#1 Snowdonia National Park – free fall in the mountains
The Rocky Mountains of Wales are located in the north. No less than Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his ascent of Mount Everest there in the 1950s. We are talking about Snowdonia National Park. Alone from a historical point of view, it is a first-grade adventure playground. 2,170 square kilometres of vast and bleak mountain ranges, green valleys, lakes and quaint villages. Snowdon, at a height of 1,085 metres, is not only the namesake but also the highest peak in the region. Often, it is shrouded in mist and even during summer it can sometimes be covered with snow. Sounds somehow like the Brocken Mountain.
An inner voice demands you get up there. The Rhyd Ddu Path is known as the panorama route and after a few hours I know why. Done like good Hillary! And a dignified return on the old steam railway that has been puffing up and down the whole day. Sounds even more like the Brocken Mountain.
The Zip World adventure company near Bethesda at the northern edge of the national park promises an experience that feels almost like skydiving – but you do not have to jump out of a plane. I think it sounds promising and so, in an abandoned slate mine, I get myself harnessed up for a steel-cable flight across the artificial lake. Brian checks the harness: “We do not want you to fly away at half way point.”
Wearing goggles that look like the ones from chemistry classes back in school, I fly away. At first howling timidly, then louder, without restraint. From zero to more than 150 km/h, oh yes, you read correctly, 150, in only a few seconds. The headwind stretches the cheeks and must make me look like a Great Dane. The world rushes past, close to a free fall. I still have weak knees when I treat myself to a few bravery beers in the pub in the evening.
#2 Between land and sea
From mountain air to coastal air. Wales has enough of that – and it is so fresh! Before getting straight down to the nitty-gritty in the south west, I walk around a bit, just letting my legs go, simply following the whistle of the wind on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. This is the popular outdoor tune that the Welsh added to the list of dream walks of this world back in 1970. The path in the national park of the same name has a lot to offer: 300 kilometres of steep coast, hidden beaches, villages, sheep and many postcard clichés.
And if you want to keep on walking, it is all part of the Wales Coast Path which runs the complete 1,400 km length of the Welsh coast. However, I do not want to go that far today, I had better go down to the coast and into the water. No, not what you might be thinking of. Rather into a zone in between, not metaphysical, rather into the intertidal zone between land and sea. And not only to play around with metaphysical thoughts but, quite simply, to feel myself physically. When coasteering. Which pretty much means climbing around the intertidal zone.
Just like crabs, we climb across slippery rocks, sometimes a wave crashes into our backs. Up, down, criss-cross. Dive down, seaweed in my mouth. Surface, a monumental steep coastal hill lies ahead. Then, the knightly accolade, we are on historical ground, a jump from a rock and seven metres below into the slightly rolling sea. A thrill of its own kind. When I push my head out of the water, the others yell: “You are now a Knight of Wales!”
#3 Beauty and the beach – the Gower Peninsula
Today, I am going to do a hang-loose triathlon: going with the flow, splashing around and smooth surfing. The Gower Peninsula is the perfect terrain for that. I go to the surfer village of Rhossili and quickly find a cosy Bed and Breakfast. The nearby beach is known as the most beautiful in Wales. I do not disagree, and throw my surf stuff (borrowed in the village) to that of the other water fans which is already lying around in the beach. “Could you just keep an eye on my things?”, I ask one of the people lolling on the beach. Sure, no worries. I flipflop away and walk for a bit through the dunes on the Wales Coast Path. The peninsula was dedicated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” in 1956. I congratulate the freely roaming horses on the title and even manage to pet a sheep before I head back to the beach.
The waves are stronger now. From far away I can hear the screaming of the children who are trying to stand up on a surfboard for the first time. Suddenly I get the thrill. My legs start running. While running, I take off my shirt and jumper and rush into the water. Fresh! Wicked! Part one, splashing around, done. Now into the rubber skin and off into the waves. Yessssssss. And in the evening, back to the first discipline: In front of a cosy pub, I ponder into the setting sun.
#4 The abbey in the forest
I correct the canoe with soft paddle strokes. The Wye, which is carrying me along, is calm. Forested hills are slowly passing by. I am travelling in the area of outstanding beauty in the Wye Valley. Between Monmouth and Chepstow. Typical for Wales. Hills, castle ruins, little squat stone houses, a lot of green. Then, after a turn, it appears. First you only see the Gothic gable. When you come closer, it moves into focus: the most beautiful abbey ruins of Wales. It was inhabited by Cistercian monks until 1536, but then Tintern Abbey was allowed to fall apart in style. And so, when the sun is shining, picturesque stony outlines fall as ornamental shadows onto the fields. Decay can be so beautiful.
#5 Cardiff à la carte
Just as in any ordinary harbour city, you are supposed to do a great pub tour in Cardiff. To test this with the help of an insider, via couchsurfing I introduced myself to a certain Oliver. “call me Owl.” Bingo! Somebody whose nick name is owl probably knows the night life. We meet two of his friends at the harbour.
Cardiff Bay has transformed from an industrial area to a cultural district. Where once rundown warehouses stood, there is now the Millennium Centre. It is top-notch architecture and the best theatre and opera house in Wales. A stone’s throw away is the Terra Nova pub. Direct at the water, we have a perfect view across the city and harbour. Just as perfect is the roast beef with caramelised shallots. “Welsch food has never been better than nowadays. And better than in England anyway!” Owl’s friend Carl is clearly proud and he enjoys his little side blows at England.
I can say the same about the food. No matter where I had a stop for a snack on my bicycle tour through the city, I always almost licked my fingers afterwards. And when – as a proud Knight of Wales – I sleepwalked through the magnificent walls of the castle of Cardiff, I even met Harry Potter. But I better keep that to myself.
We prefer to party now and walk into the centre. Destination: Chapel 1877. The night club resides in the former Methodist Church. We stay out late in Cardiff’s coolest location with the goal of being the last ones to leave the dance floor. There we go. Rock on.
Globetrotter Magazin Info
Adventure country, here I come
Whether still or thrill. Wales has something to offer for every adventure level.
Getting there: The journey can be taken leisurely in a semicircle from north to south. You fly to Manchester and back from Cardiff, i.e. with KLM: www.lkm.de. Find cheap rental cars at Alamo, with offices in Manchester and Cardiff, www.alamo.de.
Best time: The best time to be outside in Wales is between mid May and mid September.
Explore Wales: Details of Snowdonia NP, activities and hikes are at www.visitsnowdonia.info. Some mountain tours are very demanding and should only be undertaken with experienced guides. Get the almost free-fall with Zip Line here: www.zipworld.co.uk. Besides other locations, coasteering is offered in nearby Pembrokeshire NP: www.preseliventure.co.uk. Information about the beautiful Gower peninsula: www.explore-gower.co.uk. If you go paddling in the Wye Valley, you can get your canoes here: www.leftbankcanoehire.co.uk. There is a recommendable pub guide for Cardiff: www.pintof45.blogspot.de. Rent bicycles or book a tour: www.cardiffcycletours.com. All information about the night life and culture in the capital: www.visitcardiff.com.
General information and accommodation: Find out more about planning your journey and adventure as well as the right accommodation on www.visitwales.de
12. Mai 2016, Dirk Rode