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.
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!
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.