Summer Paddling in North Wales
by Jack Campion, Centre Assistant at Plas y Brenin
Now winter is over and the UK paddling season has come to a close many of us are left twiddling our thumbs. Obviously there are still many sports to pursue as an outdoor enthusiast in North Wales, such as climbing, hill walking and of course sea kayaking, but sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. Your inner white water kayaker won’t be satisfied until you find the good stuff! Well don’t despair as North Wales can give you what you need even on the driest of summer days!
If you’re heading to Anglesey don’t bother checking the rain forecast as it is not rain we need to create rapids here. Large tides have to battle their way into inland waters though small bottlenecks creating a sort of hose pipe effect. This guaranteed moving water makes Anglesey a boater’s summer haven no matter what level you are at.
Four Mile Bridge
This B4545 road bridge is the southern gateway to Holyhead. It constricts the incoming and outgoing tidal water moving up into the ‘inland sea’ through a 3 metre wide gap, resulting on the perfect jet for beginners and intermediates alike. It works in the flood and the ebb of the tide, it starts to work 2 hours after low and high tide at Holyhead.
So you can take on four mile but what about its big brother? Stanley embankment is formed much in the same way as four mile only with a greater amount of water being squeezed through the small 3 metre tunnel, creating a super-fast broken wave. It works two hours before high tide at Holyhead and will carry on working until two hours after. It works best on springs but there is still moving water even on neaps. Make sure you access this feature from the inland sea as a dangerous retentive stopper forms at the entrance of the seaward side of the embankment. This play boaters gem is definitely worth a visit but prepare for crowds in the driest of months.
This river like tidal race is what divides Anglesey from the mainland offering jets, waves and holes. you can run it just like a river starting at one end and finishing at the other but unlike a river where the flows only goes one way, if you plan your tides accordingly it can take you all the way back to where you started with a completely different set of white water features. Start at Menai Bridge a couple of hours before high water at Liverpool to make use of the jets that form between the pillars then slowly make your way towards Britannia Bridge playing in all the features on the way. Wait for the tide to turn and head back where there are a few jets and rapids caused by rocks on the left to navigate before returning to where you started. If you wait by the Swellie rock marker 4 hours after Liverpool high tide you can take on the big green Swellies wave.
The ye old faithful of North Wales white water. This is often many paddlers first experience of moving water due to its accessibility and friendliness and the fact that you can run it whatever the level. It can be run from underneath horse shoe weir down to Mile End Mill. Or you can park at Mile End Mill and session the short section of grade 2 rapids which are perfect for practicing those fundamental white water skills and you can flat spin for hours on the bottom wave. If you are using Mile End Mill's car park and facilities you need to pay a small fee for paddling. If you are running the river from the bottom of horseshoe the serpent’s tail awaits, at low levels the dreaded stopper at the bottom is non-existent but down the main rapid there is still lots of eddy hopping fun to be had. This North Wales classic will always be there for you no matter what, can be busy on weekends though.
If you want continuous grade 3 rapids at constant levels the mighty Tryweryn is the place to be, it is host to the National White Water Centre who for a small fee allow you to paddle this dam release river and put on a shuttle bus service. The river can be divided into two sections the upper and the lower. The upper is accessed from the top car park and you put on just below the river wide fish grate (the Chipper) this section is ran all the way down to the rafting get out just before the bottom car park. This section consists of fast moving grade 3 features you can challenge yourself by hitting some technical lines and eddies or have a boater X against your friends. The lower is a mellower grade 2 with lots of technical boulder rapids until at the end of the run where you reach Balla Mill Falls a grade 3+ drop that can be inspected and portaged easily to the right down a well signposted mill stream. The get out is the car park on the right of the river just after the A494 road bridge. The river is dam release so you will need to check on the National White Water Centre’s website before making the trip, but itusually releases at the weekends, watch out for rafts!
Park and Huck
If you are feeling adventurous and enjoy falling off things with a little more height there are a few places where you can run some exciting features even if the rest of the river is too low to paddle. Rivers such as the Llygwy play host to many features which are easily accessed by road. When parking and hucking always remember risk vs reward and take into consideration your own personal skill level. If you feel like your skilled enough to go huck, buy a guidebook and go explore!
To conclude there is plenty of stuff for the North Wales white water paddler to get stuck into even in the height of the summer. So there is no need to put your kayak to bed get out there and I will see you on the water.