On Sunday, June 4 I spent a day at The Great Strait Raft Run on the Menai Strait in North Wales. It’s a unique charity event that feels very ‘Welsh’ in its sense of adventure and fun mixed with purpose! Surrounded by the mountains of Snowdonia, racers start from Y Felinheli on the mainland, racedown the Menai Strait passing beneath two impressive bridges, the Britannia and Menai, and end up at Porthaethwy on the Isle of Anglesey.
Raft a notorious stretch of water – the Menai Strait
This sounds fairly straightforward, but this stretch of water, called the Swellies, is notorious given active tides around the Isle of Anglesey that pull and push the water in different directions, and a series of natural and man-made obstacles – making travel in these waters fairly treacherous at the best of times.
The Strait and Swellies were so treacherous, in fact, that Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson called it “one of the most treacherous stretches of sea in the world.”
So, what do North Wales locals do? Well, take to it in homemade rafts for fun, challenge, and to raise funds for local charities, of course!
Raft names and awards with a sense of humour
Over 30 rafts participated, with team names like, “Seas the Day” and “The Windymillers”. Although there are rules for safety and organization the main criteria are that the raft must be ridden “on” not “in” and be designed for more than 2 and less than 12 people.
Participants of all ages turned out to give it a go and raise money for charity. Trophies are awarded in several classes: Time Chasers, Best of the Rest, Judges Choice, Best Junior Raft, Best Ladies Raft and Best Pub Trophy (won this year by the Dizzy Blondes!) As well, the Elim Trophy is given to the team that raises the most money.
The first raft run started with a splash!
The Great Strait Raft Run was originally established in 1984 with 17 rafts and much curiosity from onlookers. That first race brought in over £13,000. Resurrected in 2002 and run every year since, the race is now organized by local residents to raise funds for the local community.
Eat, drink, and shop while you watch the rafts run
Not only is the race fun to view from the start in Y Felinheli, Menai Bridge, or the finish at Princes Pier in Menai Bridge Town, but one can also pick up some tasty eats, drinks, cute race t-shirts, and kids can play outdoor games while waiting for the rafts to arrive at the pier. This year, the Tipsy Mare horse-trailer-turned-bar was in attendance, as were bake sale groups, a German sausage vendor, and more.
It really is a great way to spend part of a June day when exploring Anglesey and North Wales——and the funds go to good causes, so you can feel good about enjoying that gorgeous ‘fairycake’ (that’s ‘cupcake’ to Americans).
Even more raft races in Wales
And, if you just can’t wait a year to see this kind of crazy fun in action there are similar races held in the Groves on the River Dee in Chester (gateway to Wales) on July 2, 2017 and the River Wye in Monmouth on September 3, 2017.