Swimming Snowdonia
December 2023,  EXPLORE,  EXTRA,  FEATURES

Into the wilds of Eryri

Abigail Whyte joined Ray Farr and Jade Evans-Scott for a swimming and Pilates weekend in Eryri (Snowdonia), exploring its rivers, waterfalls and mountain lakes

The first swim is dark and atmospheric. Leaden clouds hang low and heavy; the surrounding mountains obscured from sight. I lower into the waters of Llyn y Gader, watching weeds glide over my fingers like green spaghetti. I hear whoops and shrieks behind me as the other women submit to the water, washing away the stresses of the long drive to this wild corner of Wales. We’re all submerged now, grinning and circling each other in the mizzle, looking forward to the weekend ahead.

If there’s one thing Eryri isn’t isn’t a stranger to, it’s rain. It feeds its streams, waterfalls and lakes and invigorates the ancient woods and heather-clad mountains. The ruggedness of the landscape makes Eryri a mecca for outdoor adventurers seeking their next adrenaline hit. In our – arguably gentler – case, we’re here to explore the National Park’s rivers and lakes, led by swimming guide Ray Farr and Pilates instructor Jade Scott-Evans.

Combined passions

Ray and Jade have been friends for years, first meeting at the school gate as many mum pals tend to do. It was three years ago, while swimming together after the first Covid Lockdown, they first had the idea of uniting their passions to offer guided swimming trips.

“It all began with a little idea thrown about,” Jade tells me. “Three years later, qualifications gained and recces complete, we’ve come full circle.”

“We thought it would be so ace to take people on adventure weekends, doing something we love to do all the time,” Ray adds. “To have turned our hobby into a job makes us feel so lucky.” 

Swimming Snowdonia

Their joy is palpable as they watch us – 12 women, previously strangers to each other – exchange names and smiles in our first lake of the weekend, complimenting each other on swimsuits, swim caps and bobble hats. Mindful of the encroaching darkness and our hungry bellies, we don’t spend too long in the water and head back to our nearby bunkhouse, where a vegetarian chilli is bubbling on the stove.

Before dinner, Jade guides us with a gentle standing Pilates session to ease us into the weekend. She explains to me why Pilates is such a beneficial exercise to practise alongside swimming.

“Pilates increases strength and movement from the core, importantly dissociating the arms and legs from the trunk to increase power for propulsion,” Jade says. “It also improves the stability of the scapular and pelvis during rotation, and so much more. There are so many benefits.”

In the shadow of Yr Wyddfa

After a good night’s sleep, we’re up early for breakfast and packing for our first swim of the day. A couple of hired minibuses drop us off at the foot of the Watkin Path, originally built for the copper and slate mines of the valley. Remnants of the industry can be seen along the climb, from stone inclines to old quarry workers’ huts, but nature dominates once more, thriving in cottongrass, heather and bilberries, and rivulets of tumbling streams.

Bemused cows watch as we divert off the path down to one of the crystal clear pools of Afon Cwm Llan. We’re giddy with excitement to get in and play, to climb up to the higher falls and feel the tumbling waters on our shoulders. The waters are bracing but at last some rays of sunshine break through the cloud, making our change out of our swimsuits all the more easier.

Those feeling energetic can continue the climb up the Watkin Path to the top of Snowdon (it involves a bit of a scramble near the top) but we head back down to the bottom to eat our packed lunches underneath ancient oaks, waiting for the minibuses to take us to our next swimming spot.

Llyn Llydaw is another of our swims in the shadow of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), just off the Miner’s Track – the most popular path to the mountain’s summit. We encounter a multitude of weathers on our way up to the lake; clouds and mist spooling past us and wind inflating our waterproofs. The choppiness of the water makes the lake look like the sea and I don’t feel all that keen to go in. I enter warily, trying not get my hair wet, but I relent and dunk my head in a wave. Ignoring the brain freeze, I flop onto my back, watching the top of Yr Wyddfa finally appear from behind a cloud. 

Swimming Snowdonia

A cosy evening

Back at the bunkhouse we hang our wet kit in the dry room and retreat to our warm bunks to rest before our next Pilates session and a delicious dinner of ratatouille and cous cous. Despite our tiredness, we venture out to the local pub. I struggle to keep my eyes open at our table, but my pint of local ale goes down very well, as do the stories we share with each other. Most of them swim-related, of course. 

Swimming Snowdonia

The following morning brings our last Pilates session of the weekend, and our final guided swim. And SUNSHINE. The shores of Llyn Dinas look so pretty in the morning light; its writhing oaks tinged with bronze, reflected in the calm, inviting water. This is my favourite swim of the weekend and I stay in the lake for as long as I can, rolling, diving and stretching out like a starfish – recharging myself for the week ahead. Once dry and wrapped in our layers, we all feel reluctant to leave. We pace the shore, etching the lake into our memories to revisit later, then we say our goodbyes.  

Before the drive home, I decide to go to a lakeside spot I’m very familiar with – the lone tree of Llyn Padarn in Llanberis. It’s a solitary birch tree growing on the slate-waste shore of the lake, and I’m always compelled to swim around it whenever I’m nearby. After my swim I sit on the beach with a cheese and pickle sandwich, reflecting on a beautiful few days in the company of wonderful, inspiring women. And I make a promise to myself to return to Eryri in winter, when these hills and mountains will be blanketed in white. 

Ray Farr and Jade Evans-Scott are planning more Wild Swim & Pilates Weekends in 2024 Snowdonia and other parts of Wales. Find out more at eventbrite.co.uk

Follow them on Instagram @swimwithray and @pilateswith_jade for updates.

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.