Excuse me mate, why have you bought canoe paddles strapped to your rucksack?” Given that I’m amid the ruins of a fort greater than 1,000ft up within the Welsh hills and the closest physique of water is over a mile away, that’s not an unreasonable query from the hill walker accosting me. But there’s technique in my obvious insanity. I’m having fun with a time out with Jason Taylor, an skilled in packrafting, one of many latest journey actions to hit the UK. Packrafting is a way of travelling by means of the wilds on foot and by raft. You merely strap an inflatable raft and paddles to your rucksack and set out over hill and valley, capable of travel throughout nearly any physique of water you encounter.
“The concept dates back to the Victorian era, and inflatable, transportable assault craft were used in the second world war,” explains Jason, who alongside together with his spouse Marianne runs Tirio, a Snowdonia-based packrafting company arrange in 2017, one in every of solely two such companies within the UK.
We set off alongside the placid waters, gliding out and in of the sunshine as ash, oak and sycamore present shade
Modern packrafting developed in Alaska within the 1980s and 90s and has develop into more and more common, particularly in North America and Scandinavia. “You can get to places in a packraft no other form of transport can access,” says Jason.
A raft and paddles could sound like heavy and awkward equipment to lug round however fashionable packrafts, such because the German-made Anfibio we’re carrying, weigh solely 2kg but will carry as much as 180kg in weight when inflated. The paddles will be break up into two for ease of transport.
Bridge game … the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Photograph: Tom Martin for the Observer
All of which explains why we’re standing within the hilltop ruins of Castell Dinas Brân. Jason has introduced me, alongside together with his associates Mark and Mette, up right here from Pontcysyllte, the place we’ll return on the finish of the day.
To get right here we’ve walked up by means of woodland on to Offa’s Dyke Path after which taken the Panorama Walk to the fort. As the identify suggests, the views throughout the Vale of Llangollen and the Berwyn Mountains are spectacular. Our hike finally takes us again down the valley to the Llangollen canal, the place we unpack our rafts able to take to the water. The rafts are inflated utilizing an inflation bag – basically a big nylon bag with which you seize air from the prevailing breeze after which squeeze it into the raft by means of a one-way valve. I drop my raft into the canal earlier than sliding into it with a certain quantity of wobbling. Once you’re seated, a packraft is remarkably steady. I ask Jason if he’s ever had a consumer capsize, to which he replies: “No – not yet,” as I flounder round with my paddles.
The raft is straightforward to manoeuvre – one sweep of the paddle nearly sends you round in a whole circle except immediately counteracted by the other paddle, so it takes some time to get the grasp of moving into a straight line.
Eventually we set off alongside the placid waters, gliding out and in of the sunshine as ash, oak and sycamore overhanging the canal banks present shade, and infrequently a brace of geese flits quickly previous us.
Unpacked … Alf Alderson prepared for the water. Photograph: Tom Martin for the Observer
The finest is saved for final on this journey after we attain Pontcysyllte aqueduct close to the village of Trevor. The elegant and spectacular 18-arch “Stream in the Sky”, designed by Thomas Telford, was accomplished in 1805, and remains to be the very best navigable aqueduct within the world.
You can stroll throughout it (and navigate it by narrowboat) however the footpath has a chest-high railing, whereas the canal aspect has none. This means you’ll be able to cease midway throughout and sit together with your arm resting on the low cast-iron wall of the aqueduct whereas peering down on the River Dee, some 126ft beneath.
Jason assures us there’s no actual hazard of falling over the sting, however I believe the magnificent views throughout the Welsh panorama (which have in all probability modified little since Telford’s time) is likely to be wasted on anybody who didn’t have a head for heights. Having executed it as soon as, we flip round and paddle again throughout the aqueduct. It’s not every single day you get to sit down 10-storeys excessive in a tiny raft above the treetops, and the sense of freedom is palpable – we’re actually paddling throughout the sky.
Packrafing offered by Tirio; its “Don’t Look Down” Packraft Adventure prices £120pp. Accommodation was offered by Hand Hotel at Llanarmon (doubles from £120 B&B). For extra info on journey actions in Wales, go to visitwales.com
Three extra aquatic thrills
River Spey Descent, Highlands
Paddle by means of forests and alongside rapids in an open canoe on a three-night guided descent of the Spey, tenting underneath the celebs every night time, with Wilderness Scotland. • From £675pp, wildernessscotland.com
Part bodyboarding, half white-water tubing, hydrospeeding is a brand new approach of tackling river rapids.
• Keswick Adventures has taster periods for £16.50pp, or go for a three-hour package deal at £45pp, keswickadventures.co.uk
Camping skiff, Thames
Recreate the journey from Jerome Ok Jerome’s basic novel, Three Men in a Boat, on a visit up the Thames in a fantastically restored Edwardian tenting skiff.
• From £330 for 4 days, with Thames Skiff Hire, skiffhire.com