Flying high in the Welsh mountains
Struggles to cram in as much as possible during a weekend break in North Wales...
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