It’s Saturday morning in the Conwy Valley and I am about to go flying in a hessian sack. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I will actually be airborne.

“Ready?” asks a Zip World Conwy staff member, who’s just checked that my helmet fits properly and told me to pull the sack right up over my shoulders and hold it tight. Meanwhile, I peer over the edge of the near-vertical 10m (30ft) slide down which I’m about to drop.

Of course I’m not ready. I’m 58 years old. What I’m ready for is a cup of coffee and the weekly shop at Tesco. Or maybe — given I’m on the edge of Snowdonia National Park (Eryri) with my family — a nice walk by a thundering waterfall. I am definitely not ready to drop down this shiny black wall and let momentum launch me off the ramp at the bottom. If I get it right I might rise a few metres in the air before I land on a giant airbag.

Velocity 2 is the world’s fastest zip line

Velocity 2 is the world’s fastest zip line

And if I get it wrong? I’m not going to think about that. Today, I am the first travel writer to test this relaunched indoor adventure park, which opened last month. It’s now part of the Zip World empire, which includes seven adventure activity centres — five in Wales, one in Windermere and one in Manchester — that, as well as zip lines, offer a range of high-adrenaline pursuits, from giant outdoor swings and rollercoasters to a subterranean via ferrata, underground zip lines and trampolines at Bounce Below in slate-mine caverns at Llechwedd. The Conwy site has simple cabin pods to stay in too, and there are flashier lodges at Betws-Y-Coed.

The highlight of the collection is the world’s fastest zip line, Velocity, at the Penrhyn Quarry site. So I can’t write about how I bottled the first obstacle here at Conwy, can I?

Besides, my 15-year-old son, Sam, is watching. He’s already been down — twice.

Be prepared to surrender yourself to gravity’s iron grip

Be prepared to surrender yourself to gravity’s iron grip

“You’re not scared, are you?” he shouts up gleefully.

“Not in front of you, I’m not,” I mutter. Then I edge myself over the lip of the slide.

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You know how life is. The older you get, the more precarious it seems, so — naturally — you start avoiding places that offend your survival instincts. Coming to Zip World Conwy is the exact opposite of doing that. It may be smaller than its Zip World neighbours, but it packs an extra punch because its equipment requires you to be an active participant. You’re not strapped into a ride that’s unleashed when someone else pulls a handle. You’re the one who has to surrender yourself to gravity’s iron grip — by stepping off or sliding down something. It seems to offend your instincts even more sharply when you do.

“Are you completely out of your ageing mind?” they scream as I accelerate down that slide — and to punish me they flood my whole body with an instant, head-to-toe sense of horror. It lasts just a second and is replaced by mind-scrambling confusion as the down turns into up. I’m airborne, then I’m not, then I smack-land on to the airbag, then all is still. I lie there for a moment, astonished that nothing hurts, before a tidal wave of adrenaline catches up with me.

The luxury cabin accommodation at Zip World Fforest

The luxury cabin accommodation at Zip World Fforest

Church bells, sunshine, cheering crowds, giddy laughter. It’s hard to overstate just how happy and colourful the inside of my head suddenly becomes. It’s a feeling that carries me all the way to Sunday night and out into the following week.

It’s not just me who’s having fun. We’re booked into all four of the main attractions at the centre, each of which lasts about an hour, from the short safety briefing to the final, giddy finish. And as we progress we all grow bolder. Sam, whose mind is less cluttered with safety rails than mine, was always going to love it. But the reaction of Ben, who’s nine, is more of a surprise. He, like me, looks ahead and sees disaster. He’s also too young for some of the challenges. So, in the first zone (Adrenaline Indoors), he contents himself with a parkour course and a giant soft-play area. However, as soon as we transfer to the second area, Altitude Climber, he’s racing up the climbing walls to prove he’s a match for any of us. Meanwhile, my wife, Vera, walks to the top of a challenge that completely defeats me: stepping ever-higher onto the top of ever-wobblier poles until she balances on the highest, and jumps off. Her harness is connected to a bungee that slows her descent. But not immediately. She’s closely followed by Ben.

Each of the zones costs £20pp, and that will quickly add up if you do the right thing and encourage everyone to take part. So I’d stop after zone three — Adrenaline Drop. Mentally, this is the biggest challenge. It finishes with you stepping off a ledge, 12m high, which is something I promised myself I would never do. But by now I’ve jumped or dropped off about eight other pieces of equipment. I’m much more trusting of the safety gear, too (not least because it’s checked so thoroughly by the centre’s bright-eyed and reassuring staff). When the moment comes to walk off the platform and on to thin air I get a kick from staring down my fears.

The Zip World Fforest Coaster

The Zip World Fforest Coaster

At this point you might expect us to pause for breath. We are, after all, on the edge of Snowdonia. Other attractions include a famous 1,085m mountain. But we haven’t driven five hours from London for magnificent landscapes and communion with Mother Nature. Not this time, anyway. Our next stop is a kind of rollercoaster that coils down the side of a Welsh mountain, at Zip World Betws-Y-Coed and then — after a night in the roomy Hilton Garden Inn Snowdonia — Velocity. There’s no way we’re going to miss the 100mph zip line that spans the vast Penrhyn slate quarry. We fly it together, trussed up beneath the wires in long, flat harnesses — like giant whooping caterpillars. I’ve never done anything quite so silly, scary and euphoric.

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Admittedly there is a whisper of regret as we turn for home afterwards — and we stop for a quick walk on the beach near Conwy to remind ourselves where we are. But it’s only a whisper, and it’s drowned out later that evening by the sound of us all singing the Real Thing’s Can You Feel the Force? as we arrive back in London. I don’t think we’ve ever felt quite so tightly bonded. As for me — well, let’s just say being 58 doesn’t seem quite so old anymore.
Sean Newsom and family were guests of Zip World, which has entry from £20 for indoor experiences in Conwy, a night’s self-catering for four from £85 in a camping pod in Conwy, and for five from £132 in a forest lodge in Betws-Y-Coed (

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