Tag: adventure travel

Visit Wales content via Telegraph Travel

Wales is lovely in autumn.

While everyone is back into work mode, I love escaping to Snowdonia [atop Y Eifel pictured above] and marvelling at the changing colours of the landscape.

This was the idea behind a series of editorial posts I worked on recently. It was sponsored content for Telegraph Travel and commissioned by Visit Wales.

The themes were adventure, days out and hidden gems. I also wrote a couple of more narrative-based posts about the heritage of Conwy Castle and walking trails.

You can read the full set of articles at Find Your Epic in Wales.

Or catch the individual posts as follows:

Alternative activities in Wales for the whole family

Ten of the best walks with rewards in Wales


Pushing the limits of Easter at Carden Park


It’s good to push yourself sometimes.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I stepped gingerly off the platform and clung to the rope for dear life, my legs instantly contorting into a most ungraceful set of splits as I did so.

It was bad enough trying not to look down the 50ft-odd drop to the forest floor below but, with Maya and Olivia about to follow me out onto the aerial ropes course [pictured above], there could be no bottling it by dad.

“The first one is always the worst,” said instructor Phil, trying to sound reassuring. “It’s the fear of stepping into the abyss.”

Easter activities

We had come to Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire to try out some of the activities for the forthcoming Easter holidays. The hotel offers crazy golf and archery sessions, as well as boasting its own vineyard.

I had expected a gentle afternoon on the Easter Trail, searching for clues in the grounds to win chocolate eggs.

But the idea of leading my two daughters across a series of elevated platforms and obstacles caught me off guard.

We had harnesses and a full safety briefing, of course. But, despite the incentive of finding mini eggs along the course, did we have the nerve?

More to the point, as the responsible adult in charge of two primary-school-aged children more used to playing on the CBBC app than swinging like monkeys through an adventure playground, had I taken leave of my senses?

Active kids

Maybe not.

The National Trust report, Natural Childhood, suggests our children are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in regard to their lack of engagement with nature.

A key reason for this, it suggests, is the aversion of many parents to any form of risk. “No natural environment is completely free from risk,” writes report author Stephen Moss.

“But these risks are a fundamental part of childhood: by gradually learning what is safe and what is dangerous, especially with regard to their own actions and behaviours, children develop their own ‘risk thermostat’.”

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom supports this view, expressing concern for the long-term implications for not allowing children and young people to experience risk, challenge and adventure.

The group promotes more creative approaches to curriculum development and summarises its concerns about risk aversion here.

Confidence building

From climbing nets to swinging logs, we made our tentative way across the course, instructor Phil [pictured below] lending a helping head to coax a nervous Maya across the high-wire stepping stones and swing a worried-looking Olivia across a gap too wide for little legs on her harness.


He was less forgiving of dad as I edged my way along an elevated log walkway and hesitated at a see-saw bridge. “Go on, attack it,” he advised, dismissing my request for emergency technique coaching.

“That’s not attacking it,” he laughed as the children looked on nervously.

He was right. I was never in the scouts and was probably more interested in my Space Lego than climbing trees when I was Maya’s age. But demonstrating my own nervousness will only hold the girls back in life.

There were some wobbles and a few tears along the course but, after an hour of white-knuckle antics, we were negotiating the wobbly bridges of the final obstacle.

“It’s always the parents who struggle,” smiled Phil, congratulating Olivia for being the youngest person in our group to make it across. “The little kids haven’t don’t have the fear.”

Down to the wire

By the time we reached the zip wire platform for the 250m descent back to terra firm, the girls were taking the course in their stride.

They raced each other on the zip wire [watch the vimeo] and laughed as I trundled behind, dangling like a limp balloon from my harness over a swampy bit of ground at the bottom.

Before I could even get myself free, Olivia was already devouring the first of several Easter eggs.

“Again,” she squealed as I headed for coffee and a long sit down.

I’m not booking a week at Center Parcs just yet but we had dared to step beyond our comfort zones.

And, once more, it took two young children to remind their sensible dad of a valuable life lesson: sometimes you just have to step into the abyss.

  • Activities run from March 25 to April 10 at the hotel’s Event Station and are open to non-residents; prices and bookings here

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Liked this? Try also Family Cycling story wins at Holland Travel Awards.

Story of the week: A surfing escape to Cornwall


I’m a poor swimmer, have nothing by Mambo and didn’t even know the thick end (nose) of a surfboard from the thin end (tail).

I am, in short, the world’s most unlikely surf dude.

But Big Friday reckon they can turn an urbanite like me into a waxhead within a weekend.

That’s why I joined a 12-strong group, predominantly female, and ranging from a Kiwi trance DJ to a network analyst from Essex, to catch their Surf Bus for the five-hour trip down to Newquay, the home of British surfing.

Weekend escape

Big Friday offer different weekend packages from serious surfing and partying to chill-out surf chic at a secluded B&B with its own reiki massage hut overlooking Harlyn Bay, just outside of Padstow.

Our group stayed at the Boarding House, a lively but rather down-at-heel hostel-style surf lodge, located just a hop from North Fistral Beach.

Fistral has some of the best surfing in Britain and conditions from now until late October are at an optimum with sea temperatures around 16 degrees.

Sadly the vagaries of the British weather are beyond control and, at 10am on the Saturday morning, five-foot waves and on-shore wind were hardly ideal conditions for a bunch of beginners.

Nevertheless, we ventured stoically into the swell after the safety talk from our instructor, “rather surly but looks great in a wetsuit” according to one group member.

For me, just even getting into my own super-clingy bodysuit proved tricky enough, let alone riding the waves a la Hawaii Five-O. But, with practice, most people are up on their feet within the first two-hour session.

Apres surf

That night we hit the town with dinner at the stylish Chy Bar offering welcome relief from the stag-party frenzy of Newquay’s downmarket big Saturday night.

The next morning some were back out catching early waves, while I headed for a leisurely stroll along the beach and brunch at a relaxed surf café on Watergate Bay.

By the time we rolled back in London’s Victoria on Sunday night, Big Friday hadn’t made a surf dude of me, but a weekend of fresh air had banished the post-summer blues.

“It wasn’t the cheapest weekend but I liked the fact everything is arranged for you,” concluded Bronwyn, a 25-year-old PA, as we said our goodbyes.

“But I feel loads better for an escape from the city.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story first appeared in The Guardian in 2004. Liked this? Try also Reviving a dying village in the Algarve.

Story of the week: The tinku festival in Bolivia


* Carnival season is kicking in but I’m trawling the back catalogue this week for an alternative to the average fiesta.

Follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for weekly updates from my travel-writing archive in the months to come.

The journey starts with a shot of local moonshine.

In between it features an ancient festival to honour Pachamama, the earth goddess; vast, Andean landscapes; and a huge, alcohol-fuelled punch up.

This is the strange world of tinku, a highly ritualised folk ceremony held in Bolivia’s rural Potosi region during the harsh Andean winter.

Ancient rites

Tinku means ‘encounter’ in the indigenous Quechua tongue and Bolivia’s most dramatic fiesta is essentially a harvest festival, celebrating the end of the agricultural year.

What makes it stand out, however, is the colourful clash of Catholic and Pagan beliefs, which draw on the ancient rituals of Potosi’s indigenous communities. Five major tinku are held around Potosi annually with similar, smaller festivals taking place in remote highland communities.

As the tinku builds to its violent crescendo, an offering to Pachamama is sealed in the spilling of human blood.

Traditionally the villagers celebrating tinku have excluded tourists but, in the last couple of years, tour agencies in the city of Potosi, working with the local communities, have started offering tinku tours to witness the rituals of Andean communities that have changed little despite centuries of progress.

The best known of all tinku is held each May in Macha, a 3,000-strong community of adobe houses, daubed with the slogans of local political parties, and dirt-track sidestreets, all built around a central plaza overlooked by a rough-stone church. Poor and remote, it sits astride the Andes at some 4,000m above sea level and is a six-hour drive north of Potosi by bus.

I joined a small group of curious backpackers and amateur anthropologists with tour agency Koala Tours, setting out on a bright but chilly morning from Potosi.

During the Spanish Conquest Potosi was awash with silver and noblemen, but today it’s a windswept place with a vaguely elegiac feel. Cerro Rico, the mountain that looms over the city, is a shadow of its former self, plundered over the centuries for the now-near-exhausted silver reserves.

Before embarking on the trip, our guides makes a cha’lla, a ritual offering to Pachamama for luck on the road ahead, accompanied by a shot of chicha, the local maize-fermented hooch. The drink is as rough as the road that lies ahead.

We rumble over crater-strewn tracks, stopping at a ramshackle hut by the roadside for a plate of soup with rice and potatoes and a last chance to stock up on biscuits and bottled water.

Village life

Arriving in Macha at dusk, we find the town square bustling with a pre-tinku market. Stalls selling fruit sit next to men with ancient machines for sharpening knives and stitching shoes.

Our guesthouse, meanwhile, is hardly five star: bleak dorm rooms with stained mattresses, a toilet block without doors and a loose hose gushing ice-cold water for a shower. By the time we are served a simple dinner of soup, rice and coffee, some of the group look to be already cursing their curiosity.

After dinner we find Hernan Tarqui, the 33-year-old Catholic priest of Macha, sipping coca tea in a shabby house next to the church.

“These are country people are still living by the Old Testament.”

He adds: “About 90 per cent are Catholic but the traditions of the ancient civilisations are still very strong in this region.”

The next morning we’re back on the bus, trundling out across vast, dusty plains. Dropped where the road dissipates, it’s then a 20-minute, cross-country yomp to the village Cruz de Machacamarca, where the first official day of tinku is in full effect.

A tiny pueblo with llamas and dogs roaming free between the adobe huts, it is surrounded by a thin, red soil eroded from the surrounding hills.

Village elders from the scattering of nearby rural communities, many dressed in costumes modeled on the Spanish conquistadors [see above], carry large crosses, carved with images of Christ, to a stark, white church to be blessed by the local priest.

The rest of the villagers, meanwhile, are dressed in brightly coloured ceremonial clothes and whipping themselves into an early frenzy by swilling moonshine, dancing and indulging in isolated minor scuffles.

Around the periphery, women and children huddle beside fires with bubbling vats of beans and corn. Some of the early victims, sporting black eyes and split lips, lay slumped by a stone wall.

The carcass of a freshly sacrificed llama is being ransacked for the pot. We watch the dancing, keeping a judicious distance, but already the atmosphere feels tense as if building towards a dramatic climax.

“This is a subsistence farming community with people living on 40 Bolivianos (£2.50) a week,” explains Hugo Mondocore Gabriel, the village elder of the Uluchi community. “We only decided to invite tourists to witness the tinku four years ago.”

“We needed to bring money into the community as we have 450 schoolchildren in these villages.”

Old scores

After the blessing of the crosses in the communities, rival villagers start to come together on the second day in Macha to dance, drink and settle their differences from the past year with bare fists.

But this is not just some drunken brawl. Tradition dictates that spilt blood on the final day brings fertility to the rocky soil and a dead villager ensures an especially abundant harvest for the following year. The death often goes unreported, however, and is handled behind the closed doors of the community.

Before that, in Macha’s sun-bleached town square, indigenous women, dressed in the traditional garb of long flowing skirts and embroidered shawls [see below], patrol the crowds with whips to administer a whiplash of community justice to anyone fighting dirty. The cow skin hats they wear are tough enough to withstand a sudden shower of stones and missiles from the crowd.

Positioned on a balcony in the town hall, we can see how, as the afternoon gives way to evening and the shadows loom larger on the stone cobbles, the drinking and dancing is increasingly fervent.

As rival factions charge drunkenly into each other, some lashing out with fists, the women build the rhythm, performing a shuffling, feet-stamping dance routine to the eerie strains of cane flutes and charangos, a mandolin-like Andean instrument.

The chanting and goading intensifies with dancers engulfing the main square. The market traders continue to man their kiosks, interrupting commerce only to throw water over dancers stumbling into their wares.

Meanwhile the dull thud of a CS Gas canister heralds the arrival of the local Police, trying to exert some influence over the crowd. But the dancers simply retreat to sidestreets to lick their wounds before relaunching themselves into the brawl.

Darkness delivers the first serious casualties to Macha’s tiny hospital. Outside women are looking for their injured husbands while the ground is thick with blood and urine. Our guides have warned that us that, as guests, we should leave on the third and final morning of tinku to leave the community to complete the annual ritual away from the prying eyes of foreigners.

Night terrors

As we climb into our sleeping bags in the guesthouse that night, the sound of rocks crashing off the roof lulls us to sleep.

But before bed, we go in search of Father Hernan one last time. He will be staying up all night and shakes his head wearily as we say our goodbyes.

“Of course the Church opposes tinku. We want to see a coming together of communities to share their blessings,” he says, as an assistant arrives to tell him the church has been secured for the night.

“But we can’t just change the culture overnight.”

* This story was first published in Geographical magazine in 2007. Liked this? Try also In the footsteps of Che Guevara in Bolivia.

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