Fly­ing high in the Welsh mountains

Strug­gles to cram in as much as pos­si­ble dur­ing a week­end break in North Wales...

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

THERE’S some­thing stir­ring in the mountains of North Wales.

I’m tempted to call it the spirit of ad­ven­ture, but that old cliché doesn’t do it jus­tice.

The place is alive with adren­a­line-fu­elled ac­tiv­ity. It’s hard to de­cide what to miss out when plan­ning a week­end of thrill-seek­ing.

It is, as they say in the ads, the place to find your epic.

Our week­end of fun started bright and early at Zip World’s lat­est high-wire act, the Zip Sa­fari at Zip World’s lat­est lo­ca­tion, the Ffor­est at Betws-y-Coed.

It opened just last month, and of­fers only the brave the chance to zip down the val­ley side on 23 wires and six rope cour­ses. The route is over 500m long and takes around a cou­ple of hours to com­plete.

At 60ft up I’d ad­vise you to not look down, but why would you when the views across the val­ley to­wards Moel Si­a­bod are as spec­tac­u­lar as they are?

Zip World has another cen­tre a few miles down the A470 at Llech­wedd slate quarry, just out­side Blae­nau Ffes­tin­iog, where 2,900 tons of fin­ished slate were once pro­duced each year. There are some great ac­tiv­i­ties at Zip World’s cen­tre here, in­clud­ing Titan, the largest zip zone in Europe. But what goes on un­der­ground is even more im­pres­sive.

There’s a zip-line course through the slate cav­erns in­side the Llech­wedd moun­tain, and an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence to be had at Bounce Be­low – a se­ries of huge tram­po­line nets lay­ered on top of each other in a huge cav­ern.

A much more sober ex­pe­ri­ence at Llech­wedd is the newly re­vamped deep mine tour.

You’ve been able to travel 500ft un­der the moun­tain to see the in­cred­i­ble slate mine cav­erns, carved out over decades by lo­cal min­ers, since the early Seven­ties.

But the cav­erns were badly flooded dur­ing last win­ter’s storms, and so the mine’s own­ers had to re­vamp the tour, and brought in some new tech­nol­ogy to help bring the story to life.

The hour-hour long tour is an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

The men who cre­ated this place worked in in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult con­di­tions to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies.

Work­ing 12-hour shifts in the dark, damp cav­erns, they would drill holes in the rock by hand with iron rods, and fill the holes with gun­pow­der to ex­tract the slate, which was then taken to the sur­face for fin­ish­ing by hand.

The de­scent on the steep­est ca­ble rail­way in Bri­tain takes you back 160 years, and pro­jec­tions on the cav­ern walls al­low us to meet the mine’s owner and founder John White­head Greaves, and some of the men and boys who worked un­der­ground in the dark­ness.

You can­not help but be touched by their story. And you can­not miss out on a visit to Llech­wedd if you ever find your­self close by.

Soon there will be another at­trac­tion here,with Bri­tish land­scape artist An­thony Gar­ratt work­ing on a two-site project that even­tu­ally will see a gi­ant can­vas in­stalled in a cav­ern fea­tur­ing his im­pres­sion of the mine.

He’s at work on the first can­vas in the se­ries be­low the peak of Snow­don (along the min­ers’ track at Llyn Lly­daw). That gi­ant dou­ble-sided can­vas (2.4m by 3m) will be floated on the wa­ters of Llyn Lly­daw as part of an in­stal­la­tion called “uchel ac isel” (High and Low).

The in­stal­la­tions have been spon­sored by Me­nai Hol­i­day Cot­tages, who are hop­ing to draw at­ten­tion to the var­ied at­trac­tions in North Wales.

You could, of course, use one of their top-class cot­tages as a base for your week­end of ad­ven­ture – but we had other ideas more in-keep­ing with our theme.

Our next port of call was back north at Surf Snow­do­nia – the world’s first in­land surf­ing la­goon.

It had to close early at the end of last sum­mer be­cause of prob­lems with its wave-gen­er­at­ing tech­nol­ogy, but it is now back in ac­tion and is even bet­ter than be­fore.

The place is de­vel­op­ing a very spe­cial at­mos­phere – it feels like good things hap­pen there.

The on­site glamp­ing pods are an in­ex­pen­sive base from which you can ex­plore the wider area – and, com­bined with the much-im­proved food and drink op­tions in the surf-side cafe, of­fer all you need for a week­end stop-over. The best thing about them is you can hit the waves early next morn­ing while the day-trip­pers are still in their cars.

That’s just what we did on the se­cond-day of our week­end and en­joyed an hour-and-a-half les­son in the la­goon, fol­lowed by an hour of free-surf­ing.

The waves are great and pre­dictable (you can’t say that for the ocean) and it’s the per­fect place to hone your tech­nique.

Another ac­tiv­ity that has opened at Surf Snow­do­nia since last year is the Crash and Splash la­goon, which fea­tures a To­tal Wipe­out-style ob­sta­cle course and The Blob (a gi­ant in­flat­able which you sit on at one end, while some­one else jumps on the other end, cat­a­pult­ing you high and into the wa­ter… great fun).

Two days just isn’t enough. But that’s all we had and we felt like we’d just about packed as much as we could into the time avail­able.

You could week­end in North Wales a thou­sand times and never do the same thing twice – we could have gone climb­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, kayak­ing… the list is al­most end­less. And then there are all those cas­tles, beaches, towns and vil­lages to visit.

Epic doesn’t quite do it jus­tice.

Scal­ing heights at Zip World and, inset be­low, surf­ing lessons in the la­goon

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