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Bear Grylls and Richard Parks back Year of Adventure for Wales

image copyrightVisit Wales
image captionZip wires are making the most of former quarries

With its breathtaking mountains, rugged coastline and old mining valleys, Wales is the perfect playground for adventurers.

Now survival expert Bear Grylls and extreme athlete Richard Parks have teamed up as adventure ambassadors to promote the country's Year of Adventure in 2016.

The Welsh government campaign aims to boost a section of the tourism industry which already contributes £481m to the Welsh economy and supports more than 8,000 jobs.

So what exactly does Wales have to offer keen adventurers and adrenaline junkies?

Under ground

There was a time when a visit to a former slate quarry in Wales would probably have amounted to a tour around a grey, desolate landscape.

Not any more.

Adventure tourism operators have taken advantage of Wales' industrial legacy and given it a new lease of life for a new generation.

In the last few years, Gwynedd has become a mecca for thrill seekers, with what is believed to be the world's largest underground trampoline at Bounce Below being opened in the abandoned Llechwedd slate quarry.

media captionThe trampoline has been built in a cavern twice the size of St Paul's Cathedral

Some of the world's longest zip-wires are also in Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda and in Cwmorthin, a Victorian former slate mine near Blaenau Ffestiniog, where visitors can also walk, abseil and climb their way through 5km (3.1 miles) of the mine's tunnels.

Paul Donovan, chair of the Wales Adventure Tourism Organisation, said the attractions were helping to attract new people to Wales, adding to the growth of adventure tourism in the last five years.

"Adventure tourism now counts for 10% of all tourism in Wales and I hear these attractions are continually busy," he said.

"They are using old, industrial landscapes and invigorating them. A lot of the heritage is still there - for example the old train line used by miners is being used to take visitors down to Bounce Below. That must add to the appeal and it's showing people things they'd normally never see, like the interesting features inside the caves."

image copyrightVisit Wales
image captionCoasteering is popular in Pembrokeshire and Anglesey in particular

With some 1,680 miles (2,740km) of coastline in Wales, the sea is the natural attraction that draws so many to the country.

Mr Donovan said the three most popular coastal activities were sea kayaking, coasteering and surfing.

"The one activity that keeps going from strength to strength is coasteering," he said.

"Pembrokeshire and Anglesey in particular are truly amazing locations for it.

"It's the ruggedness of the environment, the range of tide, the rock formation...

"There's also some fantastic wildlife - not just in the water but on the rocks as well.

"Part and parcel of the experience is that the guides give visitors a guide to the environment and educate them."

image captionBear Grylls has been made an adventure ambassador for Wales

Surfing has long been a staple for Welsh coastal communities and a new surfing park, which is due to open in Dolgarrog, Conwy county this summer, aims to build on that.

It will offer of a continuous wave for people to ride and Steve Davies, managing director of Conwy Adventure Leisure Ltd, said it was among the new facilities helping to bolster Wales' image around the world.

"Surf Snowdonia already has an extraordinary international following; we've had surf fans as far as Australia and Hawaii getting in touch to ask when they can come to north Wales to ride our waves," he added.

In the same way former quarries have been given a new lease of life by zip wires and trampolining, former mining valleys are experiencing a new boom - but this time it's mountain biking, not coal, which is king.

Out of the wreckage of collieries and coal tips, a number of mountain bike trails have been created which experts say are amongst the best in the world, including in the Afan, Merthyr, Gwent and Rhondda Valleys.

Wales' large forestries have also helped attract bikers, with other popular centres in north and mid Wales.

"Wales as a nation is in top 10 for mountain biking destinations in the world," said Mr Donovan.

"People will travel from all over the world to experience mountain biking."

Wales' mountains and the 870 miles (1,400km) of the Wales Coast Path - the longest continuous path along a nation's coastline - are also a draw for people to explore and enjoy the outdoors.

image copyrightBBC Sport
image captionAdventurer Richard Parks says the landscape of Wales is a draw for visitors

Former Wales rugby player turned adventurer Richard Parks said he believed Wales was an "untouched gold mine"

"I think there's such a wide variety for opportunities," said the newly-appointed adventure ambassador.

"We have some of the most hostile and brilliant mountains and regions for the more hard core, like Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons. The fact the SAS hold one of the hardest parts of their selection process there says it all.

"But we also have the wonderful coastal path which is a different end of the spectrum and can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities."

Fellow ambassador Bear Grylls added: "The beautiful, rugged and wild terrain of Wales lends itself so well to so many activities and adventures."

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