A rollercoaster of a half term break in spectacular Snowdonia!

Two important announcements were made during our journey to North Wales.

Florence and ClaudieMy grand-daughter, Claudie, aged three, said she wanted to ride a cow. Her sister Florence, just seven, complained about having ‘pins and noodles’.

Voted one of the top 10 places in the world to visit by Lonely Planet, Snowdonia was our destination. There were squeals of delight from the children, and myself, when we arrived at our half term holiday home, Kestrel Cottage, nestled in a hideaway hollow within farmland in Capel Curig,just a few miles from Betws-y-Coed.

From the French windows in the sitting room, we stepped out on to a decked, wrap-around verandah and took in the breathtaking views across fields, woodland and Welsh mountains. At this secret retreat, we had only sheep and a few cows for company. With three double bedrooms,

stunning bathroom, country kitchen, dining room/conservatory and cosy sitting room where we relaxed in front of an open fire in the evenings,

Kestrel Cottage oozes stylish seclusion and comfort.

The next morning, after breakfast on the sunny verandah, we took the upward path at the side of the house which leads to the Gwdyr Forest walk to Betsw-y-Coed. There were steep slopes, covered with tree-roots shaped like jigsaw puzzles, undulating muddy tracks and wide-spaced stepping stones across rivulets, but the little ones tackled the two-hour challenge, in camouflage with soil smeared on their faces, re-energised with an occasional sandwich or biscuit. When we reached the fast-flowing, foaming white Swallow Falls they splashed their hands in a small, crystal clear stream.

View from Kestrel Cottage verandahTime has paused in quaint Betsw-y-Coed, known as the ‘gateway to Snowdonia’ and situated in the Conwy Valley within Snowdonia National Park. A natural magnet for walkers, climbers and canoeists, Betsw-y-Coed has an alpine feel, a bridge over a rocky river which rushes along through gorges and boasts spectacular scenery. Later, we waited for a bus to take us back to Capel Curig, but were told it wasn’t likely to arrive at the appointed hour. Time seems unimportant in Betsw-y-Coed. But we had a lot to fit in.

GreenWood Forest Park, in Felinheli, Gwynedd, encompasses 27 acres of eco-friendly activities and hosts 150,000 visitors a year. Unsurprisingly, it’s a multi-award winning family attraction.

At Swallow Falls with Claudie and FlorenceOn the Green Dragon, the world’s only people-powered roller coaster, grand-daughter Claudie sat beside me and I was advised by an attendant to hold her tight. She screamed in delight but, eyes closed, I just screamed silently, wishing someone would hold me tight as the 20-person, five-car train sped along a 250-metre track and completed a 360 degree horizontal loop round the hill and through the woods.

Thankfully, grandma’s token effort was considered a sufficient contribution, and I was allowed to watch from then on.

We could hardly persuade the children to leave the Great Green Run, a 70-metre sledge slide, but tempted them with The Giant Jumper bouncy pillow, Tunnel Run, Solar Splash and a donkey ride. Top marks to GreenWood Forest Park.

PortmeirionFrom totally ‘green’ to a multi-coloured Italian-themed village created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925-1976. Portmeirion was designed with the aim of developing a naturally beautiful, tightly-grouped coastal clifftop site without spoiling it.

One of the country’s premier attractions, Portmeirion, welcomes around 225,000 visitors every year. It’s a quirky, chocolate box, atmospheric oasis of interesting architecture, stunning flora and fauna, water features, a clock tower,arches, pillars, paths and breathtaking views. The 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, was filmed in Portmeirion.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognises the Ffestiniog Railway as the oldest operational railway company in the world, and is now the number one tourist attraction in North Wales.

It felt like we were extras in a scene from The Railway Children when we waited on the platform at Porthmadog and watched the cloud of white steam rise from the pristine cream and maroon glossy-painted train as it chugged into the little station.Ffestiniog railway All aboard, we sat in the third class carriage of this lovingly-maintained, heritage, narrow gauge locomotive, but had a first class experience,looking through wooden windows as it rumbled and rattled, puffed and spluttered along the tracks, passing the estuary to afford the magnificent, rugged panorama of Snowdonia, the Glaslyn marshes, a distant view of Harlech castle, sweeping valleys and a lake, travelling under bridges, through tunnels, plus little towns and villages, hooting and tooting all the way to Blaenau Ffestioniog and back.

At two hours, it’s quite a long journey for little ones, but friendly staff served drinks and snacks, so that kept our two happy.

My grand-daughters were even happier the following day when we all tucked into fish and chips, sitting on a metal bench at the end of the Victorian pier in Beaumaris, on the Isle of Anglesey. Florence and Claudie on the beach in Beaumaris, AngleseyThey watched folk fishing for crabs then crunched their feet along the pebble beach and threw stones from the water’s edge.

Ice-cream-coloured houses line the promenade in this haven for local artists. The high street features a collection of artisan shops, wine bars and cafes and the impressive, moated Edwardian castle is worth a visit.

There’s a welcome beneath the hillside at Bounce Below in Blaenau Ffestiniog, where a former Victorian slate mine, converted to a subterranean playground, has benefited from a recent multi-million pound investment. We donned yellow, hard plastic hats – very fetching – to walk through tunnels to reach the spot where three to seven year-olds bounce, jump, roll and walk from net to net for an hour in a cavern the size of a cathedral.

On top of the world with ClaudieOn a spectator bench, I chatted to man as we watched our grandchildren play. Now retired, the former miner from Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, had been a rescue volunteer at Aberfan in October 1966 when 116 children and 28 adults perished after a landslide of coal debris slid down a mountain and engulfed the classrooms of Pantglas Junior School. Tears filled his eyes when he told the story.

After my grand-daughters climbed down, excited and flushed from their bouncy adventure, I held them close and counted my blessings.

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Marion Ainge

Freelance travel writer & member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance

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