Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Challenge senses on barefoot walk

By Wena Alun Owen
BBC News

The water was a little cold at the start of the walk

If you ever made mud pies as a child, or enjoyed (or endured) childhood holidays on pebbly beaches, then you may well enjoy a new attraction at a forest park in Gwynedd.

The idea is to take you back to basics to walk on a variety of terrains such as leaves, pebbles, bark, sand, slate, water and mud.

It is the idea of Stephen Bristow, managing director at GreenWood Forest Park near Y Felinheli.

It's meant to be fun. And it's good for your feet, apparently.

So I went along for the official opening by Welsh Assembly Government Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones.

Also at the opening were a myriad of people involved in the tourist industry, local dignitaries, and school pupils from Ysgol Penisarwaun.

This is the sort of development that suits the area, it's eco-friendly and sustainable, and families don't have to spend vast amounts of money once they get here
Alun Ffred Jones, Welsh Assembly Government Heritage Minister

While it was definitely enjoyable as an experience in itself, maybe that was heightened because it was so unusual to see grown men and women in suits with trousers rolled up squelching through mud and tip-toeing through freezing water.

Mr Jones readily admitted that he was quite looking forward to the experience as he was a big fan of making mud pies as a child.

"We used to play and have fun, wandering where we wanted," he said.

"The way we live life has changed and people are more precious about where we can and can't go, and where children can play," he added.

GreenWood park was the ideal compromise, he said.

'Therapeutic'

"This is the sort of development that suits the area, it's eco-friendly and sustainable, and families don't have to spend vast amounts of money once they get here," he added.

Bangor mayor John Wynn Jones and his wife Lis said they were excited at the challenge, with Mrs Jones coming prepared in her sandals and three-quarter length trousers.

Caernarfon mayor Myfi Powell-Jones was also up to the challenge, despite being impeccably turned out in a smart suit and mayoral chain.

Stephen Bristow said the walk was the first in Wales and second in Britain.

It is apparently "popular on the continent for its therapeutic properties".

Ysgol Gymuned Penisarwaun walking through the mud
The mud was surprisingly warm

Suddenly the talking was over and the ribbon cut, and they were away.

Remarkably, nearly all the adults (and of course the children) whipped off their shoes and socks and got stuck in.

Myfi Powell-Jones said it was "painful on the stones and on the wooden slats, but that's maybe because I only have size four feet".

Mayor of Bangor Mr Jones said he felt his feet were "nice and warm", once he had washed the mud off at the handy foot shower at the end.

"I think they've benefited," he added.

And Alun Ffred Jones had a diplomatic response: "Like everything else, it was an experience. Although I must say my feet feel great now."

'Black forest gateaux'

The children trying it seemed to fall into two categories: either the "yes, let's get into the mud", or the "yuk this is really disgusting".

In the interests of research, obviously I had a go.

The water bit at the beginning was warmer than I'd expected.

Then it was on to the other surfaces in turn, winding through the trees on a gentle slope.

The small stones were uncomfortable to begin with, and somehow got more painful as the path went on, although it was never unbearably so.

Straw was nice and warm, dried leaves bouncy, sand a bit damp, wood variously warm or uncomfortable depending on the layout (see the mayor of Caernarfon's earlier comment) but best of all was the mud.

It was fab, squelchy, not as cold as expected and just fun.

As the mayor of Bangor said "It's like walking in black forest gateaux".

The small stones got stuck in the mud between my toes as I left, and then it was up the steps to the washing area.

Immediately afterwards my feet tingled, and then got very warm, and now several hours later they still feel nice and light, so there might be something in it after all.

As Mr Bristow said as I left: "They do say, no pain no gain".

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