A Freezing Paddle on the Conwy

Dec 8th, 2010 | By | Category: Paddling, Personal

I always enjoy paddling somewhere new and today was no exception. I hooked up with David Butler, who is a level 3 coach and happens to live just around the corner from me, for what turned out to be quite an experience. Concluding that the recent cold conditions and lack of rain would result in most rivers running low, we decided to head to Conwy Castle and paddle up the River Conwy to take advantage of its tidal nature . Inspection of the tide tables suggested a low tide at about 7am, so we aimed to get there for 8am when the water would be moving upstream at a healthy rate.

The sun makes a spectacular entrance!

The sun makes a spectacular entrance!

When we arrived everything was still pretty dark but, by the time we got on the water at 8.20am, the day had definitely begun. The temperature gauge in the car was suggesting around -3 degrees, so we both wrapped up warm although fingers and toes were still suffering. It was certainly a pleasant feeing as the sun finally rose in front of us!

As we started the paddle, there wasn’t much water in the estuary so we found ourselves meandering around the sand banks trying to find the main channel which wasn’t always easy to do from water level. It was probably about 15 minutes into the journey that we both noticed what looked like small patches of ice, but found it hard to believe that the sea water would freeze due to its high salt content. However, our observations were confirmed by the occasional thump of ice hitting the bows of the boats as they bounced off.

As we progressed, the quantity of ice increased but there were usually ways to avoid the worst of it and we could easily cut a path through when necessary. However, as we approached one particular bend in the river, we were confronted with a section that was completely frozen over and looked more substantial than anything so far. I decided to go for it and, as the bow cut a path though the ice, I had to punch my paddle through the surface to get any leverage. Due to paddling slower, my boat soon slowed until I came to a standstill ice the middle. Faced with the question of whether to continue to battle, or give up for the day, we chose to rise to the challenge. Each stabbing of the paddle through the ice would result in about a foot’s worth of progress, but we made it through in the end.

Click here to see a clip of David breaking through the ice!

The journey became more frequently punctuated with similar episodes, but we actually made good progress and were not far short of Llanrwst when the pressures of daylight hours and the slowing tide persuaded us to head back to Conwy. Having not paddled a tidal stretch of river before, I was amazed by the completely different feel of the river now that it was full of water. Being so much wider and higher, gave completely different views and it certainly didn’t create a feeling of retracing your steps.

We had pretty much waited for the tide to turn, and start to ebb, in order to use it to our advantage again. However, it wasn’t quite as straight forward as we had hoped as a brisk Northerly breeze was hitting us head on and making progress harder than it could have been. Nevertheless, we made good progress and arrived back at Conwy Castle about 7 hours after we had started and quickly got some dry warm clothing on!


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Member of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority Member of the British Canoe Union Member of the British Cycling Federation Member of the British Mountaineering Council British Orienteering Qualified Coach Duke of Edinburgh's Award Approved Activity Provider (AAP) Institute for Outdoor Learning Full Member of the Mountain Leader Training Association National Navigation Awards Scheme Registered Provider Qualified Trail Cycle Leader under the Scottish Mountain Bike Leaders Association Award Scheme

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