As soon as we arrived at the Brynteg holiday park, we realized that it was going to be difficult to tear everyone away from the site to do all the things on our “must-see” list! With so much to do to tempt all of us – swimming, archery, canoeing, climbing wall, just to start with – some of the list was going to have to fall by the wayside. So we pared it down to things that were only a short drive away (because who wants to spend a sunny July day locked in the car instead of lazing round a lovely site?), either on Anglesey itself or a short hop over the bridge.
GreenWood Forest Park, Y Felinheli
As it consistently comes top of polls for great days out in North Wales, we had high expectations for the park and fortunately it didn’t disappoint us at all. Its position just off the A55 at the Bangor junction made it an easy drive there and easy to find. As you’d expect from a forest park, it’s set in a beautiful area and many of the activities are centred round the woodland theme.
It really is a lovely place for children, getting them away from computers and screens and out into fresh air and activity (or just activity if you go on a wet day – the play barns alone will keep them entertained for hours). It’s also one of the few places that covers a wide age range – activities like the Great Green Run grass sledge ride and the Tree Top Towers adventure park have their equivalents for smaller children in the Little Green Run and Tunnel Warren, so no age of child is left out.
We grown ups got involved too, with moonkarts to pedal and the Intriguing barefoot trail to walk along (it was a dry day, not sure how it would feel walking barefoot in the wet!). One of us also got dragged along to the “world’s only people powered roller coaster” which I’m reliably informed is great fun. At prices of just over £11 per person for both adults and children, this isn’t the cheapest day out, but there is so much to do we felt by the end of the day that we’d certainly had our money’s worth.
We took a picnic, but peeking into the café, prices were reasonable, and extra paid activities such as face painting are not too expensive – although there is so much among the free stuff you won’t need to fork out extra. Although it’s open all year, parts of it are closed out of season, so check if there are particular activities you’re going for.
Welsh Slate Museum (Llanberis)
Balancing budgets on holiday can be tricky, and free attractions like the Welsh Slate Museum are always appreciated. Our trip here involved dragging the family away from the campsite on a wet day, and could have been a disaster, but fortunately wasn’t.
The museum has had considerable funding spent on improving it over the last few years, and it shows. The workers from the Victorian workshops alongside the Dinorwig quarry might recognize the buildings, but not the clean environment or the numerous interactive displays. Although historical sites can be “dry” for some children, a great deal of effort has gone into making the place child friendly and informative.
The talks and demonstrations were interesting enough to keep ours interested, and a visit to the Fron Haul – the old quarrymen’s houses gave them food for thought – how would we have managed living in a tiny space like that? Artefacts and points of interest are dotted all over the site, from the massive waterwheel and the steam engine puffing through to the piles of slate and old workshops. We spent a few happy hours here, and no money (picnics are a great invention) – so back to the campsite for dinner out as a treat!
Welsh Mountain Zoo
Every holiday needs a zoo trip, so a fine day saw us joining the masses at the Welsh Mountain Zoo near Colwyn Bay. Zoos are never the cheapest of attractions and at £34.95 for the family ticket we knew it would have to be a special treat, which fortunately it turned out to be. The 37 acre zoo has all the usual attractions that zoos have – cute cuddly animals, a funny penguin parade, charming chimps and imposing wild cats. What makes this stand out from other zoos though is the beautiful scenery that surrounds the area, and also the zoo gardens that you walk through as you pass between enclosures – these are a real treat for those of us who might prefer flora rather than fauna, and are stocked with several rare and foreign species of plant.
There are two good eating places to rest and recuperate – we choose the option that overlooks the penguin enclosure rather than the one overlooking the tigers, but both looked good, better than many zoo cafes we’ve seen. There are also several places for picnics if you’ve done the sensible thing and remembered to pack one – we queued longer than we would have liked in the café!
During the summer a minibus runs from Colwyn Bay railway station to the zoo, but be warned if you have children needing car seats that you either have to provide your own or use the one seat supplied on the bus – if that seat’s in use, you’ll have to wait for the next bus!
I’d been told that no trip to North Wales is complete without a castle, and since this is the castle of Prince Charles’s investure in 1969, it seemed like a good place to start – and it was. It’s one of those castles that nicely combines the educational aspects with freedom to explore, and in the case of the children, to run around and let off steam. Inside the castle there’s a museum of the Welch (yes, that’s how it’s spelt)
Fusiliers, the essential gift shop, and steps and towers galore to climb up, take a look at another amazing view, and climb back down again! The size and scale of the castle are awe inspiring, and since parts are from the 1300s, it’s remarkably intact – although to be honest that’s because quite a large part of it was completed several hundred years after that! Having paid just over £20 for a family ticket, and had several hours of pleasure – and several hundred photo opportunities – it felt like great value for money.
South Stack Lighthouse (Holyhead)
If you’re after dramatic Welsh scenery, this is the place to get it. The views around the whole area are wonderful, and that’s before you’ve even got out of the car! The lighthouse itself is on an island accessed by a little bridge, but before you get to that point you have to make your way down over 400 concrete steps down the cliff side – you all need a good level of fitness for this one!
To access the actual lighthouse there’s a charge of around £5, which gives you another chance to climb more steps (this time the narrow winding staircase to the top of the tower), and be scared witless by stories of ghosts and hauntings – all great plus points for 9 year old boys! The tour and exhibition of the working lighthouse are actually very interesting and worth the money, but the free parts – including the thousands of birds that circle round the tower and round the cliffs (this is an RSPB nature reserve too), and the very exciting and exhausting climb back up the steps – were the real highlights for us.
You can walk down and back up the cliff steps as far as the bridge even when the island and lighthouse are closed – don’t try it in bad weather though! An RSPB café at the top is ideal for something to replenish your energy after the long climb, and there are also binoculars to see the stunning views and the birds (including the cute faces of the puffins) up close.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
We couldn’t stay in this part of Wales and not visit Mount Snowdon, so we decided to take the easy route to the top – via the mountain railway. Starting at the station in Llanberis, the train carriage is pushed (yes, pushed) up Wales’s highest mountain by either a diesel or a steam engine.
If you arrive at the station early, there’s a film that allows you to see what lies ahead, and for the children (and a touch of nostalgia for the adults) there are original Ivor the Engine cartoons. The trip up Snowdon takes an hour, and takes you through stunning scenery, past waterfalls and lands unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Even the children were pinned up against the windows taking it all in. A half hour stop at the top allows time for a drink and quick lunch, or just some very good cake if you prefer, in the café, before you take the journey back down, which is decidedly quicker – though not scarily so. Even for kids that are too old and cool to acknowledge their former infatuation with Thomas and his friends, this was a trip that kept them smiling.
All of us in our party were too young to remember The Prisoner, the 1960s television series that featured Portmeirion. That didn’t stop some of us from wanting to visit one of the most iconic sights in Wales. In fact at times the whole thing felt a little more like visiting Disneyland or a film set (which of course it was). Clough Williams-Ellis, the imaginer and builder of the village has managed, in the middle of Wales, to produce an experience that combines the nature of acres of woodland walks with Italian architecture and piazzas, and a little bit of China thrown in too – all given his own hallmark “twists”!
Tours are available from the Welcome Area, although we decided to wing it – which is pleasant way to come upon the unexpected pieces and places throughout the site. Every corner seemed to give either a spectacular view or a new and intriguing find – the shell grotto, a temple with a golden Buddha, a stone pirate ship – enough to keep both children and adults in our group giving out a constant stream of “ooh” and “wow”.
The village is most definitely for the tourists, although there are residents there too, which means cafes and restaurants galore, and shops to get your souvenirs and trinkets – and books, from the Golden Dragon bookshop.
The sunny weather and day exploring the area made us all feel as if we’d had a little mini break in somewhere foreign and exotic in the middle of our lovely Welsh break – a win-win situation!