Wet and wild in Wales
With the Six Nations trophy to cheer about and one of the world's longest zip wires set to open, now's the time to discover what makes this nation quite so rugged
Sarah Baxter is part-time Associate Editor of Wanderlust travel magazine and a part-time freelance travel journalist and editor. She has written many features for The Independent, as well as for other newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. She loves exploring the great outdoors, and when she's not thinking travel, she's likely lacing up for a run instead.
Wednesday 20 March 2013
What's the attraction?
Wheeeeeeee! Next week, Wales will unveil the largest zipwire experience in the northern hemisphere – which, for the uninitiated, means whizzing as high as 213m above Bethesda's Penrhyn Quarry at speeds topping 75mph, dangled (safely) from a bit of cord. Zip World (01690 710914; zipworld.co.uk; from £36/45 child/adult) opens on Saturday 30 March. As Wales's rugby players demonstrated on Saturday, this is a nation that knows how to do rugged – and there are plenty of other active options available. What's more, according to the Met Office, the late spring months offer Wales's driest weather. So what are you waiting for?
On your bike
Several Olympic mountain-biking teams based themselves in Wales last year. Growing interest in the sport has seen subsequent investment and several big developments are due. A new bike park will open this autumn at Gethin Woods, while the Penhydd Trail at Afan Forest Park, in Neath Port Talbot, will be re-launched mid-2013. Afan's four other trails are open, including the severe W² and epic, 46km Skyline ride. There are also two new Rookie Trails (01639 850564; afanforestpark.co.uk). Bike hire from £18 for three hours, or tackle tough trails and descents with an instructor (01639 851406; afanvalleybikeshed.co.uk; from £65 per half day).
Last May, the Wales Coast Path opened, a 1,400km trail tracing every inch of the country's shore. The time-poor can pick a shorter section (download leaflets: atwalescoastpath.gov.uk); many are accessible by public transport. The Llyn Peninsula is a good choice, with views of Snowdonia inland and opportunities for wake-boarding on the beaches (01758 713407; offaxis.co.uk; two-hour session £30).
A slice of South America can be found on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. Berwyn Mountain Llamas (01490 440 355; berwynmountainllamas.co.uk; from £15 an hour) offers treks down tranquil lanes, bridleways and old drovers' roads alongside these curious Andean animals.
Pembrokeshire is the place to try coasteering – the very notion of donning a wetsuit, helmet, life vest and old trainers to scramble, swim, climb and cliff jump around sea-caves and craggy shores was invented right here. Not only is the climbing and cold surf exhilarating, these trips offer a unique perspective on the coast. TYF (01437 721611; tyf.com), the company that started it all, offers half-day, full-day and weekend-long courses, scrabbling up and leaping off wave-bashed formations around Porthclais, Porth-y-Ffynnon and St Davids Head; a half-day course costs from £58.
Wales may not sound the most obvious (ie, warmest) wild swimming destination, but for the hardy paddler it offers some clean, clear and spectacular spots. Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming (Punk Publishing, 2008), recommends the Brecon Beacon's Coed-y-Rhaiadr ("waterfall woods"), a network of forest lidos and cascades, and the pools at Wolf's Leap in Irfon.
The less assured can sign up with Gone Swimming (01244 940740; goneswimming.co.uk; weekends from £250, full board), which offers escorted trips. A "Wet Weekend" in Snowdonia might include dips in the three lakes beneath Cadair Idris and a float down the River Dysynni, plus mountain hikes.
Bird's eye view
Soaring the skies in a paraglider is about as close as you can get to being at one with the birds. Or it was, until parahawking was invented. Abergavenny-based Axis (01873 850111; paraglide.co.uk; from £300), which offers both paragliding courses and tandem rides for novices, has recently introduced flights on which pilot and passenger are accompanied by a bird of prey. As the paraglider wheels over bluffs and valleys, a well-trained peregrine falcon, red kite or steppe eagle catches the thermals alongside.
The River Tryweryn, which thunders through Snowdonia, is home to the National White Water Centre (01678 521083; ukrafting.co.uk). As a dam-released river, it offers rapid-running year round, even when other courses have dried up. The nervous can try the Grade II-III Lower Tryweryn, while the Upper, boulder-strewn stretch offers Grade III-IV waters; rafting costs from £32 for a one-hour taster.
When water levels are a little low, but you still want to get wet, try hot-dogging – running rapids in three-person micro-rafts that sit low, feel fast, and guarantee a drenching. Black Mountain Activities (01497 847897; blackmountain.co.uk; from £49pp a day) offers white-knuckle hotdog rides through the gorges of the River Wye.
Many of Wales's 100 islands and islets offer adventures. The 200km Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path is a bracing walk, either self-guided or on a tour (01248 713611; angleseywalkingholidays.com; nine days from £600pp). Alternatively, explore Anglesey and Holy Island by sea kayak (01248 410877; angleseyadventures.com; two-day course from £220). Skomer Island Marine Reserve is the place to dive to reefs and wrecks (01437 781457; westwalesdivecompany.co.uk; from £50pp for two guided dives). And Ramsey Island's puffins, porpoises and seals are best seen by boat (01437 721911; ramseyisland.co.uk; 1.5-hour trip £25pp), as is the natural and historic diversity of Bardsey (bardseyboattrips.com; 3.5-hour trip £30).
"Nature has given us a lot in such a small area: rocky mountains, wild rivers, majestic woodlands, scenic rivers, rolling hills, caves in abundance, a magical coastline. If you dress well and have the right attitude, you can have fun in most weather. Without the weather it would be much less fun: no water in the rivers for kayaking and rafting, no wind for sailing, and no genuine appreciation of our regular sunny, dry days!" Peter Carol, MD, ProAdventure Activities (01978 861912; proadventure.co.uk), which offers a range of activity experiences and breaks in North Wales
Who said that?
"In the Bible, God made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights. That's a pretty good summer for Wales." Rhod Gilbert, comedian
"I caught sight of a long line of hills... which sight... made me cast all gloomy thoughts aside and glow with all the Welsh enthusiasm with which I glowed when I first started in the direction of Wales." George Borrow, author
"Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales/ All the air things wear that build this world of Wales." Gerard Manley Hopkins, poet
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