The mountains of North Snowdonia overflow with crystal clear rivers and lakes, making it an ideal destination for wild swimming. Here are some of the best places to strip off your human cares and discover whether there really are mental and physical health benefits to be found in ice-cold llyns.
If you're not used to swimming in cold water, there are a few safety elements to be aware of. It's best to walk rather than jump in, to avoid shocking your body. Stay in for a short time at first and build up your tolerance to cold water gradually over a series of sessions. And don't swim alone.
1 The Devil's Cooking Pots
Cwm Idwal, a towering bowl of rock encircling a lake, is one of Snowdonia's most dramatic, postcard-picturesque scenes. On still days Llyn Idwal sparkles as if the ice that carved this landscape had only just retreated. Behind this lake there's a black crack resembling a chimney in the cliffs; when clouds gather it looks like this chimney is smoking, hence the nickname 'the Devil's Kitchen'. So Llyn Idwal must be one of his cooking pots, and there are two smaller ones to discover. Ascending the path left of the chimney gains Llyn y Cwn. From here you can walk up and over the Glyders and descend to Llyn Bochlwyd, which sits on a shoulder above Llyn Idwal, offering infinity pool views out over the mountains across the valley. Follow the river downhill to regain the car park.
Llyn Idwal. Photo: Rob Partridge
Llyn Bochlwyd. Photo: Alix Laidlaw
2 The watery Welsh Matterhorn
Cnicht stands out as an appealing Toblerone amongst meringues, hence its tongue-in-cheek nickname, but its pointy shape is the only similarity with the Matterhorn. Cnicht is a small hill rising from the boggy-back-of-beyond with forgotten landscape charm and enchanting llyns dotted everywhere. Aim for the southern end of its ridge: from here, views stretch across wild, untracked terrain to the Irish Sea. Striding past the summit reaches the grassy banks of Llyn yr Adar, a bath with mountain views that’s sunk into Cnicht’s shoulder. From here, descend to Llyn Llagi. This one is very atmospheric, set in a wild cwm with waterfalls pouring down the cliffs behind it. Expect dragons to soar over at any minute.
Llyn Llagi. Photo: Sarah Stirling
A moody Llyn yr Adar. Photo: Sarah Stirling
3 Swimming down Snowdon
A bird's-eye view of Snowdon reveals it to be a star-shape: eight paths scramble up its ridges and wander up its valleys. Most visitors stick to the famous eastern paths - Crib Goch, the Miner's and the Pyg Tracks - which handily leaves the others much quieter. I recommend exploring Snowdon's southern aspect. Begin by ascending Snowdon via the shoulder peak, Yr Aran; route-finding can be tricky but you’ll be exploring a wonderful, forgotten part of the mountain. Then descend the Watkin Path via the 'Watkin Pools'. This is an absolutely stunning series of cascades with crystal clear infinity pools and plenty of jumps and rock slides in between them.
The Watkin Pools. Photo: Sarah Stirling
The Watkin Pools. Photo: Rob Partridge
4 Swimming in forgotten landscapes
Cwm Pennant is a wonderful unspoilt valley littered with picturesque slate history, the highlight of which is a hidden lake surrounded by mountain views. To get there, leave the Porthmadog to Caernarfon road (A487) at Dolbenmaen and drive to the end of the road (small parking fee payable in honesty box). Follow the waymarked path up through all the old slate remains to reach the lake, which is tucked under a craggy mountainside and pops into view at the last minute. There are some rarely done but fun E-grade climbs hidden up there. You can make it a circular walk by climbing Moel y Ogof and descending south to Bwlch Meillionen.
Hidden gold at the end of Cwm Pennant. Photo: Sarah Stirling
5 The local swimming pool
While you're in the vicinity of Llanberis, the local swimming pool, Lake Padarn, is really worth a dip. One of the best places to get in is at the pontoons opposite the DMM factory, where there is a free car park. From here you can swim left around a little island: hugging the shore will lead you into 'the lagoons', a shallow area behind the island that is popular with families having BBQ swim sessions on hot summer weekends. Some brief, beached-whale moves through a channel are required to get around to the back of the island. Warm up afterwards by walking around the lake, enjoying ever-changing perspectives over the water and mountains.
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