Why Wales Outdoors Have Moved Away From Adventure Activity Delivery

THE MONDAY MOAN – A once a week spot for us to moan about the stuff that perhaps we should all be moaning about that little bit more… 

This is a copy of a post lifted from the old Wales Outdoors blog site. It’s an attack on adventure activity provision in Wales, in particular the dangerous delivery of gorge walking witnessed by Wales Outdoors staff and peer group instructors. Andy campaigned for years within the industry but in the end lost the battle, the large companies having economic power and so an ability to influence policy with the authorities and tourism bodies. This is a key reason for leaving the industry. Andy did not want to be associated with such delivery any longer…

We will be posting other posts from the old blog as time allows, so as to have a clear record of achievements and campaigns embedded in the Wales Outdoors website.

Wales Outdoors is not alone in thinking that there are suppliers from all sectors, whose provision could do with improving. There is a general consensus to this effect. There has been a general consensus to this effect for very many years. This consensus however has never raised its voice and forced an open debate. 

It is clearly the case that standards of provision vary amongst adventure activity providers. It is also the case that these varying standards of provision all seem acceptable to AALA, The Adventure Activity Licensing Authority. The argument has been that ‘I have a license so I am a good provider’. This is not the case. You can work to a minimum standard of safety and client care with no regard for the environment or the local economy and still be a government licensed activity provider…

Our argument has and always will be ‘We must work to the highest standards and always chase better practice. We should be working closely together to ensure that there is reduced site conflict and a general agreement on best practice’.

Following the wilful destruction of the first blooming of the Brecon Beacons National Park Environmental Charter Group there was no open forum for debate re activity  provision within South Wales.

The following is Wales Outdoors opinion, forcefully put, in the hope that it might effect change for the good of participants of adventure activities in South Wales and further afield. This was originally published 15 years ago and remains valid as there has been little to no change in behaviour and working practices.

On the 8th April Wales Outdoors ran a gorge walk for a youth rugby team and an employee ran the same for a stag party. A professional associate of Wales Outdoors ran the same. The following comments are drawn from discussion with these and direct visual observance of the activities on the day. 

VVV had a coach party of mixed age, from about 7 or 8 to mid 30s. Their total group size was 40 plus and this was broken down into about 4 smaller groups although the group maintained close proximity to each other in the gorge. 

I followed the tail end up past the wormhole and into a small-cave like area under a huge boulder which leans against the gorge wall. The instructor led the group and offered a sling to his clients. The clients were young and one was standing with her back to a large drop. The sling was not sufficient to drag the girls up this section. This leads me to believe that this instructor did not know the area. 

The above section I and others have risk assessed as: follow the group into the ‘cave’ so as to protect the last person up from a fall backwards – to be able to assist with the climb up and out of the cave by creating steps with knees and pushing – a responsible adult or other instructor would be in front holding the group in a safe place until the instructor exits from the ‘cave’.

Not only is such a large group in one location dangerous but having an instructor who does not know the area, overestimates his clients abilities and a group who are wearing possibly unsuitable helmets (surf hats with NO forehead protection) is a recipe for disaster. 

WWW were at the top end of the Sychrydd gorge. There are two pools. The first pool that we get to is a difficult climb out of the water up a short section by the small waterfall. Some companies jump into this pool but there are ledges and although it is possible to miss these we stopped jumping here years ago because of the risk. WWW not only jump here (as do many activity companies), but they were climbing up a muddy, loose scramble to the right of the pool (looking downstream), which is unprotected and about 20 foot high. The consequences of a fall here, onto the slab, does not bear thinking about. This is an unnecessary climb as there is a safe and simple exit just a little further downstream. 

XXX were doing the same as WWW. Furthermore, they we jumping from the mid part of the stream way, just under the bridge into the top pool. You can touch the bottom of this pool when jumping from halfway up the waterfall. I have only seen XXX doing this. This is a big jump, from a slippery stance, over a ledge, into a pool that is shallow. 

The previous week XXX were doing this with a mixed aged group when the river levels were so high as to stop me from going anywhere near the pool in question. There as there is a risk of pinning of a client by a triangular section of rock that dips into the raised level of water. 

I noticed YYY approach the waterfall just beyond the wormhole. I looked on in shock as the instructors were nowhere to be seen and the clients were crawling all over this dangerous area. 

A boy even started to climb up the fall. This is a very dangerous area, the danger being slipping. A slip here will send a client into the flow and down a good distance. I know an instructor that has slipped at this location. Not only this but instructors should never allow their clients to lead on where height is to be gained unless this is a controlled and planned part of the day – which in this case it obviously was not. 

Eventually the instructors arrived on the scene and regained control of the group.

ZZZ were out today. They are noted by many providers for issuing a minimum level of kit – just a climbing helmet – and allowing clients to take part in a gorge walk wearing just shorts and t-shirt.

By the way, last year I saw a ZZZ instructor slip at a small pool where we get clients to traverse and get their head wet. The first, second and third clients all slipped as they followed and the fourth fell and was in severe pain with a suspected broken finger. I witnessed this in amazement. The instructor later approached me and asked if I had any work available for him…

This was one day in one location. 

We feel that these issues must be discussed, and as there is no forum for this, then a blog is the way for me to make public the instances of what I see as poor practice. We seek no commercial advantage by writing this, in fact it generally disadvantages us.

We want the industry to be safer. That’s all.

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Walk leader @ Wales Outdoors, life model @ Cardiff Life Models and poet @ Self Published I opened the first mountain bike hire business in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 1995. Since then my business, Wales Outdoors, has grown and morphed and is now the most active and most popular guided walks and adventure travel provider in Wales. Andy has been a volunteer co-ordinator, guided walks programme organiser and part time central area warden for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, chair of Brecon Beacons Tourism, a Duke of Edinburghs area co-ordinator, a Princes Trust social inclusion manager, the catalyst for the Brecon Beacons National Park Environment Charter and a key motivator for the inception of the outdoor activity peer group, SWOAPG. Join Me! for a walk or two :)