Screens and teens – the battle against social media and gaming addiction rages daily in most families. Our 17-year-old twins are well armed: smartphones drawn and ready, laptops stashed in bedrooms, the green light of the Xbox glowing like a malevolent Cyclopean eye from the corner of the living room.
My wife and I retaliate with a mixture of reconnaissance and feeble assaults – we waft past, laying down verbal flak like, “Haven’t you been on that thing long enough?”, or “Why don’t you take the dog for a walk?” We escalate to raised eyebrows and mild threats of Wi-Fi disconnection when time spent with the Fortnite video game enters its third hour.
Holidays present a different challenge. Mention digital detox to most teenagers and you might as well have prescribed an amputation, judging by the look of horror that crosses their faces. Personally, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by totally Wi-Fi-free family holidays, let alone imposing a ban on devices. For one thing, iPhones have annoyingly good cameras and your children will use this fact in their first, deft counterattack – followed by a quick-fire salvo of (1) needing to stay in contact with their mates, (2) feed Instagram and (3) maintain SnapChat streaks.
“You only have to look at the families in hotel restaurants where every member is swiping and prodding their phones to realise where the dark path to total digital addiction lies”
That doesn’t mean you have to succumb entirely, though. You only have to look at the families in hotel restaurants where every member is swiping and prodding their phones, seemingly oblivious to one another, to realise where the dark path to total digital addiction lies. The happy solution, of course, is to find a family holiday that is tech enough to keep children happy, but also has enough real world distractions to lure them from their devices.
Forest Holidays gets it spot on. We recently took a short break in Snowdonia National Park at the Beddgelert site – the newest of 10 leafy retreats scattered up and down the country, from Strathyre to south Cornwall. Of course, I didn’t even attempt to sell the holiday as a “leafy retreat” to my 17 year-olds. I had much better bait: internet access, flat-screen TV with a food and drink ordering service, in-cabin entertainment with movies and Sky Sports and – guaranteed to get multiple likes – an outdoor hot tub on the deck. It would be unfair on my children to suggest that these are the only things they care about on holiday. Like most teenagers, they love their iPhones, but also have soul and appreciate nature.
But how cool is appreciating nature from an outdoor hot tub, lying back in the bubbles and gazing up through the canopy of an ancient oak wood that’s all-of-a-flutter with redstarts, flycatchers and nuthatches?
Snowdonia National Park promises superb views
We spent the first morning of our long weekend drifting between two worlds – the sleek, contemporary interior of our two-bedroom Golden Oak cabin and the deck area where, in just a few steps, we found ourselves deep in a Welsh wildwood. One minute we were popping espresso pods into the Tassimo coffee machine, the next we were birdwatching from a hot tub.
A cluster of just 16 self-catering cabins, Forest Holidays Beddgelert is on the quiet side of Snowdon, compared to the lively adventure hub of Betws-y-Coed. But each morning, the whistle of a steam train reminds you of the myriad activities available beyond your woodland sanctuary.
The Welsh Highland Railway runs along one boundary of the site, stopping at a small station where you can hop aboard for the 25-mile ride between Caernarfon and Porthmadog. A quick perusal of “things to do” on the smart TV in the cabin and you quickly realise that, as well as train rides, there’s everything from abseiling and zip-wiring to gorge scrambling and surfing. You could easily spend a week here and barely scratch the surface of Snowdonia’s adrenalin scene.
We kept things local and wandered over to the Forest Retreat (a reception and shop where you can buy anything from I-Spy books to burgers for the barbecue) and arranged to hire mountain bikes. Half an hour later, we were cycling through an elfin forest beside a stream that sluiced through jumbled boulders. We emerged into a clearing where foxgloves lined the track like pink fireworks, but our gaze was soon tugged across the valley to Mount Snowdon, etched against a cloudless sky.
The lively adventure hub of Betws-y-Coed
Pushing on, keen to leave the horseflies in our wake, we reached Llyn Llewelyn, a lake so dazzlingly blue it looked like a slice of the Bahamas slipped into the Welsh highlands. Toe-dabbling soon turned to paddling. Then, before we had time to remind ourselves that we were in North Wales, we were floating on our backs, splashing, laughing and wondering whether, in fact, we didn’t actually prefer wild swimming to hot tubbing.
Later that evening, we sat on the deck playing Scrabble and eating pizza from the on-site bakehouse. The rustling of leaves in the canopy overhead mingled with a tawny owl’s hooting and the hum of the hot tub. Somewhere from inside our cabin a phone occasionally pinged with an incoming tweet – and was ignored. The next morning, still reluctant to get in the car, we walked a couple of miles to the village of Beddgelert where stone houses, dripping with hanging baskets, huddle around the confluence of the rivers Glaslyn and Colwyn.
The village of Beddgelert
We strolled beside the tea-coloured pools of the Glaslyn to visit the village’s namesake must-see: the grave of Gelert, the faithful hound of medieval Welsh prince Llewelyn the Great. According to legend, the prince returned from a hunting trip to be greeted by Gelert stained with blood. When Llewelyn saw his infant son’s empty cot, also covered in blood, he plunged his sword into the hound’s side, believing it had killed his heir. But Gelert’s dying yell was answered by a child’s cry and the prince found the boy unharmed – alongside the body of a huge wolf that Gelert had slain. Apparently, Prince Llewelyn never smiled again.
Forest Holidays’ resident ranger, Andy, recounted the story that evening as he led us on a (wolf-free) wildlife walk in Beddgelert Forest. Through chinks in the trees, we glimpsed Snowdon, pinpricks of light flickering along its flanks – the torches of hikers descending the mountain. Most of the wildlife we saw was small, winged and biting.
We were shown how to strike a spark into the kindling
Andy only paused long to identify a plant or point out a lesser-known peak before the midges forced us to keep moving. When we reached a small tarn where conifers stood rooted to their reflections, Andy gathered some dry sphagnum moss and fir cones, took a steel-and-flint from his pocket and showed us how to strike a spark into the kindling. After a few attempts, a small fire bloomed at our feet and we crowded into the smoke for midge relief. I glanced through smarting eyes at our teens and wondered if this was a little bit too “real world”.
But there was a plus-side to the midges. Bats circled around our heads, twisting and turning as they feasted on the insects. Reaching into his pocket, Andy pulled out a small electronic device about the size of a smartphone – a high-frequency detector that translated the bats’ echolocation into audible clicks. Proof that even in a remote forest on a Welsh mountainside, there’s a time and a place for electronic devices.
A Forest Holidays cabin
How to do it
Forest Holidays (forestholidays.co.uk) offers three-night breaks in a cabin for four, with hot tub, from £665 this October. Optional activities include Forest Night Vision (£12pp, min age 14) and Forest Survival (£12 per adult, £10 per child). Beddgelert Bikes (beddgelertbikes.co.uk) has mountain bikes for four-hour hire (£24/£10). Walking and cycling trail information in Beddgelert Forest available from natural-resources.wales.
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