I threw an extra couple of pairs of shoes into the boot of the car, just in case. The beauty of travelling by ferry in your own car means not having to think twice about what to pack because everything fits in. Hiking boots and poles, outer ware for all eventualities including caps, jackets, a few bottles of water and snack bars all went in. I was liberated as I closed the boot and set off with my partner, Terry, to Dublin Port. Only a short check in as we drive up to the kiosk before boarding and the girl hands us our tickets as she already knows who we are from the car reg.
Boarding the Stena Estrid, now four years in service, is closer to a cruise line in atmosphere than ferries of the past. Spacious and filled with light from the architecturally stunning atrium we were more than happy to swap this for the confines of security at Dublin Airport.
With four different types of cabins available and a who range of amenities from free movie theatres to a Hygge lounge and the delicious Taste self service restaurant, the quality and styling is unmistakably Scandanavian and with special pet facilities this is a wonderful way for all the family to get away.
In the Stena plus lounge for only £20 tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks accompany table service and free newspapers are included. We glided past poolbeg lighthouse on a balmy Sunday with the mountains as backdrop and the Baily lighthouse at Howth sparkled in perfect Joycean symmetry across Dublin Bay.
Driving off the ship at Holyhead was as breezy and seamless and we had arrived in the land of castles and mountains. This trip has an adventurous spirit attached as we are heading for the highest peak in Wales in Snowdonia National Park. But first we must check-in at our cosy home for the weekend at The Bulls Head in picturesque Beaumaris on the east of the Island of Angelsey. Part of a hotel group, The Inn Collection, it is one of many authentic individually styled small hotels spread across the north of England and Wales.
Our itinerary is organised by Clare Copeman who started the leisure company Adventure Tours UK in 2018 with her husband Jim Gaffney. Based in north east Wales the couple employ only locals to work on each of their programs and are dedicated to enhancing and improving the environment in the process. Each year they plant hundreds of trees in a sustainability drive to enhance the countryside that they use. We meet at the Llanberis Railway Station, one of the public car parks where hikers can leave their cars for the day while trekking. Price is £12 per day and there is a shuttle bus to take hikers to the various starting points depending on which of the seven routes you choose to take.
The sun splits through the trees as we meet with Tim the guide who is taking Terry up to the summit on the Pyg path. The routes vary in difficulty and the benefit of employing an experienced guide makes the hike safer and more enjoyable. Clare and I have a large picnic basket that we are taking to the top of Snowdon on the single gauge railway. Since the steam railway started in 1895 during the Victorian Era, the train has been popular for holidaymakers and is wheelchair accessible so everyone can reach the mountain top.
As with most tall peaks in Britain and Ireland visibility is very much weather dependent and there is an expectation to meet mixed conditions. Today however we are bathed in glorious sunshine when the lads arrive and we break open the picnic. As part of the bespoke tour at Adventure Tours UK, food is prepared in a sustainable and local fashion is part of the experience. Rebecca Yates at Findmecooking.com supplies the tours from her tea room in Betws-y-coed. Welsh traditional scones with leeks, mushrooms and cheese, accompany Welsh cheese sandwiches and relish washed down with homemade lemonade. The spotted cake and Millionaires Shortbread are all homemade too and perfect for a break on the trek down the mountain.
Tim has been telling Terry stories and legends that are laced into the fibre of the local towns and villages. In the early days of the last century tourists on the steam train often lost their hats in the process of ascending the mountain. The more entrepreneurial locals would collect the hats and offer them for sale when they descended to the town afterwards.
Nowadays it is more likely that wrappers and bottles will find their way by accident or carelessness onto the paths but with the initiative Trash Free Trails Claire and Tim actively gather any rubbish they find on the route as they walk it. Clare has seen the popularity of her business grow and offers bicycle tours and days out kayaking and running and with such a great ethos I’m sure that Adventure Tours UK are going to go from strength to strength.
After such an invigorating day we were excited to return to Beaumaris and our gorgeous room with large Victorian bath that certainly helped Terry’s sore calves. The Bull’s Head Inn was once served the Normans who built Beaumaris Castle, which is often described as the most spectacular castle never finished. We popped in to see the ruins with the draw bridge and moate still in place. That night it was being used as a venue for a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The Victorian writer Charles Dickens stayed at the Inn and as we take our room key it is named after the character Mr Stiggins from the novel The Pickwick Papers. Although the Inn has expanded and been updated over the many centuries that it has been in use it is decorated to modern standards without ripping out the character and patina. We dine on locally supplied fish and steak and the cocktail recipe for Limoncello Spritzer is most definitely coming home with me. General Manager Paul has worked hard to bring a new exciting menu to the restaurant and for a Monday night in September it was buzzing with patrons and atmosphere.
Each time I visit Wales I wonder why I’ve taken so long to return and with the added bonus of £3.50 bottles of wine at duty free and £10 gin I’ll be back soon. For value, ease of travel and that sense of adventure our neighbouring Celts have a lot to offer for an autumn break.
To find out more see www.visitwales.co.uk
Adventuretours UK offer bespoke Tours for individuals and groups from 8 to 12 to Wales and England that include hiking, running, cycling and a range of activities. For more see www.adventuretoursuk.com
Michelle Travelled with her car on Stena Line from Dublin to Holyhead