Tredegar's Parc Bryn Bach is the perfect place to enjoy Gwent's outdoor life, as ROB OWEN discovered.
IT’S January and two young outdoor enthusiasts are out on Parc Bryn Bach’s 36-acre lake receiving a kayaking lesson from the activities duty manager at Blaenau Gwent’s picturesque country attraction.
The instructor has already showed them skills in a canoe, teaching them to navigate and operate in the water, so they are able to pass national governing body qualifications.
He will next take them mountain biking on the park’s bmx track, before going caving later in the afternoon.
These are just a few of the many varied activities which attracted more than 150,000 visitors to the Tredegar park centre in 2013, and which keeps instructor Stephen Kivell busy throughout the year.
Others include gorge walking, climbing, water-based expeditions and archery.
There is even an Air Experience Flight School, which offers tandem paragliding with an expert capable of reaching up to 4,000ft using only natural lift.
But it not just adrenaline junkies, and adventure fanatics, which the park caters for.
The lake is surrounded by a 1.3 mile tarmac path that’s perfect for walking, jogging or cycling, all while admiring the resident wildlife.
You can hire a pedalo, occupy the little one’s with the children’s play area, or join one of the many clubs; from an angling club and carp syndicate, to a dog activity group. There is even a model boat club.
A popular nine-hole golf course is also available to take advantage of, as is a driving range where you can perfect your long-game.
Mr Kivell estimates that a further 150,000 people passed through the gates just to relax and take in the 340 acres of idyllic grass and woodland, which also features a 40-pitch caravan and camp site.
He said: “There is so much going on, we cater for all ages and all abilities. We offer a large and varied range of activities so there is something for everyone.”
Mr Kivell, 35, has been an employee at the park for the last eight years.
He works with children and adults and says there is no limit to the benefit that the activities on offer through the visitor centre can provide.
“People come here for personal development, if they are low on confidence, or if they want to work towards or develop some goals or ambitions,” he added.
“That’s what I get a kick out of, and that is the main aim of my job, to help people improve themselves through the activities we provide.”
Two of those who Mr Kivell is helping, or training in their case, are Kyle Thorne and Ryan Kivell.
They are each working towards a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in outdoor sports – equivalent to a school A-Level.
Parc Bryn Bach offers the course independently, for those looking to land a job in the outdoor industry afterwards.
Ryan, Mr Kivell’s nephew, said the diploma had provided an “invaluable” grounding and starting point for a career afterwards.
“The amount of things I know now to when I started is unreal,” said the 19-year-old from Ebbw Vale.
“It is excellent and I am certainly much happier here than I was in college.”
The course embodies a number of elements, not least a UKCC boat-based award, a navigation award, and first aid qualification.
But Ryan said it was the climbing qualification which had proved most gratifying.
“The adrenaline rush is immense,” he added.
“I will definitely look to follow in my uncle’s footsteps.”
During the two year course students typically part in two expeditions, one in Europe and one in the UK.
All National Governing Body Awards are subject to student ability and personal commitment.
Twenty-year-old Mr Thorne, from nearby Beaufort, said he was hoping to build on his experience teaching gymnastics.
“Outdoor adventure activities have long been something I enjoy,” he said.
“I have learnt a lot,” he said. “It’s been invaluable in terms of adding to my skills.
“I feel more confident doing the activities and leading myself. The course has assured me this is what I want to do. Maybe it will even be here at Bryn Bach.”
Aside from the BTEC course, Parc Bryn Bach also offers a school-term kayak training qualification for teenagers, to count towards coursework for GCSE physical education, while a Duke Of Edinbrough Award Scheme is available, along with guidance and tuition. Expeditions can also be tailored to suit ages and abilities.
A primary-age Forest School offers life skills, basic numeracy, team working and communication based around studying the natural environment.
Educational programmes form a large part of the work which takes place day in day out at the park throughout the annual calendar.
Other activities take part weekly, like the volunteer-organised park run.
Held every Saturday, the 5k timed event starts at 9am and is free to all.
A table-top sale has been held every Sunday since October last year, with tables available for £5 each.
Other events are seasonal, and some annual, such as the Hospice of the Valleys Lap the Lake Fun Run and 10k race.
Organised by the park’s running club, in conjunction with Blaenau Gwent council, the first event was held in 2010.
More than 100 runners from all over south Wales took part, raising over £2,500 for the Hospice of the Valleys charity.
It continues to flourish, and will this year be held on Sunday April 27.
To get in touch with the park, about any of the courses, events, activities or clubs available call 01495 355920.
Further information can also be found at http://parcbrynbach.co.uk/