Can there be such as thing as ‘organised adventure’?

Can you truly have an adventure if you are part of an organised group, with a leader? When I think of adventure, I think of self reliance, of resilience, and of solving your own problems. Amundsen said that adventure was just bad planning, but doesn’t someone else doing the planning (bad or otherwise) take some of the adventure (or satisfaction) away?

A group of us were booked on a sea kayaking trip with an outdoor centre in Devon. A few days before, the forecast was deemed to be too bad to go kayaking, and a series of other activities were offered instead. I was really geared up to do the sea kayaking but very happy to go with the flow with alternatives. I was very much the new girl, as the others all live in the same village and knew each other pretty well. I know I’m a slightly swotty child who is often annoyed when I don’t grasp something straightaway, so I was keen to chill out and just enjoy the weekend.

We piled kit and humans into the mini-bus as set off to the Plym river for gorge walking. It was actually great to be ferried around and not have to worry about routes – ‘where the hell are we going, we are in the middle of nowhere and the signal’s gone’, or kit ‘I thought we had a helmet each, where did we leave the other one?’ and so on, and just enjoy the scenery en route.

Gorge walking is essentially walking upstream in a gorge. There’s a little practise but not much skill required and it’s just tremendous fun sliding down rocks, climbing waterfalls and swimming in the pools that have been worn by millennia of crashing river water. The sun shone (to such an extent that we did wonder why we weren’t in the sea. The answer came later in the day with high winds). 

The setting was beautiful and the morning a lot of fun. We sat – rather like children on a school trip – by the river and ate out packed lunch, contemplating our good fortune. We’d all left actual children behind, and it was brilliant to be in a group of like minds – determined to make the most of the time.

The afternoon was a chance to go climbing at the Dewerstone. ‘Real’ climbers were busy with multi-pitch routes up sheer rock. We were tackling a much lower route. With a couple of very good climbers amongst us, it was a real testament to the leaders that everyone – from the very experienced to the completely new (me) – managed to challenge themselves and get something from it. I learned to belay (and was nearly off my feet belaying for a much bigger person, which only shows my inexperience).

We then pottered off to our wild camping spot – which was a designated wild camping site (isn’t that an oxymoron?!). Either way, we arrived at East Soar Farm and found a barn to dry our kit in, a bigger barn on the edge of the centre which was our sleeping area, and a great facility for hikers and campers. We opted for the no-frills, no cheating option and set ourselves up for the night.

Weight wasn’t so much of an issue as we were being bussed around, and I discovered that a lot of the room in the mini-bus had been taken up by booze! We set up a makeshift bar in the doorway of the sleeping barn and the selection would have impressed any pub.

Activity leaders Richard and Matt had taken care of supper – a vat of chilli which we all helped prepare and then cook over an open fire. The group then went to the headland while supper cooked – a short walk and a scramble onto the rocks and we watched the sunset with our legs dangling over the precipice into the wild sea below. It was a real plus point to the trip that we didn’t have to leave anyone behind to take care of food, and when we strolled back at dusk, supper was ready, and the fire was going well.

We talked into the night about politics, adventure, life, the universe and everything. As night fell the clear sky revealed a glittering of stars.

I’d opted to sleep in my tent as my experiences of shared sleeping space usually meant no sleep at all. I was right to do so as in the morning there were many complaints about snoring! I’d had a very cosy night’s sleep and – bar a late-night game of banagrams outside my tent – hadn’t heard a thing.

The led aspect of the trip came into its own when we went coasteering – a sort of mix of sea swimming, rock scrambling and jumping into the sea off cliffs. The weather wasn’t great and we were all chilly to start with. But the setting was stunning – somehow we had the whole area to ourselves, despite it being a bank holiday weekend – rugged cliffs were covered in woodland and deserted coves hid behind rocky outcrops.

We started with getting wet – not an inviting proposition initially, even with wetsuits – but we were soon clambering over rocks and learning safe entry to the water. You might think an enthusiastic amateur could just jump in – but with the tides, the unpredictable swell and the submersed rocks, an expert with local knowledge was essential. It’s easy to see how you could quickly get into trouble trying to ‘egress’ (a great word for the late-night banagrams in future!) or get out of the sea onto the rocks. Even if you jumped in safely you might not have located, or been able to see, a place to get out again.

We’d been out for a while, people were getting cold, and one of the leaders had fallen badly on some rocks, but we all agreed we wanted to go on, to do a little more.

We jumped off bigger and bigger cliffs, which was exhilarating – and everyone found something which challenged them.

 We held each other as if our life depending on it while being smashed by huge swells, and swam across open sea to reach other cliffs. The highlight of the day was jumping off what felt like a huge cliff, surfacing and bobbing about, only to realise there was a huge seal swimming with us who’d similarly popped up to see what was going on!

Nothing feels better than warm, dry kit when you’re tired, wet and cold. Except a huge lunch of course. And once we were dry we were driven back to the centre for lunch and huge mugs of tea, while we giggled at the photos Matt took throughout the weekend.

So was it an adventure? Absolutely. What made it an adventure if all we had to do was turn up? The fact that every one of us faced, and overcame, personal challenges. Whether it was abseiling, jumping into the sea, climbing a difficult route, squeezing through narrow caves (for the claustrophobic, you’ll know what I mean), and succeeding. It was also the adventure of being together, and working together, of learning about people beyond the small talk of the everyday, and the real dangers of the coasteering on the second day.

Yes, it removed major aspects of the trip – logistics and planning, and a huge amount of experience and knowledge from the leaders – from our hands, but it definitely freed the mind (and the body) for a whole different kind of adventure.
With thanks to Richard and Matt at Reach Outdoors, Goodrington Sands, Paignton, Devon. 

Note- I was not paid to endorse Reach Outdoors. With thanks to Matt from Reach Outdoors for the pic. 

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