The surprisingly small town of Bala has a reputation larger than its size. It is located at the north eastern end of Lake Bala among the Arenig and Berwyn mountains. It is generally characterised by its attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings. Despite its size it has long been a popular stop-off point for visitors on their way into Wales from north-west England to the Welsh coast. The town’s great attraction is Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) and it’s invariably the draw of a wide range of watersports that bring people here. Other attractions include the steam trains of the narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway and the other lake nearby, Llyn Celyn, which is entirely artificial, and is the National Whitewater Centre.
The Romans built a fort at the southern end of the lake (not open to the public) and the Normans built a motte which has become covered by shrubs and is referred to as Tomen-y-Bala – from which you can get a good panoramic view of Bala town, but you’ll need to get the keys from the local council offices. Bala’s past fame came much more from wool and the socks that most of the local men and women were engaged in knitting before the Industrial Revolution put a stop to that particular cottage industry. Bala stockings were famed across the country with George III being known to have worn them for his rheumatism.
Lake Bala (Llyn Tegid)
Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) is the largest natural waterbody in Wales. It is much used by watersports enthusiasts as the winds sweeping through the mountain valley makes it particularly good for activities like sailing and windsurfing. Equipment can be hired at various shops and the watersports centre at Bala offer canoeing and kayaking, sailing, windsurfing on Lake Bala and white water rafting from the nearby Whitewater Centre at Llyn Celyn. You can hire equipment or book yourself on watersports courses to try new sports or develop your existing skills. Fishing is also popular with pike, roach, perch, trout, grayling and eels available for fishing. There are a total fourteen species of fish found in Llyn Tegid.
The lake, a protected wildlife site, is 484 hectares in size and extends to 42 metres in depth. One of its important features is the unique gwyniad fish, a subspecies of European whitefish. It is believed to have been restricted to Lake Bala from the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago. The fish which spends most of its time in the deeper, colder parts of the lake and only move into shallower water at night to spawn, is no longer found anywhere else in the UK.
According to legend the lake is inhabited by a monster known affectionately as Teggie. Although this has never taken off like the legend of Nessie in Loch Ness, reports of this creature have been around since the 1920s. It is also said that on moonlit nights you can see towers and buildings under the waters, and that bells can be heard. These buildings, according to legend, were the palace of King Tegid, husband of Ceridwen, the mother of Taliesin.
The National Whitewater Centre – Canolfan Tryweryn
The National Whitewater Centre is entirely man-made and was developed as the first commercial whitewater rafting operation in the UK in 1986. Since then it has grown to become the largest rafting organisation in the UK. The main centre has a reception, cafe and, more importantly, free hot showers! The man-made River Tryweryn is 8 kilometres of white water whose level can be altered by dam release from Llyn Celyn. However, you do need to check on the latest water release information on their website or the contact details below as the centre does not have control over this. The lower river can be used recreational kayaking/canoeing anytime the centre is open except when competitions are on.
There is a whole host of events throughout the year including canoeing/kayaking competitions that are held on the white water downstream from its dam and whitewater rafting on the two kilometre stretch of rocky steep rapids classed as a grade 3/4 (Grade 1 being gentle flowing water). You can book kayaking, canoeing and coaching courses or adventure breaks for weekends. Some of the activities on adventure breaks include climbing, mountain biking, clay pigeon shooting, quad bikes, pony trekking, canyoning, 4×4 off road driving and bushcraft.
Bala Lake Railway
Bala Lake Railway (Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid) is another of the Snowdonia narrow gauge railways. The Bala and Dolgellau railway, from which this originates, was built by the Bala & Dolgelley Railway Company and first opened in 1868. The railway runs for 9 miles along the eastern shoreline of the lake, taking in spectacular views of the Arenig Fawr and Aran Benllyn mountains en route. The railway journey takes around an house, with the main station at Llanuwchllyn. Other stations on the line are at Pentrepiod, Llangower, Bryn Hynad and Bala.