A day at the seaside in Anglesey can deliver more than just rock pools and sandcastles. Coasteering, with no rules and no real skills required, is an exciting new way to explore the island's coast
“Remember all the things your mother told you not to do at the seaside?” The question hangs momentarily in the air. Then the man dressed all in black (who could almost be mistaken for a stealth Milk Tray agent) gives a nod and a wink and springs into action. "Well, you can forget all of that. Today we will be jumping off rocks, scrambling round cliffs and throwing ourselves into the water.” And he's off, bounding to the water’s edge with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a clear lust for more than just chocolate. This is the start of a coasteering session: a day at the beach, but not as you know it.
Clad in a sucking neoprene wetsuit, helmet and buoyancy aid, I join the group and the wobbling warm-up runs, dilly-dallying around the rocks and sand. Our merry band includes mothers, children and even grandmas. On a small beach on Anglesey, in North Wales, we do indeed make for a strange sight. It stirs memories of an improvised school dance class. I’m just waiting to be asked to perform a growing tree routine.
Thankfully, it's not required. Instead, we fall into a neat single file behind our great neoprene leader, not entirely sure about what is about to happen but convinced enough to now go where our mothers have never let us go before. It starts slowly. We snake our way along the edge of the sloping rocky outcrop. The water laps at our feet. Concentration kicks in as I begin to make my first moves, a stretch here and a pull there to find good handholds on the rock face.
We begin to relax into it and find a way to travel along the base of the cliffs. We’re climbing through gaps, teetering above sea pools and then lunging for the other side. The coastline winds out from the bay, exposed now to the fuller waves, where surf splinters in against the rock wall. Counting seconds and watching waves, I wait, poised ready for just the right moment to make a leap of faith into the water.
Timing is everything in this game, especially if you want to avoid the splat of whitewater bashing against the ledge. Getting it just a fraction wrong means clinging to the bare rock as the cold seawater pours to provide a personal power shower. But inevitably we all do get it wrong and caterwauling shrieks follow, as icy cool water trickles into our wetsuits for the first time.
Coasteering seems to be one of those sports where a good bit of shrieking and nervous giggling are all part of the whole no-rules experience. It is also equally important to ignore your own advice. Stand at the top of a ledge looking down into a deep pool below and your brain will tell you pretty firmly to ‘step away from the edge’. But someone will shout “jump” and you suddenly discover you are a lost cause. You will plunge off a drop just because you can.
People who can’t swim do it, women old enough to be my mother are at it, there are even pensioners leaping off like lemmings. And that is the beauty of coasteering, there are no rules and no real skills required. Anyone can do it and it can be as exciting and adventurous as you want it to be. It’s a great family day out, allowing your mother to break all her own rules too.