25 Years of Adventures
Who started Preseli Venture, and when?
Nick and Sophie Hurst, the founders of Preseli Venture, have always had a passion for getting up close and personal with the natural world, in amongst nature, enjoying the wild open spaces and unspoilt wilderness and having outdoor adventures – their core belief is that we humans are designed to stay connected with nature and a dip into this experience helps to keep us happy and healthy and is a key component of our “well-being”.
With this passion they landed in west Wales at the end of 1987, having fallen in love with the National Park of the Pembrokeshire coast, and bought the property known as Parcynole Fach, just outside the hill-top village of Mathry, and nestling in the National Trust wooded valley one mile from the wonderful beach of Abermawr.
So in the March of 1988 Preseli Venture was opened in time for Easter and they welcomed in their first guests.
What were the aims of the founders in setting up Preseli Venture?
Firstly to set up a new business venture taking people out onto the wild and beautiful wilderness of the Pembrokeshire coast, to enjoy the unspoilt coast and countryside of the National Park, whilst not harming this wonderful pristine environment. Sustainability was central to their approach, as we were and still are all too aware that tourism, if it’s not very carefully managed, can destroy the very thing that brings people to this wonderful area.
So how did it all start back in 1988?
Preseli Venture was founded in the spring of 1988 with the first group of adventurers enjoying the delights of sea kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. The only accommodation available at that time was dubbed the “caravan of love” due to the fact that it was only a caravan, but at the same time our customers loved it!
At this time outdoor adventures started to come to the attention of the National Park as an activity that was being undertaken in increasing numbers and as a result of various meetings with them and conservation bodies and wildlife experts, the Outdoor Charter was set up, with the remit to ensure the sustainability and good management of adventure activity provision within the National Park. This body still exists today and now consults with the Welsh Assembly Government and Visit Wales concerning outdoor activities management and sustainability to make sure the natural heritage of Pembrokeshire is protected.
During the winter of 1989/90 the first building project got underway, with the conversion of the old “stone barn”, which is the traditional building at the end of the original Pembrokeshire stone houses that was used to house the animals! This was made into a lovely living/dining room complete with wood-burning stove. A basic self-catering kitchen was added at the rear and a large bedroom was also opened up adjacent. Therefore in the Spring of 1990, Preseli Venture proudly opened its doors with accommodation for 12 people and so the early Preseli Venture lodge was established. At this time the Hurst family still used the main part of the original house as their residence.
What further develpments were there during the 1990s…..?
In the summer of 1990 Preseli Venture introduced the exhilarating activity of Coasteering into the PV repertoire, a truly wonderful development and a fantastic way to access the wilderness locations along the coast and get up close to the wildlife, involving climbing, swimming and jumping and most importantly with no negative impact on the coastline or wildlife. PV pioneered their own new coasteering routes right on the doorstep with the consent of the National Trust, as the landowner in the main locations and the clients loved it! From here on in Coasteering as well as sea kayaking proved to be the favourite activities with mountain biking and coastal hiking as good runners up.
In the autumn and winter of 1993/94 we undertook the first of the two major building projects with the help of VisitWales grant funding (or the Wales Tourist Board as it then was). This project resulted in a new wing being added to the original building which included 4 new bathrooms, 2 new bedrooms, and a new large kitchen/ dining room area. This increased the lodge capacity to 20 and gave the guests a higher standard of accommodation.
Was there any consideration over the years as to whether the adventure industry was a good thing for Pembrokeshire or not?
Our view that Preseli Venture was the right thing to do for the sustainable use of this wilderness area was substantiated by the “Sea Empress” oil disaster in 1996. Surely outdoor activities was a more fitting and sustainable industry to be taking place in the National Park than further polluting industries?
As Preseli Venture grew it employed more local people, trained instructors and gave them employment, used more local suppliers for the provision of food and accommodation and continued to encourage more people to travel to Pembrokeshire by train. PV have always strived to act as educators on using an area sustainably and responsibly and the eco lodge is a great example of low carbon living.
At this time Sophie Hurst joined the newly formed North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum (NPTF) which was a community body formed with the aim of campaigning for and promoting the use of public transport in all its forms, be it train, bus, bike and walking. The aim regarding trains was clear, to improve the number of trains to Fishguard from the ferry trains, 2 per day, to the current 5 per day since 2011.
When and how did Preseli Venture come to maturity with its 5 star eco lodge?…..
In 1999 the Hurst family finally moved out of the original house into the newly converted dutch barn next door. The emerging larger lodge breathed a sigh of relief and was used, with just a few modifications, until 2006.
In the same year, PV decided to start offering the equally sought after adventure activity of surfing – Hoorah! This activity rapidly superseded the mountain biking with clients eagerly taking up the option of surfing at the lovely beaches of Newgale and Whitesands.
1999 also saw PV build its brand new dedicated equipment/storage shed. This large space still houses all the equipment from kayaks to surf boards and wet suits to flotation jackets. There is also plenty of space for client changing and adventure briefing.
So, in March 2006 the last and final building project with help from Visit Wales funding was started with its completion and achievement of 5 star grading in December 2009. The new 5 star eco lodge was born and finally was a lodge that everyone could be extremely proud of which deservedly called itself an eco lodge.
This substantial enlargement and improvement to the Preseli Venture lodge has resulted in the following:
- New eco lodge is built around a traditional Welsh farmhouse courtyard with views down the valley to the coast
- Capacity increased to 40 people in 11 bedrooms including doubles, twins and group rooms from 3 -6
- All the heating (both underfloor and wall radiators) plus all the hot water supplied by a ground source heat pump
- Use of highly insulating material for new build, polystyrene formwork filled with concrete
- Installation of modern Klargester biodisc sewerage system in the field to safely dispose of all sewerage waste from the lodge
- New fully equipped modern catering kitchen
- New dining room, living room and bar with awesome sound system and pool table
- New drying room
- 10 modern bathroom/shower rooms
- Outdoor seating in the courtyard to enjoy the views of the wooded valley and coast
- Outdoor bonfire area for stargazing nights
In 2010 PV decided there was very little uptake from clients for using the mountain bikes so this activity was no longer offered to clients.
Have there been any additions to the lodge or the Preseli Venture offering since 2009?
In December of 2011 two arrays of photovoltaic panels were erected on the buildings to make PV a micro-generator of electricity.
In January 2012 Preseli Venture erected its own weather station collecting data on the actual rainfall and the actual recorded wind speed and direction.
As a lovely addition to the PV site, in May 2012 a beautiful geodesic dome was situated at the bottom of the field as a “Glamping” alternative option to the eco lodge accommodation which is proving to be very popular.
In 2013 a new ‘Preseli Venture Cam’ was erected on the lodge building to stream fantastic images of the view down the valley to Abermawr and the coast. So at any time, you can see a live image of the sea conditions here on the north Pembrokeshire coastline.
How in your opinion has the adventure landscape changed since 1988 and do you have any concerns looking into the future?
When PV was founded there was very little in the way of adventure activities being carried out in Pembrokeshire, with just two other outdoor centres operating, which are both still here, Sealyham activity centre and Tyf adventure. There has been a very significant change since then, with at least 12 new companies setting up as adventure providers just in the north Pembrokeshire area over the past 10 years. Most new providers are different to PV in that they do not have accommodation or minibuses or a centre, but operate directly from the beach or harbour.
The competition for customers has therefore never been as fierce, especially during these challenging recessionary times, but Preseli Venture has a sustainable high quality offering that will endure into the future.
The concern for the pristine environment of the National Park is that the large increase in adventures and adventure providers operating along the coast is managed carefully. It is the role of the Outdoor Charter working with the adventure providers, conservation bodies, National Park and the landowners, such as the National Trust, to ensure the needs of the wildlife, local inhabitants and all visitors to the area are balanced and that everyone can continue to enjoy the unspoilt beauty of the coast and countryside into the future.