Days out for groups of family, friends or colleagues looking to bond over a bit of adventure.
Remember how much fun body-boarding is? Autumn is a great time to try a spot of proper surfing in the UK, and you don’t need to be a nifty snowboarder or skateboarder to give it a try. Surfing is actually really accessible if you go and learn with a good surf school: they will provide all the kit you need, including a wetsuit, board and booties. If you go in September/October time you’ve got a good chance of catching some decent waves and the sea will have had all summer to warm up. One of the closest places to Sparkland where you can get a decent bit of surf is the Gower coast, and the Welsh Federation Surf School at Llangennith beach offer a very accessible and friendly introduction to surfing for complete novices. For £25 each you get fully kitted out with wetsuits, boards and booties, and an introductory lesson. This involves some beach-based practice – with a fair amount of hilarity thrown in – and then it’s into the waves under the watchful eye of your instructor. You learn on long boards, which are much easier to balance on than the short boards you see the seasoned surfers using. Everybody stays fairly shallow and you’re carefully shepherded between two novice flags, so you don’t incur the wrath of the pro-surfers. It’s a riotous and lovely way to spend an autumn day crashing around in the surf with your friends, and being a mere two-hour drive from the West Country, is in easy reach for a day trip.
Gloucestershire County Council created South Cerney Outdoor Education Centre in 1971 as a not-for-profit organisation to provide low cost outdoor activities for young people. These days they also offer group bonding days in addition to their school camps. Situated right by a 47-acre lake and the River Churn, this beautiful spot is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. For group days out you can choose from sailing, dragon boating, (race in teams in massive wooden row boats with dragon heads!), rafting, kayaking, windsurfing, tunnelling, ‘problem solving’, canoeing, environmental study work, team work, a low ropes course, orienteering and even freshwater snorkelling!
01285 860388 www.southcerneyoutdoor.co.uk
by Hannah Latham
A group of Bristol artists formed Girl Gang to explore what’s it’s like to run free in a pack like teenage boys! The session I joined was called Women with Weapons: a romp in the woods to make bows and arrows. We met at Clifton Suspension Bridge Museum, jumped the wall (integral to Girl Gang dares) and climbed the treacherous muddy banks to Burwalls cave (a large, dry cave legendary for teenage parties). We sat down to a well organised session of bow and arrow-making complete with storm kettle tea and chocolate. Whittling for three hours, we discussed the history of teenage gangs, our teenage experiences, whether you can separate sex from the image of women with arms, social labelling and other topics. We thought we were under attack when the storm kettle exploded. (Our bows and arrows weren’t quite ready at that point, but by the end we were fully armed and it was liberating!). Girl Gang is looking for new members, outings are free.
Wildwise are based in Dartmoor and offer bushcraft weekends for adventuresome groups of friends and family. The aim of the course is to feel at home in the great outdoors, so whether you are experienced in bushcraft or a complete beginner, everyone is welcome.
The bushcraft weekends will test your survival skills: learn how to light a fire with no matches, build (and sleep under!) a shelter and hunt for food. Wildwise also offer wildlife tracking, food foraging (fungal forays and wild herb gathering), blacksmithing and firecraft tuition. Offshore you can do sea kayaking around the coastline followed by a campfire that night. They also offer a nightpaddle on the River Dart by moonlight for those who prefer to stay inland, with promises of a campfire supper, nocturnal wildlife and storytelling!
01803 868 269 www.wildwise.co.uk
One sunny day in July, the Spark bundled noisily into a people-carrier bound for south Wales. We felt invincible: we had sunglasses, waterproofs and a packet of Maltesers. Nobody was getting in the way of our Big Day Out, and to be fair, no-one was likely to, given that we’d be 40 feet up a pine tree in the Forest of Dean.
We’d signed up for a day of scrambling through the treetops, courtesy of Go Ape!, the ‘highwire forest adventure’ experience that sees you balancing on tight wires, swinging on zip lines and slamming into giant cargo nets. This high octane thrill-seeker of a day is the brainchild of husband/wife team Tris and Becs Mayhew, who stepped off the corporate ladder in London and started the Go Ape! project after an inspiring holiday in France some years ago.
Go Ape! have 22 centres throughout Scotland, England and Wales. Each course consists of a daredevil route through the beautiful forest treetops. The connecting routes resemble the sort of obstacle course a nimble six-year-old could hop, skip and jump through, with the small difference that you and the ground have parted company.
Everything wobbles (and that was just our thighs). Before long platforms slid underfoot and those in tight jeans lived to regret it. We crossed wobbly bridges, crawled through tunnels, balanced in suspended stirrups and took a fair few leaps of faith into the unknown. You really earn that euphoric flight down the zipline at the end of each section.
You do remain attached to the trees, or to the safety lines above, at all times via a system of caribenas and safety cords which attach to your harness. Each group is given a briefing and once you’ve satisfied your instructor that you’ve grasped the safety procedures, you’re let loose alone on the course unsupervised.
“We believe that zero risk equals zero development,” say Tris and Becs, and there’s certainly no hand-holding by instructors, who stay within earshot on the forest floor. This independence means that you take care of each other, so it’s a great way for a group to bond.
The course is challenging, and not advisable if you are really bad with heights. In our group we had one confirmed couch potato and at least two Sparkies who were “not good with heights!” We are proud to say we had many brilliant efforts and respect-inducing, fear-conquering moments.
All in all, an exhilarating and very different group day out that pushes both your mental and your physical boundaries.
First published Spark issue 58, autumn 2009
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