10 of the best places for open water swimming in Eryri (Snowdonia)
Written By: SportsShoes
Our SportsShoes ambassador, Hero Douglas, shares her top 10 favourite places for open water swimming in Eryri (Snowdonia).
HERO'S TOP 10 PLACES FOR OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN SNOWDONIA;
- Llynnau Mymbyr
- Llyn Gwynant
- Llyn Geirionydd
- Llyn Bodgynydd
- Llyn Glaslyn
- The Quarry Pool, Moel Siabod
- Llyn Bochlwyd
- Nantmor Pools
- Afon Llugwy
EASY ACCESS LAKES:
1. Llynnau Mymbyr
My first recommendation is Llynnau Mymbyr, arguably the most beautiful lake in Wales. It doesn’t get much better than swimming whilst gazing at the sun setting over the Pedol yr Wyddfa (Snowdon Horseshoe). This idyllic place also happens to be the most Instagrammable/photographed spot in Wales and I’m rather lucky as it’s only a few hundred meters from my home. Originally, it was a single lake but over the years has divided into two, hence the plural Llynnau not Llyn. The conjoined lakes are the first place I swam wild and my childhood is peppered with memories of family adventures on its shores. When I was little, I’d go there most days with my dad and we’d stop and chat to farmers about the weather or sheep as we made our way to skim stones over the dark water. Dad would tell me stories about an imaginary character called Peepy Mouse. And if the weather was warm enough, we'd paddle, swim or go out in a kayak. The twin lakes are in the Dyffryn Mymbyr valley which runs from Capel Curig to the Pen Y Gwryd Hotel in Eryri (Snowdonia). It’s an easy place to access and perfect for morning dips, training sessions or social afternoons with friends. It is a popular tourist spot in the summer so in busy periods get there early to find a parking spot in one of the laybys along the A4086.
Pictured: Sunset over Llynnau Mymbyr
2. Llyn Gwynant
Another idyllic location is Llyn Gwynant which is about four miles further down the same road from Llynnau Mymbyr. I’m a keen climber as well as a swimmer and there are four crags close by which means I can combine activities. In fact, if I sum up my favourite type of day it’s action packed and one that ends with a wild swim. And most times when I am here it’s been exactly that. I will have done a climb like Lockwood’s Chimney in Clogwyn y Bustach which is one of the earliest recorded climbs in Eryri (Snowdonia) and also my first multipitch route when I was six. It’s really unusual as you are climbing in a cliff (think vertical cave), so after wriggling and bridging up small, enclosed spaces with far too many close encounters with spiders, you suddenly appear four pitches up out into the daylight again. There is also Homage Boulder which has a classic V6/Font 6A traverse from right to left, and then right on the water’s edge is Clogwyn y Fulfran (Elephant Rock), which has routes from VS to E2, but the most fun is a deep water solo traverse along the base just where the cliff comes out of the lake. This is also a popular spot for throwing yourself off ever higher ledges - something I’m less keen on! My brother is always launching himself from the top and when he surfaces I’m like; 'you’ve got blood coming out of your nose!', but he never seems to care. A swim here also feels like such a reward after I’ve been up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and walked down the Watkin Path, or I might take my RuckRaft, then park the campsite end and head up to Pen y Pass, so I can walk/run the horseshoe and swim the length of the lake to finish off. This makes for a long but very satisfying day. In summer, they often have a woodfired pizza van parked nearby, so you can refuel. The local campsite also rents out paddleboards and canoes (and hosts weddings for the romantically inclined).
Pictured: Llyn Gwynant. Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash
LAKES IN FORESTS:
3. Llyn Geirionydd
I guess with all the lakes around my home they are etched into so many formative memories and often feel part of who I am and so it is with Llyn Geirionydd, which as the crow flies is about two miles from my house and is on a run circuit that I do which incorporates part of the Llwybr Llechi Eryri (Snowdonia Slate Trail). The lake is on the edge of the Gwydir Forest and for some inexplicable reason it’s the only lake in Eryri (Snowdonia) that allows powerboats and water skiing, so for this reason I don’t tend to venture there much in the holidays. If visiting by car it’s accessed by two miles of singletrack lanes which means in busy periods endless reversing and occasional gridlock. My advice is swim here early morning, at dusk or out of season. It’s stunningly beautiful but doesn’t feel so special when hordes of people are claiming every inch of shore. This lake is where I went when I was little with playgroup, had picnics with groups of friends, kayak club on a Thursday and did my first little bits of sailing. It’s also where I trained to swim the Hellespont and now it’s often where I go to rack up some distance to get fit or train for an event. Then I’ll be here three times a week swimming up and down the one mile length focusing on sustaining a comfortable front crawl. I always do longer sessions here, it’s really easy to get in and out and I can park by the water’s edge which is handy for getting warm and dry afterwards. It’s also great to go over the tops from my house, up Crimpiau and then down to Llyn Crafnant and on to Llyn Geirionydd, where my mum usually meets me with a flask of coffee and we go for a swim. It’s also where we wild camp with friends and have (leave no trace) BBQs.
4. Llyn Bodgynydd
Llyn Bodgynydd (known as Llyn Bod) in the Gwydir Forest is a hidden gem. It’s best approached via a short hike through the forest (about 20 minutes). I’ve got my secret trails that go off the main paths and love the trees towering above me obscuring the sky in places and the twigs crunching below my feet. The ground is covered in moss and is such a vivid green. I mostly go with my dog Mabon and his exuberance running wild, sprinting through the undergrowth, jumping fallen branches and tiny streams is contagious. This lake lost in the trees is the most tranquil spot. It’s rare to find other swimmers here thus making it the perfect escape from the world and to be at one with yourself and nature. I can come here on a boiling sunny August bank holiday weekend and still have it to myself, whereas the popular spots in Eryri (Snowdonia) will be teeming (like nearby Llyn Geirionydd). The isolation makes it perfect for skinny dipping as you are unlikely to see anyone else. It’s a walk/swim that I do frequently and so am often here at sunrise and sunset. In the early mornings sometimes there is a slight mist hoovering over the water and as I swim to the little island or across it feels otherworldly. It’s very tranquil although when the water is cold, so from November onwards, Mabon goes crazy after his swim. He has the same energy surge as me, but whereas I smile and feel energised he just goes berserk. So, I have to store my kit (shoes, hats, dry robe, rucksack, etc…) in the trees as anything he can grab is savaged - including a friend's cashmere hat!
Pictured: Hero at Llyn Bodgynydd
5. Llyn Glaslyn
Llyn Glaslyn is Welsh for ‘blue’ and it is the third and final lake you reach on the Yr Ysgwrn (Miners’ Track) up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). It’s 600 meters above sea level so a bit nippier than the lower ones and is steeped in folklore and said to be bottomless although it’s actually 38 meters deep. Down in the depths dwells a mythical water creature called the Afanc that originally lived in a pool near Betws y Coed and when he got angry he’d thrash around in the water which in turn caused terrible flooding to the locals. To stop this the villagers used a girl as bait to lure the Afanc to Llyn Glaslyn where he was confined by the rocky sides and the mountainous location. Every time I swim here, I think I must write a children’s song in Welsh about the Afanc! As the lake is heart shaped it is a ritual for me to have a dip in it on Valentine’s Day.
6. The Quarry Pool, Moel Siabod
The Quarry Pool on the path up Moel Siabod is filled by a small stream. It is tiny but feels like an amphitheatre with the carved vertical stone. It’s actually not far up Siabod but comes after a few steep sections and when I take groups up, without fail they are hypnotised and drawn to swim here, so we always jump in. I then have to corral them to the summit afterwards to make up for lost time. A cold dip in this theatrical location sparks the performer within everyone. They either sing, start reciting Shakespeare or float in a trance-like state on their backs, feeling the serenity of bathing in this watery stage. I hardly ever see other people here and the seclusion and purity of the water makes it one of my favourite places on the planet. This section of Siabod is steeped in history and was created by the slate mine workings that carved out chunks of rock which sort of adds to the ruggedness. This peak might be much less visited than the neighbouring Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and Glyderau (Glyders), but for a 150-year period it was a busy hive of activity providing work for the whole community up until the 1950s. My bedroom window looks out onto Siabod and mum has always told me this story about it being the biggest mountain in Europe! Not height-wise of course, but because most mountains are in clusters, whereas Siabod stands on its own and so the circumference around the base give it this ‘biggest’ title, although I’ve never been able to actually corroborate her story and often wonder if it's a fact she’s just invented.
7. Llyn Bochlwyd
Llyn Bochlwyd is another eye-catching mountain lake below the summit of Tryfan. I spend a lot of time on this technical mountain with the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue team and so mostly now end up here dealing with poorly or injured people. Sometimes, it puts a slightly negative shroud over this glorious spot that I so deeply love and so running up here on a crisp morning to have a swim in the lake really recanters me and reminds me how truly wonderful this place is. I love being a part of the team but it can make the mountains feel like a dangerous and scary environment and so doing lots of fun safe things in the hills is really vital for my mental health. Swimming, more than anything else, fills me with complete joy.
Pictured: Hero sitting by Llynnau Mymbyr
I thought I should add one beach spot for good measure, as nothing replenishes the skin and soul like mineral rich sea salt water. A dip in the crystal-clear blue water at Tudweiliog is utterly invigorating. This spot is a little further afield for me, but definitely worth travelling for. Tudweiliog is a mainly Welsh speaking village on the northern coast of the Llyn Peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty with a spectacular coastline. There is parking at the farm which also has a cliff top café and shop called Cwt Tatws (an Aladdin’s cave of trinkets) and from here a footpath leads across a narrow field to the costal path which is also part of the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way. The wonderful main beach is accessed down a rocky path to the west and then on the eastern side there are lots of little private sandy coves that can be reached by scrambling down the rocks. Where else can you go and have your own private beach for the day in the middle of the summer? And not just any old beach but one of the most beautiful spots imaginable. I love the enormity of the sea and how you can swim to the horizon without the limitations of a length or width, but with that comes a slightly giddy sense of vertigo once you are a certain distance from shore. Suddenly the sand below and the beach behind feels scarily faraway. At this point I turn and nervous adrenalin fuels speedy strokes to swim shoreward and to the safety of being back on the beach.
9. Nantmor Pools
The dark, foreboding Nantmor Pools are an eerie place to bathe. The Afon (River) Glaslyn is a swirling mass of water tumbling from Beddgelert down a dramatic rocky gorge, the water is feral until unexpectedly it emerges a mile later into ominous still pools by the tiny hamlet of Nantmor. If you follow the river along the Aberglaslyn Pass to this spot, then it creates a kind of calm after the storm sensation as the thunderous river is silenced. The transposition, an ever increasing crescendo, then with no warning, a diminuendo, feels like nature’s music. If I walk this way internally, I’ll be playing a harp piece called ‘La Source’, by Alphonse Hasselmans that I often perform at weddings. It beautifully replicates waterfalls. Discovering these pools hidden in the trees is a goose bumping experience. When I enter the water here the ominous silence makes me feel a sense of trepidation like there might be a giant eel waiting to swallow me whole! It feels like a sacred but scary place and instinctively I’m quiet, trying not to disturb the life that lurks below the surface or the otters and water voles hoovering hidden under the roots of the trees where the water has eroded a maze of secret spaces. I swim delicately trying to glide without any splashes as it’s too precious to disturb.
Pictured: Hero in Llyn Bod
10. Afon Llugwy
The Afon Llugwy runs through my village and has many lovely pools where it is wide enough for a fun swim. I always think of rivers a bit like a shower as the water is journeying through. This thought probably comes from my childhood when I was given a choice during the summer holidays of; either a bedtime bath or a river wash. It was a bit of a craze with the feral children of Capel Curig to all hop in the river to get ‘clean and ready’ for bed! I wasn’t allowed to take soap or shampoo and therefore had to make my own. This would involve hours of concocting potions made from flowers, shrubs, mud, slate that we crushed with rock and grass that was all mushed together with a stick and would be put in different pots to represent shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. I’d lather it on before jumping in to get clean for bed! My favourite spots to swim in the village are by Cobdens Hotel or the Tyn y Coed Inn, which has a rope swing going out into the river. We’d also set up slack lines over the water as it made the inevitable falls less risky.
Want to know more about open water swimming?
Check out our Q&A with Hero as she explains how she got into the sport, what you need to get started and why you should try it for yourself.
Hero has been swimming in lakes and rivers since she was a child. You can follow all of her wild adventures here
All photographs (not already credited) are courtesy of Hero Douglas.
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Related post: An Introduction to Open Water Swimming with Hero Douglas | The Training Hub | SportsShoes.com