Category Archives: Wales

Cae Mabon: the verdict

* Two final posts before this blog moves to a new platform. This was written late summer as a pitch for a major family travel contract. I didn’t get it. Maybe you can tell me why below.

David Atkinson wanted some family-bonding time with an eco theme. But would his daughters swop pink for green?

So we’re back from another family holiday in Wales. Snowdonia this time – since you ask. A little eco-retreat village near Llanberis called Cae Mabon.

Run by the storyteller and children’s author Eric Maddern, it comprises a group of cabins in the forest, built around a central roundhouse, and boasts a back-to-nature feel.

Every August it offers an open week for families.

Watch a video of Cae Mabon here.

But why here? Simple. This year it was just me, Maya (aged six) and Olivia (aged two), so I wanted no airport queues, other kids to play with and, overall, a get-away-from-it-all feel.

I definitely didn’t want Disney.

I guess I was also following the call of my own hireath by heading for North Wales. I wanted to introduce the girls to the nature, culture and landscape that formed part of my own childhood.

After all, they’ve served me well.

Exploring the options

Wales has lots of options for a go-green break without overdosing on the mung bean curry. Before making my decision, I checked out the following:

  • Bluestone, South Wales. Wales’ answer to Center Parcs has all the family bases covered and a greener take on short breaks
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology, mid Wales.  Courses, activities and simple accommodation, all with a truly green ethos
  • Anglesey Farm Stays, North Wales. A group of farmstead guesthouses around the island for a back-to-nature break

But, in the end, I chose Cae Mabon for the ease of access (a 90-minute drive from home), the back-to-nature feel and the promise of family-friendly activities to keep the girls busy.

The verdict

Overall, the girls really enjoyed the break and I appreciated the back-to-basics approach to a holiday that Wales does so well.

I thought the best things about Cae Mabon are:

  • Lots of playmates. Maya loved playing with the other children, while I swopped parenting tales with the other dads
  • No cooking. It’s fully catered and all healthy vegetarian food. There’s also juice, fruit and hot drinks available all day.
  • Joining in. Both Maya and Olivia loved the songs and storytelling session around the fire. The session on building a fairy den was also a hit.

But I thought the following would improve the experience for families:

  • Eat early. Timings are a bit late for kids, especially young children – 7.30pm is too late for Olivia’s dinner. Serve up early and the kids will be happier.
  • Think terrible twos. The majority of activities are geared to slightly older children – it’s perfect for ages 7-11. But little ones can feel a bit left out. Cae Mabon needs to widen its age appeal.
  • Spell it out. Nobody was there to show us our cabin when we arrived, or explain things. Thankfully, when I was struggling downhill with two children and four bags, the chef came to my help. I’m not expecting room service but a bit of thought goes a long way.

Have your say

Have you taken your family to Cae Mabon? Or do you have a favourite green escape in Wales, one where kids are welcome?

Post your tips below.

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Filed under Travel writing, Wales

A local-food hotspot in Hawarden

It took me three goes but I’ve cracked it.

That perfect summer-night order, that is, at new-favourite gastropub, the Glynne Arms, before exploring perennial-fave North Walian village, Hawarden, Flintshire.

I’d been three times to the Glynne – the first hosted for a pre-opening press preview, twice since as a paying customer.

The first time we tried a bit of everything. All good, as you would expect from the people behind the Hawarden Estate Food Shop.

The second time I chose well, but my companion’s butternut squash risotto was deemed a bit too meagre for a rained-off Friday night.

But last time we got it right. The strategy? Simple.

Go for one of the sharing platters (the Welsh platter is my choice), then add a side portion of those delicious chunky chips, and throw in a few olives and dips from the starters. Ask them to bring it all at once and wash down with a pint of local ale.

It was perfect for a midsummer evening – not too heavy, great local produce, a range of flavours.

We really loved the homemade remoulade and the Welsh rarebit. But check out menu updates from the Glynne on Twitter.

Afterwards, walk it off around the village. From the front door of the pub, there’s a circuit through the grounds of Gladstone’s Library before heading through the wooden doors into the grounds of the Gladstone estate.

It was a delicious evening of soul-cleansing in a week of chaos. We’ll be regulars, I’m sure.

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Filed under Wales

Family holidays in Wales

So here’s the dilemma. I’m trying to choose a family-holiday escape suitable for my two girls aged two and six.

I’m looking for something with a back-to-basics feel and a close-to-home destination. I don’t want Disney. I want to bring the girls closer to nature, dip out of the daily grind and spend undivided time with them to build cherished childhood memories.

Tricky decisions

The destination bit is the easy bit. Wales, obviously, for its good value for money, simplicity, the friendly people and the natural beauty.

But what to do and where to stay? Now that’s the problem. I’m looking at the Family Holidays section of the Visit Wales web site but I’m confused.

There’s too much going on but not enough sense of insider knowledge. I want a shopping list for groceries but, for a once-a-summer family break, I want to feel an expert is sharing their personal insider knowledge with me.

I also want to know what other families are doing and for them to share their top tips with the forum.

And, on a practical level, I want to navigate my way around the site easily, accessing material from a central page, not having to follow an endless stream of links around labyrinthine sub-directories.

A new look

So how to improve it? Personally, I would make the following suggestions:

  1. Make it more personal. A weekly blog to be written by an expert voice, highlighting a great thing to do that week.
  2. Give it a face. I want to know who the expert is and why they’re qualified to advise me on where to take my children.
  3. Human interaction. Stop using pictures of people with their backs to the camera. If you’re on holiday in Wales, wouldn’t you be smiling?
  4. Work with the medium, not against it. No more chunky text but a clearer writing style better suited to reading on mobile and tablet formats.
  5. More multimedia. Use of image galleries, short video clips and audioboos to make it less static.
  6. Use social media. Push content through Twitter then harvest comments, tips and other user-generated content to compile lists of tips, or provide follow-up story ideas.
  7. Cross link. Bring new material to a wider audience by promoting it on Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other platforms where Visit Wales already has a presence.
  8. Make it a good read. The tone needs to be inspiring and fun as well as informative. You need good, updated information but it needs to hold your attention too.
  9. Keep it fresh. It needs to be relevant to what’s happening now – half term, St David’s Day, Easter egg trails etc.
  10. Simplify navigation. One page for family holidays with a lead story and a menu of links, plus a column of social media. People read differently online, so lead the eye naturally.

Well, that’s what I’d do. Maybe you have other suggestions – if so, post them below.

Booking confirmed

And as for our summer hols? Well, in the end I chose a holiday based on a recommendation from a friend in Cardiff.

Maya, Olivia and I are going to spend a few nights at Cae Mabon near Llanberis, staying in one of the lodges. We’ll be joining in the bushcraft and listening to owner Eric Madden’s story time each evening.

The girls are excited. We check in August 13.

Sorted.

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Filed under Online writing, Travel writing, Wales

Wales Coast Path – the final walk

Hit the North is hanging up his walking boots for a while.

I’ve spent the last couple of months guest blogging for Visit Wales about the Wales Coast Path.

The project had its official inauguration at the weekend and we were there – sheltering from the wind behind Flint Castle.

I will be back to walk more section on a warmer day. After all, the whole 870-mile trail starts from here (pic above) in Sealand, a suburb of Chester just on my doorstep.

It’s the one with the sewage works in case you get lost.

Until then, however, and for those who missed it, here’s the list of links to the five blogs:

  1. North Wales
  2. Ceredigion
  3. Llyn Peninsula
  4. Carmarthenshire
  5. Glamorgan

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

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Wales Coast Path Blog for Visit Wales

Hit the North has been moonlighting.

The reason for silence on this forum has been that I’m working a guest-blogger contract for Visit Wales, walking sections of the soon-to-be-launched Wales Coast Path in advance of the May 5th inauguration.

You can read the first post about North Wales here.

The second post from Ceredigion is here.

And the latest post from the Llyn Peninsula is here.

There are two more posts to come, so please join me for the hike and post your comments here, at the Visit Wales blog, or own my Twitter.

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Filed under Tourism, Travel writing, Uncategorized, Wales

The love-birds trail leads to Anglesey

Stuff Paris or Rome for Valentine’s Day next year. You should be heading to Anglesey, North Wales.

No, really.

Llanddwyn Island, a remote headland stretching out into the Irish Sea from southwest Anglesey, is a hotbed for Welsh romance. A place resonating with frissons of ancient spirituality and Celtic lust.

There will be more people getting down on one knee on Llanddwyn Beach this January than there are randy pensioners in Poundshops across North Wales.

I recently spent a weekend there, researching a story for the Sunday Telegraph.

The piece will be out around January 25, St Dwynwen’s Day, Wales’ answer to Valentine’s Day.

Make your own love pilgrimage this January. After all, it’s good enough for Kate and William.

Entrance to Llanddwyn Island

Celtic cross by ruins of Dwynwen's Church

Wood-carved effigy of St Dwynwen

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More talk than action with the bad scientist

Gillian McKeith in a white coat, Harold Shipman the mass murdrerer and Bruce Forsyth circa Play Your Cards Right. These are the characters who inhabit the world of Bad Science columnist Ben Goldacre.

I saw him speak last night at Glydwr University as part of the Wrexham Science Festival. The talk was being recorded for the Science Cafe programme on Radio Wales.

I like his column and often refer to it in my classes, especially to teach students about the importance of verifying their sources.

So I was hoping for some new insight on how we the media report on science. But, disappointingly, there was a lot of medicine and little on the changing nature of journalism.

Better reporting

The session ran over thanks to some poor interview management by host Adam Walton of Radio Wales.

We touched on reporting science only briefly in the truncated Q & A at the end. And the only advice he proffered was thus: “What popular science really requires is more editors and less writers.”

I think he means more subs. But it was his advice for reporting on science that really grated with me. “Make it about data not stories about people,” he said.

Data journalism is a fine area for students to develop but, ultimately, if you want to bring key scientific issues to the wider public, then giving them a human face is vital.

Playing up the human-interest angle is clearly a better way to engage readers than a phone-directory-sized report crammed full with baffling statistics.

Doing the rounds 

Ultimately I guess this was just another book-pushing session for Dr Goldacre.

I’d probably be trotting out the old faithful anecdotes by this point in the promo tour, too, if I knew they’d raise a moderate-sized titter from the crowd.

But, on this showing, I’m not moved to buy the book.

As Ben himself said, “There’s an element in all this of wanting to be a massive clever dick.”

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Filed under Glyndwr University, Journalism, Wales