Where? Pembrokshire Wales. What? Coasteering
The ‘When?’ is also highly relevant to this review: I was persuaded that it would be a ‘laugh’ to take 3 hour dip in the North Sea in October when the water was a toasty 4 degrees. For those of you not in the know – Coasteering is basically the act of free climbing up cliff faces and chucking yourself off at various points. The objective is allegedly to have fun.
After driving up to a barren wind swept beach and spending a good 10 minutes wondering if this was an elaborate scam; we were joined by a trailer emblazoned on its side with ‘Celtic Quest Coasteering’ and several rowers on their weekend off. We were equipped with a glamorous combination of wetsuit and in my case XXL Mens football shorts. Worn with a pair of trainers, a life jacket and a garish red plastic helmet the whole ensemble was so alluring I worried about the distraction I could cause to the local menfolk. The instigator of this whole excursion, Nicola sported a slightly more hardcore outfit with fingerless gloves. It would be many weeks before she regained fingerprints, after the razor exfoliation of the barnacles we were about to cling to for dear life.
Off we went, clambering across slippery rocks being bashed by waves and being encouraged by the instructor bring up the rear to get up front and ‘socialise more!’. ‘Don’t be shy!’ he kept shouting. We were both highly amused by the thought that our slow speed could be attributed to social insecurity, rather than a rational instinct to avoid twisting an ankle or falling into the angry arctic water.
I have always considered myself a very strong swimmer. This counted for very little. Once encased in a unwieldy life jacket the only difference between myself and a less confident swimmer was my ability to not panic as I choked repeatedly on sea water and was forcibly submerged by the waves.
So it began. Climb. Look down. Question sanity. Jump. Repeat at greater height.
Why is there no photographic evidence of my 30ft cliff jump you may wonder? Well because I was so petrified the instructor thought I might not jump out far enough to clear the jagged limb breaking rocks below. She thought I could use a physical push more than I could a memento.
At one point one of the 2 instructors was seriously injured, gashing his forearm open as he was thrown into a rock by a huge swell. He needed the life line to pull him in. This didn’t reassure me as I was next in line to cross the 15 meter cove to reach the rest of the group. The swell was getting larger and stormier by the second. Not being able to feel most of my extremities anyway, I pitched myself into the squally saline sink. By my seventh failed attempt to cling to the cliff side, each time the swell draining away to fast and me sliding down the jagged face 6 feet back into the ocean, I was in the initial stages of hypothermia and mild panic. After 2 hours in the water and wind my muscles were not doing what I was telling them too, I was exhausted and ingesting what felt like pints of sea water.
There is nothing quite as embarrassing as realising you might die whilst wearing a life jacket and helmet. We had been told to wave our arms above our head if we needed assistance. I frantically waved my arms above my head signalling for the life line, to help drag my frozen person ashore. The group seemed to interpret this as me expressing how much fun I was having as they waved back enthusiastically, cheering and howling at the cliffs. Oh.
We finally reached the Blue Lagoon -the host of a stop on the RedBull Cliff Diving World Series that year. With its deceptively inviting sapphire waters, it lured you in with false promises of Mediterranean temperatures. Entry required jumping off a 30 ft sheer cliff. This jump I had much less trouble with. As it was the last thing standing between me and a hot cup of tea and a Snickers. You know it’s a long way down when there is time to think – I’m still falling.
When we finally reached the beach everyone instructor included was belching up what turned out to be actual pints of sea water. A particularly petite rower had become severely hypothermic and delirious and was plied with mars bars and cups of tea as we peeled off our shredded neoprene shells. To reveal an impressive array of bruises which would mature into a range of shades more at home on a Farrow and Ball paint chart.
Apparently this is an all ages sport for 8 to 80 year olds. I wouldn’t want my mother doing this but hey maybe that’s just me.
Hurling yourself off cliffs in semi controlled chaos will set you back £39 for half a day. Which is more than enough to get a feel for the sport.