Over the edge
Coasteering has been on my to-do list for a long time. I must admit though that not until now – standing on the edge of a cliff face about to leap into choppy, chilly water waaayyy below – did I know what it actually involved. So now you know people: it’s jumping off cliffs. All afternoon we’d been working ourselves higher and higher, until finally we are at the highest point, from which only a few in the group are game enough, or stupid enough, to jump. So here I am. Emitting an involuntary string of expletives, I leap… Our tour guide and coasteering expert Ant tells us that no two trips have ever been the same for him; and to be fair, flinging your body off high platforms and swearing is not all it involves. Today, kitted out in wetsuits, helmets and trainers, we are scrambling, climbing and swimming our way around a section of the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. Ant and his larrikin sidekick Bramble are the ultimate guiding duo — Ant pointing out wildlife and danger spots while Bramble does dive bombs and splashes the girls. Amongst all the adrenaline stuff we learn about the sea life, experience an amazing blowhole in a secret cave and are joined all the while by a curious and friendly seal. Adventure travel doesn’t get much better than this, and the cherry on top is the thermos of hot chocolate that awaits us in the van after wriggling out of our wetsuits.
Coasteering is just one part of our ‘Adventure Cocktail’ weekend at Preseli Venture, the ultimate eco lodge located in the beautiful countryside of South West Wales, just minutes from the coast and a painless 5 hour train journey from London. The lodge is named for the Preseli Hills, where the stones of Stonehenge where sourced (no one knows how). The idea is simple: show up on Friday night ready for adventure and let the Preseli crew feed you, lead you and generally show you an awesome time until they wave you off on Sunday. The environmentally friendly lodge is purpose built for chilling out, a perfect antidote to the outdoor activities, and features spotless and modern rooms, facilities and bar / eating / chill-out area. There’s also plenty of outdoor space which we gladly use — lucky for us we happen upon an absurdly sunny weekend and actually succeed in getting a sunburn! Friday night we take it easy. After the first of many hearty and healthy meals cooked by the instantly loveable chef and surfer nomad Rupert, we sip on local ale and play a game of jenga while a stag group whoop it up around the pool table. Contemplating our weekend’s activity schedule up on the blackboard, we opt for an early night.
Get amongst it
This morning the first thing on a schedule is a hike along the coast, but not until we’ve stuffed ourselves at the breakfast buffet. We are dropped along with our fellow adventures at the tiny village of Trefin, known for being the home of Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews’s family, and where she has made headlines more than once with her rock star antics. We are given directions for a leisurely stroll 3 hours along the coast and back to the lodge and are left to our own devices. A self guided walk is the best way to familiarise ourselves with the surroundings — following a rough path traversing farmland along the cliffs, we are offered spectacular views throughout. The cliffs are truly dramatic, conjuring images of huge swathes of earth sliding away and leaving nothing but sea. And a gorgeous aquamarine sea it is, surprisingly tempting in this heat. I can’t help but think that if the weather was always like this, Australia would have some pretty stiff competition. We amble back into the lodge just as Rupert is dishing out bowls steaming fresh cawl, a kind of hearty Welsh soup, served with crusty bread and chunks of cheese, which we stretch out into a two hour lunch in the sun. Why can’t real life be like this?
We work off lunch with our afternoon coasteering adventures and before we know it are back at the lodge eating in the evening sun, well deserved beer in hand. We get a hot tip about local bands playing in the nearby hilltop town of Mathry, and decide to take a walk there to explore. Mathry, it transpires, is more pub than town and we arrive as the band are packing up, but it’s still quite wonderful to sit on the village grass and watch the local community fussing and gossiping on a leisurely weekend. This part of Wales is known as ‘Little England’ since old times, so while there are some peculiar accents to be heard, there’s not a lot of Welsh language being spoken. It’s a lovely slice of country life, and we enjoy a few games of pool in the boisterous pub until the locals drive us out with Bon Jovi on the jukebox. It’s back to the lodge bar then, where we sink a few with the stag boys before stumbling to bed, well exercised, well fed, sunburned and content.
Snail snacks in kayaks
This morning’s activity is sea kayaking, and after gearing up we hit the water and are given an introductory lesson — both in sea kayaking and water splashing techniques. It’s a brilliant jaunt, and Ant and Bramble are on form — Ant pointing out scary looking jellyfish while Bramble attempts improbable white water kayaking; “don’t follow Bramble!” We are given the option of going over some pretty hairy rapids but only one kayaker in the group capsizes; by some miracle it isn’t me. Bramble plucks a shelled creature off the rocks and says ‘Here, eat this’. It’s a bit like a mussel, not too bad, and it’s lucky that not till later that the internet informs me that a limpet is a water snail. Our last lunch and we’re off, with most headed for the train station, London bound. Waving goodbye there’s a pang of sadness but also of intense satisfaction — the perfect combo of active and idle combined with a perfect setting, wholesome food and fantastic company. This is using a weekend to its full advantage. DO IT YOURSELF!: We took part in the ‘Adrenaline Cocktail’ weekend package, which includes 2 nights accommodation, all meals, 3 half day activities and equipment and train station transfers from £209 per person. They also offer surfing lessons, conditions pending. The centre is open all week so you’re not restricted to weekends, and there are also special group rates and itineraries. See PreseliVenture.co.uk or call (01348) 837709