Tuesday 27 June 2017

Teen Time: Europe's largest zip zone is a lot closer than you think

Surf's up in Snowdonia

Zip World Velocity, with speeds of over 100mph. Photo: Zipworld.co.uk.
Zip World Velocity, with speeds of over 100mph. Photo: Zipworld.co.uk.
Jo Dennison, Surf Snowdonia
Zip line Llechwed Slate Mines
Surf Snowdonia
Zip Safari. Photo: Zipworld.co.uk
Surf Snowdonia
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Teens aren't easy to keep entertained on a weekend away. Surfing and zip-lining in Snowdonia could be the answer?

It's no mean feat getting a teenager away from his or her smartphone. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook - hours and days are spent melting the batteries.

So what to do with a 15-year-old son and two pals with energy to burn, but not the inclination to plan anything for themselves?

How about 100mph zip lines, the world's first inland surfing lagoon or giant, sky-ride swings hoisting riders over 80-feet into the air?

It mightn't spring instantly to mind, but our nearest neighbour, Wales, is becoming a destination of choice for the outdoorsy and adventurous types.

Even better, it's possible to pack in a host of activities over even a short weekend break - much of the action is situated in the breathtaking Snowdonia National Park, which is a 50-minute drive from Holyhead, to which we travelled with Stena Line from Dublin.

Jo Dennison, Surf Snowdonia
Jo Dennison, Surf Snowdonia

Our first stop was Surf Snowdonia (surfsnowdonia.co.uk), the world's first inland surfing lagoon, in the heart of the beautiful Conwy Valley.

The boys were in good hands with head surfer Jo Dennison (above) - a former British champion and a big name on the international circuit - who got them from landlubbers to surf dudes in less than two hours.

While out at sea, you're at the mercy of the weather, but here, the waves are timed to perfection. Each minute, the massive pool generates waves up to a two-metres which can travel 150 metres in mere seconds.

From an initial briefing on dry land, the boys soon got to grips with timing their strides and catching the perfect rip current. Even after a lesson lasting less than two hours, they began to look the part, and a weekend here would get you easily from novice to a competent surfer.

Surf Snowdonia
Surf Snowdonia

The huge centre also plays host to the Crash and Splash lagoon - if you've ever seen TV's Ultimate Wipeout, you'll know what to expect. Teams have to dangle over the water on monkey bars, giant balls and very slippery rollers to get from side to side over the water.

And they frequently land on their backsides in the lagoon (bring a camera, it's hilarious). The high point (literally) comes when one team member jumps onto a giant air-filled balloon (above) and sits precariously on the end of it. His friend - well, former friend - then jumps down, sending the pal catapulting into the air before the giant splash back to the water. Priceless fun. The activity centre also has a good play area for smaller kids and outdoor trampolines. You can stay here too.

The glamping huts are right by the water's edge, so you can catch all the action - there's a full bar and café plus the dinner and breakfast (the latter included in the overnight price) are good value and tasty, again with a brilliant view of all the action.

And the best bit for the lads? The glamping huts have outdoor hot tubs, which they got plenty of use out of for night-time dips, and for once they even forgot that they'd brought their shiny smartphones.

Zip Safari. Photo: Zipworld.co.uk
Zip Safari. Photo: Zipworld.co.uk

A beautiful sunrise managed to wake up even the laziest of teens and we set off for the nearby Llechwed Slate Caverns (llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk) near the old mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, high up in the Snowdonia mountains. In its day, it was one of the centres producing Welsh slate - believed to be the best of its kind in the world.

Miners' lives were tough: 12-hour days, children working hundreds of feet below ground and a short life expectancy due to dust inhalation. The miners themselves gave birth to some of the country's best singing traditions amid a proud history.

With mining gone, and the jobs with them, the area has transformed itself into a tourism hub. Now, the drudgery of old has given way to modern-day fun, and we took one of the tiny mining trains to bring us 500 feet under the ground. And the lads were keen to try their hands at digging for slate on the tour which is an incredible - but eerie - experience.

For something completely different, you can bounce on huge nets deep underground below - sliding, rolling or jumping from net to net in a cavern the size of a cathedral. But we went above ground (even I had a go), taking a bus to a mountaintop for Zip World Titan (zipworld.co.uk).

The largest zip zone in Europe, you travel thousands of metres with great views (if you can face looking down) over the Welsh valleys. Maybe you've experienced zip-lining before, but this is something else and a must-do thrill.

Visitors using one of the three long Zip World Titan wires at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales. Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images
Visitors using one of the three long Zip World Titan wires at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales. Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

All this in two days, with the inevitable pit stop for pizza (I'd recommend taking a few hours in the beautiful tourist town of Betws-y-Coed, where we ate at the cheap and trendy Hangin Pizzeria), with minimal driving and maximum fun.

But the best judges were the boys themselves. Before the trip, they couldn't get much beyond Gareth Bale when asked about Wales.

Now, they can't wait to return.

Get there

Flying with kids - and more so teenagers - can be a strain, and that's where the ferry comes into its own. We travelled with Stena Line (stenaline.ie), taking the 8.20am ferry on the Stena Adventurer out from Dublin and the 8.30pm on the Superfast X back from Holyhead the following evening.

One-way car fares start at €89, but check for offers, including the 10pc off for Surf Snowdonia activities and accommodation when booking a trip.

The private Stena Plus lounge is a good deal for €20 each. Free coffee, tea, soft drinks (they made short work of them) and nibbles, plus the big teen bonus: complimentary wifi to make the three hours and 15 minutes fly by.

One of three long Zip World Titan wires at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales. Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images
One of three long Zip World Titan wires at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales. Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

A Surf Snowdonia glamping pod costs £100/€116 a night for three to four people (with breakfast), but bring pillows and sleeping bags.

Beginner surf lesson-prices start at £40/€46.50 (adult) and £30/€35 (child); crash and splash costs from 15/€17. Zipworld (around an hour and a half) costs £180/€210 for a group of four; and the deep mine tour in Llechwed is £15/€17 each for family bookings.

Deals are available on 4x4 mountain bike tours too.

Herald

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