Sate your Need for Speed
There’s a theory that we seek out adventure sports because modern life is too safe and predictable. Our primitive Homo sapiens hearts don’t like safe and predictable. Our brains are designed to check for lions and tigers and bears all night, rather than toss and turn insomniacally on our memory foam. We were built to struggle hungrily towards the next meal, rather than cruise lazily through another late night takeaway.
Our inner cave men and women ache for risk, danger and adventure. When we find it, the payoff is a huge, satisfying mood boost. My inner Cave Lady craves adventure. And that’s why I spent last weekend in North Wales.
It’s been dubbed the UK’s Heart of Adventure (Calon Antur, if you fancy it in Welsh), and rightly – this corner of our fine isle is packed full of incredible countryside, welcoming people, and some of the best activity providers in the country. The mountains, cliffs and water courses are world class – there are challenges for professionals, and safe ways to try stuff out for beginners of all ages.
The Meek family from Nottingham, mum Kerry, dad Tim, and sisters Amy,10 and Ella, 8, are North Wales’ family ‘Ambassadors for Adventure’. Their enviable job for the next few months is to try out some of the best adventurous activities North Wales has to offer. Last weekend I tagged along with them.
The theme for the weekend was ‘Speed’ – and our first stop was a high octane demo drive round the Anglesey Circuit.
Overlooking Caernarfon Bay, with views across to Snowdonia, the 2 mile circuit hosts car and bike racing, as well as a bunch of car clubs and test days, and a performance driving school. I’ve never been on a race circuit before – it was a thrill clambering into the passenger seat of a racing green Lotus Elise, strapping in to the race harness and crash helmet then gunning round the track like a lunatic. The circuit dramatically rises and falls, making it exhilarating, technically challenging and very scenic.
You can try your hand driving the two-seater Lotus or a single-seater Formula Ford 1600 on a track day, or build your skills over a certified racing driver course. I’m by no means a petrol head, but burning rubber and hurtling into a second-gear corner at 120mph put a big old grin on my face.
Turns out I like going fast and close to the edge.
Which was good, as our plan for the afternoon was a spin around the Menai Strait with the fine chaps at RibRide. Tanned and tousled sailor types with smart new boats, this is a slick, safe and jolly operation.
They seem delighted to be allowed to drive fast boats around for fun, as a job, and their happiness is contagious. Our skipper Charles is full of factoids and jokes for the kids, and clearly knew the notorious Menai currents and whirlpools well, pushing the boat’s monster 250 horsepower engine to its max in safety.
We whizzed through the Menai and Britannia bridges, gawped at the magnificent Plas Newydd, stately home of the Marquis of Anglesey, enjoyed the history, wildlife and evening sunshine, then did some super-speed doughnuts on the way back in. Amy and Ella loved rib riding just as much as the grown ups – this is kid friendly thrill-seeking (the minimum age is 4) that will satisfy the whole family. RibRide also do trips round the whole of Anglesey, and this summer they’ll also be setting off into the proper sea to explore the cliffs, meet the seals and find secluded beaches along the coast.
Whether you’ve got all day or just an hour, it’s worth spending time at water level.
And when you stagger off the boat back at Menai Bridge, windswept and giggling, there’s a fantastic café restaurant, Dylans, next door, to warm up in.
Now, I’m not scared of the cold. The inner Cave Lady likes the cold. But if you don’t want to bivvy bag half way up Snowdon (which is what the Meeks did the night before), you can get a good feed and a comfy bed to suit any pocket.
We went high-end with the five-star gothic charms of the Chateau Rhianfa hotel – they’ve got 22 bedrooms, opulent dining and reception rooms, and a self-catering three bedroom coach house in the grounds. We tumbled in to the Coach House sitting room, chomping on local handmade chocolate and played a viciously competitive game of snakes and ladders before bed.
The views, across the Menai Strait to Bangor, are awesome, the wood fire was cosy and the only thing that beat the comfy, sink-into-ey bed was the slate-tiled rain shower in a bathroom as big as our flat.
Sunday morning, just 18 hours into our weekend of speed, and I had another moment of appreciation for what North Wales has to offer – this area is saturated with good stuff.
Within half an hour’s travel we could have been playing on a world class beach, sea kayaking, gorge walking, pony trekking, wild swimming, rock climbing, fishing, sailing or walking up the highest peak in England and Wales. We could have eaten at award winning restaurants or visited historical and archaeological sites of staggering beauty. What we did was linger over a cup of coffee, watching the misty morning light over the Menai Strait, then drove 20 mins to the longest and fastest zipline in Europe.
Zip World at the Penrhyn Quarry has only been open a year, but its reputation is growing fast. The wet Welsh morning did nothing to dampen our group of eager thrill seekers togged up in the patented safety harness-apron-sling things. There’s the Little Zipper (minimum age 7) and the Big Zipper (minimum age 10) – with an entertaining truck ride up the precipitous quarry sides to get from the end of the one to the top of the other.
Everyone starts off with the Little Zipper, which helps you relax a bit, get comfortable with the ungainly clambering required to get attached safely to the zipline (you hang below it in a prone position), and then experience the surreal and surprisingly calm feeling of flying head-first over a flooded mountain chasm.
Then you face the Big Zipper – like a human bullet attached to a string, you zip a whole mile at speeds in excess of 100mph. Yes, that is really fast, really far, and it is really fun. The oldest person to have done it so far is 94. Never too old for an adventure.
My inner Cave Lady thrill seeker was more than sated. We stopped on the way home for a delicious Sunday lunch at the Bryn Tyrch Inn, in Capel Curig. If we didn’t need to head home in time for Sunday night homework time, we could have nipped up a hill or pottered about in one of the gorgeous villages in the area.
None of our ‘Speed’ activities were particularly physically challenging, which makes them great for anyone who doesn’t want exhausting but does want the full measure of fun and thrills.
Tim and Kerry Meek, parenting heroes and family adventure champions, are clear: you don’t need to do crazy or expensive stuff in order to squeeze a bit more out of life. You don’t need to go somewhere exotic, you can find adventure pretty close to home. Solo traveller, group of friends, or family – go do some adrenaline adventuring and enjoy the Caveman mood boost. There’s nothing like it to reset the modern world work-life balance. You can do it on a budget, or you can splash out – the important thing is to do it.
And North Wales, a world class adventure playground, is on your doorstep.
Go wet and wild on a RibRide www.ribride.co.uk
Burn elite rubber at Trac Mon www.angleseycircuit.com
Fly head first over a quarry in Zip World www.zipworld.co.uk
Do opulent bedtime with Château Rhianfa www.amazingvenues.com
Eat lunch at Bryn Tyrch Inn www.bryntyrchinn.co.uk
Make like the Meeks and get adventuring www.dotrythisathome.com
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