All good adventures have three parts to them; A Beginning, A Middle, and An End!
We sped down the very tight and twisting country lane in Cornwall towards the tiny cove of Port Quin. We were sucked even tighter and twisted into our slightly ill-fitting wetsuits laden down with life jackets, helmets and a heavy amount of apprehension.
This was the beginning of our Cornish Microadventure which had been a year in the planning. The idea was a simple one, we would spend the morning Sea-Kayaking and Coasteering off the rugged Cornish coastline then go back to our campsite and pack our 65 Litre backpacks before trekking off for several miles down the coastline along the South West Coast Path until we found a suitable place to wild camp overnight before waking and carrying on a further fifteen miles or so down the coast to finish in The Watefront Inn at Portreath. Simple eh!
Now though the planning and arranging had ended and it was being replaced with some real and tangible fear. There was an acute sense of foreboding as we were about to throw ourselves mercilessly into the cold Atlantic sea on this very early and not to mention nippy morning.
Sam our instructor was the usual mix of confidence and hyper activity that you would associate with an outdoorsy type, but in him we trusted, we had no choice. He told us everything would be fine out at sea and that the winds at just under 30mph were perfect for a bit of adrenaline powered kayaking in the surf! 30mph, in the surf! I had hoped for a mill-pond type affair for my first foray into the sport!
We had the safety briefing in case we came close to drowning or drifting out to sea as was quite common evidently and then we tentatively carried our two-man sea kayaks down to the rocky cove and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.
Amazingly the technique was easy enough to pick up and the confidence (as Sam had predicted) soon started to flow through the veins. We paddled over to the first sea cave of the day and paddled deep into its recesses bobbing up and down in the surge of the waves, half scared, half excited.
Paddling hard we traversed the cove and plunged into another larger and much darker cave, the confidence and skills gaining all the time. Soon after we found ourselves heading out from the confines of the cove and out onto the open high sea. Hugging the rugged cliff bottoms as we rounded the point the waves started to pick up in intensity and we bobbed around like corks in a bath tub. But the stoke was intense!
We negotiated a blow-hole and narrowly avoided being slammed into a hundred bits against the cliff bottoms as we powered along the coastline. The wind and surf was now in our faces as we headed further out, but we had the bit between our teeth and carried on regardless, oblivious to any dangers with ever increasing recklessness.
Reversing skilfully into ever more rugged and remote (not to mention) inaccessible sea caves certainly makes you concentrate and definitely makes you live in the moment as the minutes were full of intensity. I was certainly hooked! How could I have let this extreme sport slip under my radar for so long? Andy and Paul my two colleagues concurred Sea-kayaking is a great sport and an adventurous way to see a coastline that would otherwise be inaccessible.
We did not really want the morning to end but we still had some coasteering to do and the small matter of a 20 mile hike all to do, and all before evening, so reluctantly we paddled back to shore ready to disembark, ready to hurl ourselves into the sea like madmen in the new extreme sport of Coasteering!
We jumped off stupidly high rocks into crazily cold azure waters. We narrowly avoided painful and probably awkward deaths several times in the process but it was great fun. Higher and higher as macho goading made each jump crazier than the last until eventually we could climb no higher, jump no further. Amid much whooping and hollowing we swam back along the rocky shoreline to eventually scramble out and climb the cliffs back up to civilisation and some form of sanity. The morning had been a blast and a major adrenaline rush, we thanked Sam and the other fellow nutters from the morning then quickly changed back into hiking attire and headed back to the campsite for part two of the adventure.
click map for full interactive version via SocialHiking.com
Ultralight backpacking is all the rage these days and is at the very essence of wild camping. Although this methodology seemed to have been somewhat lost on some members of the team we did eventually manage to whittle the rucksacks down to manageable sizes and proportions so that a 20 miler was a possibility.
With steaks, beers and tents (not to mention many other unnecessary items) all wedged onto our backs we slowly started the walk out of the campsite and out onto the small dusty path that would lead us up onto the cliff tops around Crantock Bay and onto the South West Coast Path.
We had about seven or so miles to cover until we figured we would be in an area that would lend itself to wild camping. We were aiming in fact for Perranporth Beach. The beach is about 3 miles long and we had targeted the furthest and most remote end, among the sand dunes where no one would disturb us.
The coastline was spectacular for the entire journey. The weather was hot and sunny which was remarkable in itself given the long period of bad weather that the country was experiencing this year.
After a couple of hours we caught our first sight of our destination ‘Perranporth Beach’, and what a sight! We negotiated the narrow winding path down to sea level and after a few minutes of speculation we all settled on the perfect spot to camp out at for the night. Looking around us we felt as though we might have been shipwrecked on some exotic and remote desert island, we all set about gathering drift wood along the beach for a fire and erecting our shelters for the night, the two main necessities for desert island survival. We would be all alone for the next 10 hours or so just a raging fire and eventually the stars for company!
A perfect sunset saw the day out as we sat and drank San Migual and Stella around the roaring camp fire. But thunder and lightning lit up the horizon in the far distance and a storm soon drifted in from the west. Suddenly the heavens opened up upon us and sent us all scurring off to our various tents for shelter.
We woke to a deserted and misty morning along the beach as we started to de-camp. With the fire stamped out and litter collected we started out along the 3 miles of soft sand hoping to make it around the rocky peninsular before the tide could rush in forcing us to detour around and over the top. Alas carrying over-laden 65 Litre packs along soft sand resulted in a lengthy and prolonged forced march for the 3 miles, soon enough we were soundly beaten by the rising sea thus resulting in an enforced scramble up the steps and along the rocky path then over the peninsular as previously feared, adding much time and energy wasting to an already draining trip.
Eventually rather bedraggled and somewhat smelly we walked into the small town of Perranporth where we had promised ourselves breakfast along the sea front. At this juncture two of our party (Bazza and son Rory) were finishing their little adventure and leaving for London due to commitments back home leaving three intrepid wanderers (Andy, paul and myself) to hike the 15 miles still to go to the now mythical ‘The Waterfront Inn”.
With the sun having now burnt off the early morning mist the day was heating up. A quick slip-slap of suntan lotion was in order. Having said our goodbyes myself Andy and Paul trudged on, half wondering if maybe we should have been the ones heading back to the cars having had a hearty breakfast instead of being the ones sweating laboriously up yet another set of steps along the coastal path.
As ever though The South West Coast Path does not disappoint and soon enough the spectacular scenery on the way to St Agnes had us forgetting all about our aches and pains as we soaked up the raw beauty that is so much a part of the Cornish coastline.
We rounded St Agnes Head and marched ever on towards Porthtowan now though locked in earnest mortal combat with a group of German hikers who we had encountered on the slopes after Trevallas. A healthy international competition had developed between as we both vied to be the first group to get to Portreath by the evening, for the honour of our countries, as well as bathing ourselves in more personal glories.
After pressing on some more we briefly stopped in Porthtowan for a respite and some liquid refreshment before embarking on the final stages of the hike along the unforgivably scenic cliffs between Porthtowan and Portreath.
I could almost taste the beer now as we trekked on and on. Always seemingly either descending or ascending again and again up myriad steps along this rugged coastline. Many times I was sure this was the end only to have my hopes dashed as we would find yet another cove to navigate around and another set of steep steps to climb to the top of which invariably had started from sea level.
But then it happened, there in the near distance was the small fishing village of Portreath. The Waterfront Inn was standing proudly beside the old harbour inviting us to rest our weary feet and partake of it’s refreshing beverages.
With aching feet, burst blisters, and sunburnt necks we awkwardly stumbled down the mettled road into the harbour. Ignoring all our surroundings now we headed straight for the pub. Walking poles were thrown to the ground, rucksacks pulled off in a hurry and three beers were ordered at the bar (well two beers and a coke!).
The well earnt pints went down a treat. Our adventure was over, our objectives achieved, we had Sea-Kayaked, Coasteered then hiked our way along the coastline camping out wild overnight warmed by the fire we had built for ourselves (and we beat the Germans!). The whole microadventure had taken us out of the city and our usual comfort zones and taken us back to nature and a more primal way of existence even if only for a few days. We had challenged ourselves with new activities and sports, we had embraced the landscape which we so often just ignored and we had been at the mercy of the elements and the weather as it would have been in days of old. The very idea and the main reasons behind embarking on this little adventure had been to explore new avenues in life, to escape the mundane and push the envelope (if only a little) to see where it would take us. This we all achieved in heaps and more…
Why Microadventure? The ethos of a microadventure can be explained thus:
A microadventure can be anything that feels fresh, new and challenging for you
Microadventures involve at least one night away, but are shorter than one week
A microadventure must be as cheap, simple, low-tech and low-skill as possible: time, money, skill or talent are not to be used as excuses for non-participation
Wild swims and hilltop sleeps are highly recommended (or beaches)
Rules are for the guidance of wise men, and the obedience of fools
I firmly believe that we experienced all of the above mantra on our little weekend away and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, even if we ached for weeks to come afterwards! I also believe that like us you too owe it to yourself to get out there and soak up a bit of adventure. Don’t put it off because life is incredibly short and finite by nature. The natural world around us is vanishing quickly right before our eyes so I say Just do it! Just do it NOW, don’t wait or procrastinate go have a microadventure, I promise you won’t regret it, not a single bit of it.
Original Microadventure idea and additional rules all created by Alastair Humphreys at www.alastairhumphreys.com
For more pictures from the adventure check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157630071219367/