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Run for the fun of it – Fairy Glen, Wales

Fairy Glen - Wales

Just turn up, blast down, back in car… and repeat until necessary:)
By Joe Rea-Dickins

I first ran the Fairy Glen in 2010 at the selection event for the British Universities Kayaking Expedition. I was “umming” and “arring” about getting on claiming, “It’s pretty low, I’d rather paddle it for the first time at a proper level” but if I’m being completely honest I was just bricking it!

Fairy Glen - Wales

The Fairy Glen is one of the most iconic Welsh rivers, on the hit list of so many intermediate paddlers, and a training ground for many of North Wales’ best kayakers. It is just outside of Betws-Y-Coed and just a stone throw from the Lledr, Llugwy and so many other North Wale’s classics. Unlike most of the other rivers in North Wales, the glen comes up with very little rain, and stays up after a heavy downpour, so for those who do not live locally it is a fairly safe bet if rain is forecast.

It took me a while to really understand why people love the glen so much. The first time I really caught the glen at an OK level was whilst filming for Ddim Ffaffio. We had enough water to run everything and we made an effort to stop and film it all. Also we were pretty scared and used our cameras as a good excuse to stop, scout and faff. In the hour and a half it took us to paddle down we were lapped by the same group of locals three times! We had a great day out and got some nice shots, but definitely didn’t think the glen lived up to its reputation as one of the best runs in Wales.

Fairy Glen - Wales

The first time I really understood the hype behind the glen was a few months later. Our short film was out, there had been no rain for a few weeks, we had no need for cameras and were just keen to get up to North Wales and get some time on the water. And that’s exactly what we did, blasting down multiple times, not stopping before any rapids, just enjoying the river, its scenery and the continuous feel it has compared to many other Welsh rivers.

When I think of the glen and why I love it so much is because it is one of the few sections in the UK where you can turn up, blast down 2km of fantastic whitewater, get straight back in your car and repeat until you’re too tired to go again. I think that’s why you never see any good footage of the glen at anything higher than low levels. Because when it’s good, why stop when you can just blast down with your mates, enjoying sweet lines in a beautiful gorge?

Fairy Glen - Wales

Every rapid on the glen has a fantastic move on it. Each time I do the glen I find myself having the “what’s your favorite rapid” chat on the shuttle back to the top, and every time my answer is different. At low levels Sticky Hole is nice because it is relatively long with a nice flair and a hole to punch. With a bit more water you can’t beat mega-boof off Mokney Drop and Speeder Biker.

More water still and the rapids take on a big volume feel with the likes of Cave Drop, Fairy Falls and Pipeline throwing big waves and sticky holes your way. And how could I forget to mention Henry Moore and its ‘random line generator’ abilities, or End Of The World, the last rapid in the gorge, with no means to stop above, and a tricky line that changes according to the level. The Fairy Glen really does have some kick ass rapids!

Fairy Glen - Wales

I remember the first time I did the glen at what I would call a high level. It was just Daz Clarkson-King and myself on lap number three of the day. “Oh look the level has come up,” said Daz, who, with all his Himalayan boating under his belt, has chosen to live just 20 minutes from the Fairy Glen for most of the year. “You’re in for a bit of a treat, I’d say this is now a ‘proper level.’” And that it was.

Each rapid seemed the same, and yet had way more power, size and consequence, with a far more continuous feel as each rapid flowed into the next. Fairy Falls takes the prize for best playspot, sending my Everest into a bow stall whilst coming off the second ledge. High water Pipeline definitely wins the award for most improved rapid, with all those boulders covered up it was just a series of lateral waves.

The winning rapid at high water has to be Cave Drop, with a green tongue in place of the awkward lead-in-ledge, followed by some of the biggest waves bouncing off the tight gorge. And did we take cameras? Absolutely not! Why? Whilst the Fairy Glen might be in one of the most picturesque gorges in the UK, with some of the best rapids in the UK, it is one river where the enjoyment on the water will always outweigh any motivation to get out your boat and off the river.

Fairy Glen - Wales

The Fairy Glen is in danger.
Surveying is currently underway to establish whether the Fairy Glen would be a suitable place to build a five mega-watt hydro project. Whilst this would not be the end of the Fairy Glen it has severe impacts. Seventy-five per cent of the river would be diverted through pipes upstream of the access to the Fairy Glen, which would mean the glen would no longer be the reliable piece of whitewater that runs far more often than the rest of the Welsh rivers.

For non kayakers there is also reason to be alarmed at the planning of this scheme: The Fairy Glen is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), and ignoring this could set a precedent for future projects proposed for areas with a fragile ecosystem.

Fortunately nothing is set in stone, and we still have a chance to save one of the UK’s best sections of whitewater. There is nothing that would make me more happy than one more run down the Glen, sweet lines or upside down, it is always a blast and the one river I look forward to getting back on the most when I’m away.

If you want to make a difference then the time is right now. Keep an eye on and
Also log your runs down the Glen on

Fairy Glen - Wales

About thepaddlerezine (654 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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