One of the world’s top adventure destinations, rugged and beautiful North Wales attracts discerning LGBT travelers from around the world. Add to this the British gay activity group OutdoorLads who will hold its annual Big Spring Camp here in 2017, plus a gay-owned country house hotel with royal connections for more comfortable adventures.
North Wales is a destination sure to satisfy those wanting a wilder and more hirsute vacation, one where tank-tops and flip-flops are forsaken in favor of flannel shirts and Merrell hiking boots.
A combination of dramatic landscapes plus purpose-built facilities has made North Wales a beacon for modern adventure tourism. Its jagged mountains, lakes, and wooded valleys are ideal natural terrain for sports such as climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking, while new man-made attractions, including an innovative surf lagoon and some record-breaking zip lines, provide adrenalin junkies with guaranteed thrills and screams.
It’s in part due to these adventure-based attractions that North Wales was named one of the world’s top regions for travelers in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017.
This dramatic landscape will next take center stage in Director Guy Richie’s epic new movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which was filmed at locations across North Wales, most notably in Snowdonia National Park around the village of Capel Curig and on the slopes of the craggy mountain Tryfan. Due for release in 2017, the film sees Sons of Anarchy and UK Queer As Folk–actor Charlie Hunnam portray King Arthur as a hunky action hero, with a cast including Jude Law, Eric Bana, David Beckham, and Hunnam’s Queer As Folk co-star Aiden Gillen.
The ideal spot to begin your own Arthurian adventure, this national park is named after the majestic Snowdon, and at 1,085 meters above sea level, it’s the highest mountain in England and Wales.
Known in Welsh as Eryri (meaning the Land of Eagles), this famous mountain has various mythological links to King Arthur. One ancient legend tells of how Arthur slayed Snowdon’s resident giant, and his famed sword Excalibur is said to lie in the nearby lake of Llyn Ogwen.
The summit of Snowdon is surprisingly accessible, so it’s easy to follow in King Arthur’s footsteps and conquer this mountain. Various paths and trails lead to the summit, enabling hikers and horse riders of all abilities to make the assent. A more relaxing but equally thrilling option is to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway from the town of Llanberis. Operating from March to October, this narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway chugs across bridges and along viaducts on its hour-long journey to the top. Dating from 1896, the railways three working steam locomotives have just celebrated their 120th birthdays, so it’s also a real nostalgia trip. It’s one of a number of heritage railways in the region.
As well as enjoying far-reaching views, once at Snowdon’s summit you may visit peak-top visitor center Hafod Eryri, the highest place in England and Wales where you can enjoy tea and cakes or shop for a souvenir. Renowned Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed Snowdon’s first summit restaurant in 1934, but after unsympathetic alterations in the 1960s and a general lack of maintenance, it was demolished in 2006 to make way for this striking new structure that is clad in Welsh oak and granite.
When it comes to adventure, zip lining has become an international sensation. Conceived by a former Royal Marine commando whose idea was to create an adventure playground for adults, Zip World Velocity opened at Penrhyn Quarry in 2013. Boasting the world’s fastest (and Europe’s longest) zip wire, riders soar over the disused quarry reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph. It’s an exhilarating experience that’s best described as being like skydiving without needing to jump from a plane.
Opened in 2014 Zip World Titan at Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog is home to Europe’s first four-person zip line. The slate caverns themselves offer two unique underground adventures. A subterranean expedition, Zip World Caverns incorporates zip lines, rope bridges, tunnels, and via ferratas (specially constructed climbing routes), and is a thrill to explore. Illuminated with disco-worthy neon lights, Bounce Below is a network of giant trampolines, bouncy cargo nets and scream-inducing slides all rigged together in a cavern complex the size of a cathedral. Following a massive $1 million rebuilding project in 2016, this underground playground is now bigger, better, and bouncier than ever.
New in 2016 is Zip World Fforest, a treetop zip safari in the woods near the village of Betws-y-Coed. Here, you swing from tree to tree around a 565m course comprising rope bridges and 23 zip lines, so you feel a bit like Tarzan, but as North Wales can be wet and chilly, you shouldn’t just wear a loincloth!
Thanks to the combined impact of these zip-wire experiences, North Wales is considered the largest zip zone in the world.
Another purpose-built facility that attracts thrill-seekers to North Wales is Surf Snowdonia. This revolutionary inland surf lagoon is the first of its kind in the world. Open since 2015, the man-made lagoon is perfectly lozenge-shaped and incorporates specially engineered machinery to generate a sublime surfing wave every 90 seconds. As well as surfing, the lagoon offers SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) and kayaking sessions.
The surf park’s latest attraction is the Crash & Splash Lagoon. To complete this wild and watery assault course, you must grapple with obstacles including giant spinning balls, monkey bars, climbing wall, and balance beam, before facing the final adversary: a giant catapult known as ‘the blob.’
It’s possible to stay onsite in wooden camping pods with electricity and underfloor heating, set right on the water’s edge. There’s also a surf shop, café, deli, and restaurant for the ultimate Welsh surfing vacation.
North Wales is also considered the birthplace of modern mountain biking in Britain. Britain’s first and largest dedicated mountain bike trail centre is located within scenic Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park, offering around 90 miles of routes for all abilities. Beginners can gain confidence at the purpose-built Y Ffowndri skills area and bike park, and experienced riders will relish the challenging singletrack forest trails.
If you forgot to pack your bike, just hire one from Beics Brenin rental center. Here, you’ll also find the Visitor Centre with maps and details of other recreational activities, including walking, running, and orienteering trails through the forest, plus a gift shop, café, even shower facilities (mountain biking can be muddy work).
There’s more to this region than riding waves and 100 mph adrenalin rushes. The landscape of North Wales is equally suited to tranquil outdoor pursuits like picnicking and bird-watching. Keep an eye out for grey wagtails, crossbills, jays, and goshawks as well as more uncommon species such as merlins, flycatchers, and wood warblers. It also serves as a natural larder, providing ingredients for local artisan food producers as well as for local restaurants.
The shelves of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre brim with the region’s best food and drink. Occupying a restored stone farmhouse and outbuildings, this foodie hotspot has a Farm Shop with in-house bakery, butcher, and delicatessen, plus a cookery school, restaurant, and on-site accommodation. Sample local goodies including Bodnant’s own award-winning handmade cheeses, homemade pies, bakery favorites like Welsh Cakes and Bara-Brith (a traditional fruit loaf made with tea and spiced dried fruit), and honey with excellent local provenance. The National Beekeeping Centre Wales is also based here.
Located on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, Gwinllan Conwy is one of several pioneering Welsh vineyards. First planted in 2012, this family-run business produced its first vintage in 2016. Open at week- ends for guided tours and tastings, the vineyard currently produces five wine varieties. A popular choice is Solaris, a crisp dry white that’s divine with locally caught oysters, mussels, and lobster.
A regarded local restaurant supplied by Gwinllan Conwy is Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias. Having worked in some of the best kitchens in London, working under renowned chefs including Marco Pierre White and Michel Roux, Chef Bryn Williams returned home to North Wales to open this stylish beachfront bistro. As befitting a restaurant so close to the sea, menu highlights include whole plaice with parsley sauce and brown shrimp, and a shareable portion of tasty Porth Eirias fish pie.
More fresh local flavors can be enjoyed at Dylan’s, which opened in 2012 in Menai Bridge on Anglesey, a large island just off the northwest coast of Wales that’s accessible via the Menai Suspension Bridge. A second branch opened in 2015 in the old-fashioned seaside resort of Criccieth, occupying a carefully restored art deco pavilion designed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Dylan’s house speciality is ‘Dyl’s Drunken Mussels’, Welsh mussels steamed in local cider. Other options include Welsh rib-eye steak, Snowdonia mush- room risotto, and Llyn Peninsula crab cakes.