Adventure holidays: the seven wonders of Wales
Adventure holidays: the seven wonders of Wales
From zip wires to a man-made surfing lake, we choose the seven new outdoor wonders of modern-day Wales
At some point in the late 18th century, an English tourist penned a piece of doggerel about the Seven Wonders of Wales:
Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride s well,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.
His was a gentler, more innocent age. These days it takes a good deal more than church bells and a nice bridge to impress the GoPro generation.
The launch of Surf Snowdonia today confirms the extent to which Welsh wonders have changed. The world s first commercial man-made surfing lake is just the latest in a series of world firsts and superlatives as Wales quietly transforms into the adventure playground of Britain.
Given the abundance of scenery crammed between the peaks of Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire s ragged coast, our only coastal national park, the potential was always there.
You only have to read Dylan Thomas to understand the love of landscape that s hard-wired into the Welsh psyche. So, this is evolution not revolution.
What s new is the technology and creativity of recent developments. The scenery is as magnificent as ever, but Wales now offers adventures to help you discover it in entirely new ways, from zip wires to surf lakes.
Here s our pick of the Seven Outdoor Wonders of Wales and unlike the author of the original ditty, we ve strayed far beyond the north east of the country.
Highest surfing: Surf Snowdonia
Who, a decade ago, would have imagined Wales named alongside Hawaii and California as a cradle of surfing? Actually, who would have imagined waves in the lovely but landlocked Conwy Valley at all?
Barmy though it sounds, surf s up in the mountains of Snowdonia after the launch of the world s first inland surfing lake today. Instead of King Neptune, Surf Snowdonia in Dolgarrog uses an aquatic snowplough to drag the longest wave ever made by man from the centre of a 300m long freshwater pool.
The clever bit is the contoured bottom which shapes three breaks: knee-high for beginners, chest-high for so-so surfers and head-high for the advanced.
Cocooned in 5mm neoprene, you wait. Nerves flutter. Then with a metallic rattle, the plough groans into action and a green wall of water hisses towards you.
The wave pitches, the board accelerates and suddenly you re on your feet, skimming across a moving wall of water.
Do I ride for five seconds? Ten? I ve no idea time stops.
All I know is that the next wave will break in a minute and I want to be on it.
One hour s surfing costs from 19 on beginners waves, from 25 for intermediate/advanced waves.
Fastest zip wire: ZipWorld Velocity
What do the Welsh do when Penrhyn Quarry, the largest slate quarry in the world, ceases production? Create the fastest zip line in the world, obviously. ZipWorld Velocity at Bethesda has spawned ever stranger zip line experiences in the area the bonkers ZipWorld Caverns or this year s Go Below Ultimate Xtreme, equal parts zip wire and subterranean assault course yet the mile-long pioneer project remains the most audacious.
Swaddled in a flying suit for streamlining, fitted with a helmet and goggles, you are slung horizontal beneath the zip wire on a clever piece of equipment.
A countdown begins and, like a rocket, you re launched into space. Quarry slopes beneath blur as you accelerate rapidly. Then suddenly the ground plummets and you re flying; arms pressed to your sides, wind roaring in your ears, a lake the colour of Quink ink 500ft below.
With no perspective to gauge speed, time slows.
Speeding through the skies, I recall thinking that this is what Superman must feel like. It s beautiful.
And the velocity? Between 70 and 100mph depending on the rider s weight.
Fast enough to get Superman a speeding ticket.
ZipWorld Velocity at Bethesda costs 60 per adult, including a quarry tour and warm-up ride on the Little Zipper zip line.
Toughest day hike: Snowdon Horseshoe
Let s put to bed those pub arguments about the toughest walk in Wales. If Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, was sufficiently challenging to serve as a training ground for Sir Edmund Hilary s 1953 Everest team, it s rugged enough for the average weekend walker.
Though relatively short at just over seven miles, the lofty Horseshoe ridge circuit from Pen-y-Pass stands tall as the ultimate Welsh day hike. It s the highest route for a start, taking in three mountain summits over 3,000ft, including Snowdon itself, the highest mountain south of the Grampians at 3,560ft.
It s also the most nerve-shredding. Many a confident walker has faltered at the knife-edge ar te from Crib Goch to Crib y Ddysgl. When I try it I cling to the ridge, unable to continue, suddenly all too aware that any slip is potentially fatal.
Worse, the weather here changes in a heartbeat and mine are coming far too rapidly after the scramble to get up here. Check conditions at a ranger station at Pen-y-Pass car park.
If the excitement dwindles after that knee-wobbling ridge, the views now take your breath away, from seascapes towards Anglesey to the dizzying view over Y Lliwedd, Wales s highest cliff. And although hikers like to grumble about Snowdon s summit caf , Hafod Eryri, you can bet they all stop for a cuppa.
The Snowdon Horseshoe is 7.1 miles long and takes six to eight hours.
Parking at Pen-y-Pass 5 daily. OS Explorer OL17.
Most vertiginous accommodation: cliff-camping, Anglesey
Welcome to Rhoscolyn, Anglesey, sir. We have your reservation.
Now, just pop on this climbing harness and we ll take you to your bedroom suspended from a 100ft sea-cliff
In April, Snowdonia-based climbing operator Gaia Adventures launched the first cliff-camping experience in the UK. Don t expect to see a listing in the Camping and Caravanning Club guidebook. Instead of a tent with an inflatable mattress, you sleep in the empty space between sea and sky on a portaledge, a ripstop nylon tray suspended from webbing.
The ledges were pioneered by climbers for multiday ascents and they re as terrifying as they look.
Abseiling down, the thin fabric sags under my weight. I move and the portaledge pitches sickeningly. Only once the panic recedes you re harnessed on at all times, including overnight do I notice the beautiful, edge-of-the-world panorama.
Currents swirl in silvery water. Cormorants flit on stiff wings. It s the best view in Wales and it s all mine for the night.
Gaia s Sam Farnsworth says cliff-camping is less macho thrill seeking than escapism, a way to slow down and connect with this glorious coastline.
Indeed, he believes nervous guests get the most from the experience. Just remember to pee before you settle in for the night the lavatory is over the side.
Overnight cliff-camping costs from 190pp for three ( 250pp for two), including dinner and breakfast.
Most scenic watersport: sea kayaking, St David s Head
Gwlad Hud a Lledrith, the Welsh used to call Pembrokeshire, the Land of Mystery and Enchantment. Whatever walkers on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path might say, the magic of Britain s sole coastal national park is revealed when you get up close and personal.
And to do that, you must get afloat.
St David s Head from a seal s-eye view becomes less a landscape of fields and cliffs than a maze of notches sucked at by a whispering sea. Secure in a little flotilla, you winkle through stacks and under arches, nose into sea caves and investigate postage-stamp beaches that are inaccessible by land. Guillemots launch from cliffs in a blur of black wings.
Seals sometimes pop up a paddle-length away.
Bobbing in my oversized razor-clam shell, the sea fluorescing blue-green in the sunshine, I realise I haven t felt such peace in years. Yet all good activities should contain the threat of genuine danger. My guide, Nigel Robinson, a former gold medallist in the World Sea Kayak Championships, talks fondly about The Bitches, a tidal race that churns surfable waves off nearby Ramsey Island.
A miracle of nature, he calls it. Apparently anyone can paddle out for a look. Maybe next year.
Kayaking trips with Nigel Robinson s Sea Kayak Guides cost from 85 per person per day.
Most extreme rock-pooling: coasteering, St David s
If there is better liquid refreshment in St David s than coasteering, they re keeping it quiet. The tiny Pembrokeshire city s aquatic gift to the world is an activity that s part adrenalin rush, part nature safari.
Coasteering here reinterprets the only coastal national park in Britain as a huge adventure playground. Led by a guide, you go rock hopping, shore scrambling, swell riding, cave exploring and, if you can laugh at heights, cliff jumping.
It s brilliantly simple all you need is a wetsuit, a helmet and a buoyancy aid.
With nothing between you and Britain s most beautiful coastline, coasteering doubles up as a wildlife experience. It s far more lovely than I expect when I go. One minute I m bobbing lazily past beautiful scenery, the next I m 20ft from a curious seal.
It feels like extreme rock-pooling.
So, what makes the St David s coastline so brilliant? Jon Haylock, guide for TYF, the company that launched the world s first coasteering trips, explains: On a gently sloping coast, coasteering feels pointless you can get out at any time. Here you re committed.
You re beneath imposing cliffs and have waves battering in from the Atlantic. It s a real challenge.
TYF in St David s runs 3 -hour and full-day coasteering expeditions year round, priced from 58.
Most challenging mountain biking: BikePark Wales
The 2013 and 2014 downhill events of the British National Mountain Biking Championships were held at Bike Park Wales, near Merthyr Tydfil. So, the UK s first commercial bike centre, launched in 2013, is a challenge for the best in Britain: rooty and rocky, with holes to swallow wheels on frantic black routes and more take-offs than Cardiff airport on pro-rated Trail X.
They re not the gnarliest, steepest tracks around, but they re definitely a test, says Danny Milner, editor of Mountain Bike Rider magazine.
Fifty Shades of Black a 1.1 mile black route launched in February is the wildest, kinkiest, most masochistic trail on the hill, with really good flow and great variety in features and terrains. Uplift makes for a supremely hassle-free experience: race down a single-track run, catch your breath in the caf , get a lift back up, repeat. It s addictive.
Yet one reason that BikePark Wales sets the standard for British biking is that it challenges bikers of all levels.
Its 28 trails test beginners as well as experts. Milner adds: The blue trails are almost the most fun, very flowing and fast, so you really get a sense of speed.
BikePark Wales is at Gethin Woodland Centre, Abercanaid, Merthyr Tydfil. Entry costs 6 per person, uplift (including park entry) costs from 30, reservation recommended.
- ^ How Wales got cool (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ 11 of Wales’s best travel experiences (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ surfsnowdonia.com (surfsnowdonia.com)
- ^ Video: tackling the ‘Big Zipper’ in Snowdonia (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ The world’s best zip wire rides (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ zipworld.co.uk (zipworld.co.uk)
- ^ The best walks in the UK (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ The best hotels in Wales (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ gaiaadventures.co.uk (gaiaadventures.co.uk)
- ^ 10 of the best cities for kayaking (www.discountholidays.info)
- ^ seakayakguides.co.uk (seakayakguides.co.uk)
- ^ tyf.com (tyf.com)
- ^ bikeparkwales.com (bikeparkwales.com)
- ^ Telegraphtravel (www.facebook.com)
- ^ Follow @telegraphtravel (twitter.com)
- ^ How we moderate (my.discountholidays.info)