We meet at London Euston at 17.30 hours. We synchronise watches before deciding we have plenty of time before the 18.10 train so we go to the pub. We miss the train. Damn, not a good start…
My friend and I are heading to North Wales to try out the Adrenalin Passport Challenge. Our commander is Adventure Map (which, in our head has personified into a whitebearded safari-suit wearing gent with a monocle – not sure why), and he has requested for us to mountain bike, paddle board, rock climb, zip line, complete a tree-top assault course, white water raft, go canyoning, and take a trip in a RIB super-speed boat in 48 hours.
Unfortunately for us, being an agent of adventure is not our full-time job, and so we can only squeeze five activities into our 40-hour weekend, as we travel to Llandudno Junction Friday night and head back to London Sunday afternoon. For those of you who can head up earlier on Friday or stay Sunday to give yourself a full 48 hours in North Wales, if you get a stamp in your Adrenalin Passport from all eight involved adventure companies in this time you will be rewarded with a free Surf Snowdonia package when the artificial wave opens in 2015.
For us, our taste of adventure and the above-and-beyond friendliness of the people in North Wales began before we’d even got off the train, as a local lass offered to drive us to our hotel on her way home. Unfortunately, about half-way there, we realised there was more than one Royal Oak Hotel in North Wales and she was heading for the wrong one. But she was sure to get us safe and sound into a taxi and instructed him where to go before she made her way home. Welcome to Wales.
Soon checking in at the right Royal Oak Hotel, in Betws-y- Coed, we sink into our big cosy beds for an early night, readying ourselves for the adventure-packed weekend ahead.
It’s a 6.30am wake-up call for us as we need to pick up our hire car from Aberconwy Car Hire so we can make our way between the adventure companies with ease. Of course if you head up earlier on the Friday you can pick it up then and get an extra hour or two in bed. Either way, don’t forget to ask for a GPS system to help you navigate your way around, although no drive is longer than 40 minutes.
As well as an adventure playground for adults, the mountains, lakes, canyons and forests of North Wales also make it one of the most stunning places I have visited in a long while. We were particularly lucky as the week’s rain had cleared to make way for a beautifully blue sky and a sun that gracefully stretched its arms out through the burnt-orange hues of the trees as we wound our way to our first stop, Plas y Brenin (pyb.co.uk).
Among a whole host of mountain-based activities including rock climbing, mountaineering and even skiing on its dry slope, Plas y Brenin specialises in mountain biking courses. It offers one-, two- and three-day courses if you really want to master it, but for us it was a taster session in a two-hour slot. With one of us a road cyclist (my mate) and the other a can-barely-go-in-a-straight-line cyclist (me), we started right from the beginning. Luckily our tutor, Denry (yep, like Henry with a ‘D’) was a patient type who had the oh-so-important skill of being able to pinpoint exactly where we were going wrong and correcting it.
Starting on a loop circuit, we master turning by leaning instead of moving the handlebars, controlling our speed and breaking without skidding. Next we move on to a loop course that has bumps for us to ride over so we can learn how to absorb the movement, as well as how to take sharper corners. We then head into the forest to test our new-found skills. Every time we struggle, Denry would get us to walk our bikes back and try the move again until we got it right. All this meant we walked away with a huge sense of achievement after just two hours. If you are already an experienced mountain biker, the course can be adjusted to hone whatever skills you want to work on.
Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, we made our way to our next activity, paddle boarding at Surf Lines (surf-lines. co.uk). Having both paddle boarded before, we were feeling confident that we wouldn’t have to worry about falling into the icy winter water, particularly as we chose the perfect day for it as there was barely a breeze, meaning the stunning lake was as still as a millpond.
What we hadn’t banked on, however, was that our instructor, Dan, would be determined to get us wet (just one of the many innuendos you will discover in paddle boarding, along with “now’s a good time to get down on your knees” and “if you twist you will get a better reach around”). From getting us to duck under super-low tree branches to even trying out a few yoga poses on our boards, his attempts failed miserably – that is until he tried to get me to do a spin where I had to stand towards the back of my board. Losing my balance as soon as I shifted my feet, I took a dunk and the water literally took my breath away. The fact that there was a woman swimming nearby in a swimsuit when I had three layers of neoprene to keep me warm didn’t appear to help. It’s all part of the adventure, though, right? And I was secretly pleased to add another adrenalin moment to my already packed itinerary – I just didn’t tell Dan that as I tried but failed to push him off his board in revenge.
After drying off we grabbed a hot chicken baguette at Caban Cafe (caban-cyf.org), which is about 10 minutes from Surf Lines up in the trees and surrounded by bird feeders so you can watch blue tits getting their lunch while you eat yours. Already feeling the burn, we needed to get our strength up for the final activity of the day: indoor rock climbing at Beacon Climbing (beaconclimbing.com). Again, having been rock climbing before, we weren’t feeling too apprehensive. However, as seemed to be the theme with our activities so far, the instructors were keen to teach us new skills, and so for the first time we also learnt how to belay, which means you are the one responsible for making sure your mate doesn’t fall to their death… or at least drop a metre or so, scaring the shit out of them. Of course you do it with top equipment and with full support from the instructor – a bubbly woman called Lou, in our case. We learnt the ‘five-step’ technique, where you feed the slack rope through a device and pull it taut each time they take a step up; this creates friction which means you need minimal strength to hold the climber if they should fall.
After taking turns heading up and down a couple of walls and trusting ourselves in each other’s hands – a relationship building exercise if ever there was one – we headed over to the really fun looking bit: the crazy climb area. Having watched kids fearlessly scale the novelty apparatus, where you are attached to an auto-belay on the ceiling, we expected this bit to be easy. But I could only get half-way up my first wall – turns out monster heads don’t have a lot to grip on to. We had a lot of fun racing each other on the timed wall, though, as well as climbing up the surprisingly high Giant’s Causeway-esque structure before having to psyche ourselves up to jump off the top, trusting the auto-belay to see us safely to the ground – which it did, otherwise I would likely be writing this article from a hospital bed.
Limbs intact but seriously starting to ache, we were happy to retire back to our hotel for the night, where we took in a truly delicious meal at The Grill restaurant. Portions are super generous – not one, not two, but four juicy strips of pork belly topped with crunchy crackling – and the quality top-notch: start with the melt-in-the-mouth deep-fried goat’s cheese and end with the warm and sweet sticky toffee pudding. Book a table as word has spread in this small spot that this is the place to eat on the weekend.
After a seriously good slumber, it was a slightly later start of 8.30am on Sunday as we made our way to Zip World (zipworld.co.uk). You can choose from Zip World Titan and Zip World Velocity, depending on the size of both your budget and your balls. The former offers sitting zip lines, where groups of up to four of you can fly down two zips totalling 80km and reaching speeds of 60mph. The latter offers the longest and fastest zip line in the world, where you can reach speeds of more than 100mph. You are laid out face down so it feels much like you’re flying; we’d imagine it would be tempting to put your arm out a-la Superman if you weren’t holding on for dear life.
We were signed up for Titan, where we were suited up in fetching red suits and seat harnesses before making our way up to the zip lines. Fixed up and prepared for the gate to open, we were released to zoom down the slate mine before safely being met and unhooked by staff at the other end. My advice? Make this activity your first one as it is a little tamer than the others and so acts as a good warm-up to get your adrenalin juices flowing.
On the other end of the scale, the Tree Top Adventure (ttadventure.co.uk) tested our nerves a lot more than we thought it would. We both have a good head for heights and so thought we’d have little trouble with this assault course of ropes, logs and tyres suspended above the ground. However, as the course went on and the ground got further away, each obstacle wobbled a lot more. Partly because of the difficulty level, and partly because our legs were slowly but surely turning to jelly. Of course you are attached to a line with a rope so if you fall you won’t fall far, but try telling your brain that when you are walking across a swaying rope high above ground level. Trust us, it won’t listen.
But, we made it to the end, where we had to jump from the final platform attached to an auto-belay, similarly to rock climbing. Just remember – unlike me – to jump out rather than just down, otherwise you rather painfully just jump from standing to sitting on the platform before shamefacedly shimmying off the edge…
Hitting the bottom, my friend and I did our final high five of the weekend, congratulating ourselves on another challenge met. Okay we didn’t fit eight activities in, but we faced fears, learnt new skills and pushed ourselves physically and mentally. That, in my opinion, is a hell of a way to spend 48 hours.
For the details of all of the eight companies involved in the Adrenalin Passport, visit adventuremap.co.uk