Anglesey from all angles

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's children's author Joe Craig challenging his inner action hero

Joe Craig
Friday 26 September 2014 09:38 BST
Emotion in motion: RIB ride along the Menai Strait
Emotion in motion: RIB ride along the Menai Strait

Writers are dressing-gown adventurers. We dream up extraordinary, excruciating ordeals for other people – for our characters. I'm one such writer. I spend my days inventing action scenes for my 12-year-old spy hero, Jimmy Coates, while I'm never more than a couple of metres from my sofa, a couple of hours from my next cup of oolong. My head is in the clouds, my feet are snugly rooted in sheepskin slippers.

Then I was shamed into action. A reader, a child who hasn't yet mastered the twin concepts of fiction and the fiction-writer's lifestyle, fired her big child-eyes at me and asked, "What's the most thrilling adventure you've ever been on?"

I laughed, but she was serious and followed with: "You do do some of the things you make Jimmy do, don't you …?"

"Child," I wanted to say, "those things are dangerous. I will never fly a helicopter under Blackfriars Bridge or blow up an oil rig to sabotage hidden rockets. I'll never survive an industrial shredder."

My most thrilling adventure to that point was switching from black to blue ink in my Parker 45. But once the idea was planted I had to wonder:could I withstand the adrenalin-churning mayhem I force on poor young, victimised, fictional Jimmy? I had to try. I had to prove to my readers, to my fictional hero, to myself, that I had heroic credentials. Tragically, I also suffer from extreme motion-sickness. This was going to be messy.

Within a couple of miles of each other on Anglesey there are three attractions that will bring out the action-hero in anybody. Because of these, North Wales is now known as the "Heart of Adventure". Where better to test myself? I was about to be transported at phenomenal speeds on land, at sea and through the air.

Anglesey Circuit is as beautiful a strip of tarmac as you'll ever see. A racing track so smooth I got down on my knees to caress it. This two-mile ribbon curls amid velvet Welsh scenery; I was already breathless at the mountain view before I slid into the passenger seat of a racing Lotus alongside a champion rally driver. Then his foot went down.

I was hurled into hyper-drive. Fear lurched at me. Then, at the first bend, it melted into wonder, not least at the driver's incredible skill and precision. At speeds of more than 100mph he whisked me round the track. Suddenly I found myself doing something my hero never does – I was grinning. It was a few minutes of glee I will never forget. If you have more time you can take the wheel yourself and an instructor will teach you to do the driving.

I think I have the better of my 12-year-old hero on a race track; my legs reach the pedals, for a start. But on water? No. I need only look at a boat to feel sick. So to take a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) ride along the Menai Strait, I'll admit I was highly medicated. I needn't have worried. So close to the water and at such speed, the roll of the waves is irrelevant. What takes over is the blast of the wind and the delight of powering like a rocket through waters that Admiral Nelson considered among the world's most treacherous. The spy-writer in me tingled.

Still, the fastest was yet to come. Zip World has the longest zipwire in Europe, fastest in the world: a 1.5km flight without any craft or vessel, over the dramatic black spikes and deep blue lagoon of an abandoned slate quarry. I couldn't dream up a better setting for a showdown with a supervillain.

I was locked into a harness horizontally, face down, like a quivering, podgy Superman. Then the ever-smiling staff counted down and pushed me off. I've always wanted to fly. Haven't you? Even action-heroes hold that deep desire to soar above it all. And there I was, shooting off the side of a mountain, accelerating to nearly 120mph. And it's the acceleration that's terrifying, as your internal organs realign. The wind screamed into my gaping mouth. My eyes were wide in awe. I think, for a few seconds, my heart and stomach found alternative routes down the mountain.

Through it all, I stayed calm. I did this by screaming. Perhaps it was the beauty of the quarry below, the sensation of flight, or the momentum pushing the blood into unusual regions, but one thought pounded in my brain: "It's OK, I'm in Wales."

And that's what I was muttering over and over when they scooped me out of my harness.

The world seems so pedestrian now. If I have any new insight into my hero's psyche, it's to wonder how he copes when he's not zooming around at high speed. How can I go back? I've been bluffing all these years, writing about speed I'd never experienced, but for a couple of days I had superpowers. From now on the impersonation of velocity must give way to the real thing. From now on all action-heroes must be from North Wales.

Travel essentials

Getting there

The North Wales Coast Railway runs through Anglesey, from Bangor to Holyhead.

Visiting there

A High Speed Ride at Anglesey Circuit costs £49pp (01407 811400;

Ribride's Bridges and Swellies trip along the Menai Strait costs £24pp (0333 1234 303;

Zip World is priced at £50pp for all three zip lines (01248 601 444;

Staying there

Château Rhianfa has doubles for £175 a night, B&B (0330 333 7 222;

More information

Joe Craig's latest book, "Jimmy Coates: Blackout", is published by HarperCollins, priced at £6.99.

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