An amazing Welsh canoeing trip

In 1992, Robert Egelstaff and I did the first ever circumnavigation of Wales by paddlecraft and that was entirely in canoe. The original idea was to just do the inland section by canoe. But the more we thought about it, the more we realised we could do the whole trip.

That adventure was so huge it has never been repeated in canoe (although I went around with a group of instructors in kayak and canoe in 2010, the difference being the Montgomery Canal had been gradually reopened, so it was easier) and it was one of the most amazing journeys of my life.

Two canoes on Bala lake

Bala Lake, Snowdonia

To see the Welsh coast and the rivers by canoe was just amazing.

Going up the River Dee using traditional techniques, poles to punt it and ropes to fly the boat like a kite up rapids – just stunning. And as well as seeing exciting places you get really involved in the wildlife: twice we had seals come up under the boat and tap the bottom then pop to the surface 20ft away.

These sorts of adventures – or just that sense of adventure – are open to everyone who canoes in Wales.

A view looking up thorough grass to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct with blue skies and clouds behind it
Two canoes on the river from Wye Valley Canoes, Monmouthshire

Left to right: The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Llangollen, Wye Valley Canoes in Monmouthshire

I love to take visitors over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at Llangollen. It’s a flat-water paddle but it has to be one of the most amazing canoe paddles in the world.

One of the best canoe paddles in the world

On one side you’ve got the towpath, on the other is a lip about 1ft above the water, and on the other side of that is a 40m drop down to the River Dee. That’s a fairly unique paddle!

My best adventure

In 2012 I worked in Canada yet my biggest adventure began in the stream at the bottom of my garden when a friend and I paddled the River Dee from Bala Lake to the Chester weir: 70 miles in a day, the first time it’s been done, we think. To have one my best adventures of the last few years by paddling on the River Dee at home is stunning.

Canoeing on Llyn Gwynant in Snowdonia.

Llyn Gwynant, Snowdonia

So, whether on the aqueduct or sections of river or paddling the lakes, everybody can find an adventure at their own level in Wales. 

And what’s amazing is the proximity of everything. Within an hour’s drive I’ve got so many good rivers, canals, a magnificent coastline and estuaries like the Mawddach estuary, which remains one of my all-time favourite paddles.

I work on rivers like the Vyrnwy and the Banwy and each time I go is unique. I paddled down a rapid on the Banwy recently to find two otters in the still water eating a fish. It was a magical moment. You get a lot of those on Welsh rivers. You come around a corner on early starts and see the flash of a kingfisher ahead on many rivers. Or you paddle in the Mawddach estuary when the right tides and frost create their own icebergs.

So, yes, a lot of magical moments to be discovered.

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