feel like we’d gone very far.
Soaking wet, cold, but having a ball!
I enjoyed the gorge scrambling experience hugely but admit that by the end I was SO cold I just wanted to get back to base and drink tea. Being in a group there was always going to be a bit of waiting around, especially when it came to the roped sections, and that is when I got cold. Standing on the rocks or in the water when the wind is cold and you’re soaking wet is always going to make you cold; we jigged and wiggled and moved around as much as we could to stop our feet from going numb. At least it wasn’t raining as well!
Once back off the hill and our of our climbing gear we had to change in the community hall car park as there are no changing rooms (or toilets, in fact), so it’s a good job I went prepared with my big CarePlus towel. One of those DryRobes would have been just the ticket in that moment and if I did watersports regularly I would definitely invest. Once dry and in clean clothes I soon warmed up – I definitely recommend taking a beanie and gloves to put on if it’s a cool day as the water drain the heat from your extremities. Oh and a flask of tea, I’d have been super happy if I’d thought of that!
I took my GoPro along to show you how I got on. Unfortunately my battery didn’t last the full two hours, which is a shame as I missed the a really deep bit, a (very slightly scary) tunnel, and some rather spectacular views near the end. Still, hope you enjoy this couple of minutes and I’ll get myself a second battery for next time!
What I enjoyed the most about the gorge scrambling was being able to see the gorge and its associated waterfalls from the inside as we scrambled our way the river course. I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who loves walking and rivers, but hope that when you do it the sunshine is a little warmer!
For more details about Gorge Scrambling and a host of other experiences in the Wye Valley, check out Inspire 2 Adventure.
With thanks to Inspire2Adventure for putting on this activity for us. It was a free experience for me but I was not obliged to write about it, I just had a really good time and wanted to share 🙂