showcasing the best of the south west

West Country Adventures for Beginners

Ice climber, zoologist and TV presenter Andy Torbet may spend much of his life scaling ice caps but, he says, there is plenty of adventure to be had in the West Country....

Admittedly I write this blog from an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean.  But adventures don’t need to take up weeks or months of your life, great quantities of cash or require technical skills.  There are still adventures aplenty at home that anyone can undertake for free or for minimal outlay on inexpensive kit or hire charges and only need a morning, day or weekend.  So to kick-start things off here are 5 ideas in the South West for the summer:

1. Snorkelling:  My number one for a reason.  Snorkelling is incredibly easy and can be done in river, lakes, mountain pools, ponds and of course all manner of coastlines.  All you need is a mask, snorkel and fins…and maybe a wetsuit outside of summer.  However, all you really need is a pair of goggles and your pants because seeing what’s beneath the surface is the real adventure.  Much of the submerged parts of the British coastline, rivers and lakes have never been seen so this is genuine exploration.  There are even plenty of safe, shallow wrecks to snorkel, for example WW1 submarines off Pendennis point in Falmouth or the shipwreck of the Louis Shield a few metres off Thurlestone beach.  There are even some fabulous snorkels in the River Dart – you may even be lucky enough to spot an otter.  It’s good for any age and ability just apply common sense to where you decide to go, if it’s too dangerous to swim (big waves, strong current or fast tide) then it’s too dangerous to snorkel.  A great beginner's site is Kimmeridge Bay Snorkel Trail – you can even hire the kit there for a fiver.

2. Wild Camping:  Camping on a campsite is all well and good with its shower block, fresh water and parking space by your tent.  However, camping out in the wild fills you with a sense of freedom and it’s significantly more peaceful.  It could be on a secluded beach in a cove in North Devon or a quiet corner of Dartmoor.  Certain places discourage wild camping so it’s worth checking, especially in established National Parks but Dartmoor is very welcoming and the Park Authorities have details here.  Wherever you go try to get off the beaten track and remember not to damage the local area or wildlife and take all your litter home.

3. Sit-On-Top Sea-Kayaking:  There are plenty of places that hire these for about £25 per day and you can get the two-man type if you’ve a young child or your partner is feeling lazy.  They’re more stable and safer then standard close-cockpit kayaks and it’s easy to get the hang of the basics quickly.  It’s an amazing way to see the coastline and the wildlife around our shores far form the madding crowd.  Anywhere that hires them will give you a brief on the best place to go that day and if there is a hire centre in the area then it’s a good area for sea-kayaking.  The West is arguably the best place in the UK for sea kayaking with amazing stretches of coastline along North and South Devon and around Cornwall.

4. River Canoeing:  Much like the sea-kayaking mentioned above canoes are cheap to hire and easy to use.  If it’s your first outing pick an easy river and any hire company can advise on the best stretch for you in the current conditions (some very benign rivers can become difficult after heavy rain).  The River Wye is, with very good reason, the most popular canoeing river in the UK and has a number of hire companies along its length.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can do a multi-day trip stopping at riverside campsites (and pubs) or even do a six day trip down it’s length from Glasbury to Chepstow – over 100 miles of ancient bridges and Wye Valley forest.

5. Long Distance Walking:  There are plenty of long distance paths and walks around the South West including the longest official trail in the country around the West Country coastline (for more info see here).  If you fancy something less maritime you could always walk across Dartmoor or Exmoor, potentially wild camping on the way.  You don’t even need to do it all in one bout but could break it up over a few weekends or more and do it in stages one weekend a month (bearing in mind the South Coast Long Distance Path is 630 miles).  There is also the Cotswold Way for something shorter or stroll along the Bristol to Bath cycle path for the complete novice with its lack of hills and numerous tea-rooms and pubs to keep you going.

Now all you have to do is pray for a bit of sunshine…


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