Chill out in the water
More than ever before, women are taking advantage of Wales’ great outdoors. Sian Sykes runs a stand-up paddleboarding academy, Psyched Paddleboarding, on the Isle of Anglesey. She says: “I see more and more women seeking a connection to the outdoors to challenge themselves mentally and physically – and above all, to give it a go.”
A great example can be found in Pembrokeshire, where the Bluetits Chill Swimmers make the most of the sea, lakes and ponds all year round. Sarah Mullis has been a member for four years. She says: “I used to associate the outdoors with competitive men in Lycra, but chill swimming changed that for me. The women we swim with have all sorts of things going on in their lives. But when we get together, our problems seem that little bit smaller.”
Coasteering, sea kayaking and surfing are among the other possibilities around the Welsh coast, and adventure writer Phoebe Smith is keen to encourage women to step outside their comfort zone. “The best thing about the outdoors is that it’s the ultimate leveller,” she says. “The rocks don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor.”
Walk back to happiness
The benefits of walking are endless – especially when it’s a social activity. “Walking together allows us to open up, strengthen existing relationships and create new friendships,” says Jacky Cross of Meirionnydd Ramblers. “It brings laughter, inspiration and adventure.”
Sioned Humphreys is marketing officer for the 870-mile Wales Coast Path. She says: “We see so many couples and groups of friends walk together. It’s the perfect way to boost wellbeing and escape the pressures of everyday life.”
Wales’ other long-distance footpaths include the Snowdonia Slate Trail, taking you to the most remote and beautiful parts of the National Park, and the challenging Offa’s Dyke Path along the English border. There’s also The Wales Way – three routes that lead visitors along the west coast, across North Wales, and through the nation’s mountainous heartland.
Catch the wellness wave
With its wild Atlantic breakers and wide, sandy beaches, Wales is among the best places in Europe to learn to surf – and in doing so, you may learn about more than how to catch a wave.
Tim Woodman, professor of performance psychology at Bangor University, says: “Learning to surf can help people develop self-esteem, because they learn to adapt to an ever-changing environment. It’s a great training ground for life.”
North Wales is home to Britain’s first artificial surf lagoon, Adventure Parc Snowdonia. Its managing director, Andy Ainscough, is another advocate for the mental benefits of the sport. He says: “By sticking at it and incrementally taking on bigger challenges – more powerful waves, for example – we gradually expand our sense of what we can achieve if we put our mind to it.”
Thrills that last a lifetime
If you like your great outdoors with a shot of adrenaline, Wales is unlikely to disappoint. How about soaring high above a vast slate quarry on the world’s fastest zip line, crashing through whirlpools on a powerboat or spending the night on a ‘portaledge’ tent, tethered to a sea cliff?
It’s not just about the thrills. Andrew Hudson, commercial director at Zip World, says: “Often, people who come here for the first time underestimate the impact it will have on them. Zip lining is one of the most accessible adrenaline activities – everyone can take part. But when they do, they slide into a totally new perspective on life.”
Phil Scott, director of Anglesey boat-trip operator RibRide, agrees. “When our customers are on our boat tours, their senses are focused only on the experience – the speed, the wind and the spectacular scenery,” he says. “It takes a while to come down from that, and the sense of achievement stays in the memory for a very long time.”
Enjoy a gastronomic adventure
Many visitors to Wales are keen to explore the links between our food and the landscape in which it’s produced. Increasingly, it’s about knowing where the finest and freshest ingredients come from – and even going out to forage for them.
Sian Tucker and her partner James Lynch run fforest, a 200-acre “outdoor hotel” in Ceredigion, West Wales with eco-friendly accommodation. She says: “We are fortunate in living in an area, like much of rural Wales, where the quality of produce, driven by small-scale farming and fisheries, is second to none in the world. Growing and eating your own food is a great pleasure, as well as foraging and gathering food in the outdoors.”