So, what happened when we went Coasteering? We get to grips with one of the latest outdoor trends and finds that there’s more to exploring the great British coastline than a walk on the beach.
“We’re doing what?” asked Mat for the fifth time.
“Coasteering” I replied for the fifth time.
“C-O-A-S-T-E-E-R-I….” I began impatiently
“Yes, yes, I understand how to spell it, but what on earth is it?”
Hmmmm, that was the million dollar question. And one, if I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what the answer was. What I did know was that it was the “very latest” outdoor trend according to some of our very outdoorsy friends, and we simply couldn’t go on another camping trip without trying it. So, here we were on the way to Pembrokeshire to give it a go. All I knew was that it involved some beach rocks and jumping into water. We used to do that on the beach as children – so how difficult could it be?
We were about to find out…. As soon as the safety brief was over and our small group was decked out with wetsuits, lifejackets, wetsuit gloves, socks and safety helmets, our coasteering guides talked us through the route, which began at the rocky inlet of Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire.
The guide explained that coasteering is the sport of climbing, scrambling, swimming, jumping and exploring the coastline. And most coasteering guides offer full days or half days so you can choose the length of adventure that suits you. And a good guide will also be able to tailor the coasteering day to suit individual experience and fitness. At its simplest form, it involves scrambling and walking along the bottom of sea cliffs to explore rockpools and coves. For adventurers wanting a tougher challenge, coasteering can encompass cliff jumping and sea swimming – although whilst a good guide should help encourage you out of your comfort zone, they should never force you to attempt anything you’re not happy with. Most coasteering routes will have a variety of different challenges so that there’s something for all abilities in the group.
Pembrokeshire is one of the hotspots of coasteering in the UK so it’s a popular activity here, and it’s easy to see why. The coastline is beautiful and wild in places. But, unlike the ancient rocks, crevices, coves and caves that we were about to explore, coasteering as a sport is a relatively new phenomena. Of course, jumping off rocks and exploring caves are things that have been done for hundreds of years but its thought that the term “coasteering” was first coined in 1973, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the sport began to emerge as a guided recreational activity.
And today, guides all over the country are qualified to take groups out to explore the coastline from a different angle than the usual coastal walks or boat trips. Coasteering is about being part of the coastline and discovering it with all senses – rather than just seeing it from a distance. And yes, it does hark back to memories of being a child on the beach, itching to explore the craggy rocks and pools and always swim that little bit further. Perhaps this is part of coasteering’s appeal – it’s a way of safely doing all those things you weren’t allowed to do as a child.
And finally, it was our turn to give it a go. Our guide was brilliant, and filled us in on some of the history and geology of the area, as well as some of the nature and marine life that we might expect to find. In the rockpools we spotted crabs, shrimps and even a colourful anemone, as well as several different varieties of seaweed, some of which, we were assured, were edible… yum!
We then scrambled our way over some of the larger rocks in the bay, before exploring a beautiful hidden cove and swimming right into it if we wanted to. After that the challenges came thick and fast, as did the whooping and screeching from all members of the group! For the more adventurous there was abseiling, climbing and jumping from cliffs into the gorgeous blue-green sea below. And for the more gentle adventurers there was the chance of sea swimming, exploring more caves and scrambling over low rocks, so the session was really tailored to suit everybody. I can’t honestly say that I attempted all of the bigger cliff jumps, but even the smaller ones were a test of my limits. The adrenalin was soon pumping, as gradually and with the encouragement of the instructor, I got braver and braver and attempted a few jumps and climbs that I would never have thought I’d have tried at the beginning of the day.
Of course, as with all outdoor activities there are always risks with coasteering – you are exploring a unique and challenging environment and the sea can be unpredictable at times. However, the key to a happy coasteering experience is to find a guide or instructor that you can place your full trust in. Ask for recommendations if you know anyone who’s been before, and check out the company’s qualifications and license. They should ideally be signed up to the National Coasteering Charter or the AALA (Adventure Activities Licensing Authority), or both. They should be really knowledgeable about the local area, especially the part of the coast they are taking you to and they should also kit you out in good quality safety equipment. Don’t forget to talk to the instructor if you have any concerns, and let them know about your abilities and experiences. Most guides will take out complete beginners, so long as you can swim fairly competently.
And one of the best things about coasteering is that it’s suitable for the whole family. It’s not just for crazy adventurers wanting to hurtle themselves into the sea from hundreds of meters – on our group there were two children who were just nine and a couple in their 70s! Children will get a big kick from the physical challenges, as well as the mental ones, and what’s not to love about splashing about in the sea all afternoon? Happy coasteering…..
1. the sport or activity of exploring a rocky coastline by climbing, jumping, scrambling and swimming.