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Travel

The good life in North Wales

Clive Nicholls takes it easy, Nordic style, and makes the most of the Snowdonia National Park

As dusk turns to nightfall the mountaintops merge into the darkening sky. It is very serene, very beautiful, with only the hum of the hot tub that I’m relaxing in breaking the silence. I pour a glass of wine and decide to enjoy these magic moments a few minutes more.

I’m staying at the ‘Rivercatcher’ log cabins, and with the Snowdonia National Park as a close neighbour and the River Dee running through the back garden, I’m perfectly placed to enjoy the tranquillity here or use it as a base to explore North Wales.

Earlier in the day I visited Porthmadog on the coast at Tremadog Bay. It’s got a pretty little harbour, and magnificent views across the water to Snowdonia. The Welsh Highland Railway stops off here, it has the beach at Black Rock Sands, history with Criccieth Castle and importantly for me, a supermarket where I can pick up supplies for my stay at Rivercatcher. Mylog cabin ‘Hyggelig’, pronounced hoo-gah-lig, has a Nordic theme, with wood burner, throws, and everything for a secluded break away for two people.

The kitchen is fully equipped but I’m on holiday and taking the easy way out, courtesy of the ready meal section of Porthmadog’s Tesco superstore. Curry tonight, pasta tomorrow then Chinese.

I didn’t challenge my culinary skills too much with last night’s curry but breakfast is a different matter – full English is my holiday treat. Fire up the grill, get some heat under the frying pan and soon the sausages are sizzling – perfect.

My plan for the day takes in Bala Lake (it’s almost on our doorstep) before stopping off at the Tryweryn River which joins the River Dee at Bala. There’s a white water centre there but today walking the Tryweryn Trail is my preferred option.

Back in the car I drive to Betws-y-Coed and stop for coffee. St Mary’s Church here was built in 1873 with the tower finished in 1907. Despite being a relative youngster as far as churches go, it is well worth a visit, and makes for a peaceful interlude in a busy day.

Betws-y-Coed is a big outdoor centre so if you’re looking for new boots or a waterproof, there’s plenty of choice.

I’m taking the Llanberis Pass up to Llanberis and the National Slate Museum. The Pass is dramatic and beautiful, but unfortunately as I arrived the weather changed from damp and overcast to very wet, but that’s mountains for you, five minutes later and the sun might be shining – but it wasn’t. The top of the Pass is 1178ft but with mountains steep and close on either side it somehow feels higher than that.

As I pass through Llanberis, the yard for the Snowdon Mountain Railway is busy, but to get the best from a trip up the mountain, visibility would need to be better – perhaps another time.

The National Slate Museum (entry is free, just pay for the car park) gives an insight into what was a huge industry in the region. At the end of the 19th century 17,000 workers were extracting half a million tons of slate a year. At the turn of the century industrial action started the decline: wars, the depression and competition from other materials completed the job.

The Sixties and Seventies saw big closures and today production is on a very small scale. The museum, partly indoors, partly out, shows the machinery involved – it must have been a noisy and rather uncomfortable place to work.

The site today is as if the workers just downed tools and left at the end of their shift and nothing has changed.

Back at Rivercatcher there is something nice about settling in for the evening, particularly when I’m stocked up with food and wine, the accommodation is spectacularly good (it’s new this year) and the weather has moderated enough to eat outside.

Next day, a change of direction, I head north to Ruthin and then across to Chester.

Ruthin is quirky and there are one or two antiques shops that are not only interesting but tempting. There was a rocking horse that had clearly been well loved but was in need of a new home. Despite the look on his face that said ‘take me home’ I had to walk on by.

Chester is really a full day in itself; you are back in England now (only just) and the city, built around a Roman Fort, has an almost complete wall, there are only about 100 yards missing.

Recognised for its timber-framed buildings, the centre is a fascinating mix of new and old, modern shops in old buildings. For me, it’s the walls that are the big attraction. A full circuit is just under two miles but it’s worth the walk. You see so much and get a real flavour of Chester.

Back at Rivercatcher there’s a change of plan; I’m barbecuing tonight. I have a plumbed-in Barbie on the decking so a swift stop at the supermarket: chicken breasts, burgers and bangers and I’m all sorted.

My stay is sadly over too soon. If I had more time I would have a day at Rivercatcher just relaxing with a good book and a couple of magazines. It’s a great place to be and you don’t always need to be dashing off somewhere.

It’s great to see the sights and try new things, but sometimes relaxing is good, too. At Rivercatcher you can do both.

Find out more

Rivercatcher Luxury Log Cabins are four individually styled Scandi log cabins in North Wales on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in the foothills of the beautiful Berwyn Mountains. Each has its own theme: Cwtch, or hug in Welsh, has rustic design and earthy colours. Lagom is a light and airy Scandi-style cabin; Hyggelig, a traditional Norwegian ‘ski chalet’ type abode; and Gezellig, an eclectically styled boho cabin. A three-night short break in low season costs £365 and a week £521. Go to: (www.rivercatcher.co.uk) and (www.rivercatcher.co.uk/luxury-log-cabinsnorth-wales), tel: 01490 440498

National Slate Museum, Llanberis LL55 4TY , tel: 0300 111 2 333, website: (www.museum.wales/slate). Opening times: Easter to October: 10am to 5pm, daily. November to Easter: 10am to 4pm, closed Saturdays. Entry is free.

Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis, Gwynedd LL55 4TY . Website: (www.snowdonrailway.co.uk), tel: 01286 870223. Open from 8:30am daily.

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