NATIONAL ASSEMBLY officials have found a new way to relieve the stress induced by working for a cutting-edge legislature - whacking each other with branches at a spa in the Brecon Beacons.
The officials are among a select few who have taken advantage of a new facility available at the remote western fringe of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The brainchild of John Williams, the Forestry Commission's area manager, a woodland sauna has been created in the Commission's Pen Arthur Wood with a sheep dip converted into a plunge pool.
Located near the village of Capel Gwynfe, near Llandeilo, in the shadow of the Black Mountain, the sauna was built with £5,700 of taxpayers' money and is being advertised on a naturist web site at £60 for a three-hour session.
It has emerged that last month 14 Assembly officials who have been suffering from stress used the sauna as part of a day-long activity, which cost the Assembly £50 a head.
Mr Williams, who was inspired to create the sauna by his Russian wife, said, "It works best if you come down here at dusk.
"It's up to the individual if they want to be naked, but in Russia and Finland it would be considered strange to wear clothes. As well as using the sauna and plunge pool, people are encouraged to make a "whisk" from twigs and beat each other with the leaves.
"It boosts blood circulation - the ladies from the Welsh Assembly enjoyed it."
Mr Williams said that one of the people who had already taken advantage of the sauna was Simon Hewitt, the director of the Forestry Commission in Wales.
Steven Pocock, the district forester with responsibility for planning, said, "It hasn't been widely advertised.
"It's on our intranet site, which has links into the National Assembly. We also have an Assembly co-ordinator, so it's not surprising they should have heard of this. People can make block bookings by going through our district office."
Monmouth Tory AM David Davies said, "If senior Welsh Assembly officials wish to spend their time running around in the buff beating each other with twigs, then that's a matter for them. But I think it's a hobby they should pursue outside of working hours. I'm not quite sure why the Assembly has paid for this."
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas, in whose constituency the facility lies, said, "It's a strange thing for the Assembly to pay for. There's only one way it could be justified - if the officials concerned could be made to stop thinking of themselves as affiliated to Whitehall, and start thinking of themselves as part of a genuinely Welsh civil service."
An Assembly Government spokesperson said, "We have been looking at different ways of working with staff who are on long-term sick leave as part of our Managing Attendance Programme.
"It is aimed at easing people back into work. This was a pilot, one-day, low-cost activity with the Forestry Commission providing the facilities. The staff were accompanied by the Assembly's occupational health nurse.
"The day involved not just the sauna, but long walks in the woods. Instead of sitting at home on their own, those who participated were mingling together as a group.
"The pilot has not yet been evaluated."