Wales: Zip World

I always enjoy hanging about outdoors and today I’m doing that, literally, 1,500ft up a Welsh mountainside. Wearing a red jump suit, a helmet and goggles, I’m strapped into a harness and about to descend the world’s fastest zip-line

By Stuart Forster
Published 29 May 2019, 10:35 BST, Updated 22 Jul 2021, 15:12 BST

Zip World opened in March and the Big Zipper, two steel wires running parallel for a mile, is the longest continual zip-line in the northern hemisphere. Waiting for the team at the bottom to radio up clearance that the line is clear and I’m “good to go” I’m surprised at my inner calm; I really don’t have a head for heights and had half-expected to be petrified.

Frankly though, I feel pretty snug. The harness is comfortable and, thanks to sunny conditions and clear blue skies, I’m enjoying a fine view of Anglesey and the Irish Sea. I’m about to ask whether the blob of land beyond the sea is Ireland or the Isle of Man when the message I’ve been anticipating for comes through.

“Tuck your arms down by your sides and you’ll fly like a rocket man in today’s conditions; they’re perfect,” says the employee who’s about to release me. He’s already explained that my weight, 17-and-a-half stone, means I’m likely to achieve a fast speed and may break 100mph.

Looking up at the wire that bears my weight, I recall the reassuring words of Sean Taylor, one of Zip World’s directors, who went down ahead of me. “It’s immensely strong, with a 28-tonne breaking strain… we could put a car down if we wanted,” he said.

“Safety is off,” announces a controlled voice behind me as I hear the safety line being unclipped.

The countdown begins from five and I look ahead into Penrhyn Quarry, which until the 1950s was the planet’s largest man-made hole. Top quality slate is still quarried here.

Another member of staff, Spud, provided a potted history of the area during the 10-minute drive up from the base. Before Penrhyn became the home of Britain’s longest zip-line it was known as the site of one of the country’s longest labour disputes, a strike that began in 1900 and lasted three bitter years.

“Go!” I hear and surge free of the launch platform, running rapidly above slate and snow just a few feet below. It makes me think of the footage you see filmed from low-flying helicopters.

After rushing past a slate-capped ledge I zoom out over the lake that now fills the bottom of the site. The road along the grey rim of the quarry spirals down to the surface. Based upon what I was told at the pre-run briefing, I must be about 500ft above the water.

Over the last quarter of a mile the line runs uphill, helping break my velocity. At the end Nick Moriarty, the line’s designer, reaches out and helps me onto the finishing platform. He tells me I reached a top speed of 115mph, smashing the previous record.

Elated, I’m also a tad relieved to arrive safely and that the speed record is all I’ve broken.

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