We’ve all vowed to go back to amazing Snowdonia to accomplish our own personal #snowdoniagoals: Climb to the top of Snowdon (me), do the mahoosive Velocity zipwire (Annie), do the plummet (Isaac), actually get in the surf lagoon (okay, me again) and do the huge swing (Garry and Orla). We loved our time mildly adventuring in Snowdonia for a weekend in May half-term, and, whatever your level of thrill-seeking (ours was pretty moderate), there’s plenty to do.
What we loved
1 (Nearly) climbing Mount Snowdon: a walk of two halves
Our main aim on this trip was to get to the top of Snowdon. Though Garry has done this a few times and speaks with authority on the relative merits of all the ways up and ways down, I’ve only ever done it on the train (which I do know is cheating!), Annie and Isaac have only ever climbed Pen y Fan in Wales (a great deal smaller) and Orla is a bit of a walking refusenik, so has never managed to climb even the smallest of mountains.
Garry’s assurances that we would drive most of the way up (to Pen y Pass) proved a little optimistic as he’d failed to take into consideration the fact that we’d chosen a bank holiday weekend in May to attempt our climb, meaning the promised car park almost at the peak was full and we had to drive on and catch a bus back up to the car park before commencing our ascent.
At this point, obviously my head became full of images inspired by Everest and Into Thin Air, so I skipped ahead a few hours/ days to visions of the future involving altitude sickness, death zones and oxygen tanks fails, but, undaunted, we decided to give the thing a go, walk for a few hours and simply turn back when we thought we were half way. We chose the Pyg track because we (possibly mistakenly) believed that it was actually EASIER for children to go up shorter steeper more challenging terrain than the longer, less steep Miners track (admittedly, this doesn’t sound very clever now I read it back). So, after Garry’s assurances that the grim weather would clear on the way up, we set off up the Pyg track with hundreds of other Snowdon wannabe summitters. Progess was slow, the weather was pretty wild, and Orla decided to use up all of her energy reserves on a nonstop litany of complaints which barely ceased even when we shoved chocolate into her mouth. An unpromising start, but we cracked on regardless, thinking she’d stop complaining when she realised we weren’t turning back.
We were wrong, underestimating Orla’s ability to grumble, and she continued her complaints for over an hour of dramatic, exciting but quite challenging walking, with rain on our faces and wind whistling around our ears. Every time we stopped to discuss the PLAN the wind whistled further and the rain rained harder, making discussion difficult, so in the end we just kept walking with a grumpy ten year old trailing ever more slowly in our wake. Finally, we found a big rock to shelter behind for a family conflab which went something like this: We were an hour from the top, Garry reckoned, so much closer to the top than the bottom, and at the peak there was likely a train to take us back down. On the other hand, we could see below us the Miners track, so we could drop down and take the scenic, easier, but ultimately longer way home. I was all for the train at the top, but, probably sensibly, the others wanted to join the flatter track, so down we skipped. Immediately the sun came out and Orla’s mood lifted, and this sunny state of affairs continued all the way home, past lakes, over bridges, behind cows, and over hummocky hills.
2. The manmade surf lagoon
There are a few places in the world you can surf inland, and north Wales is one of them, proclaims the Adventure Parc Snowdonia website. Predictable waves tailor-made for numpties to ninjas, in an artificial lagoon? This sounded right up our alley, so we booked ourselves into a beginner lesson, got kitted out in the wetsuits and got ready to learn.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia is really really cool. One of the entire walls of the building is floor to ceiling glass, so whether you’re eating, drinking or shopping, your backdrop is non-stop surfers.
The surf is created by a mechanism in the centre of the lake which pulls through the water from one side to the next, creating a big wave in the centre (where the advanced surfers — those allowed to be there without a coloured rash vest wait), then there are sections for intermediates and, close to the edge, the beginners in their yellow vests.
It feels very safe and each wave is the same, giving you lots of opportunities to perfect your technique. Garry, Annie and Isaac managed beautifully — both Garry and Isaac stood up briefly, while Annie got very close, and didn’t wipe out once.
Apparently, the water can get up to 25 degrees here in summer, but let’s just say it was nowhere near that level of balmy on a grey day in May. Orla needed some encouragement to tackle even the tail end of a wave, but, after a hesitant start, our teacher Paul persuaded her to try a little nearer to shore, and she ended up sailing in on wave after wave, grinning from ear to ear.
As for my progress, I draw a veil. Think I might need to start with body boarding. Or, secret lessons on my own before joining the family group again. Or, go somewhere much much warmer and sunnier 🙂
3. Zipworld, the fforest coaster, zip safari and tree hoppers
There are 3 Zipworld locations — fforest, Penrhyn quarry and slate caverns. We chose fforest as it looked tamer and better for Orla, plus we liked the look of the coaster, which is the UK’s only alpine coaster of its kind (Zipworld fforest also boasts Europe’s highest swing —the Skyride). Penrhyn quarry is where you’ll find ‘the fastest zip line in the world, Velocity 2, where you can fly 500m above the bright blue quarry lake’, while Bounce Below (underground net adventures), Titan (3 more huge zip wires) and Caverns (a unique underground course) are at Zipworld slate caverns.
To be honest, we arrived at Zipworld Fforest with a threadbare plan of action and scant knowledge gleaned from looking at the site (which isn’t brilliant), no idea how scary the UK’s only alpine coaster might be (not very, even for Orla), how thrilling the zip safari (not very — though 22 zip wires is a lot, they’re all pretty tame) or whether we’d decide to book in for more extreme options like the Plummet — over 100 feet drop through a trapdoor attached to a bungee — or Skyride —Europe’s highest swing. (We didn’t, this time, and Orla wasn’t quite tall enough for the zip safari so was relegated to the milder tree hoppers) BUT we will definitely return for more thrilling forest adventures!
Details, hints and tips
This is Wales, so it’s worth saying you need to pack for all weathers!
We stayed at: Plas Y Brenin outdoor centre | http://www.pyb.co.uk
This is a luxe mountain centre / resort and we were lucky to get a last minute cancellation on 2 rooms next door to each other as the weather was a bit wet for camping. The vibe is ultra-outdoorsy (lots of sensible trousers and hiking boots), cosy with a friendly bar and hearty, tasty no-nonsense food.
We prebooked the fforest coaster and zip safari at: www. zipworld.co.uk
We prebooked the surf lagoon and lesson at: adventureparcsnowdonia.com