Packrafting The Length of Wales
Three gals and one guy hatched a plan for an adventure, one that didn’t require plane tickets or passports, but would encompass the wonders of……..HOME. Because you don’t always have to venture far from your door-step.
And so off Joey, Emma, Ben and Rachel went; travelling the length of Wales from the Conwy Estuary in the north to Chepstow on the River Wye in the south.
And here’s how it went, straight from Rachel’s herself…
Over 21 days, we covered 400 kilometres, all on foot and in one-man inflatable pack rafts. With the invaluable support of family and friends and unspeakably generous sponsorship from to name but a few; Backcountry Scotland for the rafts and Nom Nom for a huge supply of chocolate, we became adventurers!
Access to open land and rivers has been contentious for some time in Wales and is not as straight forward as, for example, the ‘Right to Roam’ in Scotland. With this in mind, we wanted to explore access and even interview farmers, anglers and outdoors people along the way to gain an insight into their perspectives. This proved to be very interesting; it simultaneously allowed us to see a different point of view as well as highlighted our shared love for the very spaces we were arguing over. We hope to make a short film about this and have finished version one so far!
We set of mid-May 2018; the first day was a belter with wall-to-wall sunshine, sparkling waters, heron, curlew and egrets to name but a few estuarine species we saw. Castles, mountains and farmlands all drifted by. We had no need for our long-sleeved paddling cags or trousers. We were finally going and feeling giddy and nervous!
Little did we know this weather pattern was locked in and we would only see one full day and one afternoon of rain the whole way! We had been blessed by the weather gods for what would become one of the hottest and driest summers recorded.
We were, however, therefore cursed with low water levels in the rivers of our planned route. Adventure is sometimes defined as having an unknown outcome and this was certainly the case for us! Whether it was the water levels, our journey route, where we would sleep or if we’d have enough food (i.e. chocolate), we grew to love this sense of unknowing and found freedom in it. Although we couldn’t follow the original route, the great weather opened many other doors, not to mention the decision to jettison some of our unneeded weighty kit at our resupply point.
In the glorious sunshine, we laughed and joked our way along, down, up, across, a bit more along, some more up and some more down of Wales.
We had moments of crazed hysteria, teamed on one occasion with a dinner of chocolate and raw broccoli ahead of a huge storm that came our way. We were in the mountains and so charged with the change in pressure; a feeling so rare in our indoor world. We became slightly wild and it felt great!
There were times of walking or paddling in comfortable silence for hours; just happy being in each other’s presence with days of endless silliness and laughter behind and ahead of us. It’s all about not taking yourself too seriously right?
Amid the interviews with farmers, hill walkers, river swimmers, paddlers, anglers and runners, we sometimes journeyed with friends or family who joined for a day here or there.
We were gifted along our journey , perhaps not with our comic skill but with; fresh deciduous forests in which we were gifted places to sleep, fruit from interested walkers gifted for our lunch, dinner from a bemused landlord by Symonds Yat gifted before nightfall, a night’s rest in a tipi gifted by new friends. We were so gifted by all the generous people we met but the biggest gift of all was from the country we journeyed through. Every day was a gift of breath-taking beauty or the warmth of laughter and friendship from the first day on the Conwy to the last stretch on the Wye as we passed Chepstow Castle.
We moved in awe as the landscape changed beneath our feet and paddles. We paddled by angular giants of the North, intersected by narrow, boulder-lined rivers that were flanked by willow scrub. The catkins from the scrub floated dreamily around us. We paddled in fresh mountain llyns, in which we swam and even drank from. The mountains then became gentler in their edges and smoother in their ridgelines, and they cast longer shadows upon valleys that spread wider. And then we came into wide sandy estuaries and ancient feeling reservoirs that eventually led into the rolling hills of the southern farmlands.
When I remember some of the places we padded through, I can’t help but smile. I’m reminded that adventure and that feeling of being free and happy, nothing being taken too seriously. To have that here at home and to feel so connected is priceless. Where will your door-step challenge take you?
How to start packrafting
The beauty of packrafting is that it is not a highly technical or skilled sport where you need to attain qualifications and awards.
You can hire packrafts for the day, the weekend or the week and the companies can typically mail it out to you, complete with buoyancy aids, helmets and paddles.
If you are in the UK, here are two companies that I recommend:
1. Backcountry Scotland (Scotland)
2 Tirio (Wales)
A common use for the packrafts is as a means to transport a bike (bike-packing) across a body of water to get access to a desired biking area. I’d love to do the same with skis; however all those sharp edges don’t feel like the best cargo somehow…but you can definitely get very creative with your adventures with packrafts!
If you would like to purchase a packraft, I recommend Alpacka Rafts.
Rachel is a Pembrokeshire-based sea kayak coach, mountain leader and marine biologist, so the love for exploring our world’s waters and mountains runs deep! Besides packrafting Wales, ski touring in Iceland and Japan and frequently overwintering in the Scottish highlands she has also circumnavigated Minorca with an all-female team. Rachel leads expeditions for all female and mixed groups for the British Exploring Society and World Challenge through the mountains of the Indian Himalayas and Scandinavia.