How North Wales became the adventure capital of Europe: the story behind some of our region’s most exciting attractions.
Investment and imagination – which surely along with necessity are the mothers of invention – have transformed the industrial landscape and economy of North Wales over the last ten or so years.
Long-abandoned slate mines, disused quarries, old industrial estates and airfields – they have been reconstructed and re-imagined as 21st century industry: bucket-list-standard outdoor adventure destinations.
A world-first inland surf lagoon, the fastest zip line in the world, the biggest zip zone in Europe, giant underground trampolines and mountain go kart rally tracks – they are at the vanguard of what is currently the fastest growing tourism sector in the Europe: outdoor adventure.
What these adventure destinations have in common is the way they have transformed some of the industrial assets which powered North Wales during the 19th and 20th centuries. Let’s take a look at some of our favourites.
Man-made waves that roll at a former aluminium works, in the heart of the Conwy Valley
Adventure Parc Snowdonia – home to a world-first inland surf lagoon constructed in the lee of the Snowdonia mountains, is one such example.
This innovative surf and adventure facility was built on the site of a derelict aluminium works once owned by global aluminium giant Alcoa. The factory, which opened in 1907, closed in 2007 as a result of the shift in global energy prices.
Now, the parc is home to a thriving adventure hub, with man-made surfable waves rolling from March-December. A weatherproof Adrenaline Indoors facility opened in August 2019, offering indoor and outdoor climbing walls, an aerial assault course with extreme kicker slides, one of the longest artificial caving complexes in the world and a zip line over the surf lagoon. A pump track will open in spring 2020.
The development of Adventure Parc Snowdonia has transformed the quiet village of Dolgarrog and that area of the Conwy Valley (it’s halfway between Conwy and Betws y Coed) with a burgeoning young surf scene in this remote rural community. Developers cleared over 100 year of industrial contamination from the site to build the adventure parc, which mean it’s a great environmental success story too.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia recently won a National Geographic award in the ‘Family Experience’ category.
Underground zips inside a slate mountain, at Blaenau Ffestiniog
A few miles away from Adventure Parc Snowdonia at Blaenau Ffestiniog, there’s another imaginative and ambitious transformation of former industrial site. This time it’s a disused slate mine.
Zip World Caverns allows adventurers to speed through the caverns of the abandoned Llechwedd slate mine on zip lines, navigating part of the course with a via ferrata, monkey bars, and a whole variety of challenging obstacles. The underground attraction is part of the Zip World portfolio, which also boasts Europe’s largest zip zone at Blaenau, as well as the fastest zip line in the world at Penrhyn Quarry – a site that was once home to the world’s largest slate quarry.
Zip World Caverns is where you’ll also find Bounce Below – a series of giant underground trampolines, strung across enormous underground chambers, with climbs, slides and various levels to navigate. It’s another thrilling and completely unique North Wales adventure.
Zip World Caverns £65. Bounce Below from £20.
Underground adventures inside an abandoned slate mine, at Betws y Coed
Go Below Underground Adventures specialises in guided expeditions which take place in abandoned slate mines in Snowdonia. There are a variety of trips on offer, from 5-hour adventures to 14-hour epic days out. They are suitable from age 10 up (though do check specific height, weight and reach requirements).You’ll be journeying through a fascinating subterranean environment which includes waterfalls, underground rivers and lakes. The tours also take in old mining artefacts which are still sitting right where the last miners left them a hundred or so years ago.
The trip leaders at Go Below are passionate and knowledgeable about the mining industry and its history and you’ll get a really interesting insight to Snowdonia’s industrial past during your adventure.
If you love a real challenge, why not look into Go Below’s new Mine to Mountain adventure – a staggering 14-hour mammoth trip which will take you from the deepest publicly accessible point in the UK to the top of Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.
Go Below Adventures from £49
A 4×4 adventure around a mountaintop quarry at Llechwedd, Blaenau Ffestiniog
Head back to Llechwedd and Blaenau Ffestiniog for a thrilling 1.5 hour adventure which will take you on a journey through one of the most formidable landscapes in the country.
On Llechwedd’s Quarry Explorer tour, you’ll be strapped into a 4 x 4 off-road military truck to take on the towering summits that sit above Llechwedd Slate Caverns and the mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
These unique mountains were built by hand and hard graft – by the incredible men and boys who worked in at Llechwedd’s Victorian slate mines. Colossal amounts of slate were dug out of the earth during the 19th and early 20th centuries. An incredible 90% of the rock blasted out of the mines was unusable, and now vast heaps of those discarded slate spoils tower above the town.
Travelling with you in a converted 4 x 4 military truck, your knowledgeable guide will share some more of the quarry and mine’s fascinating history, and you’ll take in views of North Wales like no other.
Quarry Explorer Tour from £20
A nostalgic ride on the world’s oldest narrow-gauge railway from Porthmadog
If the idea of surfing, climbing or zipping around old industrial sites has left you feeling exhausted, let us take you somewhere altogether more sedate. The wonderful Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Steam Railways.
These historic railways – and at almost 200 years old, the Ffestiniog Line is the oldest surviving narrow-gauge railway in the world – started life to serve the slate industry, ferrying slate from Snowdonia mountains to the harbour at Porthmadog, and onward to build rooftops all over the world. The lines now operate as heritage railways, and they are a perfectly valid adventure for those of us that like to do these things sitting down.
The Ffestiniog line will huff and puff you on a 13.5 mile journey from the harbour town of Porthmadog, climbing over 700ft into the heart of Snowdonia and to the slate quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. You’ll pass through some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes on your way.
The Welsh Highland line runs for 25 miles from Caernarfon, past the foot of Snowdon and the picture postcard village of Beddgelert, through the stunning Aberglaslyn Pass and on to Porthmadog. You’ll get to ride in some of the most comfortable carriages on any heritage railway in the UK, including first class Pullman luxury with freshly cooked food delivered to your seat.