Go for a whirl in the washing machine

Want to jump off a cliff or learn to surf? Arifa Akbar tried them both out on a coasteering weekend in Wales
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The Independent Travel

'Jump at the count of three. And don't look down," yelled the instructor as I wobbled on the edge of a cliff, 25 feet above a lagoon. When I signed up for a personally designed adventure weekend on the picturesque shores of west Wales I hadn't reckoned on finding myself on a precipitous ledge, summoning up the courage to leap into a void.

'Jump at the count of three. And don't look down," yelled the instructor as I wobbled on the edge of a cliff, 25 feet above a lagoon. When I signed up for a personally designed adventure weekend on the picturesque shores of west Wales I hadn't reckoned on finding myself on a precipitous ledge, summoning up the courage to leap into a void.

"Ready? One, two ..." I had already argued the toss with the instructor about taking the path back down by foot - and lost. So there was nothing else to do but clutch on to my life jacket and leap. "Threeeee...," he boomed across the cove as I hurtled into the nothingness. Seconds later, I felt the gush of water around my ears and realised, with an exhilarating surge of adrenalin, that I had not only survived the jump but felt more alive for doing it.

The leap, at Abereiddy beach in Pembrokeshire, was just one of the water activities on my personalised itinerary, which ranged from the extremes of cliff jumping and mountain biking to the steadier pleasures of surfing and hill walking. It was compiled as a "taster" package for initiates wanting to try out a range of activities to discover their favourites.

The afternoon's coasteering session had culminated in the cliff jump. But I'd had as much fun traversing the edge of the shoreline by scrambling over rocks, abseiling down steep slopes and being whirled around the "washing machine" - a coasteering term for the dramatic swells in watery cul-de-sacs created by the strong water pressure around clusters of rocks. Submerged by spume one minute and spun silly by the crashing waves the next, I tipped and tumbled with the others, life-jackets and wet-suits bobbing on the ocean froth as we screamed like delighted children. The evening was spent in The Sloop, a homely pub in nearby Porthgain, which serves the portions needed to satiate post-coasteering appetites. We sat reflecting on the addictive pleasure of being machine-washed in the Irish Sea and compared red-raw, barnacle-scoured fingertips.

The following day, we reconvened in wetsuits - still damp from the previous day's escapades - for a surfing lesson. While the "sun" sport may not be readily associated with west Wales, the coastline of Pembrokeshire and the Gower Peninsula is home to some of the best waves in Britain, resembling Cornwall minus the crowd. After a swift safety lesson, I struggled against gusty winds as I lugged my board across the stunning beach at White Sands.

My group of 10 comprised mostly women trying surfing for the first time - more for entertainment than exercise. The body-boarding part of the lesson was easy to master and paid great dividends. Lying impassively on my tummy as I was catapulted across the shoreline with salt water fizzing in my ears was thrilling in itself. Standing up required far greater agility and most of us spent the session clambering on our knees before we were drowned by the wave.

The following day we headed inland to Afan Forest Park, an 11,000-hectare pine-covered valley dubbed Little Switzerland - the largest urban forest in Europe on the edge of Neath. I skidded through the mud slush on a mountain bike, steering up the spaghetti-string paths before free-wheeling down the other side of the trail, the thrills outweighing the leg-aching effort of the climbs.

We were travelling along The Wall, a route beloved of mountain-biking enthusiasts from all over the world. It wasn't until I was hurtling through a treacherous beech forest descent that I realised how dangerously "extreme" the sport can be. Peddling ever upwards to reach the top of the 373 route (the name refer to its height above sea level), the Brecon Beacons and the sea as our backdrop, it seemed strange to think I was just a short distance from the smoke-filled centre of Port Talbot, the steel town at the foot of Neath. The weather turned for the worse in the middle of the ride, but by then the hailstones could only add to the excitement of slipping down muddy runways.

The following day, we rounded off the trip with an amble across the hills, followed by a drive to the Gower to watch the waters crash along craggy cliffs. In surfer-speak, I returned to the city feeling pretty "stoked".

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Adventure breaks can be organised by visiting the Wild West Wales website at www.aswildasyouwantit.com. For example, a two-night weekend break including two activities of your choice costs £139 per adult on a b&b basis.

Additional research by Helen Kinsella

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