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May 05 2014

Discovering North Wales: Things to See and Do

Until March this year, I had only been to North Wales to hop on a ferry over to Ireland to visit my grandparents as a child.  This time, however, I was there on behalf of Traveldudes for a trip organised by Visit Britain and Visit Wales.  This turned out to be a great way to discover what North Wales has to offer, gave me the opportunity to do some activities I wouldn’t have considered doing, and left me with the desire to return to explore it further.

Places to stay and visit

We stayed in two towns, Conwy and Beaumaris, and spent a short time in Betws-y-Coed.

Conwy

Conwy is a walled, market town.  Even though it’s relatively small, it has some impressive and interesting old buildings such as Conwy Castle, which was built during the reign of King Edward I and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Conwy

Others, such as a merchant’s house, date back to the 14th century.  At one time, there was even an abbey, although that was replaced with a coaching inn which is now the Castle Hotel.  Over the years, this hotel has played host to eminent figures such as Wordsworth.  Last, but certainly not least, is one of the star attractions… Britain’s smallest house.

Beaumaris 

Beaumaris, on the Isle of Anglesey, was originally a Viking settlement, but it wasn’t until the 13th century that it really began to grow and develop.

Beaumaris

King Edward I can also be credited for the magnificent castle in this small, coastal town.  It’s a different style to Conwy Castle, but still very impressive and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Interestingly, the town got its name from the French builders who constructed the castle on marshland because they said it was a ‘beau marais’ (beautiful marsh).

Like Conwy, eminent people such as Charles Dickens have stayed at Ye Old Bulls Head in Beaumaris and there are buildings that date back to the 14th century.

Betws-y-Coed

We went to Betws-y-Coed specifically to go mountain biking, so that meant we had little time to wander around the village.  It’s a shame because it seemed really cute, with a village green and stone buildings that date back to the 19th century.   There’s even a 14th century church, St Michael’s, which is where the town is thought to have got its name: ‘Betws-y-Coed’ means ‘prayer house in the woods’.

Betws y Coed

Nontheless, being as it is set in Snowdonia National Park, it is a town for a variety of outdoor pursuits.  This is certainly evident by the vast number of outdoor shops in the village.

Activities

Outdoor activities aren’t limited to Snowdonia National Park.  North Wales is well set up for many outdoor pursuits.  We tried four very different types of activities: a rib ride, mountain biking, coasteering, and zip-lining.

Rib ride

I had never been on a ‘rib’ before and didn’t really know what it was or what was involved.  RIB actually stands for rigid inflatable boat.  They are lightweight but stable, so that means they are quick but relatively safe boats.

Rib Ride

Going on a rib ride is not just about speed, although we did get to experience what these boats can do.  We learned a bit about the Menai Strait, which is the stretch of water between the coast of North Wales and Anglesey.  We did this with Rib Ride.

Mountain Biking

I’m not a mountain biker, even though I have been on a mountain bike a few times, which included cycling down the World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia.  We cycled along part of the 25km Marin Route, which is close to  Betws-y-Coed, and rode through the beautiful Gwydir Forest.

Mountain biking in Betws

There were parts that were too much of a challenge for me, so I got off the bike and walked for fear of falling off.  It’s happened before in Bolivia and Newcastle, so I didn’t want to risk it.  If you enjoy mountain biking on challenging terrain, you’ll love the route.  We had someone from Beics Betws to guide and support us, and they provided us with all the necessary equipment.

Coasteering

This is an extreme outdoor sport I had never heard of, let alone tried, even though it’s, apparently, a fast-growing sport in the UK.  But, having doned two dry-suits, we headed off for the sea – the Irish Sea.  I had only ever been on a ferry on the Irish Sea, never contemplating swimming in it.  But, that’s what we did.  Coasteering involves swimming, jumping, climbing, and scrambling on rocks.  It’s probably easier to watch the video to get a better idea.

We did this with Surf Lines on the Isle of Anglesey and Mary, our instructor, was fantastic.  We went coasteering in March, but I would imagine it would probably be better in the summertime when it’s warmer.  Despite the cold water, which did take my breath away at times, I loved it.  In fact, I preferred it to mountain biking, which might sound a little strange to some of you.

Zip-lining 

I had zip-lined twice before, in Laos and in Northern Portugal, so I thought I knew it all when it came to zip-lining.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The way in which you zip-line at Zip World is completely different to anything I had seen or experienced.  Really, I’m not exaggerating!  Rather than sitting into the harness and zipping across looking straight ahead, you lie flat to make yourself as aerodynamic as possible.

Zip-line

That means you go much faster and it is thought to be the fastest zip-line in the world.  I reached a speed of over 95 miles/hour when I did it.  That’s fast!  You can watch the video to get a feel for what it’s like and the panoramic views you get of Snowdonia and beyond as you fly across the world’s largest old slate quarry.

Location

To give you a better idea of where these places are, I’ve pinpointed the three main towns and village on the map.  We did all four activities near these points.

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Conwy and Betws-y-Coed are served by railway stations.  The nearest train station to Beaumaris is in Bangor, which is about 6 miles away on the mainland.

Have your say

Have you been to North Wales?  If so, which is your favourite place?  Which of the adventure sports mentioned above interests you the most and the least?

Disclosure

As mentioned at the start, this was all part of a trip organised by Visit Britain and Visit Wales.  However, I must make it clear that I wasn’t told what to write.  Everything I have written is as I experienced it and how I felt.  That includes wanting to go back to explore Wales, not just the north, at my own pace.

I have included links to the places we stayed at and the companies we used for the activities, in case you are interested or want more information.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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