BACK TO NATURE
SURROUNDED BY TREES AND BIRD SONG, EMILY SHELLEY AND HER FAMILY UNWIND IN SNOWDONIA
IF sunbathing is for summer holidays, surely the only thing to do on an autumn holiday is forest-bathe? Lie back on a soft bed of moss, breathe in the subtle scents of the trees around you and feel the gentle weight of leaves falling from swaying branches above.
Better still, if you’d rather not lie on damp ground and get woodlice in your hair, you can experience the forest from the warm embrace of your own private hot tub.
Persuing a pastime said to help with depression, anxiety and to reset your body clock, we’re forest-bathing from the veranda of a five-star cabin, getting all the mood-boosting benefits without the wet clothes.
We’re in Snowdonia in North Wales, in Beddgelert Forest. It’s unbelievably tranquil, but there are a few sounds to be heard above the hot-tub bubbles.
We can hear the trills and chirps of birds, the wind in the branches of the pines around us, and twice a day, the ‘toot toot’ of the Welsh Highland Railway steam engine that stops here.
And that’s it. The trees are already working their magic on my family, who are rediscovering each other after several hectic weeks.
This small and exclusive cabin complex is new to the National Park and run by Forest Holidays.
Some old farm buildings on site house a shop, where you can pick up takeaway coffees and fresh warm pastries in the morning, and a bakehouse which delivers hot pizzas and curries to your oak-panelled door in the evening. You can even order them through your cabin TV. But the focus is very much about exploring the natural wonders around you. The Forest Ranger Basecamp offers a series of guided expeditions, from late-night walks with night-vision goggles to spy on the nocturnal animals that live here to survival skills and family bug hunts.
In the shop as we pick up our croissants on the first morning, we hear staff tell one young family the best places in the forest to play Poohsticks. The emphasis is on natural fun – no water slides or games rooms here.
Mine are a bit too old for Poohsticks, so we’ve arranged to hire mountain bikes from the village.
Beddgelert itself is a 1.5km walk along one of the forest trails. It’s dubbed a ‘rainforest’ because of the amount of rainfall here, so bring wet-weather gear and sturdy footwear.
It’s a pretty Welsh slate village with a large humpbacked bridge over the river Colwyn. We finish our walk with an ice cream on arrival at the local legend that is the Glaslyn Ices ice cream parlour and meander round the shops.
At Beddgelert Bikes, we’re furnished with trail maps, locks, helmets and a realistic assessment of how far you’re likely to get and how long it will take you. We’re keeping the bikes for a couple of days, so we pick up as many suggestions as we can that are suitable for slightly unfit novice riders.
The Bedwen trail takes us to the ‘hidden’ lake of Llyn Llywelyn and a perfect picnic spot. There are views of Snowden from various points on the route and the paths are multiuse, mostly smooth and wide. There’s a large climb up – the forest backs onto the mountain of Moel Hebog – but we’re rewarded with a freewheel home.
Stretching tired limbs by the log-burning stove inside the cabin later that evening, we ignore the large stock of movies on TV and opt for Scrabble and hot chocolate instead, accompanied by marshmallows on the gas barbecue outside.
If you don’t fancy getting saddle sore, there are enough walks to keep you busy, and attractions on your doorstep range from Caernarfon Castle to the underground caverns of Blaenau Ffestiniog and the beaches around Porthmadog.
We’re too zenned out from all that forest time to venture much further than the village. Tearing ourselves away for an afternoon, we visit the Sygun Copper Mine that helped sustain this community for generations, and walk a National Trust trail through the Aberglaslyn Gorge via Gelert’s Grave.
Do we learn much forest lore? No. Would we ever survive a night in the woods or navigate our way without waymarked trails? Not a chance.
But a bit of comfort doesn’t lessen our appreciation for the nature around us, and only heightens its effect on our wellbeing. Who needs sun?
The Forest Holidays cabins at Beddgelert are in a beautiful location The lounge in a Golden Oak cabin at Forest Holidays Beddgelert Beddgelert village