Bored with the adventure in your life being limited to throwing a frisbee in your local park at the weekend? Then get inspired by our choice of Britain's most unusual outdoor pursuits by air, land and sea.
‘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-buggers are strapped into an inflatable seat that looks like a giant ladybird (the bug – geddit?) and must manoeuvre through a series of cascading ‘staircase’ rapids and pools, using only paddle and flipper.
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, weight restriction 16 stone) 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 in the Peak District in Derbyshire lies Acclimbatize, a caving expedition service run by subterranean enthusiasts Duncan and Daryl. Abseiling down three-storey rock faces and thirty-feet drops is nothing new -all underground, remember- as are the spectacular waterfalls and seemingly alien-like rock formations that make this a truly otherworldly experience. Other recognised caving locations and information can be found via the British Caving Association www.british-caving.org.uk
Acclimbatize (01629 820268). Prices start from £15 per person.
3. Clay shooting
As opposed to its more bellicose American counterpart, the NRA (National Rifle Association) of the United Kingdom is a benign bunch of 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 will host the Olympic event in 2012.
National Clay Shooting Centre Bisley Camp, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey GU24 0PB (01483 797666/www.nsc-clays.co.uk).
4. Hound trailing
Somewhere in Cumbria, almost every day of the week from April to October, hounds are hot on a trail – and finding a meet is a great way to get into the spirit of the Lakes, and support a traditional local sport that has been enjoyed for at least 200 years (www.houndtrailing.org.uk). 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.
5. Flying, hang gliding & paragliding
Hang gliding & paragliding
Find inspiration for an airborne adventure on the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association’s website (www.bhpa.co.uk). 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 in a more WW2 fighter-ace than floating butterfly, the Imperial War Museum Duxford offers flights for around £100 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 835000/www.iwm.org.uk).
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 (01758 710000, www.wakestock.co.uk), 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. For 2008, however, the organisers will also bestaging a second three-day event in the sprawling grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, with riders tearing across Capability Brown’s tranquil lake and enough blistering bands and DJs to shake the Duke of Marlborough’s serene country pile to its foundations. Tickets cost from £40 per day.
Snorkeling 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 Boatman’s Association on 01720 423999, www.scillyboating.co.uk or just turn up at the harbour). Island Sea Safaris (01720 422732, www.scillyonline.co.uk/seasafaris.html) though, offers a magical opportunity to spend three hours snorkelling among them for £40.
Ship wreck 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 those interested in discovering more about the island’s wealth of flora and fauna.
In Wales, snorkelling in the sea is considered for wimps. Here, brave contenders’ mettle is tested by the annual World Bog Snorkelling Championship (www.green-events.co.uk), 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 this gorgeous 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 half an hour to a whole day; the centre also offers romantic riding holidays.
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 (www.rockfax.com). 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 beginners-level routes such as Grotto Slab to seriously challenging ascents like Suicide Wall, the Left Unconquerable and Calvary. Even in the worst weather, climbers head here to test their mettle; 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, for the 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, take a flask: the kiosk doesn’t operate between December and March.
Come summertime, there’s no easier way to feel like a character from Brideshead Revisited than by whiling away an afternoon on a punt – a 24-foot flat-bottomed boat, piloted by standing on the rear platform and propelling the thing along with a 16-foot pole. Just bear in mind that punting isn’t as easy as it looks – and it’s not just the tendency to lubricate journeys with lukewarm champagne that sees people so regularly lose their poles or slip and fall in. To avoid collisions, skip overly congested sections (passing King’s College in Cambridge, or beneath Magdalen Bridge in Oxford), and instead head away from the city on a more rural retreat.