Thrills and skills: The UK's alternative active days out
From mountain biking to climbing, Demi Taylor picks the cream of the crop
Saturday 20 June 2009
The South-west: more to it than surfing?
With shores scalloped by golden bays and tiny coves that seem designed to embrace the finest waves, the South-west has long been celebrated as a surf destination.
But it is no one-trick pony. Coasteering offers a different view of the shoreline, opening you up to new places and experiences. Clad in wetsuit, life vest, helmet and trainers, you'll traverse craggy rock faces, swim in lagoons and explore deep damp caves – then take a leap of faith from a cliff edge into the deep waters below. And there's always a chance you'll encounter an inquisitive seal or passing dolphins.
A half-day session with The Adventure Centre, Lusty Glaze Beach, Cornwall (01637 872444; lustyglaze.co.uk), costs £52.50.
Transport: From Newquay train station, BioTravel (01637 880006; biotravel.co.uk) taxi service runs on locally sourced biodiesel.
Sleeping: Right on Lusty Glaze, the Beach House and Beach Chalet (01637 872444; lusty glaze.co.uk) sleep up to six from £1,160 a week each.
For water of a less saline nature, the wild, granite plateau of Dartmoor, with reservoirs, rivers and streams radiating from its heart, deserves its elevated position. Along the Dart are opportunities for a splash or a serious swim. From Newbridge, a short walk downstream through lush woodlands delivers you into the sunlight at Spitchwick Common, popular with plungers and picnickers. Here the grassy clearing gives way to a bank groomed by cool, clean, peat-stained waters. There are mellow pools for the uninitiated and deeper recesses for the committed.
Transport: Newton Abbot train station is around seven miles from nearby Ashburton; onward travel with Stagecoach ( stagecoachbus.com).
Sleeping: Considerate wild camping on designated open land is allowed. See dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/vi-wildcamping.htm for details.
The South-east: wheels and meals
In the 11th century, William the Conqueror established the New Forest as a royal hunting ground; today it is those versed in the art of mycology who stalk the ancient woodland, on the trail of flavoursome fungi.
Around 2,700 species are to be found in warm, damp pockets of the forest, and, in order to decipher the dangerous from the delicious, it's essential to have some expert knowledge to hand.
Few are more expert than Brigitte Tee, who has been foraging for wild mushrooms and supplying top chefs with her finds for more than 35 years. During the prime growing period from May-December, she runs New Forest Mushrooms one-day seminars for £110, which include a morning's workshop on identification and preparation and an excellent home-cooked lunch, followed by an afternoon's forage in the forest plus a carefully checked bag of goodies to take away with you.
New Forest Mushrooms (01590 673 354; wildmushrooms.co.uk).
Transport: Lymington Town train station is two miles from Mrs Tee's base.
Sleeping: Gorse Meadow guest house (01590 673354, gorsemeadowguesthouse.co.uk) offers doubles from £90.
Mountain bikers who don't feel quite ready to tackle the three days of lung-bursting ascents and giddy descents of the South Downs Way should try the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Just off the A3, Hampshire's largest country park is home to two short but decent way-marked mountain-bike trails of around 3.5 miles each. The novice loop (marked in purple) sticks mainly to forest tracks and has little in the way of climbing. For more experienced riders, the challenging single track of the orange trail tackles some technical sections, looping and climbing through the woodland.
Transport: Petersfield station is a four-mile ride from the park.
Sleeping: Wetherdown Hostel (01730 823549; sustainability-centre.org) at East Meon offers simple, environmentally-aware accommodation with an integrated solar photovoltaic roof and wood-chip biomass boiler from £20 per person. Camping is also available.
Heart of England: walking and water
Rising up in a nine mile-long ridge where Herefordshire butts up against Worcestershire, the Malvern Hills are among the oldest rocks in Britain. From the town of Great Malvern, the 1,394ft Worcestershire Beacon – the highest point in the range – is accessible to those prepared for an uphill hike. Before starting, fuel yourself with cakes from St Ann's Well Café and fill up on the spring waters that made this area famous. Those who persevere will be rewarded with awesome views across the English and Welsh countryside. For more of a challenge, sign up for the annual Worcestershire Beacon Race, in which fell runners compete over a seven-mile course.
Transport: Malvern Link station is nearby.
Sleeping: Set in 220 acres of farm land, the Old Country House b&b (01886 880867; oldcountry house.co.uk) in Mathon provides excellent breakfasts using organic and local produce; the rooms have low beamed ceilings. Doubles from £60.
Launch into the waters at Montford Bridge near Shrewsbury in an open double canoe and paddle into a wilderness adventure. Backwaters Adventure provides all the trip essentials, from tents to sleeping bags and cooking equipment – all pre-packed into watertight containers. All you need to consider is how much of the Severn, Britain's longest river, you want to tackle – 15 miles a day is about right. Along the 75-mile stretch linking Shrewsbury and Worcester there are weirs to portage, locks to negotiate, rapids to shoot, and just enough twists and turns to keep it exciting.
Backwaters Adventure (07815 542775; backwatershire.co.uk) from £280 per week.
Transport: Shrewsbury train station is about six miles from the start at Montford Bridge.
Sleeping: A list of campsites and B&Bs along the route is provided.
The North: peaks and troughs
With a wide range of challenges and terrains within a relatively small area, the Peak District is perfect for climbers. The craggy features of dark grit stone escarpments edge the range, while pale limestone outcrops rise from its heart. For beginners – or those who have sampled a climbing wall – guide Darren Saxton offers one-day taster sessions at spots such as Burbage and Stanage. As well as safety and rope-work essentials, the emphasis is on getting you out on to the rock face and climbing. For the more experienced, Saxton runs an introduction to lead climbing.
Mountain Aspirations (01302 888842; mountainaspirations. co.uk)
Transport: Matlock train station is the best option.
Sleeping: Hearthstone Farm (01629 534304; hearthstone farm.co.uk) in Matlock provides a comfortable B&B in a 16th-century farmhouse. Breakfasts feature their own organic produce. Doubles from £70.
The North-east is home to some of England's best waves. Swells come out of the maelstroms of the Arctic Ocean and rumble down the North Sea. Longsands Beach, Tynemouth has nurtured some of the UK's top surfing talent – such as Sam Lamiroy, Gabe Davies and his brother Jesse, who operates Rise Surf School here. Jesse has travelled the world taking on the best waves, and in Tynemouth he guides beginners through their first steps and helps intermediates with one-on-one coaching.
Rise Surf School (07884 436831; risesurf.co.uk) Half-day sessions from £25.
Transport: Whitley Bay Metro, close to the beach, links with Newcastle train station.
Sleeping: Riding Farm Cottages (0191 3701868; ridingfarmcottages.co.uk) in Gateshead. Doubles from £64.
Demi Taylor is the author of 'Adventure Britain – the Definitive Guide to the Best Active Escapes', published by Footprint (£19.99) later this summer
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