“You just have to take one big step off the edge, and then the auto belay will will catch you and lower you down”
What, that little box thing? Piss off, you’re having me on.
We were in Wales for two nights to visit Go Below, an underground adventure business that operates in the shadow of Mount Snowdon, giving tours through an abandoned slate mine. Hosting up to 9 zip lines (including the longest underground zip line in the world), some of the deepest points in Great Britain, a 70 foot free fall, several abseils, and multiple crossings of decades old wooden bridges. All that in nothing more than a pair of wellies and a head lamp.
Sounds right up our alley!
The drive up the day before was good, we stopped on the way to pick up our friend Andy, and hit a couple of service stations on the way to break up the journey as its a long old way to Wales. We arrived just before the sun went down, having been treated to clears sunny skies all day and a lovely sunset as we drove the last few miles. Working our way down the country lanes, we saw the small sign indicating we had arrived at Rynys Farm Campsite, and pulled into the turning, which took us up a narrow lane on a too-steep-for-our-poor-car-hill, and eventually to the campsite.
We stopped outside the farm house and got out to admire the view, which was by all accounts, stunning. Now, Wales may be cold wet and a bit miserable at times, but you have to hand it to them, they know how to knock your socks off with a landscape. All around was nothing but green fields, trees and rolling hills as far as you could see. We met the owner, who was lovely, and she showed us the best places to pitch. In the end we chose a spot under a tree next to a little stream. Me and Zoe had our tent up in a jiffy as we are tent erection specialists, and then sat back to watch Andy struggle to put his up. It soon proved too frustrating to watch him (like watching your dad try and write an email), so we helped out, and got the hot water on after to make some tea while we waited for Matt and Sarah to show up, who, despite having left before us and not having had to stop on the way, still arrived half an hour after us. It was bedtime not long after they got their tent up, so we all went to sleep slightly anxious about what the next day would bring.
Rain, for the most part, as it turned out.
It started spitting just after we had met our guides and got our gear on. They didn’t have any wellies that fit me, due to my abundance of foot, so I ended up just wearing my waterproof boots and a pair of gaiters, and hoping for the best. By the time we had hopped into the back of one of their old landrovers for the drive over to the mines it was tipping it down. The walk from the landrover to the entrance was nice, if a little wet, and for the most part we were flanked on one side by towering piles of slate, waste left over from when the mines were working.
Once inside the mines, although it was (obviously) not raining, it was still very wet, with little streams of water running down into the depths. It was also very dark. Our first challenge was to make our way down a wet slope to reach one of the lower levels, which was pretty tough in its own right. Next, we made our way along a wall, using nothing but the wooden planks bolted to it, and with a sheer drop below. You really have to put your faith in the ropes and guide lines that you are clipped to. The next bit was a lot more difficult, as rather than planks all you had were just the bolts in the wall to stand on. I kept getting myself into a position where I just had no where to put my foot on the next step. We then abseiled down to the next floor, and once everyone was down, we all switched off our lights to see just how dark it was. There is literally no light at all. You cannot even see the hand in front of your face, and its quite unsettling.
After this was the GOLIATH. A 130 metre zip line that is the longest underground zip line in the world. Well, its actually a ride, as if they let you just go down it you would smash into the floor at the other end, so instead you sit in a seat and are lowered down at a gentle pace, which lets you take in just how big a space you are actually moving through. I genuinely lack the vocabulary to describe this adequately, you really do need to see it to take it all in.
I can’t really remember the exact order we did things after that, suffice to say there were plenty more zip lines. One of them required us to sit on a log, and then shuffle our way off the edge, due to the low roof. This one I did not like. Another one had an accompanying challenge – run off the edge as fast as you can, and see if you could get to the other side without having to pull yourself in. I didn’t make it.
My feet got soaked too. Turns out that gaiters just are not a substitute for wellies no matter how much you want them to be. We had to pass through a couple of half submerged tunnels, and would have been up to our knees in the frigid water if it weren’t for an old rusting pipe we could walk on. Luckily I had my wool socks on (I’m a genius) so even though my feet were wet, they warmed up pretty quickly again. Once you’re wet, you’re wet, so may as well forget about it and enjoy the rest of the day.
Some of the worst parts for me were when we had to walk across the old wooden bridges. For some reason this is where the heights got to me the most, and I really had to use all my nerve to get across. So apparently I’m fine hanging from the roof by a rope, but when I have solid footing I’m terrified. To be fair though some of those bridges are as old as the mines themselves so they are not exactly welcoming. There were also plenty more traverses, sometimes having to scale ridiculously steep walls only to then have to slide along the top hugging the rock as tightly as you can just to keep your balance. Knowing how to do the splits would be a great advantage as even I was at the limits of my reach with my long old legs, I have no idea how shorter people managed it!
The last part of the day was the most nerve wracking. We clamber through a small locked door, and come into a room that leads to the free fall. A 70 foot drop. I was absolutely bricking it. All you have to do, they said, is hold on to your rope so it doesn’t smack you in the face, then take a good step off the edge to make sure you don’t swing back into it, and your away. Much, much easier said than done. Probably would have been a bit less difficult if I’d had room to stand up to step off, and as it goes I had to have a shove from our guide to make sure I cleared the edge.
Waiting in line, my heart was getting faster and faster. It was going a mile a minute by the time I went over the edge, dropped like a sack of potatoes, swore (a lot, and loudly), and then I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a second, because the next thing I remember I was landing hard on my arse at the bottom, saying ‘Oh, I’ve landed on my bum’. I had to have a little sit down after that while we all waited for everyone else to fall down. Most of the others enjoyed it so much they went for round two. I was still in recovery from the first one, so I declined. Also my bum hurt from where I landed on a sharp rock.
We made our way out of the mine, back up the sloping path we originally came down, and then back out into the daylight, and the rain. It felt like we had been underground for an age, and it was quite odd coming back out into actual weather. It was nice to walk around on flat ground again without being tied to a wall.
Once we got back to drop our gear off the rain had eased up, but not before soaking us all in the back of the landrover, and by the time we had walked back to the campsite it had stopped completely. We showered and relaxed for a while, then set off to the local town to find a pub for dinner. We ended up in the Silver Fountain, which is an excellent pub between our campsite and the town of Betws-y-Coed, with very friendly staff, big portions, and decently priced too. We all went to bed that night full and happy, and slightly aching.
Next morning I was up before anyone else, so I made myself a cup of tea and set off with my camera to take some photos. The view from the farm was great, and it got even better when I climbed the hills along the trail behind it. I had the whole world to myself that morning and it was great. When I got back to camp everyone was starting to pack up, so we loaded everything into the car, and that was that. Adventure over, time to go home.