In a couple of days I return to the UK and am due to pick up my car from my magician of a mechanic who's had it in for its annual MOT (UK vehicle safety and roadworthiness check). I am due to pick it up but, just the same as every year, I am not entirely confident that it will have passed and that I'll be able to. When I dropped it off he lowered his voice (to the tone reserved for use by concerned vets who don't want the family pet to overhear that it might not have much time left) and said that my run-of-the-mill mundane silver estate car (which has getting on for 250,000 former sales-rep miles on the clock) has served me well and added, "There's a similar car for sale over the road. I'm only saying, just in case..."
For as long as I've been able to drive and afford to run a car I've placed a whole heap of other things higher on the list of what to spend my money on than my vehicle (see this former post). Actually getting to the beach has always been far more important than what I get to the beach in, and thus over the last 12 years or so I have owned a succession of loveable bangers or functional wagons, each with their own stories to tell. Every year I am still however, without fail, slightly surprised when my car fails its test and needs work doing and money spending on it. I really shouldn't be. And, every time that I need to consign an old four-wheeled friend to the scrap-heap and search out a new set of wheels, I always end up spending the bare minimum on another barely functioning motor car. But one day - one day - I'll get my act together and hunt down an old car that comes pre-loaded with stories; a vehicle older than I am with a front-end like a smiling face and an interior that smells like an antique shop. I adore cars with character. I've no doubt that if I ever manage to do this I will be lumbered with an absolute heap that costs an inordinate amount to fill up with fuel, that I can't drive in the rain, is impossible to source parts for and that I won't be able to transport surfboards in. But I'll love it all the same because if you're going to spend some time broken down by the side of the road anyway, then you might as well do so with some small degree of style stood next to a beautiful machine.
The house that I used to live in was, without doubt, the best place to go if you wanted to know what the weather or swell was going to be doing for the next few days in North Cornwall; we worked, breathed and slept the forecast and it was normally displayed on at least one screen in the living area, and not because we surfed: My housemates founded and run Cornish Rock Tors Ltd, an outdoor activity company specialising in coasteering and sea-kayaking, and are masters of reading weather forecasts because of the central role that it plays in operating their business.
Coasteering is the pursuit of exploring a largely inaccessible stretch of coastline from the water with a guide: swimming, traversing across the base of cliffs, going in and out of coves and caves and, of course, jumping from the rocks into the water. It's a journey involving many different disciplines and challenges, and has become an enormously popular summer activity around the south and west coasts of the UK. My friends were one of the first providers to offer coasteering as an activity alongside sea-kayaking and climbing; they swam the coast, plumb-lining the water depths beneath safe jumps, measured the effects of the swell and tides, and explored the multitude of caves with waterproof torches and glow-sticks. It's a strictly controlled activity with a licensing body and some full-on insurance requirements, and as such it demands the utmost professionalism from guides. That is why it is such a shame that when coasteering is featured in the national press the article is often beneath an attention-grabbing and sensationalist headline that does more to damage the industry through negative associations rather then applaud it for its stringent safety standards. Tomb-stoning this is not. Planned, assessed, controlled (as far as you can in the natural environment) and led by experienced and qualified local guides, it is.
I recently headed out on a coasteering session with Cornish Rock Tors, the first time that I've been out with them in several years, with my camera rig in-tow to see what sort of imagery I could capture. The stretch of coastline where they operate is truly stunning on a summer day (although I'm heavily biased because home is where the heart is) and never more so than when viewed from the water - a perspective that not many people ordinarily get to experience.
I asked Jon (CRT's Head Guide) to wave to me from the top of this jump. He misheard and instead pulled out his party-trick, this enormous back-flip. Jon is an incredibly experienced guide and has perfected this "stunt" through a great deal of time spent training in a pool, so don't try and copy him.
A moment of calm in the sea caves.
Cornwall looks positively Caribbean when the sun shines, with beautifully clear and turquoise water.
Whilst I was coasteering a kayaking group paddled past so I swam out into the bay to get some photos of them too. They're able to travel further in a half-day session and access some really beautiful and remote coves and beaches further up the coast.
If you're interested in exploring the Cornish coast from the water, learning more about the marine environment and perhaps jumping from a few rocks along the way then give Cornish Rock Tors a call. They offer guided coasteering, ecoasteering (with an emphasis on the marine environment), sea kayaking, wild swimming and climbing around the Polzeath and Port Isaac area, Cornwall.