A couple of weekends ago I was invited to speak at the awesome South West Outdoor Festival. This annual event is an adventure-filled get-together of like-minded people who all have one aim: to have as much fun in the great outdoors as possible. As such, once my speaking duties were over, the adrenaline-fuelled thought of coasteering in Devon was too much for me to resist.
Having booked our Coasteering in Devon mini adventure for the Sunday of the South West Outdoor Festival a full two weeks before we arrived onsite, we were left praying to the October weather Gods that they’d provide a blanket of warmth and clarity during our chosen slot. Let’s face it, the weather can be particularly unpredictable as we edge closer to winter (although I’m currently gazing out of my window at what could easily be mistaken for an Indian Summer), so all fingers were well and truly crossed.
Arriving to thick fog on the Friday evening, and waking to rain, whipping winds and plummeting temperatures on the Saturday morning certainly wasn’t part of our plan. Consequently, we warmed ourselves with a coastal path hike, some hot food and took shelter in the Adventure Barn to listen to some of the other speakers on the line-up. By this point we’d mentally prepared ourselves for a shivering Sunday with pretty big sea swells. It wasn’t ideal, but hey, coasteering in miserable weather is better than not coasteering at all, right?
After a few delicious Salcombe Brewery IPAs on the Saturday night (our theory was that if we were slightly hungover we’d be less inclined to worry about the cold the next day), amazingly we awoke to clear skies and a glorious sunrise when we unzipped the tent door on Sunday morning. After a quick pick-me-up filter coffee (thank you Jetboil for making the coffee press accessory), we escaped the confines of our sleeping bags and, feeling thoroughly energised by high levels of caffeine and unexpected sunshine, made our way down to South Sands.
Parking at nearby North Sands, we couldn’t believe our luck. This is what we had imagined when we initially thought about coasteering in Devon. The contrast between to the two days could barely have been greater. However, whether it was the excitement of some vitamin D or just down to us being the eager beavers that we are, we’d arrived a tad too early for our session. Thankfully, there was a lovely beachside café to restore our caffeine levels. Every cloud…
Once we’d finished our drinks we made the short walk over to meet the team from Salcombe Sea N Shore. Within minutes we knew we were in for a great day. Their experience and expertise shone through but they were fun, down to earth guys too. So, after donning our winter wetsuits and getting the first of our safety briefings, we made our way out to sea in the RIB. This was a big-grin experience in itself. With Ali from Salcombe Sea N Shore in command, she was keen to show us how fast and manoeuvrable this small but powerful vessel can be. Even before we’d started to scramble up and over rocks before plummeting ourselves off them, this was already turning out to be a very good day out!
As the boat came to a stop we were invited to chuck ourselves into the water in a most elaborate manner. Now, bearing in mind I was an excitable kid when Baywatch was broadcast in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, it should come as little surprise that I immediately envisioned myself as Mitch Buchannon. Unfortunately for me, the dramatic boat-side dive into the sea that I’d practised innumerable times in my mind over the years, didn’t quite work out. In fact, if there was an award for a belly flop that day, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to post a photo of me holding it right now.
With the painful memories of failing to live up to childhood ideals quickly erased, along with the rest of the group I began to clamber around the base of some rocks that we’d located. I say ‘clamber around’ because for the first few goes at least, that’s exactly what it is. Until you get to grips with leading with your feet first to locate a ledge, thus providing you with a helpful ‘bunk up’ it’s fair to say that all of us were floundering. Even this was great fun though. Not being able to get yourself up onto a rock and out of the sea as the tide washes you about is strangely amusing. However, after a few helpful tips and hands it wasn’t too long before we were ready to take our first short scramble up to our smallest jump of the day.
The guys at Salcombe Sea N Shore really did an amazing job of building everyone up progressively as the day went on and, as the bigger jumps started to appear, they made sure to give everyone multiple options so that you were never forced to take on something that fazed you. I thought this was great as I now knew that, should I do this again (and I absolutely will!), I can book in as a mixed group of friends or family, all with very different confidence levels, and still manage to stick together and have an amazing shared experience as a group. Coasteering in Devon is definitely something that you can try with a wide range of different people.
Talking of things that faze you, if you’re the determined (some would say competitive) type like me, then coasteering in Devon will almost certainly find your vertical limit. I’ve got a pretty good head for heights and love airy scrambles and walks along classic ridges and arêtes; however, walking along them and jumping off them are two totally different things. I’m really pleased to say that I conquered every single one of the jumps put in front of me. The last jump, which was very much advertised by the instructors as an ‘only if you really want to’ option, definitely had me thinking twice as I was looking down into the water. I did it and loved it but only after resurfacing did I begin to question that if there was another one offered that was higher again, would I be able to stomach it?
Coasteering in Devon isn’t just about the scrambles and jumps either. I loved the sections where we explored narrow inlets waiting for the tide to wash us out between the rocks like some crazy natural rollercoaster. The instructors also used their knowledge to inform us about the sea at every opportunity, and knew of a few spots where we could safely get tumbled about in the washing machine-like power of the sea and tide to be dragged out and in by the current and waves. It really does put your power against the sea into perspective.
Overall, I’d recommend coasteering in Devon to everyone. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and exhilarating activity that had us grinning throughout the entire session. If I’m down in Devon again in the future I’ll certainly look up the guys from Salcombe Sea N Shore but, until then, I’ll be looking for places closer to home in North Wales to get me out and jumping into the sea again.