One of my best adventure pals and I booked a weekend of wild mountain swimming in Snowdonia with Vivienne Rickman back in the spring. Way before lido season even began, we knew we’d need something to look forward to in the autumn, when swimming in nature takes on a different vibe. It’s moodier and definitely cooler, but somehow more serene than the heady dips of the summer months.
North Wales is a special place for the Wiltshire Mermaid and I, as we met at university in Bangor and have been firm friends ever since. Getting the train adjacent to the Welsh coast is always a beautiful experience and our routes converged at Llandudno Junction, where we continued on to Betws-y-Coed. Of course, by then our phones had died and we weren’t entirely sure how we were going to get to Capel Curig, but a bit of chat with some locals and we managed to find the Sherpa bus and were on our way.
Our base for the weekend was the five-star hostel The Rocks at Plas Curig, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Access to a wet room to dry out waterlogged bikinis ready for the next day, not to mention lots of other sodden kit, made life a lot easier and so much more comfortable. The dorms were well thought out, the bathrooms clean and the communal areas perfect for all our needs. The Mermaid even hired a flask for her post-swim hot drink.
Vivienne’s trips are a great balance of educating her participants in the ways of wild swimming and getting out there and doing it. We started off by meeting the group at Moel Siabod Cafe and all introduced ourselves over coffee. Vivienne went through many of the things to look out for when picking a swimming spot and the prep you should do before you even set off. She also gave us a good overview of the best wild swimming books on the market and what to consider if you’re planning on investing in a wetsuit for swimming.
The best thing about being in Snowdonia with Viv is sharing the love that she has cultivated for the area over more than a decade. She told us about interpreting some of the Welsh names for lakes to help understand what to expect when you get there. For example, glas means blue, so Glaslyn would be a blue lake. Not only did she impart information like this in the cafe, but also up in the hills and in answer to my questions while in a lake – all in a gentle fashion.
Our group of six + Viv was a lovely mix of women all there for a variety of reasons and with different levels of experience. Once again, the supportive nature of the swimming community was highlighted to me. Everyone helped each other get wet kit off, take photos or navigate slippery rocks. Stories and hot drinks were shared, as we hiked, stripped, swam, got dressed and rewarmed our bodies.
On the first day we climbed up to Llyn Cwmffynnon in the Glyerdau Mountain range. It’s safe to say this is the wettest I’ve ever been before a swim, but clad head to toe in waterproofs, we all made it and just as we stripped down to our swimsuits, the rain stopped and a glimmer of warmth appeared through the clouds. Then, once in the water, a rainbow appeared in what can only be described as magical timing.
Llyn Cwmffynnon was surrounded by a burnt ochre-colured grass on this autumn day and the peak loomed through the clouds behind. We swam to the circle of stones half submerged in the lake and contemplated their origins as we splashed and frolicked about. The Mermaid’s thermometer said the water was around ten degrees and it soothed our bodies after the warm climb.
After a change of bikini and putting all the wet weather clothes back on we headed to the exit stream of the lake when it becomes Nant Gwyrd. I’ve swam in many river pools in my time, but not one where you can continue to swim right out of it downstream and then back up again. The grassy banks guided us through the landscape with its rich autumn colours and moody skies.
Returning to the cafe for a hot chocolate and cake, we discussed plans for day two and the fact that lightning was forecast. We decided to set off a little earlier and stick to the valleys to avoid the danger. This changed the character of the day and meant less walking but more dashing from the van in our robes to the lakes. It was different to day one, but just as enjoyable and filled with stunning natural backdrops to our swims.
The first two dips were in the Nant Gwynant Valley at Llyn Dinas and Llyn Gwynant. The wooded hills rose from the lakes, easing us into the water gently. Raindrops on the surface of the lakes enhanced the beauty of the swims. There was much laughter as we tried to take a group selfie in the lake without drowning or getting caught up in each other’s limbs. We then warmed up at the cosy Cafe Gwynant after two swims in quick succession.
All too soon it was time for our final swim and we headed into the forest by Llynnau Mymbyr to get changed. It was raining heavily before we got in, but as this eased off the colours altered. Over the course of half an hour the lake and its surroundings metamorphosed completely. There’s nothing more fascinating than nature altering in front of your eyes and from the lake, the views were astounding. After everyone had got out, the Mermaid and I had a moment where we hugged each other in the water and let it all soak in.
Photo courtesy of Vivienne Rickman