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...And Our Correspondent Takes Flight
The world’s fastest zipline opened in 2013 in North Wales and it's still going strong. The wire at ZipWorld just outside Snowdonia National Park, runs for one mile across Penrhyn Quarry, once the world’s largest slate mine. Those brave enough to launch themselves down it could find themselves traveling at speeds of up to 120mph. I'm not one of the brave, but fortunately for us, intrepid London journalist Helen Ochyra definitely is. She volunteered to step into the breech. Here is her report.
Zipping Down the Mountain
I arrive on an uncharacteristically sunny Welsh day. The sky is a deep blue with not a cloud to dull it and the wind has dropped to almost nothing. This is a relief because the opening of the zipline has been delayed due to the weather conditions.
Sean Taylor, owner of Zip World, tells me, "We’ve been waiting to get the vehicles up the mountain to the platform. We had six feet of snow so we just couldn't get up there."
Up there is the launch platform, a tiny metal construction not quite visible from the base of the quarry, some 1,000 feet below. This is where the experience begins, in the cabin where riders are equipped with bright red suits, helmets and harnesses.
From here it's a short walk to the Little Zipper, a prelude to the main attraction. This is about a third the length of the big zipper and acts as a confidence building exercise. "Once people have done that, they feel they can do the longer one," says Sean. So far nobody has done the shorter wire and failed to go on to complete the big zipper so this gentler introduction appears to be working.
It certainly works for me. Standing at its summit I feel the jangle of nerves in my stomach. To zip down first you must be trussed up. And I'm told to get into a push-up position on the platform while I'm strapped to the wire by my harness. It feels incredibly safe, the harness the most comfortable I've encountered, and there is something very soothing about not having to step off or release anything yourself. The countdown begins and I find myself taking in the view rather than worrying about the journey to the bottom. Before I know it I'm off and flying over the road, people looking up at me as I go. Arms outstretched, I reach the end feeling ready to take on the longer, faster ride above us.
Lead on to the Big ZipperContinue to 2 of 3 below.
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The Big Zipper
To reach the big zipper we all clamber aboard an open-sided truck. Groups of 20 are taken up each time, with zippers descending in pairs, one every five minutes. I calculate that this means about 200 people a day coming through here. It will need to be a well-oiled machine to avoid too much waiting around in the elements.
Fortunately, today the elements are kind and we trundle up the mountain in the sunshine, Nant Ffracon valley stretched out below like a textbook Alpine scene. It is quite breathtakingly beautiful, its rocky slopes highlighted by the remains of the snow, leading down to the dark green of the pine trees and finally the crinkled grasses of the farmland dotted with – what else – Welsh lamb
I have entirely forgotten what we are here to do – until I reach the launchpad. From here we can see as far as the Isle of Man and the lake that looked so large from the quarry’s base appears like a small plug in a vast sinkhole. Once again I feel the harness take the strain and the countdown begins.
Three, two, one...
...and I am flying. As Sean says, "this is the closest thing to sky diving you’ll find anywhere" and I feel like I am entirely alone with the landscape. I watch the ground rush beneath me, at times just a few metres away, and then suddenly I am over that lake, larger now, and spectacularly blue. Time seems to slow down and I am open-mouthed with awe. If a greater view than this exists in the UK then I am yet to find it.
At the bottom I am told I reached speeds of about 60mph but I no longer care about the figures. Because this is not just an adrenalin ride, nor is it an extreme sport. It is a unique experience – and one that was worth waiting for the weather to clear for.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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- Where:Zip World, Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 4YG, Wales
- Telephone: +44 (0)01690 710914
- Open: Every day except Christmas and New Year's first ride at 10a.m. and last at 4p.m.
- Wind and weather: The zipline won't run in bad weather and heavy winds.The operators say they'll "make every effort" to give you advance warning of shut downs caused by adverse weather, but it's a good idea to phone before setting out, just in case.
- Admission: Tickets are available for the whole experience - including the big and little zipper and a commentary about the quarry; for the little zipper, or for a drive up to the platform. In 2017 tickets were £60. Various family tickets are also available. Children under 10 are not admitted and there are height and weight restrictions for using the ziplines as well. There is no maximum age and so far the oldest flyer was 94 years old. Tickets can be booked online.
- Visit their website for more information.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.