The Great Outdoors – get active and social with these top Herts clubs
PUBLISHED: 12:01 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:01 19 May 2014
From flying and sailing to cycling and walking, Herts has a fabulous range of outdoor clubs that are eager to get you out enjoying yourself, getting fit and meeting like-minded people. Adam Sadler reports on 17 of the best
The North London Flying School at the historic Panshanger Aerodrome just outside Welwyn GC has been providing training to thousands of pilots of all ages for more than 20 years with a great success rate.
The small and family friendly aerodrome offers a quality and safe learning environment for anyone who wants to fly, and you could be behind the cockpit on your own after just 15 hours of training.
Club members are treated to special events throughout the year, including a popular 1940s day and fireworks party, as well as aviation related discounts.
As well as expert training, the school offers numerous days out and gift packages for families and individuals – so if you fancy proposing in a Valentines flight or looping the loop at an acrobatics day, hop on board.
Fly Elstree in Borehamwood offers a wide range of pilot training in up to five different aircrafts.
The aerodrome has been training pilots since 2009 and owner and chief flying instructor Ches Cole has been flying for more than 30 years and been an instructor for 14.
Ches says many people are daunted by the perceived difficulty of learning to fly, but adds it is easier than they think: ‘It’s perfectly natural to be nervous when you first learn to fly, but it’s actually quite straight forward. I’ve been involved in flying clubs for over 30 years and I’m yet to come across someone who couldn’t do it.
‘The training is very well designed and flying schools all over the world have been using the same methods for years.’
Fancy getting airborne but don’t want to take to the cockpit of an aircraft – then why not go for a hot air balloon ride?
National company, Adventure Balloons runs flights over Hertfordshire, enabling passengers to gaze down at the beautiful landscapes and townscapes the county has to offer.
Hot air balloon rides make a great family day out or couple’s activity and with take off points in Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead, Watford, Tring and St Albans it is accessible from across the county.
Company Director and balloonist Kim Hull believes hot air balloon rides are a fun alternative. ‘We get a lot of people doing it for their birthdays - it’s a good way to celebrate one of the big 0s.’
She adds it gives the opportunity for a new take on well known places: ‘People often like flying over places where they live and are familiar with, even if the can’t quite see their houses!’
The Lea Valley White Water Centre in Waltham Cross was used for white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking at the 2012 Olympics, and the centre now offers one of the best water sport experiences in the country for children, adults and corporate days out.
Dan Daley, senior kayak instructor at the centre, said, ‘We have a really high standard of facilities here - there’s not many like it and there are so many different activities you can do. On top of the kayaking, canoeing and rafting we’ve got hydrospeeding and hot dog sessions. Hydrospeeding is where you get a big foam body board and you swim around in the white water with an instructor, and a hot dog is a two-man raft that you can paddle the course on.
‘There are loads of different things for different abilities that people can come in and do, even without any experience. Throughout the summer we run something called Go Canoeing where we get the kayaks out and you can get out on the lake and paddle round and have a laugh. There’s also the rafting side, if a group of you come in you can go out white water rafting on the Olympic course and paddle down in the big boats.’
If high adrenaline water sports don’t take your fancy, then the Lee Valley Boat Centre offers a more relaxed water-based day out in the Lee Valley area.
The base is located in Broxbourne and offers day hire narrow boats, small boats and riverside chalet hire, perfect for exploring and taking in all the scenery the Lea Valley Regional Park has to offer.
Angela Barnett, director of the boat centre says the uniqueness of the centre is in the leisurely one-hour boat hire. ‘There’s not many places along the river where you can hire boats just for an hour. You can come along and take a little electric boat, a rowing boat or a pedalo out and get on the water, and on a hot, sunny day it’s a really nice experience.’
Angela says the chalet hire is very popular at the centre. ‘They’re for hire weekends, midweek, for short breaks and for weekly hire and we get families, groups and even people from abroad coming to stay in them. It’s a nice alternative to a hotel and it’s only half an hour away from London.’
Not only is Stanborough Park Activity Centre a great family day out but it’s also a brilliant place to have lessons from highly qualified instructors in sports such as sailing and windsurfing. The Welwyn Garden City facility also offers a variety of other activities including kayaking, canoeing and speed boats and offer courses and taster sessions for people of all ages and abilities.
All the courses at the park are run by fully first aid trained, and Royal Yachting Association qualified instructors and are set to the RYA’s syllabus.
Sarah Elliott, general manager and a senior RYA instructor says it’s a great place to learn a water sport. ‘It’s the perfect place for introductory courses, the park has two small lakes and you’ll be under the guidance of fully trained instructors in a safe environment. As well as beginner courses we teach right up to the advanced courses. The instructors are all very passionate about water sports and eager to pass on their knowledge.’
If you don’t fancy getting in the water yourself, there’s also the opportunity to watch the Welwyn Garden City Sailing Club race at the park every Saturday throughout the year.
Ever wanted to learn to water-ski? Rickmansworth Water-Ski Club on Batchworth Lake offers the perfect opportunity to do so with beginners’ sessions throughout the summer months.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, the lake is also a great place to put your skills to the test on the club’s slalom course as well as in competitions against clubs from across the country.
The Hertford Company of Archers is one of many competitive archery clubs in the area and has more than 100 senior and junior members.
The club competes in both the summer and winter leagues and has Grand National Archery Society qualified coaches to help begginers.
As well as training and tournaments, the club also hosts social events and parties including children’s birthdays.
The cub shoots at Haileybury College which has its own archery field, allowing shooting seven days a week.
Chairman Sarah Gowans says that archery is a sport for all the family. ‘Our older members are well into their 70s and still shoot regularly and successfully and we have a thriving junior section who are regular record breakers. We also have three generations of one family who all shoot together.
‘We often find mums or dads will learn to shoot with their children or take the course after their offspring have and then shoot together.’
As well as the family side of the club, Sarah says it is also successful competitively. ‘We are fortunate to have a number of qualified coaches within the club who help members to progress. At the recent Hertford Archery Association Indoor Championships we had five champions across three disciplines and four runners up, something we’re really proud of.’
Founded in the 1950s, Berkhamsted Bowmen is the oldest archery club in Hertfordshire, and a great place to practice archery for beginners and experts.
The club shoots at Berkhamsted Hockey Club on Sunday and weekday evenings and has more than 50 registered members.
Club Chairman Steve Rushton believes archery is a sport anyone can participate in. ‘We have members from ages eight to 80, wheelchair users and even blind archers. Our handicap system means all archers can compete on a level playing field regardless of experience, gender or bow type. This makes archery a good choice for families looking for an activity to do together and the club offers generous discounts on our beginner’s courses for families.’
Hinxworth Archery Club is another competitive archery club located in the village of Hinxworth in North Hertfordshire.
Founded in 1999 the club is home to members of a variety of abilities between the ages of 10 and 70.
WALKING & HIKING>>>.
One of the best ways to see the picturesque countryside that Hertfordshire has to offer is by experiencing it firsthand - walking some of its renowned footpaths, which take in rolling landscapes, rivers and woodlands.
The East Herts Ramblers have been exploring Hertfordshire for more than 30 years with walks all over the county.
As well as traditional countryside walks, the club also hold photography walks at a slower pace so participants can snap wildlife and views, as well as weekends away and various other social events.
Another feature of the club is a ‘walking book club’ where members read a designated book and discuss it while on a hike, instead of in a sitting room.
Club chairman Sarah Lea says walking is a great way to stay in shape but also a very social form of exercise: ‘Walking is a great way to increase fitness as it’s low impact and you can do it without any special training. There is also no need to go out and buy a lot of specialist equipment.
‘Walking with a group also has a very beneficial effect on mental health because it is a social event and the topics covered on the walks can be vast.’
Potters Bar Rambling Club is a friendly, active club that offers walks every Wednesday and alternate Sundays throughout the year in the Potters Bar area, come rain or shine.
The club’s countryside walks are usually between five and 10 miles and are at a leisurely to moderate grade.
The club also arranges an annual walking week elsewhere in the UK, most recently on the Isle of Wight
Secretary Ray Sandilands believes the social side of walking is a great reason to join a rambling club. ‘Our walks are social events as well as exercise, with a lot of chatting and reminiscing and we try to include a pub for a lunch stop.’
Another of Hertfordshire’s many walking clubs is the West Herts Ramblers with walks in Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Hatfield, Brookmans Park, St Albans and Harpenden.
The club mainly walks on Sundays, but also has occasional away days involving a walk in another part of the country and an annual away weekend.
Like the other walking clubs in the county WHR is part of the Ramblers Association with an emphasis on looking after the countryside members walk in.
Since the success of the nation’s cyclists at the London 2012 Olympics, the popularity of cycling has soared in Britain and there are plenty of clubs in Hertfordshire to get involved with.
The Stevenage and North Herts Cyclists’ Touring Club is based in Stevenage, with members enjoying rides around a wide area.
The branch of the national touring club organises more than 200 cycle rides for its members each year, ranging from short Saturday rides ideal for newcomers and families to longer, more testing rides on Wednesdays and Sundays for the more experienced members.
Celebrating its silver jubilee year this year, the club mostly ride on lanes and quieter country roads, but there are also off-road activities to get involved in as well as the opportunity to enjoy some of the Cyclists’ Touring Club’s national events.
Group secretary Jim Brown emphasises that the club is a great place to come if you’re new to cycling as well as if you’re already a keen cyclist: ‘We have a huge variety of rides, a lot of newcomers, over a wide age range, enjoy our Saturday Starters. There are also occasional taster rides, known as Five Miles to Fabulous.
‘Our most popular club rides are on Wednesday evenings and can attract several hundred. So we offer a huge range from five miles to over 100 in some of the challenge events.’
The club grades rides according to how challenging they are and Jim says the club always take precautions so nobody gets left behind. ‘There will be a ride leader and a sweeper who have a radio link to make sure no-one gets left behind and to help control the pace.
‘Everyone will already know where the stops are from the programme, say, 15 miles to a café stop, 15 miles to a pub lunch, and about 15 miles back.’
Hertfordshire Wheelers Cycling Club <BOLD> has been established in the East Herts area since 1928, making it one of the oldest cycling clubs in the county.
There is a club cycle every Sunday through country lanes, of between 25 and 60 miles at various paces, and includes a social stop in a cafe or pub.
As well as sociable rides, members also get the opportunities to take part in various road and track races, both within the club and against neighbouring ones.
A variety of social events are also available to members, both cycling and non-cycling. Most recently, the club travelled to Boulogne for a cycling and relaxation weekend.
Cycling Club Ashwell has more than 170 members, including more than 50 youngsters, from Ashwell, Baldock, Letchworth, Royston and neighbouring villages and towns.
The club caters for cyclists of all ages and abilities and encourages people to come along and give it a go. It has its own grass track in Ashwell which is used for club racing and also to train for road races.
CCA offers road cycles along some of the most scenic country routes in the county on Sundays and Wednesdays at a variety of lengths and paces.
Chairman Stefan Dixon says the club is a great place to come and get involved in cycling: ‘Ashwell is lucky to be positioned with access to some of the quietest, most scenic roads in the country and the club is friendly, inclusive and welcomes new members.
‘Members can offer valuable advice and support to anyone new to cycling or someone aiming to complete a personal challenge. Members get involved in so many different aspects of the sport that there is something for everyone.’
For more experienced cyclists Welwyn Wheelers Cycling Club, based at Gosling Sports Park, is a great place to train and race with some of the best cyclists in the county.
The club, which helped Laura Trott on her journery to double Olympic gold, organises its own race series over a variety of challenging distances both on-road and off-road as well as competing in a variety of interclub regional races too.
WWCC also runs a number of social events including mountain bike rides and trips to Belgium to watch competitions such as the World Series Cyclocross and the Mildenhall Cycle Rally.
GET IN TOUCH>>>.
Lea Valley White Water Centre 0845 677 0600. Lea Valley Boat Centre 01992 462085. Stanborough Park Activity Centre 01707 276276. Rickmansworth Water-Ski Club 01923 775319. North London Flying School 01707 391791. Fly Elstree 020 8953 6868. Adventure Balloons 01252 844222. Hertford Company of Archers 01992 423573. Berkhamsted Bowmen email@example.com. Hinxworth Archery Club 01462 742048. East Herts Ramblers firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potters Bar Rambling Club pbrc.org.uk/contact-the-club. West Herts Ramblers 01442 211794. Stevenage and North Herts Cyclists’ Touring Club 01438 354505. Hertfordshire Wheelers Cycling Club email@example.com. Cycling Club Ashwell firstname.lastname@example.org. Welwyn Wheelers Cycling Club welwynwheelers.org.uk.