How does a Wales adventure weekend in February sound? Like a BU student jumping off a cliff.
This past weekend I braved the elements for sea kayaking, coasteering, and hiking in Pembrokeshire County, Wales. BU offers discounted tickets for Preseli Venture trips and my mom, who usually does know best, encouraged me to seize the opportunity. I didn’t quite know what to expect of the weekend as I boarded the train with my friends on Friday night. Train travel in Europe (in which I include the UK, despite its objections) has a classic, romantic veneer. Our first and second trains each hosted a rugby team supplying the evening’s entertainment with drunken singing and carousing. Around midnight, our group of ten arrived at a little station in the middle of nowhere. The scheduled van drove us along winding, pitch-black roads until at last we reached the Preseli Venture Eco Lodge.
The next morning at 8:30 am, after some fortifying eggs and beans on toast (yes, I’ve developed a taste for beans on toast), we prepared for sea kayaking. While snow flurries swirled in a gray sky I was a little dubious, but I was fine once adequately robed in a swimsuit, shorts, a thick, spandex long-sleeved top, a sleeveless wet suit, wet suit shoes, a fleece hoodie, gloves, a helmet, and a waterproof jacket. Looking slightly ridiculous, we cautiously pushed off of the murky, rocky beach into the Atlantic. Two fun, twenty-something Preseli guys led us through inky black caves and along the jagged coastline (Pembrokeshire is said to be have of the most beautiful coastlines in the world). With my kayak buffeted by the brisk, white-capped waves, I was invigorated by it all. It was nature, outdoor activity, and the ocean: things I hadn’t realized I missed so much. Honestly, get me to any large body of water and I’m happy.
After some exuberant kayaking (one of our company capsized and emerged drenched and laughing) we reluctantly turned back into the beach to peel off our freezing wet outerwear, change, and head back to the lodge. Lunch consisted of thick, homemade bread and a delicious, hot soup with meat, vegetables, and slices of cheese I gleefully tossed in to melt. It was the perfect complement to the foggy, timeworn Welsh countryside. Our next activity was even more intimidating. We didn’t know much about coasteering, but we knew it involved swimming in the icy water (hence the long, arduous task of pulling on full wet suits). The only area of my body left uncovered was my face and neck. One by one we hopped into seawater forested with kelp and scattered with purple and yellow lichen-covered rocks. At the first plunge, my breath came out in gasps and curses. It was cold. Yet miraculously my body adjusted and, even with the occasional streams of water slipping down my wet suit, it felt good and refreshing. We were explorers, adventurers! Scrambling up steep rock shelves, we took a breath at the top before vaulting into the bracing onrush of salty water. Our group investigated mossy waterfalls, deep caves, and barnacle-studded rock formations. We dog paddled from one spot to another, comically rolling in the tide thanks to our buoyant lifejackets. Eventually we came to our last jump: an almost vertical crag. To fall from the slippery footholds would mean landing on half-submerged rocks. Once I came to the top I realized it didn’t level off, it slanted straight down again. I swung my legs over carefully and held on, lifting my head to watch my comrades smack into the ocean one by one from a 20-foot peak. My turn came and I leapt, exhilarated, falling for what felt like forever before crashing into the waves. That, at its most cliché, is living.
Thoroughly soaked and salted, we attacked the showers back at the lodge. We warmed up with my new favorite drink, Bailey’s spiked hot chocolate with whipped cream, and a dinner of curried chicken, vegetables, naan, and rice. We played Pictionary, chatted with the Welsh and English guests, and sat around a bonfire. Our new favorite word was “cutch,” a Welsh colloquialism for getting comfy or snuggling up (i.e. “We cutched up all day in front of the telly.”).
On Sunday morning we rose early for a seven-mile coastal hike. The weather was a bit warmer and misty with occasional sprinklings of rain. Our path followed the ocean, squeezing very closely between the sheep fence and the cliff’s edge. The incredible amount of mud complicated matters. After falling five times, once into a thorn bush, I was visibly “one with nature.” The coastline was raw and beautiful and reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I greedily devoured the balm of pure ocean air. Sheep and their lambs stared placidly as we struggled up slick hills and across pebbled beaches. The rough stone walls along the way looked like they had been there for centuries. We moved from fields to marshes, then to a little fishing village, and finally to the lodge, where loaded baked potatoes, beans, and salad awaited us.
Our train ride home was long and uneventful. We were dead tired and the soreness was already creeping into our bodies, but we were content. You just can’t beat baked beans and cliff jumping.