Scaring myself at Zip World caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd

I wasn’t sure whether to be nervous or excited when my partner bought me a birthday voucher for Zip World caverns. Billed as an exhilarating underground journey using zip lines, rope bridges, via ferrata and tunnels, it’s one of the experiences that’s taking adventure tourism to a new level in North Wales.

Based at Llechwedd Slate Mine the site also provides the opportunity to ride on a four person zip line and bounce on an underground trampoline. But I think the Caverns Experience is definitely the most exciting!

Kitting up

My adventure started in the kit room. As well as myself, there were two family groups ranging in age from 11-55 years. Following the instructor, the eight of us stepped into harnesses, tightened belts and buckles, attached the trolley (zip lining device) then donned helmet and gloves. We almost looked like we knew what we were doing.

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

Part 1 training

After a brief introduction we stepped outside for our first training session. On the ground we were shown how to click our harness system onto the safety cable.

Outdoor training area at Zip World Caverns
Outdoor training area at Zip World Caverns

If you’ve tackled a Go Ape course you’ll be familiar with the safety cable system. Zip World uses something slightly different, CliC-iT, which relies on magnets between the two lanyard connectors to stop accidental unclipping. You are only able to have one connector unattached at any one time which is reassuring. However it does require practice and this was our opportunity. Best to perfect it on the ground in daylight.

Part 2 training

We soon graduated into the second training area. Led inside the cave, we passed the underground trampolines in Bounce Below, where my kids were burning off some energy, to reach a ladder and small set of zip wires.

Here we were shown how to attach the trolley to the zip line (with the wobbly bit next to your nose) and how to hold the device when ziplining. And then we were let loose on the mini zip wire course.

Indoor training area at Zip World Caverns
Indoor training area at Zip World Caverns

Rather nervously, I climbed the ladder to the highest zip line, clipped on and launched myself off. Although daunting I’ve tackled enough zip lines to know that the step off the safety ledge is the hardest part. Before long, I had zoomed back and forth across the cave several times until I reached floor level.

If, after this stage, you decide you don’t want to go into the caverns there’s a chance to pull out and get a full refund. Everyone in our group was happy to continue so we walked back through to the caverns.

Onto the caverns

The instructor leaves you after the training sessions and you complete the course at your own pace (although you’ll always have people in front and behind). The caverns are monitored by a myriad of CCTV cameras so if you get stuck you can raise your hand and wait for help.

The training sessions were very good at familiarising us with the equipment. But they in no way prepare you for the environment that you encounter in the caverns themselves. From my perspective that’s actually a good thing; I prefer not to know. But if you want to, then read on.

The zip wires

The first part of the cavern adventure is all about the zip wires. There are evidently ten of them but I wasn’t counting, just focussing on making sure I’d attached myself correctly.

The zip wires start high then get lower and longer as you progress through the course. A couple at the end have a very fast landing. I discovered the trick is to start moving your legs a little just as you approach the end so that you’re ready. I’m not sure this makes the slightest difference but it gave me something to focus on apart from the impending cavern wall. If all else fails there’s plenty of crash mat protection!

Inside Zip World Caverns
Inside Zip World Caverns

There’s a photo opportunity on zip line number nine and although I remembered to smile for the camera I also put my arm in front of my face. No souvenir photograph for me then.

The via ferrata

Popular in the Italian Dolomites, via ferrata are a way of traversing cliffs using metal rungs, ladders and bridges. The second half of our route took us along the edge of the cavern wall, up and down ladders and across a variety of bridges. I shuffled across tree trunks, crawled through tunnels and clambered up rope nets.

This part of the course was much harder for me as I don’t like the exposure that comes with heights. I found it tricky balancing on an iron foot hold, holding on to a rung above me and attempting to re-clip my leads on to the next wire. All the time trying not to look down. I admit it, I was scared.

I wasn’t the only scared person. There were plenty of shrieks coming from all around, which did little to reassure me. Although the family in front kept an eye on me, gleefully telling me how difficult the next parts were. After an hour or so I was happy and relieved to reach the end of the course, but slightly disappointed there wasn’t a final zip wire to ride.

Would I go again? As most of the adventure relates to not knowing what to expect I wouldn’t rush back to do the same thing. However there’s lots of other experiences to try out. In fact, I’ve already added a trip on Velocity, Europe’s longest zip ride, to my UK bucket list so I’ll be back.

More info

  • Are you brave enough? If so the Zip World website details a myriad of adventure options to part you from your cash. The caverns adventure lasts 2-3 hours and costs £60.
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My British bucket list: 100 things to do in the UK

There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.

My bucket list favours outdoor attractions, walks and great scenery as that’s what I enjoy. It may look like I’ve ignored vast swathes of the country and prime tourist attractions but that’s because I’ve already visited many of them!

What’s on my bucket list?

  1. Wild camp on Dartmoor.
  2. Walk a long distance path.
  3. Cycle the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon.
  4. Spend a night on Lundy Island, Devon.
  5. Enjoy a weekend break in Lincoln.
  6. Join a tour of Highgate Cemetery, London.
  7. See the Purton Ships graveyard, Gloucestershire.
  8. Brave the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Cumbria.
  9. Camp on Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
  10. Climb Up at the O2, London
  11. Watch a Highland Games in Scotland.
  12. Spend a week exploring the Isle of Anglesey.
  13. Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  14. Visit the Italianate village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd.
  15. Stay in a castle.
  16. Enjoy the Gower Peninsula beaches.
  17. Explore the Isle of Harris.
  18. Go wildlife spotting on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
  19. Explore Neolithic Orkney.
  20. Visit a lavender field.
  21. See Britain’s only desert at Dungeness beach, Kent.
  22. Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland.
  23. Enjoy the waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall.
  24. Stay in an Airstream caravan.
  25. Explore the deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset.
  26. Visit a tin mine in Cornwall.
  27. Spot dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, London.
  28. Walk around the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye.
  29. Discover the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
  30. Watch the British Firework Championships in Plymouth, Devon
  31. Ride Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe at Bethesda, Gwynedd.
  32. Tour Ramsgate’s war tunnels, Kent.
  33. Watch the seabirds on Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire.
  34. Go pony trekking on Exmoor.
  35. Spot Banksy’s art in Bristol.
  36. Have fun in Margate, Kent
  37. Stay overnight on the Knoydart Peninsula.
  38. Attend the Cotswold Olimpick Games, Gloucestershire.
  39. Enjoy the seaside at Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan.
  40. Search for dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
  41. Walk in the Mourne Mountains, County Down.
  42. Explore the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Lochaber.
  43. Take a boat trip to Smoo Cave, Sutherland.
  44. Cycle from Bournemouth out to Hengitsbury Head, Dorset.
  45. Visit Dennis Severs’ House, London.
  46. View the Kelpies in Falkirk.
  47. Explore Kinver Edge and the cave houses, Staffordshire.
  48. Admire the Devil’s Bridge, Ceredigon.
  49. Walk along Brean Down, Somerset.
  50. Discover Hawkstone Park follies, Shropshire.
  51. Visit a deserted underground station.
  52. See the treasures at London Silver Vaults.
  53. Go fossil hunting in Charmouth, Dorset.
  54. Explore the ruins of Denbigh Castle, Denbighshire.
  55. Have an adventure in How Stean Gorge, Yorkshire.
  56. Discover the coastal scenery of Duncansby Head, Caithness.
  57. See the apes at Trentham Monkey Forest, Stoke-on-Trent.
  58. Enjoy the rock formations at Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire.
  59. Tour Brighton’s sewers.
  60. Go puffin spotting on Rathlin Island, County Antrim.
  61. Take a boat trip in the Lake District.
  62. Relax on Man O’War beach, Dorset.
  63. Climb Low Fell, Cumbria.
  64. See the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
  65. Drive the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ to Applecross, Wester Ross.
  66. Take the train from Exeter to Teignmouth, Devon.
  67. Learn about the historic Coffin Works, Birmingham.
  68. Go on a wildlife safari.
  69. Walk up Pendle Hill, Lancashire.
  70. Ride the Kyle Line from Lochalsh to Inverness.
  71. Walk along the shingle on Chesil Bank, Dorset.
  72. Enjoy the views from the summit of Box Hill, Surrey.
  73. See how the Roman’s lived at Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex.
  74. Watch the seabirds at Bass Rock, North Berwick.
  75. Walk the woodland trail to Puck’s Glen, Argyll.
  76. Stroll around the fishing village of Crail Harbour, Fife.
  77. Explore Great Orme Copper Mine, Conwy.
  78. Enjoy Dewstow Garden and Grottoes, Monmouthshire.
  79. Climb Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire.
  80. Learn about the past at Killhope Lead Mining museum, County Durham.
  81. Explore maritime history at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent.
  82. Cycle the Plym Valley Trail, Devon.
  83. Wander around Eyemouth harbour, Berwickshire.
  84. Discover ancient Wistman’s Wood, Two Bridges, Dartmoor.
  85. Enjoy the plants of Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll.
  86. Go caving.
  87. Go underground into a Cold War bunker.
  88. Buy some blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market, London.
  89. Experience life in The Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.
  90. Explore the coastline at Robins Hood Bay beach, North Yorkshire.
  91. Cycle the Red Squirrel Cycle Trail, Isle of Wight.
  92. Descend into the mine at the National Coal Mining museum, West Yorkshire.
  93. Hunt for wildlife at RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire.
  94. Explore the valley around Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire.
  95. Learn about our industrial heritage at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire.
  96. Follow the Black and White village trail, Herefordshire.
  97. See the Severn Bore.
  98. Discover our history at Battle Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex.
  99. Zoom down the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide, London.
  100. Enjoy the views from Ratagan Youth Hostel, Ross-shire.

Completing my bucket list

As I complete items on the bucket list I’ll be adding links from this page to my blog write up so do pop back from time to time to see how I’m getting on!

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?

Pin it for later:

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A family walk up Pen-y-Fan, Powys

I’ve climbed Pen-y-Fan, the highest hill in southern Britain, a couple of times without the kids. As the kids are older now I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs on the way back from our holiday in Pembrokeshire.

Having only visited outside of the summer season previously I had no idea how popular the walk was. Our first hint was the long line of cars parked along the edge of the main road. There are a couple of off road car parks but as these were both full we parked on the grass verge like everyone else.

Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan
Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan

There are several routes up Pen-y-Fan. If we’d had the time and energy it would have been good to tackle one of the circular routes which takes in several of the peaks. However with a 2 hour journey behind us and another 2 hour drive home we settled on the standard route up from Pont ar Daf car park, also known as ‘The motorway’.

The Pen-y-Fan motorway

The main track is broad and well made, obviously used to thousands of walking boots. The route was straightforward and relatively easy; it was just a pity that some people had decided to leave dog poo bags alongside the track.

Pen-y-Fan walk
Pen-y-Fan walk

As we walked my son recounted part of the Bear Grylls book he’d just read. Bear’s SAS selection process took place in these hills and although we had an easier time than Bear this mountain shouldn’t be under-estimated. The ease of access means that people can and do get into difficulty, particularly in poor weather.

The first summit (with the flat top shown in the picture above) is actually Corn Du. We skirted around the edge, saving it for our return journey, and walked on to Pen-y-Fan. The views open up at this point and it’s a pretty spectacular view down the Neuadd valley.

A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!
A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!

A short final climb took us up onto the summit of Pen-y-Fan. I would guess there were a couple of hundred people up there enjoying the views, many more than I’ve seen on any other hill. Families with children of all ages, runners, walking groups and plenty of dogs.

Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan
Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan

We queued for a few minutes to take the obligatory summit photo. Just behind us is the view you see in the feature photo at the top of this post, incredible!

We’d been organised enough to bring a picnic and managed to find a relatively empty spot to eat it in. On bad weather days the wind would be howling across the summit but we were lucky and enjoyed our sandwiches in glorious sunshine.

Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit
Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit

On to Corn Du

Heading off of Pen-y-Fan we tackled the summit of Corn Du, the second highest peak in South Wales. It’s similar to the summit of Pen-y-Fan; in fact I had to let one family know that they weren’t quite on Pen-y-Fan, much to their kids disappointment.

Route down from Pen-y-Fan
Route down from Pen-y-Fan

It’s pretty steep coming down from Corn Du and I was pleased we’d chosen to walk up the route from Pont ar Daf rather than Storey Arms. The path drops down to a stream before climbing back up a little. We saw a couple of runners filling their water bottles in the stream but rather them than me. I’ve seen too many dead sheep in streams higher up the mountains to even consider this!

We were soon back at the car, ready to hit the M4 again. I’m glad to report that we all enjoyed Pen-y-Fan more than the usual motorway stopover.

If you’re looking for other walks in the Brecon Beacons check out my family walks near Abergavenny post. On a wet day you might like to explore Caerleon’s Roman history or Blaenavon’s industrial heritage.

More info:

  • This route starts from the Pont ar Daf car park on the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. We followed the 4 mile walk outlined on the National Trust website.
  • There are a couple of burger vans and some pretty foul toilets at the start of the walk.
  • We visited on a sunny clear day and there were loads of families walking the hill. However remember that the weather and visibility on top may be very different from your starting point. Always take appropriate equipment and clothing, check the weather forecast and walk within your abilities.
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15 things to do in and around St Davids, Pembrokeshire

St Davids is Britain’s smallest city (population 1800) and makes an excellent base to explore Pembrokeshire. Despite being a city St Davids is the ideal place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors, be it walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path, surfing or coasteering. Read on to find out things to do in and around St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

1. Bishop’s Palace, St Davids

Located adjacent to St Davids cathedral, Bishop’s Palace was built in the 13th Century to house the bishops and entertain guests. Nowadays it’s a ruin but an impressive one and well worth an hour of your time.

Bishop's Palace, St Davids
Bishop’s Palace, St Davids

Inside there are plenty of areas to discover, up and down winding staircases. The dark undercrofts were great for hiding and jumping out on the kids, whilst the towers provided great views. Information boards are dotted around the site to give you an insight into how life would have been.

Check the CADW website for Bishop’s Palace opening times as they vary according to season. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £10.50.

2. Solva

Just a couple of miles from St Davids, Solva wins my award for the most picturesque harbour in Pembrokeshire, possibly even in Wales. It’s particularly lovely when the sandy beach is revealed at low tide. Wander along Trinity Quay for a spot of boat and people watching or head into the village to visit cafés and galleries.

Solva, near St Davids
Solva, near St Davids

We walked from Solva over Gribin ridge to the pebble beach at Gwadn. The kids messed around in the stream before walking inland up the valley. At this point we discovered the stream the kids had been playing in earlier was the (treated) outflow from the sewage works! Despite this late discovery we all enjoyed the walk and the sudden need to wash our hands was a good excuse to visit a cafe.

3. Enjoy an ice cream at Gianni’s, St Davids

Gianni's ice cream, St Davids
Gianni’s ice cream, St Davids

It’s not the cheapest but you get what you pay for. £2.50 buys you a cone of Gianni’s organic home-made ice cream in a huge variety of flavours. We sampled many of these throughout the week, including salted caramel, raspberry dodge and mango sorbet. There’s a daily alcoholic choice, a dairy and sugar free option and even bacon flavour ice cream for your dog! Gianni’s is located in the High Street in St Davids; easily identified by the queues in sunny weather!

4. Whitesands Bay

Looking at the photo below you could almost imagine it was taken in sunny California. Although you can guess from the lack of people sunbathing that it was taken in colder climes.

Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire
Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire

If you’re a fan of golden sandy beaches then you’ll love Whitesands Bay, just outside St Davids. This large beach is popular with families and is one of the best in Wales for surfing. There’s a large car park, cafe, toilets and lifeguard service throughout the summer months.

If you prefer smaller beaches take a short walk north along the coastal path to Porthmeigan. There are no facilities here but it’s a quieter choice if Whitesands is too busy.

5. Walk around Ramsey Head

Just about any walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path will reward you with spectacular scenery and wildlife sightings. If, like me, you prefer circular walks, you’ll enjoy a walk on the Treginnis Peninsula.

We started at Porthclais, a couple of miles from St Davids, and followed the coastal path around Ramsey Head. We headed inland near St Justinian’s back to our starting point. A highlight of this walk are the views over to Ramsey Island, which is separated from the mainland by a treacherous reef called The Bitches. Popular with experienced kayakers, the tides race through the channel creating whirlpools and eddies.

6. St Non’s chapel

St Non’s chapel is a 20 minute walk (or short drive) from the city and is said to mark the birthplace of St David. The small ruin and holy well are located in the middle of a cattle field.

St Non's chapel, near St Davids
St Non’s chapel, near St Davids

There’s not much to see but it’s a peaceful place to spend a few minutes. From the chapel you can walk down through the field to reach the coastal path. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view.

7. St Davids cathedral

The cathedral is the reason for St Davids city status. Although we didn’t go inside we walked down through the cemetery to reach Bishop’s Palace so were able to appreciate its architecture.

St Davids Cathedral
St Davids Cathedral

It’s in a beautiful location, evidently built in a dip to hide it from invaders coming from the sea. It survived an earthquake in the 13th Century but was almost destroyed by Cromwell’s forces. Fortunately it has been restored and visitors can enjoy its splendour. Find out more details here.

8. Watch the jumpers at the Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy

The Blue Lagoon, a few minutes walk from the beach at Abereiddy, is an old slate quarry. Popular with coastering groups, the quarry has several high ledges that brave souls can dive from into the incredibly blue waters. Alternatively, scaredy cats (like me) can just sit and watch.

9. Climb Carn Llidi

If you’re feeling energetic the 595ft summit of Carn Llidi makes a good destination for an afternoon walk. We parked at Whitesands Bay and walked north along the coastal path around the headland before walking up the shoulder of Carn Llidi.

carnllidi

The last few feet to the summit requires a scramble which I opted out of as it was quite windy on top. Fortunately the views are just as good a few feet below. You can supposedly see Ireland on a clear day but I was quite content with views of the coastline and Whitesands Bay.

10. Go on a boat trip

There are several boat operators vying for business in St Davids. These offer plenty of choice, from landing trips on the RSPB reserve of Ramsey Island to evening wildlife cruises and jet boat rides.

Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer
Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer

We chose to visit Skomer island which necessitated a longer drive to the boat departure point at Martin’s Haven. It was worth the extra effort and early start; you can read about our trip here.

11. Have a BBQ on the beach

One of our most memorable evenings was spent barbecuing chocolate stuffed bananas and toasting marshmallows on the beach. We carried foil wrapped bananas and a disposable barbecue down to the beach. I kept watch whilst the kids went off to play on a rope swing in the woods behind Aber Mawr beach.

BBQ bananas on the beach
BBQ bananas on the beach

The chocolate bananas took a while to cook but were definitely worth the wait. Although next time I’ll remember to bring some tissues as they were rather messy to eat!

If you’re going to do something similar remember to take all litter home with you and leave no trace of your visit.

12. Rockpooling at Caerfai Bay, near St Davids

We joined a sea safari at Caerfai Bay organised by Pembrokeshire National Park. Starting from the top of the beach our guide pointed out the different rocks, mosses and flowers. We walked down towards the sea, stopping often to explore the different creatures in the rock pools. We learnt lots about barnacles, sea anemones and limpets; a couple of the group got to taste seaweed too.

Rockpooling
Rockpooling

13. Enjoy the wildflowers along the Pembrokeshire coastal path

Spring and early summer are a great time to enjoy the wild flowers. Thrift and brightly coloured gorse bushes line the coastal path and helpfully cheer up photos on dull days.

Flowers of the Pembrokeshire coast
Flowers of the Pembrokeshire coast

We found groups of heath spotted orchids whilst walking on Carn Llidi, bluebells on Skomer and campion, spring squill and foxgloves almost everywhere along the coast. There were also plenty of others that I didn’t get around to identifying!

14. Visit the art galleries

Pembrokeshire is home to a large number of artists and many villages have galleries and craft shops. Whilst keeping an eye out for child related breakages isn’t the most relaxing way to spend your time we do enjoy picking up mementos of our stay. St Davids in particular has a couple of good options including Oriel y Parc and Oriel y Felin. Some of the artists also have their own galleries, including one of our favourites, Chris Neale.

15. Seal spotting

We only saw one seal on our most recent visit; however if you’re visiting in autumn you’re in for a treat. The seals come ashore to pup so keep an eye out for them from the coastal path or alternatively visit Skomer or Ramsey islands.

Have you visited the area? If so, let me know if you’ve any further suggestions for things to do with children in Pembrokeshire.

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