GUIDE TO THE AFON CONWY
NAME OF RIVER: Conwy.
WHERE IS IT?: In Snowdonia, Wales on the A5 outside Betws-y-Coed.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Best access is from river left off the back road that runs from Penmachno to the A470 as this road runs parallel with the Glen. A small car park below Conwy Falls will take 3-4 cars, opposite here a path runs down through the woods to the bottom of the falls.
John Heaton (Dec 2004)...'Get in river left. Not river right from Conwy falls carpark, as Welsh Rivers/ British WW suggest. On the road that follows the river left of the glen, about 1/2 km below the bridge that crosses the Machno is a mud carpark. Opposite a track leads down to the start of the gorge just above the first rapid. You won't see the Conwy falls from this get-in unless you walk right to find it.'
It's easy to get out halfway on river left by Fairy Falls, but almost impossible to escape when you're actually in the upper or lower gorge.
The final take out is Beaver Pool on the left bank where there's a layby for 2-3 cars.
APPROX LENGTH: Under 2 km.
TIME NEEDED: 12 mins to 3 hrs depending on how much you inspect.
ACCESS HASSLES: John Heaton (Dec 2004)...'It's not included in the access restrictions the upper sections of the Conway are bound by, so no need to sign in or anything, I have run it in the middle of summer without trouble. Fishermen (so far pleasant) are sometimes lurking on the run out after the gorge, but I've never seen any in the gorge itself.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Upper Conwy gauge needs to be 2.5 to 3.0 for best level to do it at. John Heaton (Dec 2004)...'It's top banana above about 1300ish on the phone guage (4 and a bit on the upper physical guage) 1200ish (or 3.75 on the upper gage) is it's easiest level.' Below this level siphons become exposed, above the rapids get bigger in volume and some of the smaller ones wash out.
A good indicator is to look at Fairy Falls. If there are rocks exposed which force you down a left or a right channel on the second drop then it's really low and the lines will be scrappy. Having these rocks just covered is the best level for a first run. The phone gauge isn't too accurate as, like the gauge on the upper, a number of tribs come in downstream (but still above the Glen) which can massively alter the level. It's regularly run with a lot more water than this when the lines get a lot smoother, but it's not necessarily the best time for a first descent.
GRADING: Grade V with 1 grade V+ (often portaged, especially in lower levels).
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Siphons and the Grade V+ fall between the two gorges.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the put in there's a small bouldery shoot, grade III/IV. Shortly after this the first of the larger rapids appears - the grade V 'Sticky Hole'. This is easily inspected and protected from river right. Whatever the level this drop's serious as the stopper at the bottom can recirc a swimmer - it's claimed scalps from a number of the country's best paddlers! There's also a sneak route on river left that's not possible at low water. The two channels reconverge and fall through another smaller stopper.
The next rapid (Monkey Drop) is easily scouted from river right. At low levels, it's a tight (and rather dirty looking) slot against the left hand wall - monkey down the middle, drop in on a brace and ride it out. At medium levels there's a far cleaner boof line to run down the middle.
All the rapids up to now can be portaged or inspected on the right bank but from here the river drops down into the top gorge. The entrance rapid into this section (Henry Moore) has changed due to recent rockfall and the guardian siphons have gone but it's still pretty tricky. A long lead in and the diagonal stopper at the bottom can get grabby at certain levels.
The next drop's got a rock in the middle of the river with a tongue down the right. A simple line, the stopper at the bottom enjoys grabbing your tail and sending you skyward.
The Cave Drop's up next. Nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, the best line's a boof left to keep you away from the filth on the right hand wall - it sets you up perfectly for a clean line through the run-out. If you boof hard enough you end up sat in an eddy in a fantastic kettlehole, the Cave.
This is the end of the first gorge and the river starts to open out a bit. A small drop sees you sat in a pool above Fat Gav's Folly - an innocuous drop (compared to a lot of the others) that can get pretty grippy at higher levels (ask Fat Gav). A couple more rapids lead down to Fairy Falls - though they're a bit easier, it's worth concentrating as they're a lot more siphoned than the drops in the gorges.
Easier water leads down to Fairy Falls, the infamous grade V+. This is the most intimidating rapid on the section and it's often portaged on river left. Though it's really dirty at lower levels, it's a reasonably smooth line when it's got a bit of water in it. There's a lead out rapid (the Elbow) that's worth looking at when you inspect Fairy as it's got a couple of grippy holes on it. If you've had enough it's really easy to get out here to the road. If you portage, it's easiest to put on down a scree gully on river left by the sharp right hand bend which starts the second gorge. You'll miss the rapid below Fairy Falls but getting back on anywhere else is a nightmare.
A couple of smaller drops start the second gorge and bring you down to Pipeline. There's an eddy on river left above pipeline that you can inspect it from. You should be aiming to make it left of the central rock at the bottom as trees can occasionally block the right channel - it's all pretty obvious from the bank, though.
Below this is SpeederBiker. You can inspect from river left - it's a sweeping curler ride move. Watch out for the undercut directly downstream - the higher the level the more likely you are to be washed into it.
Last up is End of the World. This one's really nerve wracking as it's pretty much impossible to inspect from river level. It's a 6 foot weir drop with a really grabby stopper below it. At very low levels you can ride a boof flake about a metre away from the left wall. At anything above that, you should be driving down the line of bubbles about two metres out from the right bank. This is a serious drop and you really don't want to miss your line here. At last, when all your group are in the eddy at the bottom, you can heave a deep sigh of relief as you've finished all the difficult rapids. A couple of hundred meters of horribly sumped and undercut grade III bring you to Beaver pool where you can take out anywhere you like.
OTHER NOTES: The Fairy Glen is a gem of a paddle and in my opinion one of the best stretches of white water in Wales. Its not as bad as the rumours say, but still demands the utmost respect; if you don't fancy it don't do it as avoidance is better than cure. The River Lledr is another good run in the area, as is the River Llugwy, Swallow Falls down to Betws-y-Coed. Also consider the Conwy further upstream.