Friday, 29 April 2016

Wild in Wales Part 2 - Zippy & Bungle

We are no strangers to zipwire/ high ropes adventures.  We've scared ourselves witless at Calvert Trust in Kielder on their high ropes course, we've tackled the 7 huge zipwires of Go Ape in Grizedale and we've zoomed high across the Eden Project in Cornwall - so I'll admit I was a little blase about scrambling through a few caverns and whizzing across a the zipwires that Zipworld had to offer at their Cavern Adventure in Blaenau Ffestiniog.  That'll teach me.  I can honestly say I haven't had such a brilliantly fun and, at the same time, utterly terrifying adventure for a long time.  "Do something that scares you at least once each day" they say - well I'm good for a week or more now.  (For the record, based on today's performance, Steve's Zippy and I'm most definitely Bungle...)

Criccieth Beach & Castle
We're still camped at the lovely Camping and Caravanning Club Site at Llanystumdwy - it's a small site alongside the A497 near Criccieth with excellent facilities and is the perfect base for exploring the Lleyn Peninsula and Snowdonia.

Zipworld have a number of adventures to choose from, there's the terrifying Velocity zipwire in Bethesda - the longest zipwire in Europe & the fastest in the world (suitable for adrenaline junkies) and the Treetop Nets adventure (suitable for all the family) amongst many others.  Given that the weather was somewhat changeable we opted for the Caverns Adventure - an all weather adventure deep below the ground - what could possibly go wrong?

As instructed we arrived 30 mins before our launch time to sign the obligatory disclaimer and get fitted out with the usual harness etc.  I first became concerned when they said there was a 1 hour training session before we were allowed out on the course - 1 hour?  How scary is this exactly?  I soon found out....

The photo above is of the cavern where the adventure begins.  No photos would do it justice.  Once your comprehensive training is done you're let loose on the course which involves creeping across walls 50 feet plus above the floor of the cavern, zooming along zipwires that zig zag along the length of the cavern, wobbling over rope bridges that would make Indiana Jones think twice and slithering your way over nets suspended hidden so high in the roof of the caverns that I didn't dare look down so can't actually tell you how high they really were.

Oh - and there's crawling through narrow tunnels too - did I mention that?

This is HUGE compared to the tunnels
we crawled through
We've only splashed out on one "tourist experience" during our hols and I'm so glad it was this - it was a superb adventure and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to recommend it.  My only criticism is that at the "rest spot" half way around the course there were no G&Ts on offer - and I could really have used a little Dutch Courage.  (Trust me - take a look at their website and give them a go!)

Once we were done with all the scary stuff we headed back to the site, the sun was out, the skies were blue and the cafe in Criccieth was serving the most amazing hot cherry pancakes.  I'm pretty sure that pure terror burns a lot of calories so I reckon the treat was calorie free, plus the cherries are being counted as one of my "five-a-day".

Tomorrow we're off up Snowdon - a walk in the park after today's adventure surely? (Famous last words!)

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Wild in Wales Part 1 - "Having a relaxing day"

North Wales has a huge number of very special memories for me - I used to holiday here as a child and I went on to study Geology at Aberystwyth.  In between hangovers I seem to recall I had a pretty good time.  For some reason I'd never quite made it back here as an adult and, since we moved to Cumbria, I got too over excited about Scotland being on our doorstep to realise that Wales is also just a short drive away.  We planned to have a relaxing break with just one main adventure up Snowdon but it hasn't quite worked out that way....

Day 1 - Llandudno

This was just the drive in but we still managed to explore a good chunk of the North Wales Coast, including a trip to Llandudno Pier - really, you can't beat a good pier now can you?

Day 2 - Conwy & the Great Orme

"Let's go for a short spin on the bikes" we said.  "Doesn't have to be far" we said.  So we cycled to Conwy (5 miles).  Then on to Llandudno (5 miles).  Then around the Great Orme (5 miles and a blooming great hill). Then back to Conwy (5 miles) then back to the campsite (5 miles).  You get the idea...  Nice views though.  Steve was born in Bangor so is technically Welsh and he spent most of the walk around the town walls of Conwy plotting how to defend the place from the English.  This could be a long week....

Day 3 - Tal y Fan

We've been staying at Cefn Cae - an award winning Camping and Caravanning Club site near Rowen and it's absolutely stunning.  Beautiful big quiet field, lovely facilities and a barn full of essential bits and bobs with an honesty box for your pennies.  Plenty of sheep in the surrounding fields (well this *is* Wales) and we've noticed they're a lot more chatty than English sheep - I'm sure there must be a reason for that....

Anyway, they had 10 local walks for us to choose from that ranged in difficulty from a short 1.5 mile toddle to a 5.5 mile hike over the nearest big hill. Guess which one we chose?  On a really, REALLY, windy day.

We've found we translate mountain heights in much the same way as we do currency when we're abroad.  1 Tal y Fan = 1 Heron Pike at today's exchange rates.  (For the record 1 Ben Nevis = 1 Red Screes + 1 Harstop above How and 1 Snowdon = 2 x Great Mells)  So not a huge hike but certainly not the quiet day we had in mind - but much more was to come...

Day 4 - "We're just going to take a look at Cwm Idwal"

Never in the history of hiking has 1 short hike turned into quite such an adventure.  It all started with a plan to drive from the site, via the Nant Ffrancon valley, to Caernarfon, with a quick stop off along the way to look at Cwm Idwal.  Here we are parked in the layby ready for our short hike. 

First we took a short pootle to Cwm Idwal.  Very nice it was too.

Then came "Oh that looks like an interesting path around the tarn - let's explore".  Next thing we know we're looking at these views.

Then we noticed the path disappearing off up an interesting looking crag and an hour or so later we're on top of Y Garn scoffing the few biscuits we'd taken with us and admiring Crib Goch away in the distance.  (And in case you were wondering 1 Y Garn = 1 Helvellyn).  Which brings us to...

Day 5 - A mediaeval step class

We finally made it to Caernarfrom for a "quiet day ambling around the town and castle".  To be honest there wasn't tons in the town to keep us amused (we're not shoppers) so we headed for the castle.  If you're thinking it looks interesting with all those towers then let me tell you that it is, and I know it is because we climbed every single one of them.

The views really were stunning but I can now crack walnuts between my thighs.  At least I could if they didn't ache quite so much.

So, now we've arrived at our second site - the beautiful Camping and Caravanning Club Site near Criccieth (Llanystumdwy - I really need to brush up on my Welsh pronunciation) The site is small but pretty and very handy for the sight seeing in the area.  We've planned another quiet day tomorrow, but I wouldn't hold your breath....

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Let's do it

Like everyone I was hugely saddened by the death of Victoria Wood recently; gone too young at only 62.  I'm not just sad because we've lost a huge comedic talent but also enormously sad for her 2 children.  My dad died of cancer when I was just 18 (well technically it was 2 days before my 19th birthday but either way, far too young), so I know what it's like to grow up without a parent around to see you mark the important milestones in your life.

Whilst I was of course devastated by his death, it had a huge impact on my life.  From the age of 18 I was blindingly aware that life was short and unpredictable.  We grew up in a very working class house with a lot of love but not much money and I clearly remember talk about money being put aside each month into his superannuation.  I never saw the books being balanced in but I'm pretty sure that money could have been put to good use in many other ways.  One of the overwhelming things that has stayed with me is that dad saved hard for his retirement but died before he got the chance to relax and enjoy it - and the unfairness of that has always driven me.

It's driven me to not accept mediocre in life, even if that drives the people around me a little nutty.  It's driven me to dye my hair bright colours (currently purple, red and pink) because I like it that way, it's driven me to try and make the most of every single moment, to find pleasure in the simple things rather than "things" and it's what continues to drive me as we journey on in this crazy ass new life we could only have dreamed about 10 years ago.

So many times people have said to me "I'd love to do what you're doing but..." or "I'd love to dye my hair crazy colours too but..."  But what?  It's so very easy to find excuses not to do things and hard to find the reasons to drive you forward - especially when those around you are telling you you're bonkers to even consider it.  I'm not pretending for one minute that this adventure has been plain sailing - I've been redoing the blog index this week and re-reading our early blogs when things, at times, really were desperate but do you know what?  I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

So we don't have the cash to buy the latest big car but we've achieved the dream of publishing a book - and there are two more on the way over the next couple of years.  We get to walk in beautiful countryside, write and take photos and call it work - it doesn't pay the bills yet but we're getting there.  And we get to do things like we did today - Delores needed a habitation check so we dropped her off in Ulverston and set off on the bikes for a day together in the sunshine.  We peddled all the way to Roa Island and back, stopping for lunch and snacks in the sunshine.

Bardsea Church

Beautiful windows by Wilhelmina Geddes

Birkrigg double stone cricle

Gleaston Castle

Dendron Church

Road block!

Tea.  There was cake too but we ate it all...
Of course a new car would be nice - ours makes all sorts of odd knocking and grinding noises - but it gets us from A to B (most of the time!) and we're having the most amazing adventure.  As I've been writing this blog I've also heard that Prince has died - and there have been FAR too many others this year - just all so very sad,  I know she wrote it about something rather different but really - let's do it - let's stop worrying about the small stuff and go out and have an adventure or two.  You can all watch this - I'm off to buy my copy of the Woman's Weekly...

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Curse you Kirsty Allsop

My mum was from the "Make do and Mend" generation.  I can clearly recall her darning tights and fixing holes in socks.  She bought up 3 kids on a wing and a prayer and could whip up a dinner from a couple of pigs trotters and a few spuds (I'm not saying it tasted great, I'm just saying she could do it.)  I inherited many things from her, much to Steve's concern, but I did not inherit her ability to wield a needle and fix things, which is a shame as I'm really good at breaking them...

Take my Gore Tex trousers for example - I bought them just after we moved here way back in January 2011 and I managed to keep them in one piece until March 2012 when I slid down Haystacks in the dark, on my backside, at high speed and tore a huge hole in them (and my trousers, and my undies, and my backside!).  We don't have a lot of spare cash and, as a roll of plumbers tape is a lot cheaper than a new pair of trousers, I "fixed" them and spent the next 4 years walking around like this...

I like to think I focused on a practical rather than a pretty solution and though it's not something Kirsty "oh I'm so crafty" Allsop would approve of, it at least kept my backside dry.  Having recently added another hole or two I was beginning to consider the possibility of buying a new pair when an invite arrived for a Patagonia Worn Wear event at George Fishers in Keswick.
 Patagonia's rather splendid idea is to fix your outdoor gear, thus extending its life and saving you money - but that isn't what drives them - what drives them is a desire to keep our tattered and torn gear away from landfill sites.

There's no way I could have handed the remains of my trousers over to a charity shop and, as there are no recycling bins in Asda's car park for "bumless waterproof trousers", the only option left would have been several millennia at the bottom of the local landfill.

I fully expected them to laugh in my face when they saw the size of the challenge but instead they grabbed them with glee and promised to work miracles while we headed off to explore the nearby fells.  They did warn me that the repair would invalidate the Gore Tex waterproof guarantee but I think that ship pretty much sailed when I attempted my freestyle toboggan run down off Haystacks.

Richard from Fix the Fells led us on a walk up onto Bleaberry Fell ("I found my freedom...") and explained all about the fantastic work they do.

Stunning views along to Bassenthwaite

Obligatory team photo on the summit

The winter storms did a lot of damage to the footpaths on the fells but the good news is pretty much all of them are open - if you're planning a hike click here for the latest information on the few paths where there are still problems.

Meanwhile, back at my backside...

The lovely folks at Patagonia had indeed worked miracles! When we got back these were waiting for me - I think I'll miss the blue plumbers tape but at least I'll be dry again now.

After a long walk in the fells and saving over £100 on a new pair of trousers there was only one way to round off the day - a tour of a brewery and Keswick Brewing Co were only too happy to oblige!  We also got to check out their Twizy AND I got to pull a few pints - I may not have inherited my mums ability to Make Do and Mend but my maternal Grandad was a barman and I like to think I learned a thing or two from him...

Grandad (on the right, pulling a face with a pint in his hand - you can't argue
with genetics!)