Family life is so busy. School, work, swimming lessons - the weeks pass in a blur. And your kids are growing and changing daily. Last time we visited Wales, our son Joe was four and a half. He'd loved dressing up as a knight and tearing around the epic castles. He's nearly nine now though, so obviously our week in Eryri (Snowdonia) would be pretty different.
More than anything I wanted to spend time as a family, sharing experiences, making memories. They're so precious. The wild countryside and adventure offered by Eryri (Snowdonia) proved to be the ideal environment.
Here are a few moments from our family holiday in Wales that I want to etch a little clearer in my memory. Perhaps you'll go and get to make a few too?
Learning you don't have to get to the top
The weather in the mountains has to be respected. On our first day the sun was shining brightly but the sign at the start of the trail up Moel Hebog told us the wind was picking up. The temperature up there with the wind chill would be cold. We were kitted out with hats and gloves. We figured we could make the summit and be on the far side of the mountain, sheltered from the worst of the wind, before it really picked up. But the going was tough and steep. We panted and scrambled. Joe needed a lot of persuading and large quantities of sweets. The views became wider as we climbed. We stopped to look back, across Beddgelert to Llyn Dinas shimmering in the distance and mighty mountains way behind.
But the wind became keener. Our eyes were streaming and our heads bowed. Joe was cold and hungry. It was time to stop. We cut around the hillside and hunkered down in a cleft. Away from the wind we were snug. Sandwiches, hot coffee and cake cheered us within moments. The views from our little nook were perfect. Sure, we hadn't made it to the top, but no matter. We tramped back down, jumping and bouncing with renewed energy revelling in the warmth of the sun as we took each step. The wind died away as fast as it had arrived.
Find out how to keep safe in the mountains with Adventure Smart.
Overcoming fear and yelping with excitement
'I'm a bit scared!' said Joe.
He was wobbling on a small platform high in the trees. The first ladder up at the Tree Hoppers adventure course at Zip World Fforest hadn't looked that high from the ground. Obviously it now did. Stood below, I was conscious there was a bunch of other kids waiting behind him. 'Go on! You'll be fine,' said mum, Karen. 'Your harness will hold you.' The course is a series of zips, high wires and suspended obstacles through the trees. There's a cable running the whole course that you're clipped onto from your safety harness.
But when you're eight years old, looking down puts your heart in your mouth a bit. He teetered there. 'Go on. You can do it!' I said. I could see the little intake of breath, that moment he pushed his fear to one side. He jumped. And then he was zooming across the zip shrieking with glee. After that he didn't look back. By the end of the day we'd tobogganed downhill at crazy speeds, bounced on high level nets in the trees and even been catapulted on a huge swing 30 metres high. Fear? Not any more.
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Sitting in silence and soaking up views
These days - with a ready supply of sweets and warm words of encouragement - Joe's really happy stomping through the countryside. I could feel my own personal horizon expanding, the dumb worries of daily life evaporating, as we climbed higher and the views back to Llyn Dinas became more dazzling. It's the most simple of activities, walking in the Welsh countryside, but it's so therapeutic. We met just a handful of other people that day as we did an easy circular walk right from the front door of our holiday cottage in Beddgelert up to the foothills below Moel y Dyniewyd and along the River Glaslyn.
Finding the perfect lunch spot was the hardest decision all day. I had to carry Joe on my shoulders through a scratchy patch of gorse to get there, but the reward was our own big flat boulder with views all the way out to the estuary at Porthmadog. We munched sandwiches and glugged squash in the sunshine. No one said much. We were all just soaking up the views, together in our own little bubble of peace and tranquillity. I had no cares, aside from trying not to drop any of the shell from my boiled egg.
Working together to stay afloat
I could see that mixture of fear and excitement in Joe's expression once again when we visited Plas Menai and the Wales Outdoor Adventure Centre. We spent a day here with our brilliant instructor Dion exploring the sparkling waters of the Menai Strait between Anglesey and the coast of north west Wales. In the morning we cannoned across the glassy waters in a high speed RIB inflatable boat and learned about the unique geography and wildlife of this stretch of water. Joe loved being able to steer at low speed under Dion's watchful eye.
But it was the afternoon when the wind had picked up and we climbed aboard a small sailing boat and learned to sail that I'll remember most. This was all about team work. We had to pull on ropes together and jump across the boat each time we went about. Joe could also work the tiller. At times the boat would lean at a terrific angle making us feel like we might fall in. I saw flickers of fear in his eyes, but Joe held on and dug in. I was proud. When we really picked up speed it was exhilarating. We sailed all the way down to Caernarfon and sat a while taking in the views of the mighty castle from the water with the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia) rising serenely behind.
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It's amazing how quickly a week can pass. We loved our short break in Wales for all sorts of reasons, but what was particularly special was doing so many new things together. This is what family holidays are really all about. We're already planning our next trip back.
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Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.
- Find safety advice for exploring Wales' National Parks and safety tips for staying safe on the Welsh coast.
- Visit AdventureSmart.uk for information on how to stay safe whilst exploring Wales.