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5 things to do in North Wales
Over the last 2 years I’ve been to North Wales 3 times. Twice for random days out and once for a 3-day camping mission in the Snowdonia National Park. No matter what I go there for, on return I’m always left asking the same question… Why in gods name do we live in England? It’s not for the weather, it’s always pissing down! It’s not for the space and freedom, as we all live on top of each other! It’s not for the shits and giggles!
As soon as you cross the River Dee, the buildings dissipate, the traffic dies off and within miles you’re left driving peacefully through fields of green without some suicidal “white van man” clinging your rear bumper as if he’s fighting his inner demons not to give you that little love tap that’ll send you crashing into the central reservation and through the pearly gates backwards on fire. Life in North Wales is filled with peace and tranquillity. Oh, and castles!!!
For some obsured reason, out of all the tourists floating round Britain in any given year (over 36 million in 2016) roughly only 2% actually bother to venture into Wales. What on earth are you lot thinking!? Now I’m not claiming to be some sort of expert on Wales but throughout my life I’ve periodically been to Wales. Whether, as a child on a family holiday to the Haven caravan park in Prestatyn, delivering fruit machines for work or just lazy days out to the empty beaches dotted around Anglesea, the bottom line is, Wales has always been the place of many fond memories.
Again, I’m talking that glass eye to sleep! It really is becoming a bit of a habit of mine these days, sorry!! Right I’ll stop the brown stuff from falling out of my mouth and crack on sharing my experiences of things to do in North Wales…
Walk the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – Pretty scary!!
Built in 1805 the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest and oldest aqueduct in Britain. It’s actually the highest anywhere in the world. With a total length of 307 metres and 38 metres tall at the valleys lowest point it’s no wonder that on the 27th of June 2009 the 18 span Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was inscribed onto the UNESCO world heritage list.
The design and construction took over 10 years to complete. This really is a marvel of engineering. Another question I ask a lot lately… How the hell did they do that? No such thing as a cherry picker 200 years ago.
It’s free to walk the Aqueduct and I must say the views are amazing if not a little scary. The surrounding wilderness is littered with sign posted walks and trails. One thing I will say though is, some of the trails are pretty steep and very slippery after rainfall so get some good walking boots or you’ll be sliding on your ass! Oh, and make sure your pockets are zipped up! Car keys fall to the left, 100ft drop into the river. Car keys drop to the right and you’re swimming my friend!! I’m not gonna lie, I was crapping myself trying to change camera lenses…. It’s a long way down!!
On the site there’s free parking, a café and even some small narrow boats that you can rent for the day. On the whole its pretty easy to find and well signposted once you get within a few miles of the aqueduct. Here’s the postcode: LL20 7TG.
Wander around Conwy Castle –
Since 1986, Conwy Castle has been part of the Edward 1 world heritage site and what a sight it is!! Perched on the edge of River Conwy and overlooking Deganwy, the Conwy Castle certainly is an imposing piece of medieval architecture.
The castle was finished in 1293 and at the time cost around £15,000 to build, I can only wonder what that is in todays money, I’m guessing it has a lot more zeros!! Conwy castle is thought to be the most expensive of all Edward 1’s Welsh castles. Yeah, he might have spent more than just a little pocket change on it but even to this day, over 920 years later it’s still in an amazing state of repair. You can’t help but think they really knew what they were doing back in the day.
As you drive on the Conway Road across the River Conwy, the first thing you see is Conwy suspension bridge with the Conwy Castle in the background. The suspension bridge itself is an absolute masterpiece, built in 1822-26. Originally designed to take traffic between Chester and Bangor, the Conwy suspension bridge is worth a 10-minute stroll.
Right back to the castle….
Admission is £9.50
Opening times are 9.30am – 5pm (last admission is 30 minutes before the closing time so don’t leave it until the last minute.)
Parking is available right next to the castle. (pay and display)
The postcode is LL32 8AY
Have a mooch through Llandudno
According to the 2011 census, Llandudno and its surrounding suburbs had a population of just shy 21,000 and from what I can see, most of them pensioners! While there are a few bars dotted around the place, if your idea of nightlife is anything more adventurous than a game of backgammon with a side of arthritic waltz then you better just spend the day in Llandudno and then head over the border to Liverpool.
However, with all that said, Llandudno does have a couple of aces up its knitted jumper sleeve;
Land here on a beautiful spring day as I was lucky enough to do and be in awe of the stunning beaches and rocky outcrops located around the bay.
Check out the pier – Opened in 1877 and at 700m long, its Wales’ longest and the 5th longest if you include all the piers in England as well.
Weekly farmers market – Hosted on the Bay View Shopping Centre carpark every Thursday, it’s the best place to sample what the local farmers have to offer.
Mooch round the street market – Every Tuesday and Saturday in the town centre. Nice for a lazy day strolling around.
Take a ride on the Great Orme Tramway – Open 7 days per week, from 10am – 6pm. The Great Orme Tramway is over 100 years old and still runs the same restored cars as it always has. Starting at Victoria station the Tramway climbs just over 1500m up into the Great Orme country park and nature reserve. On the clearest of days you can see as far as the Lake District.
I went as far as the halfway station, where if you so wish, you can change over and continue up to the summit for some breath-taking views. To be fair though, the views over Llandudno from the halfway station are pretty damn good!!
You can go up the Great Orme without getting on the Tramway, but I’m telling you now that is some serious hill!! If you decide to go on foot I wouldn’t know what to recommend, some good walking shoes or climbing ropes and harness!!
Tickets cost £8.10 return.
The Great Orme mine
Located literally 50 yards away from the Halfway station of the Great Orme Tramway, it would be rude not to have a look while you’re in the area.
I’d have to say this was one of the Highlights of Llandudno. Dating back 4000 years the Great Orme copper mine really is a walk back through time. Uncovered in 1987 and with nearly 5 miles of already explored tunnels, the Great Orme copper mine has been named the largest prehistoric mine in the world by the Guinness World Records team (2005).
Over 30,000 bones have been discovered at the site, some from cows, deer, rodents, dogs and even a couple from humans. Most of the bones would have been from food taken down to keep the workers fed and the rest were most likely used as tools to extract the copper ore. It is believed that quite a lot of the work would have been carried out by children due to the tight working spaces and once you head into the mines it’s not hard to see why. Claustrophobic!!
So, what do you get for £7 entry fee?
It all starts with choosing your hard hat, you could go for the standard blue get up, or really want to look cool then there’s always the pink ones….
Once you’ve choose fashion accessory, you’ll then head into a little museum type room where you’ll find out lots of information about the people that mined the area 4000 years ago. As well as seeing some of the recovered tools… And bones!!
Through the next door into a little “cinema room” a quick 5 minute video on how they have been carefully excavating and exploring the tunnels.
Off into the tunnels. It’s all very well laid out and easy to follow, while parts of it are a bit dimly lit, you’d struggle to get lost, well, as long as you stick to the designated paths. On the way round, you’ll find interesting explanations of what each bit represents. You can also see scratches in the rock walls and ceiling where someone 4000 years ago was searching for copper. That’s nearly 2100 years before the Romans were about in Britain!
Once you re-emerge from the depths below there’s a couple more videos and other displays. Obviously, it all ends back in the souvenir shop! Well, what self-respecting tour wouldn’t!?
All in all, well worth £7 of anyone’s money. If you find yourself in Llandudno, you’ve just got to do it.
A couple of things to note;
It’s pretty tight in places – Larger people may struggle in some of the narrower parts of the tunnel system.
Steep, slippery steps – you’ve got to be fairly good on your feet.
Dripping water – In certain parts of the tunnel there’s water dripping from the ceiling, white t-shirts could well come out looking like you ran out of toilet paper…
Puddles on the floor – Obviously, the tunnels are not the cleanest so don’t be wearing your best footwear.
Opening times: Mid-March to until the end of October. 9.30am to 4.30pm.
Without a doubt the Great Orme mine make the top 5 things to do in North Wales list!
Zip World Velocity – One for the adrenaline junkies!!
Now this is something that I did last summer and I must say it is most exhilarating! To hit on a few of the facts:
It’s the longest zip-line in the Northern Hemisphere
It has the highest top speed of any zip-line in the world – excess of 125mph!!
It’s over a mile long
4 people can race at the same time
It’s bloody terrifying…
Ok that last one isn’t quite a fact but let me tell you at least half of the people who go on it scream! They scream from top to bottom. Long before you can see them, you can hear the blood curdling screams. Obviously, I didn’t scream….. nah surely not… did I!?
So, what to expect!?
First off, if you’re planning a trip to North Wales and would like to do this, book early!! I’m sure you can see why it’s very popular and I had to book nearly 3 months in advance, so don’t hang about!
One you arrive and book in, you’ll be given full overall type getup and then the usual health and safety induction. 15-20 in total. You’ll then most likely have a good 30 minutes to sit at the spectator view point and watch everyone before you scream.
Soon enough you’ll be called to start the little zip practice run. For some, this will be plenty thrilling enough. Roughly 200m long and hitting 40mph its not a bad little introduction into what is to come.
After the “little zip” you’ll be directed to a big, red, ex-army troop carrier that’ll ferry you and the rest of your group to the top of the slate mine. The starting pad for the main event! Word of warning, the seating arrangement in the army trucks is basic, at best. Wooden benches, steel bars and a bumpy switchback road makes for some pretty bad bruises. Not much that you can do about it really. Saying that, according the zip world website, there have been revisions to the trucks since I was there. So, you never know they may have added a little padding.
Once you get to the launch pad, that’s when your heart drops out of your ass! That place where you were sat 30 minutes ago all nice and relaxed is somewhere down there in the distance. At the bottom there’s quite a few huts, buildings and infrastructure but from the top they’re nothing more than a speck! In all fairness it’s some view.
It’s now your turn to get strapped in. Hand your tether to the instructor who looks about 12 and pray to god they know what they’re doing. It’s all you can do! Once you’re buckled up, you’ll be told to lie down, face first. A little count down and then you’re off! 100+mph, looking down over the Penrhyn Quarry, up until the 1950’s, the largest man-made hole on the entire planet. The one thing I thought on my way down was if it all goes wrong, I’d resemble nothing more than a bug splat on a car windscreen. At least It’d be quick!!
Surely the closest you can get to flying without dropping out of a plane in one of those wing suit things.
If you’ve got an Action camera then there are mounting brackets on the helmets. If you don’t have one then you can rent one from Zip world, they’ll be a small charge.
Price: £75 for an off-peak day and £85 on-peak.
You can find up to date information and book your day out here on the official Zip World website.
Where to stay
The nearest town is Bangor, there’s plenty of B&B’s to choose from but prices start from roughly £75 and range all the way up to £120. Again, book early as this part of Wales is very popular, and accommodation tends to get booked up pretty quick. Don’t hang about!
If you’re a little more adventurous and don’t mind a bit of camping, then grab yourself a decent tent and head down to the Betws-y-Coed area where you’ll find plenty of campsites in the Snowdonia National Park. Starting at £10 per night for a tent, it’ll save you a few quid too.
I stayed on a campsite not too far from Betws-y-Coed and just in the boundaries of the Snowdonia National Park. To be honest with you that was my first time camping. It wasn’t too bad, in all fairness I quite enjoyed it. Well, apart from the air bed having a slight puncture, that only made itself known at 2am when I woke up feeling like I was lying on a concrete slab.
Not too far from Betws-y-Coed, you’ll find some amazing walks and a couple of nice waterfalls to go and explore;
The Swallow Falls – Open all year round, £1.50 to access. Pay at the bar/restaurant that is at the gate. Why not stop and get some lunch… Postcode: LL24 0DW
Conwy Falls – 9 miles upriver from the Swallow Falls. Located in a beautiful woodland setting, it’s well worth a hike. Postcode: LL24 0PN
And in summary….
Although the above list is by no means conclusive, of all that I have experienced in Wales they are at the top of my list of things to do in North Wales. Have you spent any time in North Wales? If so I’d love to hear what little gems you have found….