Wood­lands (and a lit­tle bit of Wi-Fi) in Wales

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

by a quick-fire salvo of (1) need­ing to stay in con­tact with their mates, (2) feed In­sta­gram and (3) main­tain SnapChat streaks.

That doesn’t mean you have to suc­cumb en­tirely, though. You only have to look at the fam­i­lies in ho­tel res­tau­rants where ev­ery mem­ber is swip­ing and prod­ding their phones, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to one an­other, to re­alise where the dark path to to­tal dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion lies. The happy so­lu­tion, of course, is to find a fam­ily hol­i­day that is tech enough to keep chil­dren happy, but also has enough real world dis­trac­tions to lure them from their de­vices.

For­est Hol­i­days get it spot on. We re­cently took a short break in Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park at the Bed­dgel­ert site – the new­est of 10 leafy re­treats scat­tered up and down the coun­try, from Strathyre to south Corn­wall. Of course, I didn’t even at­tempt to sell the hol­i­day as a “leafy re­treat” to my 17 year-olds. I had much bet­ter bait: in­ter­net ac­cess, flat-screen TV with a food and drink or­der­ing ser­vice, in-cabin en­ter­tain­ment with movies and Sky Sports and – guar­an­teed to get mul­ti­ple likes – an out­door hot tub on the deck. It would be un­fair on my chil­dren to sug­gest that th­ese are the only things they care about on hol­i­day. Like most teenagers, they love their iPhones, but also have soul and ap­pre­ci­ate na­ture.

But how cool is ap­pre­ci­at­ing na­ture from an out­door hot tub, ly­ing back in the bub­bles and gaz­ing up through the canopy of an an­cient oak wood that’s all-of-a-flutter with red­starts, fly­catch­ers and nuthatches?

We spent the first morn­ing of our long week­end drift­ing be­tween two worlds – the sleek, con­tem­po­rary in­te­rior of our two-bed­room Golden Oak cabin and the deck area where, in just a few steps, we found our­selves deep in a Welsh wild­wood. One minute we were pop­ping es­presso pods into the Tas­simo cof­fee ma­chine, the next we were bird­watch­ing from a hot tub.

A clus­ter of just 16 self-cater­ing cab­ins, For­est Hol­i­days Bed­dgel­ert is on the quiet side of Snow­don, com­pared to the lively ad­ven­ture hub of Betws-y-Coed. But each morn­ing, the whis­tle of a steam train re­minds you of the myr­iad ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able be­yond your wood­land sanc­tu­ary.

The Welsh High­land Rail­way runs along one bound­ary of the site, stop­ping at a small sta­tion where you can hop aboard for the 25-mile ride be­tween Caernar­fon and Porth­madog. A quick pe­rusal of “things to do” on the smart TV in the cabin and you quickly re­alise that, as well as train rides, there’s ev­ery­thing from ab­seil­ing and zip-wiring to gorge scram­bling and surf­ing. You could eas­ily spend a week here and barely scratch the sur­face of Snow­do­nia’s adrenalin scene.

We kept things lo­cal and wan­dered over to the For­est Re­treat (a re­cep­tion and shop where you can buy any­thing from I-Spy books to burg­ers for the bar­be­cue) and ar­ranged to hire moun­tain bikes. Half an hour later, we were cy­cling through an elfin for­est be­side a stream that sluiced through jum­bled boul­ders. We emerged into a clear­ing where fox­gloves lined the track like pink fire­works, but our gaze was soon tugged across the val­ley to Mount Snow­don, etched against a cloud­less sky.

Push­ing on, keen to leave the horse­flies in our wake, we reached Llyn Llewe­lyn, a lake so daz­zlingly blue it looked like a slice of the Ba­hamas slipped into the Welsh high­lands. Toe-dab­bling soon turned to pad­dling. Then, be­fore we had time to re­mind our­selves that we were in North Wales, we were float­ing on our backs, splash­ing, laugh­ing and won­der­ing whether, in fact, we didn’t ac­tu­ally pre­fer wild swim­ming to hot tub­bing.

Later that evening, we sat on the deck play­ing Scrabble and eat­ing pizza from the on-site bake­house. The rustling of leaves in the canopy over­head min­gled with a tawny owl’s hoot­ing and the hum of the hot tub. Some­where from in­side our cabin a phone oc­ca­sion­ally pinged with an in­com­ing tweet – and was ig­nored. The

next morn­ing, still re­luc­tant to get in the car, we walked a cou­ple of miles to the vil­lage of Bed­dgel­ert where stone houses, drip­ping with hang­ing bas­kets, hud­dle around the con­flu­ence of the rivers Glaslyn and Col­wyn. We strolled be­side the tea-coloured pools of the Glaslyn to visit the vil­lage’s name­sake must-see: the grave of Gel­ert, the faith­ful hound of me­dieval Welsh prince Llewe­lyn the Great. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, the prince re­turned from a hunt­ing trip to be greeted by Gel­ert stained with blood. When Llewe­lyn saw his in­fant son’s empty cot, also cov­ered in blood, he plunged his sword into the hound’s side, be­liev­ing it had killed his heir. But Gel­ert’s dy­ing yell was an­swered by a child’s cry and the prince found the boy un­harmed – along­side the body of a huge wolf that Gel­ert had slain. Ap­par­ently, Prince Llewe­lyn never smiled again.

For­est Hol­i­days’ res­i­dent ranger, Andy, re­counted the story that evening as he led us on a (wolf-free) wildlife walk in Bed­dgel­ert For­est. Through chinks in the trees, we glimpsed Snow­don, pin­pricks of light flick­er­ing along its flanks – the torches of hik­ers de­scend­ing the moun­tain. Most of the wildlife we saw was small, winged and bit­ing.

Andy only paused long to iden­tify a plant or point out a lesser-known peak be­fore the midges forced us to keep mov­ing. When we reached a small tarn where conifers stood rooted to their re­flec­tions, Andy gath­ered some dry sphag­num moss and fir cones, took a steel-and-flint from his pocket and showed us how to strike a spark into the kin­dling. Af­ter a few at­tempts, a small fire bloomed at our feet and we crowded into the smoke for midge re­lief. I glanced through smart­ing eyes at our teens and won­dered if this was a lit­tle bit too “real world”.

But there was a plus-side to the midges. Bats cir­cled around our heads, twist­ing and turn­ing as they feasted on the in­sects. Reach­ing into his pocket, Andy pulled out a small elec­tronic de­vice about the size of a smart­phone – a high-fre­quency de­tec­tor that trans­lated the bats’ echolo­ca­tion into au­di­ble clicks. Proof that even in a re­mote for­est on a Welsh moun­tain­side, there’s a time and a place for elec­tronic de­vices.

The Welsh High­land Rail­way

Cy­cling is of­fered at the For­est Hol­i­days site near the vil­lage of Bed­dgel­ert, right

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