Travel review: Soaking up spectacular Snowdonia
Surrounded by trees and birdsong, Emily Shelley and her family unwind in tranquil Snowdonia.
If sunbathing is for summer holidays, surely the only thing to do on an autumn holiday is forest-bathe? Lie back on a soft bed of moss, breathe in the subtle scents of the trees around you and feel the gentle weight of leaves falling from the swaying branches above.
Better still, if you’d rather not lie on damp ground and get woodlice in your hair, you can experience the forest from the warm embrace of your own private hot tub.
Pursuing a pastime said to help with depression and anxiety and reset your body clock, we’re forest-bathing from the veranda of a five-star cabin, getting all the mood-boosting benefits without the wet clothes.
We’re in Snowdonia in North Wales, in Beddgelert Forest – about as far away from it all in the UK as you can get. It’s unbelievably tranquil, but there are a few sounds to be heard above the hot-tub bubbles. We can hear the trills and chirps of birds, the wind in the branches of the pines around us, and twice a day, the toot toot of the Welsh Highland Railway steam engine that stops here. And that’s it.
The trees are already working their magic on my family, caught in the grip of “new school” anxiety and rediscovering each other after several hectic weeks juggling a different routine. As we soak it all in (literally), we have to turn our heads quite sharply to catch the edges of the other cabins around us, to the extent that it takes quite a bit of effort not to feel alone.
This small and exclusive cabin complex is new to the National Park and run by Forest Holidays, which has expanded rapidly on the back of a growing desire among staycationers to get back to nature and holiday in style and comfort. Those two aims are certainly not mutually exclusive here.
Some old farm buildings on site house a shop, where you can pick up takeaway coffees and fresh warm pastries in the morning, and a Bakehouse delivering hot pizzas and curries to your oak-panelled door in the evening. You can even order these through your cabin TV, so you don’t have to get out of your dressing gown.
Yet, while your every need can be catered for, the focus is very much about exploring the natural wonders around you. The Forest Ranger Basecamp offers a series of guided expeditions – from late- night walks with night-vision goggles to spy on the nocturnal animals that live here (including wild goats) to survival skills and family bug hunts.
Eavesdropping in the shop as we pick up our croissants on the first morning, we hear site staff tell one young family the best places in the forest to play Poohsticks. The emphasis is on natural fun – no water slides or games rooms here.
Mine are a bit too old for Poohsticks, so we’ve arranged to hire mountain bikes from the village. Beddgelert itself is a 1.5km walk along one of the forest trails (once you’ve arrived, you can avoid roads for the duration, if you wish). It’s dubbed a “rainforest” because of the amount of rainfall here, so bring wet-weather gear and sturdy footwear whatever time of year you visit.
Beddgelert is a pretty Welsh slate village with a large humpbacked bridge over the River Colwyn. We finish our walk with an ice cream on arrival at the local legend that is the Glaslyn Ices (try the Turkish delight) and meander round the shops.
Our bikes are waiting for us at Beddgelert Bikes, run by the knowledgeable Peter, who can furnish you with trail maps, locks, helmets and a realistic assessment of how far you’re likely to get and how long it will take you. We’re keeping the bikes for a couple of days, so pick up as many suggestions as we can that are suitable for slightly unfit novice riders.
The Bedwen trail takes us to the “hidden” lake of Llyn Llywelyn and a perfect picnic spot. There are views of Snowden from various points on the route, and the paths are multi-use, mostly smooth and wide. Though there’s a large climb up, we’re rewarded with a free-wheel home.
Stretching tired limbs by the log-burning stove inside the cabin later that evening, we ignore the large stock of movies on TV and opt for Scrabble and hot chocolate instead, accompanied by marshmallows toasted on the gas barbecue outside.
If you don’t fancy getting saddle sore, there are enough walks on offer to keep you busy, and of course, the attractions of north-west Wales on your doorstep – from Caernarfon Castle to the caverns of Blaenau Ffestiniog and the beaches around Porthmadog – if you want to get in the car or on the train.
We feel too zenned out from all that forest time to venture much further than the village. Tearing ourselves away for an afternoon, we visit the Sygun Copper Mine that helped sustain this community for generations, and walk a National Trust trail through the Aberglaslyn Gorge via Gelert’s Grave. It’s this legendary final resting place of Prince Llewellyn’s favourite hound that gives the village its name (bedd means grave in Welsh).
Do we learn much forest lore? No. Would we ever survive a night in the woods or navigate our way without waymarked trails? Not a chance. But a bit of comfort doesn’t lessen our appreciation for the nature around us, and only heightens its effect on our wellbeing. Who needs sun?
A three-night weekend break at Forest Holidays Beddgelert (forestholidays.co.uk; 03330 110 495) costs from £745 for four people in a Golden Oak cabin with private hot tub.
Bike hire from Beddgelert Bikes (beddgelertbikes.co.uk) costs from £18 for a two-hour ride.