GUIDE TO THE RIVER CONWY
(Rhydlanfair Bridge to Penmachno Bridge)
NAME OF RIVER: Conwy. This section is often called the 'Middle' Conwy.
WHERE IS IT?: In Snowdonia, North Wales, it's the river which follows the A5 as you approach Betws y Coed from the Corwen/ Llangollen direction.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Many. There is an much easier section just above this which is probably the best start point. Otherwise launch at Rhydlanfair Bridge. The takeout is UPSTREAM of Penmachno Bridge. Directly below the bridge the river leads directly over the appalling Conwy Falls. Obviously checking the take-out beforehand is a wise option. Apparently, plenty of people have wound up clinging to rocks in mid-current above the Falls...
APPROX LENGTH: 2.5 miles.
TIME NEEDED: Unknown.
ACCESS HASSLES: There is an access agreement from Isbyty Ifan to Penmachno bridge. Traditionally you had to sign in at Cotswold in Betws y Coed and numbers were limited, the access agreement is signposted by the river and there are sign posted access points in Isbyty Ifan and at the A5 road bridge. The part above the A5 is not allowed on Sundays and neither is the bit above Isbyty Ifan village.
Fuller access details are at Full access details are at http://www.welsh-canoeing.org.uk/access/rights_and_agreements.htm#conwy
Ros W, Baldock and District Canoe Club (Dec 2005)...'Access sign in is now at Conwy Falls cafe, at the get-out above Conwy Falls. Limited to 36 a day but it would appear that the majority of people don't bother signing in - when we got off there were only 3 other names on the sheet....They were very friendly in the cafe - they looked after car keys whilst we were on the river said we could change in the loos get warm in the cafe afterwards even if we weren't buying anything etc. Also they had lots of parking - a good cafe stop for a large group even if you're not running that section.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Unknown, but see the information on the section above this.
GRADING: Grades 3 and 5.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Two Grade 5 falls. Failing to end the trip ABOVE Penmachno Bridge would be a disaster...see above.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Rhydlanfair bridge to Penmachno bridge is a good grade 3 with two drops at grade 5 (6 in high water) in short succession. It goes through a SSSI and so portaging is difficult though not impossible and easier in low water when you can mostly climb over the rocks. I did it in low water a long time ago. Although it was famously missed, the get out isn't that difficult to spot and there are plenty of eddies to scout from before you make the final one!
Adrian Pullin adds: ' I paddled this section as part of 5* training November 1998 and it is imprinted for ever! The bit I clearly remember is the last section before the get out, starting at the second grade 5 section.
The second grade 5 is a nasty rapid with all the things you don't want when paddling...sumps and stoppers in particular. The portage is river left and involves climbing down a makeshift ladder to a rock outcrop directly beside the grade 5 river. (The portage has been described as grade 4!) The area is SSSI so there is NO BANK ACCESS other than this route. If you go wandering about here you will blow the access. To get back on the water you seal launch from the rocks. Officially it's a 6 foot launch but it looks higher (really!). As you launch, you have the last stopper of the grade 5 on your right, so fall left into a large eddy with very strong upstream currents.
The section below is a grade 4 rapid which can be inspected (if you are over 6 foot tall) from an eddy river right. The current flowing out of the grade 5 is very fast, so be careful on the crossing. The route I remember through the grade 4, is to enter river right of centre, move left, make a sharp left and right (whilst smiling at Loel who is sitting in a micro eddy to pick up the pieces) and give it welly to an eddy river right at the bottom.
You are now in the final run in to the egress. There are two large eddies river right followed by one on river left before the bridge. THIS IS THE GET OUT. There is also a large white post to identify it. You seriously do not want to go any further. One person on our course got out OK but let go of his boat, which proceeded to do a bandit run of the falls. He was last seen borrowing harnesses and rope to try to retrieve it from a pin further down...'
Matt Bostock (Feb 2005)...'The get out at the end of the middle section just before the falls is now marked by a wooden post that has been painted red. it is on the left bank about 3 metres up from the river. Hope this is of some help.'
OTHER NOTES: After the Conwy Falls Gorge is the difficult Fairy Glen.
John H...'We ran it 14/12/03 about 1274 on phone gauge. The 2nd Grade 5 is more like a 4+ with syphon/ under cut consequences (at this level). Definitely not the grade 6 Tall Stories refers to! Below this read n run grade 3 leads to the take out. Be warned, if you don't run the last rapid the portage requires a big and tricky seal launch, landing right next to a large stopper in a feeder eddy (quite intimidating). Lots of people were trudging through the SSSI when we were there. This will blow the access, so don't get on if your not prepared for the seal launch.
Conwy falls has been run, but it wasn't pretty...
CONTRIBUTED BY: Andy Wilson, also Adrian Pullin (Peninsula Canoe Club, Wirral), Matt Bostock, Ros W and John H.
I paddled it with two mates at the beginning on September 17 on low.
We had to get out and inspect about 10 times (looking for the grade 5s and Conwy falls) and still nearly missed the get out.
All this talk about markers/posts etc to help you determine where to get out, not sure if we just missed them or they weren't there, but we certainly didn't see them. Also the bridge you need to get out before is virtually impossible to see until the last eddy before it(which I would recommend using one higher, so this eddy is a last resort).
Please have a really good look from the bridge by Conwy falls café (the get out) before doing this river.
All this said and done with slightly more water this would have been a class run.
Short video summery of the main drops