In this guest post Tom Laws, co-author of The Welsh Rivers, takes us through five amazing spots in Snowdonia for canoeing and kayaking.
Snowdonia National Park is home to some of the best paddling in Wales and the full range of world class kayaking, much of it in unspoilt and spectacular scenery. My pick of the best five barely scratches the surface of what is on offer; a copy of The Welsh Rivers gives much more detail on the canoeing and kayaking in the principality and beyond.
It should go without saying that paddling can be hazardous, and there is no substitute for experience. If in doubt, seek expert advice and instruction; North Wales has a great range of coaches who can help you have a safe day on the water.
Family Float – Llyn Geirionydd, Trefriw
If you are taking to the water for the first time, or just looking for a more relaxing paddle, Snowdonia has a number of wonderful lakes to enjoy. Llyn Geirionydd is nestled in the woods of the Gwydyr forest between Capel Curig and Trefriw, and is the most popular of the lakes of the area for paddling. Halfway along the shore is a slipway, toilets and plenty of parking. From here the stunning lake is yours to explore, ideal picnic spots can be found tucked along the western shore, and the lake is small enough that you are never too far from a warm car if younger adventurers get chilly. In the summer it can get busy with people sailing and motorboating about, but paddling up there as the sun dips behind the mountains is hard to beat.
Starter Whitewater – Afon Llugwy from Plas-y-Brenin to Jim’s Bridge, Capel Curig
If you are looking to make the step to moving water there are few better places than the river at Plas-Y-Brenin in Capel Curig. After warming up on the stunning Llyn Mymbyr, there is a small rapid below the footbridge where the lake becomes a river again, the perfect spot for practising and developing your whitewater skills. Below here the river joins the Llugwy and there are a number of pleasant grade 2 rapids culminating in the longer “Jim’s Bridge” rapid. Stop here and have a few laps – how many eddies can you make on the way down? Below here is the much more serious Cobden’s Falls as the river continues on its journey to Betws-y-Coed, the Afon Conwy and the sea. Had enough? You are right by the Moel Siabod café, and a massive cream tea!
Step it up – Upper Conwy
The Conwy is a true Snowdonia classic, and for many the Upper Conwy is the first chance they get to push their skills on a longer and more challenging trip. Access to the river is easiest from the big layby near Pentrefoelas, and the river quickly gives you a flavour of what is to come fantastic grade 3 rapids in deep gorges. The highlight of the run is Bryn Bras falls, a longer twisting grade 4 rapid with some great moves along the way. The large wall rising up on the right lets you know it’s coming and gives a narrow walkway to inspect from. Below that a few more rapids lead under the stunning arch of Rhydlanfair bridge and down to the exit point on river right. From here the river steps up a grade with two superb grade 5 rapids down through unspoilt ancient woodland to Penmachno Bridge. Conwy Falls Café is not far away to sort your post-paddling needs.
Classic Whitewater – Aberglaslyn Gorge, Beddgelert
For a seasoned whitewater paddler looking for a great section of grade 4, the Aberglaslyn Gorge has a really high density of great rapids and an easy walk back to the top for endless laps searching for the inch perfect run. At the put-on layby is a red/green gauge giving a really clear indicator of water levels. From here there’s little warm-up before you hit a non-stop sequence of curling waves and stoppers with small eddies to link together. Catch your breath below the biggest of these, “the Breaker”, before dropping in for more. There is a pavement all the way back up the road for walking back up on, but watch out as the road can be busy. The section above from Llyn Dinas is a great grade 2 paddle, and there’s a walkway from the National Trust carpark on the river left bank for cheering on your mates. Beddgelert hosts a number of excellent tea shops, and the local fudge must be sampled – go on, you’ve earned it!
Super Classic – The Fairy Glen, Afon Conwy, Betws-y-Coed
There’s a section of whitewater less than two minutes’ drive from Betws-y-Coed that is so classic it’s known to whitewater paddlers all over the world. From just below Conwy Falls the river flows through two steep sided canyons, punctuated by the cascading Fairy Falls. Superb moves packed back-to-back into stunning gorges make this a classic, and add in the fact that it runs for longer than most other rivers in the National Park and you have a must-do river! Over the years the names have changed with the locals, but whether you are a “Left Wall” or a “Monkey Drop” kind of paddler, if you are looking for some classic grade 5, the Fairy Glen has something magical waiting for you.