IF you go down to the woods today – or any day really – you could be in for a very nice surprise.
Like experiencing the forest from the warm embrace of your own private hot tub.
Persuing a pastime said to help with depression, anxiety and to reset your body clock, we’re forest-bathing from the veranda of a five-star cabin, getting all the mood-boosting benefits without the wet clothes.
We’re in Snowdonia in North Wales, in Beddgelert Forest – about as far away from it all in the UK as you can get. It’s unbelievably tranquil, but there are a few sounds to be heard above the hot-tub bubbles. We can hear the trills and chirps of birds, the wind in the branches of the pines around us, and twice a day, the “toot toot” of the Welsh Highland Railway steam engine that stops here. And that’s it.
The trees are already working their magic on my family. As we soak it all in (literally) we have to turn our heads quite sharply to catch the edges of the other cabins around us, to the extent that it takes quite a bit of effort not to feel alone.
This small and exclusive cabin complex is new to the National Park and run by Forest Holidays, which has expanded rapidly on the back of a growing desire among staycationers to get back to nature and holiday in style and comfort.
Some old farm buildings on site house a shop, where you can pick up takeaway coffees and fresh warm pastries in the morning, and a bakehouse delivering hot pizzas and curries to your door in the evening.
Yet, while your every need can be catered for, the focus is very much about exploring the natural wonders around you. The Forest Ranger Basecamp offers a series of guided expeditions – from late night walks with night-vision goggles to spy on the nocturnal animals that live here (including wild goats!), to survival skills and family bug hunts.
The emphasis is on natural fun – no water slides or games rooms here. Mine are a bit too old for Poohsticks, so we’ve arranged to hire mountain bikes from the village. Beddgelert itself is a 1.5km walk along one of the forest trails.
Beddgelert is a pretty, Welsh slate village with a large humpbacked bridge over the river Colwyn. We finish our walk with an ice cream on arrival at the local legend that is the Glaslyn Ices ice cream parlour and meander round the shops.
Our bikes are waiting for us at Beddgelert Bikes, run by the knowledgeable Peter, who can furnish you with trail maps, locks, helmets and a realistic assessment of how far you’re likely to get and how long it will take you.
We’re keeping the bikes for a couple of days, so pick up as many suggestions as we can that are suitable for slightly unfit novice riders.
The Bedwen trail takes us to the “hidden” lake of Llyn Llywelyn and a perfect picnic spot. There are views of Snowden from various points on the route, and the paths are multi-use, mostly smooth and wide. Though there’s a large climb up – the forest backs on to the mountain of Moel Hebog, with various trails to the summit – we’re rewarded with a free-wheel home.
If you don’t fancy getting saddle sore, there are enough walks on offer to keep you busy, and of course, the attractions of north west Wales on your doorstep – from Caernarfon Castle to the underground caverns of Blaenau Ffestiniog and the beaches around Porthmadog – if you want to get in the car or on the train. Do we learn much forest lore? No. Would we ever survive a night in the woods or navigate our way without waymarked trails? Not a chance.
But a bit of comfort doesn’t lessen our appreciation for the nature around us, and only heightens its effect on our wellbeing. Who needs sun?