‘Britain’ and ‘adventure sports’ aren’t often mentioned in the same breath. In fact, this green and pleasant land is rarely associated with extremities of temperament of any kind. So it may come as some surprise that Britain offers a wide range of opportunities for outdoor adventure, from fevered races through thick bogs to vertiginous abseils down sheer rock faces. If fireside pub lunches and visits to the Beatrix Potter museum aren’t your cup of builder’s, then maybe one of these ten intrepid outings will inspire you…
1. River tubing
‘We don’t expect prior experience, just a basic level of water confidence. You don’t even have to be able to swim.’ Reassuring words from Kate Mason-Strang of Nae Limits, but this sport is not for potamophobes. River tubers are strapped into an inflatable blue seat and must manoeuvre through a series of cascading ‘staircase’ rapids and pools, using only their begloved hands.
It’s a far more intimate experience than conventional white water rafting, says Mason-Strang: ‘There are guides in the water too, of course, but basically you’re on your own, so it’s a much higher adrenaline rush’. Aside from the buzz of bouncing off rocks down nature’s own crazy waterslide, you’re surrounded by glorious Scottish scenery – not that you’ll see too much of it as you slalom past. Intrigued and undeterred by how daft you’ll look? A half-day introduction (over-14s only) can be had for £50 from www.naelimits.co.uk.
If a claustrophobic journey down the dark gullet of the unfortunately named Giant’s Hole sounds like your cup of tea, then you should check out the Peak District’s Acclimbatize, a caving expedition service run by subterranean enthusiasts Duncan and Daryl. Abseiling down three-storey rock faces and negotiating thirty-feet drops – all underground, remember – you’ll pass spectacular waterfalls and alien-like rock formations, which make for a distinctly otherworldly experience. Other recognised caving locations and information can be found via the British Caving Association.
3. Clay shooting
As opposed to its more bellicose American counterpart, the NRA (National Rifle Association) of the United Kingdom is no more than a motley bunch of benign enthusiasts, whose clay shooting centre at Bisley is steeped in 120 years of sporting history. Set in 3,000 acres of prime Surrey heathland, Bisley offers tuition at all levels four days a week, and Olympic-standard facilities for accomplished riflemen. Indeed, the centre was one of the three venues considered to host the Olympic event in 2012 – in the end it was ditched on account of being too far from the capital.
National Clay Shooting Centre Bisley Camp, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey GU24 0PB (01483 797 666).
4. Hound trailing
Somewhere in Cumbria, almost every day of the week from April to October, hounds are hot on a trail. Finding a meet is a great way to get into the spirit of the Lakes, and to support a traditional local sport that has been enjoyed for at least 200 years. Superbly fit and strong, the dogs race over a pre-laid aniseed trail that can be anything up to ten miles long, tearing across steep fells, bounding over dry stone walls and deciding a few modest bets in the process. Descended from fox hounds, trail hounds are specially bred and trained to endure the most arduous courses through some of the country’s most stunning scenery. It’s always a stirring sight to see them way off in the distance on the hill, strung out at full speed and hunting their way home. For more information, head to www.houndtrailing.org.uk.
5. Flying and gliding
Hang gliding and paragliding
Find inspiration for an airborne adventure on the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association’s website. Reaching ‘Club Pilot’ level generally requires nine to ten days’ flying, plus an exam, but shorter taster courses are also on offer – though be warned: once you’ve experienced the thrill of being lifted by invisible air currents and drifting across a cloud-dotted sky, there’s no going back.
Fly a Tiger Moth
If you’re feeling more WW2 fighter ace than floating butterfly, the Imperial War Museum Duxford offers flights from around £129 in a variety of classic planes, such as the 1930s Tiger Moth bi-plane, and include the loan of old-fashioned gear like leather jackets and goggles. And if you’ve always dreamed of being Biggles and flying the things yourself, introductory lessons are also available.
Imperial War Museum Duxford, Duxford, Cambridgeshire CB22 4QR (01223 835 000). Book a flight here.
It may not have suffered the crippling overexposure of surfing or skateboarding, but wakeboarding (a cross between freestyle snowboarding and waterskiing) is a big deal – popular enough to claim over three million participants globally. And as the sport has grown, so too has Wakestock, which started out back in 2000 in Abersoch, North Wales, as a diminutive competition followed by a party in a car park. Today it’s the single largest wakeboarding-cum-music festival in Europe, drawing a crowd and competitors from across the world; artists, meanwhile, range from Mark Ronson and Jack Penate to Kosheen and Carl Cox.
Wakestock happens on the Llyn Peninsula: competitive events are split between Pwllheli Marina (ramps and rails) and Abersoch Beach (the Big Air Classic), while the main festival site is at Penrhos, with views over Cardigan Bay and the distant mountains of Snowdonia. Recent years have seen the event expand to other venues, such as Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace. In 2015 the organisers will take a break, with a view to staging their biggest party yet in 2016.
Head here for a list of places to wakeboard in the UK.
Snorkelling off the Isles of Scilly
Most local boat companies will take you out to see the resident seals, basking on dark isolated rocks or bobbing about in the sea (on St Mary’s, try the Boatmen’s Association on 01720 423 999 or just turn up at the harbour). Alternatively, Island Sea Safaris (01720 422 732) offer two-hour boat trips (£33), allowing you to get up close to the phocine beasts via viewing boxes and underwater cameras. If you want to snorkel, they’ll see to your needs.
Shipwreck diving off Lundy Island
Another pristine spot for snorkel fans is Lundy Island, located just where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic. Formed by an ancient volcano, its surrounding waters are a marine nature reserve, and one of the best dive wreck sites in Britain, with 137 ghostly ships lurking beneath the waves. Snorkelling safaris and walks are conducted by an Island Warden, mostly free of charge, for the benefit of those interested in discovering more about the island’s wealth of flora and fauna.
Lundy Shore Office The Quay, Bideford, Devon EX39 2LY (01237 431 831).
In Wales, snorkelling in the sea is for wimps. Here, brave contenders’ mettle is tested by the annual World Bogsnorkelling Championship, held on the August Bank Holiday in the dense Waen Rhydd peat bog south of Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys – Britain’s smallest town. Armed with their own snorkel and flippers (the organisers don’t provide for part-timers – wetsuits are ‘optional but advisable’), plucky competitors swim two 60-yard lengths through a muddy trench cut into the bog, with separate categories for Men, Ladies and Juniors. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, conventional swimming strokes are banned.
8. Horseriding on the beach
There’s nothing like a ride on horseback along the sands to blow away the cobwebs – and the gorgeous Silecroft Beach, stretching for miles along the edge of the Lake District, is an idyllic
spot. Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre is close to the beach (which means there aren’t many roads to negotiate) and offers both experienced hackers and first-timers the opportunity for a gallop (or sedate trot) through the surf. Treks last from an hour to a whole day; the centre also offers romantic riding holidays.
Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre Millom, Silecroft, Cumbria LA18 5LP (01229 770 876).
9. Rock climbing
A two-and-a-half-mile stretch of gritstone crags, set amid the rolling hills of the Peak District, Stanage Edge is legendary among the climbing community. Its walls, buttresses, boulders, slabs and fissures offer a multitude of routes to climbers – it would take years to scale them all. The rocky contours afford quality climbs for every ability, from beginner-level routes such as Grotto Slab to seriously challenging ascents like Suicide Wall, the Left Unconquerable and Calvary. Even in the worst weather, hardcore climbers can be seen affixed to the rock face; on more clement days, the High Neb area tends to be the least crowded.
Within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, midway between Ripon and Harrogate, Brimham Rocks is a great place for hide-and-seek – or, if you’re well-equipped, some serious climbing. Access is via scenic routes, so pack your binoculars and take in the fabulous Dales countryside. Choose a nice day, as the rocks may be closed in bad weather; otherwise, they’re open daily from 8am to dusk. If you’re going in winter, stay on the safe side and take a flask: the kiosk operates only intermittently outside peak months.
Brimham Rocks Summerbridge, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 4DW (01423 780 688).
10. Quad biking
A bike ride may be healthier, a stroll may be more romantic, but nothing matches a quad biking session for sheer adrenaline-fuelled elation. The boisterous four-wheelers can be rented all across the British countryside, but for our money the Dulais Valley in Wales offers the right balance of affordability, good service and scenic surroundings. The helpful staff strap you into your 250cc Honda, give you a safety briefing, then set you on your way down forest paths, up verdant hills and through gargantuan puddles (a warning to the well-groomed: you won’t look as good coming out as going in). It’s all tremendous fun, and reasonably priced to boot (£35 for an hour; £20 for half an hour). Those without a need for speed can go for an indoor archery session instead.
Dulais Valley Quads and Archery Nant y Cafn Isaf Farm, Seven Sisters, Neath, SA10 9EU (07854 864 724).