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Trying something new

Jane Beer, a mature student, just graduated from the University of Wales Bangor and currently working on a graduate placement scheme with Snowdonia-Active, is a keen horse rider, particularly endurance and long distance riding. Jane decided to try her hand at something completely different. Read her delightful account of a day’s paddling on the Afon Conwy with local guide Ian Roberts who runs a company called Ian Canoe Guide.

(Jane spying a Heron in the distance whilst paddling on Afon Conwy, photo: Ian Roberts)

An opportunity arose through Snowdonia-Active to participate in an activity that I had not undertaken before. This was to go on a Canadian canoe (known in the trade as an open canoe) on a canoe cruise down the Conwy Estuary.

So, on a warm sunny August morning I met Ian Roberts (Ian Canoe Guide) and two others who were participating in the canoe cruise at Caerhun Church, which was once a ferry crossing place for the Romans when they occupied the Conwy Valley 400 AD. The church lies just outside the tranquil village of Tal y Bont on the B5106 Conwy to Betws y Coed Road.

We unloaded the canoes and all the gear and then proceeded to take the cars to Conwy where we would be able to pick them up after the cruise.

Back to Caerhun Church, by this time there was the feeling of excitement and trepidation. A buzzard flew overhead with its watchful eye (probably having seen this charade many times); having not done any canoeing, this was a new experience for me.

We were given a briefing from Ian on the safety issues of canoeing and were fitted with buoyancy aids. Then it was time for off. Having got the party of people firmly established in the boats, we set off down the Conwy Estuary.

It was very quiet, with nothing to hear, only the movement of the paddle in the water and the sound of bird songs. There was an abundance of wildlife to see which included Herons, Cormorants, Canadian Geese, Oystercatchers, Shell Ducks and Curlews. The Canadian Boat was stable and I felt safe with Ian at the helm, (Ian is a level 3 qualified Open Canoe Coach for touring groups). Ian was constantly giving sound advice about the river conditions, wind conditions and the handling of the paddles. He was also extremely knowledgeable about the history and culture of the surrounding area. We glided down the river into what felt like a forgotten world. Initially we headed towards Bodnant Gardens, but were unable to get access up the stream because the tide was too low. There is a closely guarded secret on this stream, but I am not going to tell – you will have to go on one of Ian’s canoe cruisers to find out what it is!

A little further on, opposite Glan Conwy on the other side of the river bank, we pulled the canoes onto a gravel area and stopped to have a picnic lunch and take stock of the tranquillity of the magnificent surrounding scenery. It was almost silent except for the gentle lapping of the water, which was so clear it was like glass, and the occasional cries of various wildlife. We were surrounded by ‘sloe’ shrubs and one immediately thought about sloe gin at Christmas time. However, not sloe gin this time, but a much appreciated offer of piping hot chocolate, or coffee from Ian.

Following lunch we set of again downstream, passing the Heronry in the trees of Benarth Wood, which is just upstream from the medieval castle and bridges of Conwy. Here we stopped paddling and became absolutely silent, in order that we might get further sightings of some of the birdlife. We were not to be disappointed. Moments later we passed within 2 metres of a Heron who was standing as still as a statue; only ruffling his feathers after we had passed. Nearby, there were also ducklings moving across scrubland camouflaged by the rocks.

Our final part of the journey took us into the harbour of the medieval town of Conwy. This was dramatic, with the magnificent thirteenth century castle towering to the left of us and the three bridges looming in front. Ian took us under the bridges, the first a magnificent elegant suspension bridge constructed by Thomas Telford in 1826. It was one of the first road suspension bridges built in the world, originally constructed to replace the notorious ferry crossings.

The wrought iron tubular railway bridge, built by Robert Stephenson in 1848 runs parallel to the suspension bridge; the third bridge, a mid 20th century road, runs parallel to the wrought iron tubular railway bridge.

It was the strangest feeling going under these bridges, having the opportunity to see these incredible structures at close hand, soaring above us, and also to see the famous Conwy mussel beds: masses and masses of mussels on the rocks under the bridges. We gently paddled back to the jetty, where we pulled the boats on shore and finished our exhilarating journey on Conwy river estuary.

All in all, a fantastic day out that really opened my eyes to what is on offer in North West Wales. I would do it all over again, and moreover, I’d love the chance to go on other canoe trails in this area. One other point: I remained bone dry throughout the day!

Jane Beer

For more details of activity providers (such as Ian Roberts) visit the Snowdonia-Active Directory.

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