Feeling the need for speed in Bangor, North Wales

Sometime last year I saw my friend Pete at Heron Lake who had just returned from doing a bungee jump nearby that morning. Pete is a daredevil, travel-mad adventurer, and a Paraplegic like me. We were both chatting about stuff that we wanted to do, both around the world, as well as in this country of ours. He said that he wanted to go to do this zip line in North Wales which is the longest in Europe and the fastest in the world! I, of course, was keen so booked it in while I was away in the States. I slightly put it to the back of my mind while I was out there so when I got back I realised it was only a couple of weeks away. I remember thinking at the time of booking that I’d be grateful to have an adventure to go on after returning to London in April, which usually a pretty showery month, which can get a little tiresome.
I made arrangements to stop off to see one of my ski teammates in Birmingham en route, as well as her mum who is an absolute sweetheart, and has been my saving grace on many a training camp! I don’t mind a long drive too much (especially with a great Audible audiobook – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, in case you wondered) but it was nice to be able to stop off half-way and catch up with them.
I think I actually have only been to Wales once in my life, and that was for the famous Back Up Push where teams with a wheelchair user race to ascend Mount Snowdon. A brilliant fundraising event. So I hadn’t realised quite how beautiful it was – I think I was really annoying the drivers behind me on the roads in the valleys by slowing down and gawping at the stunning views! We had booked a hostel for the night which thankfully was very quiet so we had two rooms between the four of us. Once we’d all arrived we settled in with some drinks and a game of Cards Against Humanity – the perfect, if a little controversial, icebreaker!
The next morning we set off to Zip World, thankfully it was a beautiful day which made the world of difference. I think it would have been a very different experience if North Wales lived up to its reputation of frequently chucking it down with rain. The centre was really nice and accessible which was a welcome surprise. As a wheelchair user you’re always a little doubtful of how accessible places are going to be. Even when staff say they’re ‘totally accessible’ they will sometimes neglect to mention ‘just two small steps’ which is usually a huge barrier in a wheelchair.
We were informed that it wouldn’t be possible to do both zip wires because there had been a miscommunication about our access needs (three of us were wheelchair users – we love to provide a challenge!) but we weren’t actually expecting to do more than one so we were satisfied enough with that.The staff were absolutely brilliant and clearly very well schooled in disability equality training. They weren’t in anyway patronising and communicated what we would be doing in order to access the zip wire perfectly. There was a bit of faffing around but I suppose that was to be expected,l it was a Saturday after all, and they had a lot of customers there. Interestingly I noticed a fair few people with visible disabilities in addition to us which was cool – there was at least one other wheelchair user and an amputee we could see too.

Into our red boiler suits we got, GoPros fixed in assorted places, and got a ride in a 4×4 up to the top. It’s based in an old quarry and was a really great view heading up to the zip wire. It certainly was a nice change of scene from London.

From there we each had quite a lot of help getting to the ‘beds’ where we would be securely harnessed up, and then ‘launched’ from. They had four beds so we could all go at the same time which was fun. Despite no ability to intentionally alter the speed whatsoever, we were still feeling competitive, especially Pete and I who usually wind each other up about waterskiing!

Once we were all lying on our fronts, faces looking way down, the beds were lowered so we were suspended in the air. We got a countdown from the team and were released! Suley was up ahead, me behind and Pete flailing somewhere towards the back…! I was moving quickly and then slowed up a little bit when going over the lake, it was nice to be able to see such beautiful views…but then sped right up again and felt a little nauseous as I came to the end. It happened incredibly quickly – not only because of the adrenaline. The total time was under 60 seconds which shows how fast we were going! I compared it to doing a skydive a few years ago because it was a similar sensation of not having any control over the speed and not being in contact with the ground.

Given how much I love skiing, waterskiing and more recently, snowmobiling, I’m definitely keen to try more activities like that – we’ve got plans to go go-karting next month and I’m keen to get on a motorbike too. But it was nice to do something a little different and particularly in such beautiful surroundings.

The Zip World team were absolutely brilliant when faced with our motley crew. They used appropriate terminology etc. which was really refreshing to be honest. A little too often do people use terms like ‘wheelchair-bound’ which gets on my, and many others’, nerves.

It was a fairly long drive back but Pete and I had some great chats and debates, fuelled by Krispy Kremes and coffee. You’ve got to let yourself off on a seven-hour drive right?!

So it was a long way to go for a pretty quick ride, but actually as it turns out, the whole weekend made it totally worth it. Some great conversations were had, new friends made, and some new adventures planned. Bring on the go karting!

Thanks to all the guys at Zip World for a great trip!

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