People in Gwent are trying out Nordic walking to improve their health and fitness. CAIO IWAN reports.

NORDIC walking, as the name suggests, is not something one would usually associate with the south Wales valleys. But an increasing number of walkers of all abilities are trying their hand at the stick-walking exercise in the Islwyn and surrounding areas.

It is believed to have started out in Helsinki in 1966, and is a form of fitness-based walking with specially designed poles. Trekkers, backpackers and skiers have been using the basic concept for decades, which initially came to the fore as part of a training method relating to cross-country skiing.

According to the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA), the move to bring Nordic walking to the attention of the general public as a recreational, physical activity came in the early 1990s.

And as interest increases among fitness fanatics and amateur walkers around the beautiful scenery of the south Wales valleys, one man is helping to spread the joys of Nordic walking.

Edward Woolley, from Blackwood, has been holding walking sessions for people of all fitness levels for a few years and offers various routes to walkers in the Blackwood and surrounding areas.

Mr Woolley, known as Ed, said: “I wanted a change from my work at Bute Town History and Arts Museum so I contacted GAVO, a local volunteering organisation.

“They found me some work at the lottery-funded Mentro Allan project based in Bargoed. Our aim was to get local people out and taking part in physical activities such as Nordic walking and bike riding.”

Nearly six years ago, Mr Woolley enrolled on several courses including ones which provided a guide to being an instructor of off-road walking groups and mountain biking groups.

The 42-year-old added: “I continued with these activities for around a year. I was introduced to Nordic walking and quickly learned the technique in order to help out with the current groups.

“In 2009 I was given the opportunity to join Groundwork Caerphilly based in Pontllanfraith offering similar activities to the community. I continued with both projects for around six months before being offered paid work with Groundwork Caerphilly in 2010 as Physical Activity Support Officer working with both individuals and community groups.

“I was also involved in promoting outdoor activity at local shows. The walks and bike rides at this time utilised the paths and trails that had been created throughout the valleys from former railway tracks. We also offered archery for groups to take part in.”

Although he enjoyed the mountain biking, Mr Woolley believes there is a real buzz in seeing Nordic walkers improve over time, and decided to continue with his walking sessions. He says the walks are now taking up most of his time and he is finally reaping the rewards of years of volunteer work.

“The Nordic Walk Instructor course gave me the chance to conduct my own classes so a month or two later I found some good routes and set up a class with an invitation to some local people,” he added.

Mr Woolley describes how the poles used for the Nordic walking sessions are adapted to fit the need of the walkers, while offering several ways of staying fit.

He said: “The poles used are specially designed to enhance the walking technique and propel you along. The benefits of Nordic walking are numerous; it works all the major muscles without putting unnecessary strain on the joints. It helps alleviate conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stress and arthritis.

“It also burns approx 40 per cent more calories than normal walking. It can be done at a variety of levels, at a basic level to simply maintain fitness or at higher level for athletes to maintain fitness. Nordic walking is a fun way for people to get together and socialise.”

He says that Nordic walking is a relatively new exercise to the UK, but hopes more will join the group as the summer months approach.

“Some of the walkers had stayed with me since the Groundwork Caerphilly days but new members soon became involved too,” he added. “Over the three years, some walkers have come and gone but I have retained a good core of walkers who turn up week after week.”

He hopes to get more youngsters involved in the future and says there is scope to expand even further and offer more walks.

BLOB Mr Woolley offers several different walks at several different locations throughout the week.

On Monday at 1am, routes alternate between Blackwood, Pengam and Wylie.

On Friday at 11am, the walk goes to Cwmcarn Scenic Drive, while every Saturday at 11am there is a canal walk from Pontywaun to Risca.

The walks last around one hour and 20 minutes and include a short warm up and cool down.

Walkers should wear comfortable walking shoes and appropriate clothing for weather. There is a short tuition for any newcomers and poles are provided. All the walks are leisurely and suitable to all fitness levels.

For more information, contact Mr Woolley on 07906 365280 or on e-mail at