Angry rivers, tumbling turbulence - it's fun

UK OUTDOORS: White-water rafting is usually associated with the Alps or Rockies, but Wales can offer a bumpy ride too. By Rupert Isaacson
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The Independent Travel
Although this year's rains have been far from brilliant, the outlook is now improving. Acorn organises white- water trips and sends you to whichever river is running best at the time you book. Wet suits, buoyancy aids and helmets are provided, along with B&B, but you will need your own transport to get to the sites. Water is guaranteed all year, but be aware that as water levels drop during high summer the rafting day is confined to a two-hour stretch of river.

The rest of the day you can fill with abseiling or an assault course. All raft sessions are led by qualified guides in paddle boats (you do the paddling) and each rafting day includes lunch. If you don't fancy white-water, Acorn also organises rafting days during which you build your own raft under supervision and race it across a lake or river.

Britain is not known for its thunderous rivers. Tumbling mountain streams, yes, but grand rapids big enough for white- water rafting, no. One tends to associate that kind of water with high mountains like the Alps or the Rockies where violent run-off from snow-melt water creates fast, angry rivers big enough for bouncing down in an inflatable raft. Recently, however, white-water rafting has come to Britain. In Wales the rivers of Snowdonia and some of the tributaries of the Wye become angry, turbulent monsters during late winter and early spring, when the rain coming down from the Welsh hills creates conditions for snow run-off. The rapids can get very exciting, and big enough to take a six-man raft.

On the international system grades 1-5 may be negotiated by untrained clients. Snowdonia's rapids tend to be between grades 2 and 3, bouncy and wet enough for most first-timers. But if there has been a lot of rain, some of the rapids can reach grade 4, serious enough for the raft to tip if you don't paddle exactly as your guide says. So it's pretty exciting.

Acorn, a Hereford-based outdoor tour operator, can book trips on both the Wye headwaters and in Snowdonia. The advantage of booking through it rather than with local operators is that should river conditions prove unsuitable in one area, Acorn can generally re-book elsewhere for the same weekend.

If you opt for the Wye and its tributaries, the rafting routes are about 15 miles each, encountering several sets of big rapids, usually up to grade 3, but sometimes higher if water levels change. When booking, make sure to ask for a route that includes the "hell hole". The routes take roughly four hours to run. To get down the river you use large paddle rafts (ie you do the paddling) that carry eight people. The Wye season lasts from October to March only, and even then, trips may occasionally be postponed if water levels are not high enough. The Snowdonia season goes on a little longer, often until May. This route is a little more artificial than the Wye run as it is below a huge reservoir where the flow of water on the river is controlled by flood gates. However, this does mean that if there has not been much rain, the gates can be partially opened, creating conditions turbulent enough for the run to be made. The ride is wild and very, very bouncy, again with rapids around grade 3, but rather short. Because of this you generally get at least one other go during the course of the day.

For both the Wye and the Snowdonia runs, safety is of paramount importance. All guides are fully qualified and have experience in river rescue. There are also back-up personnel in kayaks who can haul you out of the water if you fall out and get into trouble. Wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids are provided and must be worn at all times. Individual bookings may be held over until enough other people have booked in to make up an eight-man group.

FACT FILE

Basic

Acorn Activities, PO Box 120, Hereford

HR4 8YB (tel: 01432 830083).

Season

All year, especially after rains.

Accommodation

Acorn books you into local B&B or hotels.

Food

Full or half-board included - packed lunches provided on rafting days.

Children

Must be over 14.

Insurance

Guests must provide their own insurance.

Safety

All guides trained in river rescue. Buoyancy aids and helmets compulsory.

Affiliations

Welsh Canoeing Association; Heart of England Tourist Board, Wales Tourist Board.

Tariffs

Includes accommodation, guide, lunch and equipment. A full day costs pounds 50, with a minimum booking of 8 people. Half-day, pounds 30.

Booking

Non-refundable deposit of pounds 10 per day. Balance due 60 days in advance. Cancellation charges: 59-43 days, 80%; 42-29 days, 85%; 28-15 days: 90%; 14-0 days: 100%). Late bookings sometimes accepted.

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