How to make the most of Wales in any weather conditions

When i was first learning English, one of the iconic phrases I had to learn was: “English weather is no toy”. Well, if that is the case, Welsh weather is more of a torture implement.

The weather in North Wales can be extremely bipolar: sunshine can be replaced by snowy blizzards, only to turn back to blue skies in a matter of an hour. But as I have found out having spent a rainy Saturday in Snowdonia, that is no reason to give up on the great outdoors.

Waking up on the Saturday morning, I faced a wall of rain that didn’t look like it was planning to let up any time this century, but what’s a bit of water coming from the sky when you have waterproofs and friends to hand?

Always, always bring waterproofs to Wales. It will literally save your weekend. Waterproof over-trousers were probably one of the best investments I ever made – they are easy to find in cheap sports shops, such as Sports Direct, and usually come packed away in a neat little bag.

Since it was raining, my friends and I could not go rock climbing that Saturday, but luckily if you can think of an adventure, you can find it in Snowdonia. Here are some things you can do in Wales if the weather lets you down.

Do a residential course at the National Mountain Centre

I cannot sing the praises of the British Mountaineering Council enoughQ Among its many contributions to keeping the climbing and mountaineering spirit alive in Britain, the BMC subsidises some fantastic, and very affordable courses for beginners wanting to give outdoor adventures a try.

Last summer, I went on the residential Ready to Rock course, run from the the National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin. It’s amazing value at £130 for a weekend, including accommodation in a (very nice) bunkhouse, a cooked breakfast in the mornings, packed lunch and cooked dinner in the evening, plus all the equipment and teaching.

Plas y Brenin offers a massive range of other courses, from hill walking and navigation to kayaking and mountain biking, so there is something for everyone. Most of them are not quite as amazingly cheap as the Ready to Rock course, but still very affordable.

Snakes and Ladders

This one is not for the fainthearted or the inexperienced, so I would not recommend this to someone who has never climbed before. It also requires some equipment: we had a 50 metre rope, harnesses, quickdraws, carabiners and slings, as well as a pair of climbing shoes.

Snakes and Ladders is an adventure route set inside the Dinorwic slate quarry near Llanberis. The route involves a lot of scrambling, which can be done in normal hiking or approach shoes, but there is climb up a metal chain, for which we changed into climbing shoes and used a rope and quickdraws. That’s probably the most precarious part of the route.

As the name suggests, we climbed quite a few ladders, which were a little terrifying, in an exciting kind of way. The rain and fog only added to the surreal atmosphere of this place, surrounded by mountains of grey slate, which looks a little like a set from Lord of the Rings. There is even an area here called Mordor, and it is just how I imagined it!

You can find a detailed description of the route here.

Slate Quarries

For those who are not as experienced or do not have the equipment, I would still strongly recommend checking out the slate quarries in North Wales, as the sight is mind-blowing!

The slate industry in Wales was massive from the end of the 18th century until the beginning of the 20th, with 60 quarries and mines employing over 18,000 people living in distinct, thriving communities.

The quarry where we went, the Dinorwic Quarry near Llanberis, was the second largest in Wales and still has the remains of the infrastructure. Eerie and beautiful at the same time.

There are a number of slate paths all over Wales for those that would rather walk around the area than climb chains. There is some good information about it on the Visit Snowdonia website. All you need is your walking shoes!

Pete’s Eats

And finally, when you’re soaked through and exhausted, it’s time to check out the most iconic eatery in the area: Pete’s Eats cafe in gorgeous little Llanberis, modestly described on its own website as “possibly the best caff in the world”.

This is where all the cool climbers hang out. It’s super cheap and the portions are enormous! What’s not to like? And the staff are even understanding with those of us who are a bit picky and look for healthy options, so they will always replace your chips with salad or a jacket potato if you ask.

My favourite after a cold day out was a massive omelette with potatoes and cheese, and a salad on the side, with a nice hot cup of tea. They also have some naughty, but wonderful desserts to restore that lost energy. The sign on the door says it’s open from 9am til 8pm, but in reality it’s more like 8am til 9pm. Because it’s just so popular.

Advertisements

Five ways to find adventures in London

Adventure is not always hiding somewhere in the middle of a desert or floating out in the deep salty waters of the Atlantic, it can just as easily be found in an loft conversion in Chalk Farm or in a forest in the middle of zone 6.

That is why I decided this blog does not need to be just about the far away travels, which, let’s face it, I can only afford once in a while, and don’t have enough time off work for anyway! But that does not mean I don’t look for small adventures to tide me over, and I find them nearly every day, sometimes in rather unexpected places.

This week alone I went to a secret gig, visited the Alexander McQueen exhibition (for the second time, as I was lucky enough to see it once in New York, but it was just as spectacular!), went to an aerial circus class and saw the most spectacular circus show, Circolombia. And this is a week when I’m battling a cold!

Many people think being stuck in the city means being a world away from adventures and constantly yearning for an escape. They are so wrong! London is an endless playground for those who don’t like to sit still and are always looking for new experiences, you just need to know how and where to look.

There are a million and one ways to find something new and exciting in this city, and I would never pretend to know even a small proportion of them. My humble contribution is just five things worth considering which may not be obvious to some city dwellers.

1) Join Sofar Sounds and discover a secret world of music

This week, I went to my first Sofar Sounds gig. In the space of two hours I heard a band that describes itself as “dream pop”, a drum & bass duo and a singer/songwriter of an indescribable genre with distinct Middle Eastern notes.

The concept of Sofar Sounds is truly unique and is catching on across the globe. It involves going to secret gigs in a location that is revealed the night before (although usually the closest tube station is known from the start), with the lineup unveiled…as the gig happens. Usually, these gigs happen in someone’s living room, creating an intense, intimate atmosphere. It really is an adventurous way to discover new music (even if you end up hating it)!

Here is the link to the website, where you can sign up to the mailing list and beginning applying for spots at the secret gigs.

2) Join a meetup group…or several!

Meetup is another great online resource that allows you to join interest groups and attend events with like-minded people – the laziest way of finding adventure, because someone basically finds it for you!

There are thousands upon thousands of meetups happening every week, but the groups can also help you get in touch with people who share the same interests. A few days after joining a climbing meetup group, I got a message from a mountaineer who needed to practice teaching mountaineering skills for an assessment. My climbing buddy and I ended up going to Wales with him over Easter and getting a free mountaineering lesson on the rocks of Snowdonia!

Join meetup here.

3) Try out an alternative form of exercise

So you’ve been going to the gym, but you’re bored out of your brain and you feel like a hamster running in a wheel every time you go. A sweaty, smelly wheel.

Well, why not try out something different? London may not quite be Chamonix, but it has a lot to offer and there are lots of places where you can do a taster for free, so it doesn’t even have to be a big monetary commitment.

For example, you could try rock climbing or bouldering (here is a list of centres to try in London), circus skills (this is the aerial school I go to, but there are lots of them in different areas in London), or outdoor flying trapeze in London’s parks. At worst, it’s an exciting new experience, at best, you will discover an extremely cool new hobby.

4) Check out popups for foodie adventures

It will not come as a surprise that some of the best foodie experiences are to be found here in the capital, but often the best of them are only around for a short period of time in the form of a popup restaurant, bar or food market. Luckily, it’s very easy to find them: just sign up for a newsletter here.

One of my favourites last year was A Grape Night In. It was a wine popup which paired wines with tapas-style snacks, all planned around a different theme each week. The only problem was stopping before getting hopelessly drunk: the wines, the food and the atmosphere were so nice, it was easy to stay all night!

5) The outdoors is closer than you think!

And finally, when you’ve had enough of London and the sun is shining, don’t feel like you’re stuck in the confines of the city, surrounded by skyscrapers. The outdoors is really not as far as you think!

Check out Fairlop Waters Country Park, where you can do a spot of outdoor bouldering if you’re so inclined, go for a day out in Richmond and sun yourself on the banks of the river (it’s zone 4, after all!), spend a night camping in Epping Forest with a fire-cooked barbecue, or visit Danson House in Bexleyheath. It’s surrounded by a gorgeous little park and the house currently has a Vivienne Westwood exhibition, though it is, confusingly, closed on Saturdays.

Hopefully this was an interesting read. Please comment or get in touch if you have other exciting ideas, or if you need any further information on anything I’ve mentioned. Have fun adventuring!