Adventures on the water
The Brecon Beacons National Park offers an awesome range of options for paddlesports, from the tranquillity of canals and reservoirs to extreme kayaking over jaw-dropping waterfalls. Get ready to design your own adventure!
Come to the Brecon Beacons National Park and you can have fun paddling a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, raft or even a coracle. With waters graded from from Grade 1 (easy) up to Grade 6 (extremely hard), we really do have something for everyone.
What to do
1. Tasters (for beginners)
A qualified and experienced instructor can guide and coach you and give you a taste of the challenge of paddling. There are many outdoor activity providers in South Wales that can give you an introduction to this exciting sport. It's also possible to hire canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on some sections of our rivers, canals and lakes.
2. Improvers (for returners and skills builders)
Have you considered private guiding or lessons? If you’ve tried it, liked it and want to do more then an instructor can guide you on the best routes the area has to offer, or teach you the skills needed to become an independent paddler.
3. Independent experiences (for enthusiasts and experts)
If you are already a paddler and are looking for a little adventure then you’re in the right place. The Brecon Beacons National Park has a variety of canals, lakes, reservoirs and rivers, all in beautiful settings. The Wye and Usk Foundation can supply details on where you can paddle and when and has webcams for the Wye and the Usk, our two main rivers. The most exciting conditions come in autumn and winter, when the rivers are in spate.
Where to go
The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, the River Wye, the River Usk and Llangorse Lake are our most popular destinations for canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater rafting and raft building.
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
Thanks to its shelter from the wind and its lack of current, the canal is an easy place for beginners to get started.
All craft using the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, including canoes, must have a British Waterways Boat Licence, which is included in membership of the British Canoe Union or the Welsh Canoeing Association, or can be purchased from the Canal and River Trust (tel 0303 040 4040, www.canalrivertrust.org.uk).
Canoes can be hired at Gilwern. If you're bringing your own, park close to the canal at Goytre Wharf (between bridges 74 & 75), Lapstone car park (adjacent to Lapstone Bridge - bridge 76), Gilwern, Church Road Wharf (bridge 104), Pencelli (bridge 155) or Brecon Basin (bridge 167).
River Wye, River Usk and smaller rivers
The best-known river access points for canoeists are Brecon Promenade on the River Usk and Glasbury or Hay-on-Wye on the River Wye. At these, you can launch your own canoe for free, hire a canoe, or join a guided paddle. Both are gentle when the water level is low, particularly the Wye, but definitely not for beginners when it's high – reddish-brown coloured water is a sign.
The highly picturesque 100-mile stretch of the River Wye from Hay-on-Wye to the Bristol Channel has year-round right of navigation and is perfect for touring.
Elsewhere on the Wye and the Usk, access is restricted according to the rules set by the Wye and Usk Foundation (www.wyeuskfoundation.org), which represents some riparian land-owners and fisheries. You can generally only canoe or kayak during the winter when there is no fishing and shooting, or when the rivers are in spate. The Foundation website gives clear instructions about where and when you can paddle and has webcams which show the water levels. On the Usk, you can paddle all the way from Sennybridge to Llangynidr (21 miles) and from Llangynidr to Crickhowell (5 miles).
Whilst the water may not be owned, the bed of a waterway belongs to the owner of its banks, so using a waterway for recreation without permission is technically trespassing. If asked to leave, it's sensible to do so, as refusal amounts to aggravated trespass, a criminal offence.
Smaller, steeper rivers within the National Park such as the River Tawe and the River Sawdde are not subject to access arrangements. These can be perfect for white water canoeing when in spate, providing exhilarating and taxing runs even for the very best paddlers. Beware of fallen trees and fences built across the stream for conservation and livestock control – you may suddenly find one round a bend without warning.
There's a lot of information in print and online about paddling the rivers in the Brecon Beacons National Park. An excellent local paddling guide is available from our online shop and other good bookshops. The Welsh Rivers by Chris Sladden, Tom Laws and Patrick Clissold (Chris Sladden Books, 2012) and The UK Rivers Guidebook (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk) also cover the area.
The Beacons Water Trail
In 2011, the Brecon Beacons National Park and Brecon Canoe Club launched the Beacons Water Trail to encourage canoe touring on the River Usk and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
The Trail currently runs from Brecon to Talybont-on-Usk and it is hoped that we will keep improving and extending it.
It includes the River Usk at Brecon Promenade – a great place to try canoeing. If the weather is right, you can make your way down the river as far as Brynich Aqueduct, then transfer to the canal in order paddle back to Brecon by a different stretch of water. It's a great day out.
Alternatively, you can paddle all the way to Talybont and explore the canal's darker recesses – the Ashford Tunnel – but, if you do, don't forget to take a torch!
The Beacons Water Trail leaflet, which includes a pictorial map of the Trail, is available free of charge from Brecon Beacons National Park visitor centres. You can also download it as a pdf in English or in Welsh.
The Beacons Water Trail forms part of the Visit Wales and Canoe Wales Lonydd Dwr / Water Ways campaign to promote canoeing for beginners and families. We were very pleased to receive support for this project from the Environment Agency Wales Splash Challenge Fund, the Brecon Beacons Trust and British Waterways.
Llangorse Lake and the Brecon Beacons National Park reservoirs
If you'd like to try paddling on open water, head for Llangorse Lake. There's a charge for launching here, payable annually or daily at Lakeside Boat Hire (Lakeside Caravan and Camping Park, Llangorse Common, tel 01874 658226, www.llangorselake.co.uk) which acts as sole agent for the lake management company. There's a good variety of craft for hire here, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. The lake is zoned for various types of craft.
Some of our reservoirs are accessible for paddlesports, but you will need to be part of a club or organised group and get a Brecon Beacons National Park Reservoir Passport to use them. Alternatively, you can go with someone who already has a Reservoir Passport.
From Spring 2013, organised groups who are members of the South Wales Outdoor Activity Providers Group (SWOAPG, www.swoapg.org.uk) are able to obtain a One Year Reservoir Passport enabling them to canoe or kayak on any of four reservoirs – Pontsticill, Pentwyn, Usk and Beacons – with a group of up to 12 people plus their instructional team. In 2013, the Passport costs £168 for a year.
For visitors or infrequent users, a Seven Day Reservoir Passport will be available once during a calendar year. Before using any of the seven days, groups must ring for authorisation from Richard Poole at Welsh Water, Llandegfedd, tel 01495 769281. In 2013, the Seven Day Reservoir Passport costs £50.
Please don't forget that swimming is not permitted in reservoirs in the Brecon Beacons National Park – you should not enter the water of a reservoir except when you capsize by accident, or during capsize and rescue training.
Canoe Wales (www.canoewales.com) has details of access points to help you decide where to go.
The Wye and Usk Foundation (www.wyeuskfoundation.org) has information on accessing the River Wye and the River Usk, including webcams showing current water levels.
The Canal and River Trust (www.canalrivertrust.org.uk) has information on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
The Environment Agency website (www.environment-agency.gov.uk) has information on current water levels in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Did you love your paddling experience? Would you like to get into the sport? Joining a club can be a great way to learn more and meet like-minded people.
Local clubs include Brecon Canoe Club (www.breconcanoeclub.org.uk) and Glasbury Canoe Club.
For other clubs in the area, visit the Canoe Wales website (www.canoewales.com).
Be prepared, be responsible, stay safe
For important advice on good practice and safety including the Check, Clean, Drain, Dry routine, see our Be prepared and stay safe section.
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