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Blue Caps Anglesey Swim

This is a swim from earlier this year by our friend and pretty intrepid swimmer Adam or Unkleken.

We’ve marvelled elsewhere on this blog about Dennis and his pals trip in Hawaii and the Molokai cliffs - well this is very much in the same spirit of Type 2 fun.

Just please do not try this without all the preparation, knowledge and confidence with your kit, tides, maps and ability that Adam and Jam have. It’s dangerously epic. The Menai Strait swim alone has massive tides and is enough to scare us right off…

But once again, another pretty amazing test of what the RuckRaft can enable in terms of adventures over land and water. But just type 1 and 2!


The idea to swim-hike around Anglesey was born a couple of years before and the intention was to get to know an island we would frequently visit but only knew specific parts of. (As creatures of habit, we always gravitate towards the same places.)

Both Jam and I wanted to explore and understand the Anglesey coastline and hoped to also stumble upon a few hidden gems along the way.

We both cleared our calendars for 10 days to give us enough time to swim and hike the 125 miles around Anglesey. We soon decided that to start the trip with a bang, we would swim the Menai straits. We decided to tackle a 20km section from Beaumaris Pier, through the Menai Bridge and the infamous “swellies", past Port Dinorwick and Caernarfon, finishing on a stone beach. 

Having previously swum across the Menai, as well as swimming on the south west coast many times during short visits, we knew this was going to be quite the challenge and that we would need to educate ourselves, so we set about educating ourselves on the waters and started looking for some sort of boat support. Many people's knee jerk reaction was that swimming the Menai straits would be ‘far too dangerous’ or even ‘deadly'. This did not dissuade us, and knowing that it had been swum before was helpful, even if finding people willing to assist us was proving near impossible! Thankfully, last minute we managed to convince a friend to keep an eye on us from a jet-ski.

And off we go...

We went self supported, towing everything we needed for the adventure on our trusted Ruckrafts, with food and drink for the swim clipped onto the straps!

Fortune wasn’t in our favour when it came to wind speed and direction. We were hoping for anything except a Southwesterly wind, but that was exactly what we were facing - and at a stiff 15 knots for good measure! After a quick call (and 20 questions) to the coastguard, we were in for a very choppy start to the swim, with wind over tide, which made getting into a rhythm tricky.

With all of the excitement for the adventure ahead, we didn’t let it hamper our progress and quickly approached the Menai bridge, which meant the start of the swellies. To our advantage, the rough water meant there was less boat traffic (our main concern for the Menai and the reason for needing jet-ski assistance). Just under 2 hours in, as planned, we were making a healthy push towards the Menai bridge on the flood tide.

We briefly stopped to asses our line and take in the surroundings, happy that the water ahead appeared much calmer and also noticing a few bemused onlookers. With our excitement peaking, we swam under the Menai Bridge and into the swellies. Boats take a very precise route through the main channel but as swimmers we had the choice of several lines through currents, overfall, and eddy’s. The water moved us around in strange ways, twisting, and pushing us. We let it take us and swam calmly to correct our course where needed. We shot past 'the white cottage' where more onlookers stopped, with some filming us. A swift push to set a good course through the Anglesey side of the Britannia Bridge and we had been spat out the other side of the swellies before we knew it! It felt like an incredible achievement already, but aware that we weren’t even half way, we got our heads down and cracked on.

After the Swellies

Approaching Port Dinorwick the waters became as unsettled as at the start of our swim. It felt like a constant bombardment of chop coming at us as we swam along with increasing pace of the floods too. There was a fair amount of activity on the water ahead of us as well, with hydrofoils, cruising vessels, and kayakers. Guided through by our jet-ski, we made safe passage without issue.

Rounding the bend at Moel Y Don, we had the end of the swim in our sights, all be it still 8km away! We could clearly see Belan Point at the end of the Menai, so we settled into a groove to get the remaining distance done ASAP. Fatigue from the distance already done began to settle in and we were starting to feel the cold. (We expected as much by choosing to do the trip in May: It’s pre-jellyfish season and has long daylight hours, but it comes at the expense of water temperatures being far from their peak.) We had trained for this all winter and knew we were well with our limits, but we were sure longing for a hot drink!

The last hour saw the water calm slightly and our exit point becoming much clearer, with Caernarfon to our left, we entered the final push to the 20km mark. Finally at our exit point - the last chance to get onto the coastal path before we would have been spat out of the the Menai and onto Newborough beach - we dragged ourselves and our Ruckrafts full of kit onto dry land.

The end of day 1

Menai swim done. A massive start to our adventure, and a huge standalone achievement for us, despite what was yet to follow. We waved off our support jet-ski and set about warming up and packing our bags, dry and safely towed by our Ruckrafts. We quickly realised the real weight of what we would been carrying for the next 120 odd miles, including one soaked wetsuit!

A pleasant hour or so hike into the town of Newborough saw us happily at a local pub for a bit of respite, relishing in our successful swim, and plotting the next day's adventure. One chippy tea later and we were off to the woods to set up camp for the night!


Day 2 - snacking in the water can made you seasick

We had an early start on day 2 to get ourselves onto the tip of Llandwin Island - an incredible place, steeped in history with a giant crucifix and lighthouse imposing on the landscape. The wind hadn’t relented from the day before and seemed worse if anything.

A strong onshore breeze isn’t usually an issue, but we had planned to swim across the Cefni estuary, 3km across the mouth and onwards to Aberffraw beach. This needed to be done on the flood, when the water would head up the estuary, which was the exact direction the wind was going. Undeterred, we packed up our kit on the Ruckrafts, checked in with the coast guard, and set about getting through the breakers to start our swim. We used our knowledge from having swum here before to make our way out safely. We soon realised that this was going to be a battle and we settled in for a long swim.

Positioning ourselves at a 45° angle offshore, we set our course to make the other side without being pushed too far into the estuary and progress was slow, dauntingly slow. Putting in a real effort, all the while being battered by the waves, we inched closer to the other side, where we knew we would almost certainly get an assist up the coast. Wondering how long it would take for us to make it across, we kept on swimming, and after well over an hour longer than usual, we were finally clear of the estuary.

Relieved the battle was over, and feeling slightly seasick, we needed to eat and drink something. We scrambled to chew and swallow our snack bars with the waves washing over us. After semi-successfully feeding ourselves, we set about getting the remaining 4km of the swim done as quickly as possible. The clouds had started rolling in and where making the sky a gloomy grey. The wind was persistent but we kept going, stopping frequently to regroup as spotting each other in the waves was getting tricky.


Getting out of the water to get dry only to get rained on

We spotted our exit point and gave it everything we had left in us to get to shore. Washing up on the beach with the chop, we were delighted to be back on land! After a quick change on the beach and with socks full of sand, we set off to find shelter, get the burner on, and make ourselves some hot food before continuing our journey.

Not long after we resumed our walking, the weather worsened. Drizzle turned into rain and before we knew it, we were soaked. The thing about costal paths is, well, they’re exposed, and we felt the full force of both wind and rain for a good couple of hours before it eventually stopped. What kept us going through the rain was the fact that we were headed towards one of our favourite places when visiting the island; Rhoscolyn. Adding to motivation was the news that our good friend, Mike, was coming to meet us and camp with us for the night!

A brief snack break in Rhosneigr had us fuelled and ready for the next section of the hike. We planned on walking across the beach alongside the RAF Valley, swim/dip across to Holyhead Island (cutting short a long walk around the bend), and then across Silver Bay into our destination for the evening: the White Eagle pub! With a spring back in our step, we headed North, but we soon had our spirits dampened by the return of strong winds and rain. Getting colder and more tired as we went, we were beginning to dread the short swim, we had been so looking forward to.

When we arrived at the end of the beach, where we had planned to get changed, we decided to swim skins, as it did not seem worth suiting up for the short 100m across to Holyhead Island. Jam got in first. Heading across, the strong current pushed him much further out than we had aimed for. Heart in mouth, I watched on, but he calmly cruised into a safe exit spot. I took my t-shirt off and as I did, suddenly a ray of sunshine lit up the spot where I was stood. Not one to miss an opportunity, I basked in it and actually felt warm for the first time that day. I quickly snapped out of it and walked into the lovely clear water for a swift, but refreshing swim across. Our spirits again lifted, we quickly packed up our Ruckrafts and off we went for the final leg of the day with 2 pints of Guinness waiting for us at the end. We each inhaled a Subway that Mike had brought for us and turned our focus to ‘hydrating’ ourselves. Several Guinness and a pub meal later, we felt satisfied and incredibly sleepy, so we headed to our usual campsite, where we set up camp and had a much needed ‘20p for 2 minutes’ shower each before our tent beds were calling.


Day 3 - the alternative 37km hike

The early start we had planned for day 3 didn’t quite materialise, as Mike got out his coffee set up. We decided our tents needed airing out while we have a coffee with Mike before leaving him. Day 3 was meant to include a big swim once again, this time around the South Stack, North Stack and into Holyhead. Arguably the riskiest and committed of all the swims we had planned.

Considering yesterday's tough swim with the wind and chop, and today looking not much better, we made the call to abandon our plan and instead walk around. The day’s forecast said high winds and the overfall we would encounter would make for quite a rough ride. Our instincts proved right once we got sight of the water. It was not the day to tackle that swim and we instead vowed to return to complete it another day.

We were now in for a long day’s hike with some hefty elevation and few camping choices along the way. Our feet were already paying the price from having sand in our socks the day before, and we also saw some nasty blisters starting to form. A few plasters later and with the sun shining, we headed off. The scenery, ever changing as you hug the coast. Hiking really is a great pace to travel at to take it all in.

Eventually, we caught a glimpse of the coastline we would be walking in the coming days. It appeared as we rounded Holyhead Mountain. The descent into Holyhead was tough on the joints, so we opted for a quick food stop at a cafe to refuel. Looking at the map and tide times, we had missed our opportunity to swim back across and cut off a large section of stone beach that now needed walking. So, we cracked on and headed for a camp site we had found. Feet in bits, shoulders aching and still with a few miles to go, we vowed not to do such a long day again. After 37km walking (and plenty of it on rough terrain) we eventually reached the campsite and once again treated ourselves to a warm shower!


Day 4 - walking with blisters 

By the morning of day 4, blisters had come out in force on both our feet. We patched ourselves up as best we could and set off for the most remote day we would face. Only one tiny cafe en route and a wild camp ahead of us. Water bottles filled and re-stocked at the tiny village shop in Llanfachraeth, we were back onto the beach, pacing ourselves for a long day ahead.

It was a stunning walk up and over cliffs, down valleys, and along the coast before we reached Church Bay and the quaint Wavecrest cafe we had aimed for. We didn’t hold back and ordered as much food as possible. Settling into the corner of the cafe to study the route ahead.

We realised that with a big push, we could reach Camaes Bay by early evening; a lovely little town to save us searching for a free camping spot. Full of food and energy for the long walk ahead, we settled back to it. The afternoon passed quickly with views of the Skerries, a multitude of lighthouses, and views for days. Turning the corner at Carmel Head sheltered us from the South Westerly wind that had been battering us for days, giving us a bit of quiet for the remaining leg of the day's journey. Before we knew it, Camaes Bay was in sight. Another big day completed and we found a campsite and crashed for the (early) night.

Day 5 - the sea takes no prisoners

Having gone 2 days without swimming was starting to get to us, but we knew safety had to take precedent. However, on day 5 conditions again proved favourable, so we picked our entry and exit points, checked the tides and set off with plenty of time to make it there. However, the joy we had felt that morning knowing we would get a swim in quickly passed when we were in the water.

We had spotted an earlier entry point, adding another km to the swim and happily went for it, keen to make up for not swimming for two days. When checking in with the coast guard, we were told “wow, that’s some swim” but we were not deterred and off we went, Ruckrafts in tIt was a bit of a battle straight away to get out of the small bay and towards Ynys Dulas, a tiny island off the coast, and we soon realised we weren’t getting the tidal assist we had expected. Carrying on, we made it to the island and then started crossing Dulas Bay. The water felt strange, like it was pushing us backwards, even thought it wasn’t. When we stopped to check, we weren’t being moved anywhere, so we carried on. We seemed to be progressing, but only ever so slightly. We had hoped to round the head at Moelfre and head into the campsite there, but that wasn’t looking likely. There was a stone beach dead ahead, so we stayed on course for that instead.

Our pace slowed even more, and it was starting to get a bit worrying, but we calmly held our course and plugged away. Inching closer, we were finally within a couple of hundred meters. The water eventually felt normal against us again, and gave us a flat sprint into the beach. More than happy to be back on solid ground, we had been reminded that the sea takes no prisoners. It had been a tough swim, mentally and physically, and we felt pretty beaten. We packed up and set off on foot, knowing this had likely been our last swim of the trip, but that we still had a fair old way to go.


Day 6 reaching the finishing point

Another night spent under the canvas of our tents, we had worked out that it would be possible for us to finish that day and get all the way back to Beaumaris. It wasn’t the easiest of days. We were tired and felt the distance traveled in our feet and water crossed in our shoulders. The terrain was varied, including stone and pebble beaches.

We played with the idea of finishing the trip with a swim back into Beaumaris to start and finish with a swim. However, once we reached Penmon, we realised that the persistent South Westerly wind that had haunted us the whole trip was still ever preset, creating a fair amount of chop down the Menai once again.  

Plodding along over the large stones on the beach, we focused our efforts on not sustaining an injury in the final hour. We slowly made our way to Beaumaris on foot. Just before the town, we headed along the path up a hill for a view of the castle and the peaks of Snowdonia over the Menai. The sense of achievement and relief was immense.

We had been on the go for 5 days and 6 hours, but it had felt like weeks. We made our way to the pier where we had entered the water and started our journey. We were elated, in part, to be able to remove the heavy packs we had lumped around the island. We had managed to get ourselves around the island via water and land, and it had taken a good deal of planning and commitment, and it had all payed off. No injuries, no accidents, no call outs to the coastguard. It felt like a success.

Travelling with everything we needed on our backs or being towed behind us on our Ruckrafts.

Making each day up as it came. What an adventure. When are we doing it again?!

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