Escape the ordinary, test your limits by trying some of the world’s most incredible mental and physical challenges, and achieve something epic at Birmingham’s Bear Grylls Adventure...

A former SAS serviceman, a survival instructor, an honorary lieutenant-colonel, an adventurer, writer, television presenter and businessman; Bear Grylls is indeed a man of many talents. He’s also the inspiration behind one of the Midlands’ newest visitor attractions - The Bear Grylls Adventure park.

Part of Merlin Entertainments - the company that owns, among other venues, Alton Towers, the National Sea Life Centre, Legoland and Thorpe Park - the first-of-its-kind attraction opened at Birmingham’s NEC last autumn and is suitable for visitors aged 11 and older. 

“I wanted to create a large-scale attraction so that you don’t have to travel the world to get a real taste of adventure,” explains Bear. “We found out that 18% of Brits rarely get to do anything outside of their comfort zone. We’re here to help change that. The adventure park is based on experiences that have shaped my life, pushed me to my limits and taken me far out of my comfort zone.”

The park tests the skills, strength and nerve of the most intrepid thrill-seeker. Those brave enough can zip wire out of a chinook helicopter several floors up and then take on a Royal Marines-inspired high-ropes course - the most extreme in Europe. The challenge offers the 54% of Brits who’re scared of heights and flying the chance to conquer both fears at the same time.

The hub of the attraction, the Basecamp, comprises a collection of mental and physical group and individual challenges designed to help visitors develop the core skills needed for adventure. As well as a maze, an assault course and target archery, the Basecamp also features escape rooms, where visitors have to race against time to crack codes, solve puzzles and find their way to freedom using logic and resourcefulness.

Visitors can also try their hand at swimming with aquatic creatures, including fish, Black Tip Reef Sharks and Cownose Rays. Accompanied by a professional diving team and armed with a full snorkel and scuba kit, participants don’t need any previous experience and can choose between snorkelling or full scuba diving, depending on which they feel most comfortable with. 

Ever fancied skydiving? Then Bear Grylls Adventure is the place to head for. The park features a hair-raising indoor skydiving activity, where guests can experience a freefall that’s almost three times longer than an average skydive. The indoor wind tunnel is operated by experienced skydiving experts, who will put intermediate visitors through their paces. 

The Extreme Climb section of the park boasts replicas of El Capitain and Fontainebleau: “The attraction features some of the toughest climbs out there,” says Bear, “all designed to help you test yourself to the max. It’s all about helping you find the courage and tenacity to conquer your fears.”

Bear will be opening similar parks in both China and the US in 2020. He then hopes to expand the brand further and build more around the world. So why did he choose Birmingham as his first destination? 

“We wanted to start somewhere that had a good international feel, and I felt that Birmingham was that place. It’s the UK’s second city, Birmingham International station is right next door and 14,000 young people walk past the park every night going to events at the arena. Everyone has been so lovely and welcoming to us here.”

Despite Bear’s wealth of experience when it comes to adventuring, things don’t always go according to plan for him: “I’ve had parachute failures, been pinned in rapids, got bitten by snakes, had close encounters with crocodiles - you name it, I’ve experienced it. All those things have taught me to be very grateful for life, and to be smart and safe.

So which daredevil activity does he find most challenging? 

“Skydiving is definitely something that’s hard for me after breaking my back in a free-fall accident whilst I was in the military, but I still have to jump and deal with heights every day in my job.

“I’ve learned how to deal with fear - and that  it’s okay. Just keep going towards it, don’t run from it, reach out and hold someone’s hand when you need it. It’s so exciting to see people’s faces when they confront some real fears. Whether they’re close up with a shark or they’re six storeys up, balancing on a little ledge. I love watching people leave the park; it’s my favourite part. You see the smiles on their faces, and they have a real sense of pride that they’ve done something difficult.

“The thing I get most excited about in life is bringing adventure to people who never normally get it. The world is an incredible place that’s full of adventure and opportunity, and that’s what’s so exciting about the park - there’s lots of adventure and opportunity all under one roof.”

Bear Grylls Adventure is open seven days a week and is located at the NEC, Marston Green, Birmingham.

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By Lauren Foster