Monday, 7 June 2010

Coasterring - one of many activities

Here's an excerpt from the early chapters of the book. All activities are given a 'She Who Dares' rating, which means they've been tried an tested by the group. This one gets a 4/5 - which means - take a deep breath! Contacts and centres are listed by activity, and in a reference section.

Coasteering really can be a gentle introduction to the wild forces of nature, just make sure you have a couple of great, strong instructors on board with excellent local knowledge of the coasts and tides. Dave the Rave has been our leading man for our escapades. He’s led us round the beautiful coastline of South West Wales, ably assisted by other young instructors from the Morfa Bay Activity Centre.

On our first outing, we were supplied with nice thick wet suits and packed into a damp mini bus with steamy windows. The hedgerows smudged into a watercolour wash of green as Dave careered down narrow Welsh lanes, assuring us his speed was justified as he knew them like the back of his hand. He was wearing gloves that day. We arrived at a car park near Lydstep and stepped out into a freshening breeze and clear skies.

Changing in a car park is all part and parcel of the annual trip, whatever the weather. You can try a towel dance or hiding inside the mini bus, but most of us find the quick off, quick on approach the best. This has resulted in scarring some young instructors for life as they emerge round the corner only to be confronted with a dozen near naked or completely starkers women, same age, or older than their own mother. Most run ran away screaming. At least they can now appreciate the female form in all of its goose pimpled, un-airbrushed glory.

You need proper kit from a proper centre for coasteering. Thick wetsuits for the cold sea, neopropene gloves with grip (bike gloves work tool) to protect hands from rough barnacles, buoyancy aids and helmets are essential. An old pair of tightly laced trainers or flexible thick soled wet shoes help. Lace the trainers very tightly, despite a triple knot, one of mine bobbed away after the first jump, past the nose of a bemused seal, who realized he had no use for it and swam away.

Once attired we moved awkwardly down the steep path to the sea, watched from the cliff top by bird spotters in bright anoraks, unsure what this species was they were witnessing stumbling into the water, looking like a bunch of extra’s from a 1970’s Dr. Who episode. The weather was kind for our virgin dip, blue skies stroked overhead and the sea remained calm, but the water was still freezing in May. This seeping cold is soon forgotten as the wetsuits do their job on full immersion. Except in the feet, trainers don’t keep out the ice, so neopropene socks can help. Otherwise your toes turn white and numb for the rest of the day.

Once in the silky water we felt the power of the sea pulling us away from the land. Floating like flotsam and jetsam on the tide, we bobbed around the coast, tiny specks swept past towering cliffs. We felt small and insignificant in this seascape as we swum our first tentative stokes out into the bay. It’s hard work in a buoyancy aid and trainers, and many of us fond the best way was to ride with the swell, don’t fight against the current, and always swim parallel to the beach if caught in a rip tide. We hauled ourselves out over the rocks, clinging to foot and hand holds as we hugged the cliff, scrambling up to higher ground to practiced jumping techniques, as a warm up for the higher launches further round. Instructed to try the pencil jump, or cross arm buoyancy aid holding. “Do not hold your nose”, Dave instructed “You’ll punch yourself in the face and pull it off on impact”. Good advice, we thought.

One spot between two outcrops caused much hysteria and mayhem, the water swept in and curled round as we tried to cross. It was hopeless to fight it, and we bobbed like champagne corks in a bucket, laughing as we reached one side, then were swept back to the other. It took a full half hour of heaving and pulling to get 13 of us across what was really a washing machine on full spin cycle. We clutched at the next cliff face as tightly as the barnacles locked there and swam round into a secret cave, accessible only from the water. This was a place where seals came to give birth, an underwater maternity ward. Mothers all, we appreciated how this must be for the female seal, just the sea for company as another life is brought into the world. There was an attempted chorus of “The circle of life”, but we soon put a stop to it.

There were a few large jumps to be braved on this first outing; a couple of us tried the higher ones. From below the cliff may not look that imposing, but something happens to your body when your toes are gripping the edge of the rock and staring down into the heaving waters below. Rationality, and the fact that the instructor has just leapt before you doesn’t stop the adrenaline from thumping through your veins and the legs from turning onto soft custard. It seems a long, silent fall through the air; I’ve never tried with eyes open. Given this experience I was able to step back from the highest jump at the Blue Lagoon the following year, safe in the knowledge that everyone had already witnessed my daredevil leap. A few members always go for the biggest jumps, and provide entertainment for the rest of us. The beauty of ‘She Who Dares’ is that you can give something a first try and get praise for the effort, but never feel the pressure to do it again. However, most of the time you will want to do it again.

The Blue Lagoon near Aberiddy is quite a remarkable sight. Especially on the wild, grey day we scrambled round to it, emerging over the headland from the white foaming sea to the turquoise waters and a still pool like a Mediterranean bay. We were offered the option of running then jumping down a cliff to enter the water, or climbing down. As I said, there’s always the choice. The next set of jumps are legendary, an old stone fortified wall towers out near the opening of the bay. The fact that our ‘hardest’ members wandered about and had a chat atop of it, before attempting the leap, is testament to its height and imposing nature. But they did it, and survived to tell the tale. Dave proved why he is called ‘The Rave’ and took a running jump off the highest platform, dive-bombing into the clear green waters below. We had moved out of the way first.

One of the pleasures of these extreme activities is to see members of the sane public watching your antics from the shore or cliff top, maybe they are admiring our bravado, and maybe they wish they were joining us, or maybe they think we’re a care in the community project. Whatever, it’s satisfying to walk past with a smug-ish look on your face.

Where to try it

Never attempt coasteering without a qualified instructor from a recognized outdoor centre. Even if they are insane.

Try the British coasteering federation for a description of what you centre needs to be able to take you out safely.

Most coastal outdoor pursuit centres offer coasteering (try Cornwall, Devon and Wales) or take a visit to the wonderful Morfa Bay, South Wales:


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