Taking the plunge

It was one of those ‘why am I doing this?’ moments. I’ve written about coasteering before, but until now I have never been able to give you a first hand account. If you missed Countryfile’s recent trip to Pembrokeshire, coasteering is the act of chucking yourself off a chosen bit of – you guessed it – coast, and exploring the watery circumference like a seal 

pup. My guides for the day were both called Tom, a fact I took comfort from. After all, I wouldn’t have to struggle to remember the right name when shouting out in panic.
Before we took the plunge, the boys informed me that this type of asinine activity has been going on for 20 years. I must admit, I doubted the Toms. Since my adventure in Wales, I mentioned the hobby to a group of real outdoor chums on a hiking shoot in Germany and only two out of the 10 had ever heard of it. As they were a pair former activity guides and general nutters, I think we can reasonably say that coasteering has only become a well recognised part of our vernacular in recent history. So what other crazy stunts have been going on in the UK for years, lunacy that we’ve never heard about?
Of course, there’s always cheese rolling, the king of all crazy customs and a sport that should become Olympic event! Get yourself to the top of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire on 31 May 2010 and you too could join in the madness. A guest roller will be at hand with a cylinder of double gloucester at the ready, and the cheese gets chucked down the hill before you hurl yourself after it. The winner gets the cheese, and the runners-up get some cash. Keep in mind that the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph and gets a one-second head start, and you can see why the chances of actually touching it are slim.
However, the chances of breaking something on the way down are quite high. In 2005 the event was stopped to wait for the ambulances to return from the hospital – they were all needed to transport casualties from previous races. I love one report from a contender after this year’s event: “We were cold, we were wet, we were bleeding and we were probably slightly concussed!” And remember, they do this for fun.
Nobody really knows when or why this madness started but people have guessed that it’s been rolling now for at least 200 years. It even carried on throughout the Second World War, although wooden cheeses were used when rationing was introduced. Whatever the origins, it just seems very English; risking life and limb chasing after coagulated milk. Would it happen anywhere else? Probably not, although the Spanish do have La Tomatina, a bizarre tomato festival in the town of Bunol. What started out as a local argument in 1945 now involves 20,000 participants pelting 150,000 tomatoes at each other on the last Wednesday of August each year.
It was a baking hot day when I jumped off a rocky outcrop in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and there wasn't a chunk of cheddar in sight. The day before I’d tested the waters with a marine biologist for another story for the show, so I knew the temperature was about 13°C, not bubbling hot but not the Bering Strait either.
Nothing prepared me for the wild, wonderful, free experience of coasteering. Decked out in a very welcome buoyancy aid and a helmet, it felt different bobbing around in the water rather than swimming; safer somehow, the wetsuit acting as a protective layer against the cold and the snagging rocks. We swirled around in a bit of white water nicknamed the Toilet, so-named because you can get flushed and bumped around before being dunked under for a few seconds. It’s exhilarating but not as scary as it sounds.
I then flung myself off a mighty piece of 500 million-year-old rock. It was an amazing experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone whether you’re six or 80, as long as you’re with a qualified guide who can steer you away from stretches of coast where you might disturb the wildlife. Plus, it doesn’t involve running after dairy products. Go on, take the plunge.

This feature was taken from issue 26 of Countryfile Magazine. To make sure you never miss an issue subscribe today.



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