Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When deciding where to holiday with your mates it’s far too easy to overlook the UK. Sure, some European cities might have cheaper beer and the promise of beautiful women waiting to be whisked off their feet by English gentlemen. But, a) the latter part of that almost definitely isn’t true, and b) do you not remember the Hostel films?

Ill-informed, torture-porn based xenophobia isn’t the only reason why holidaying in the UK shouldn’t just be for caravan enthusiasts and groups of colourful backpack clad Spanish children. Turns out we also have a shitload of fun things to do. From impressive mountains to scale, beautiful waterfalls to swim, craggy coastlines to navigate and networks of caves to explore there’s no shortage of activities to choose from. And that’s before you consider other manly activities such as quad biking, clay pigeon shooting and err… Zorbing.

Adventure time

Getting a few mates together to go on a long weekend break in the UK was the easy part. With so many places offering cool sounding stuff to do deciding where we should go was anything but. That sounds cheesy but it’s completely true. It’s only after weeks of exchanging group Facebook messages and a couple of enthusiastic pub conversations that we decide on our destination: South Wales. Not only is it the shortest drive from London, it also has a company called Adventure Britain that does all three of the activities we most want to do: canyoning, caving and climbing. Nice! Oh yeah, and manly (of course).

With Friday and Monday booked off work Mike, Spender (there were too many guys called James in our class at school so they all were – and forever will be – referred to by their last names) and Rhian (which despite meaning ‘Welsh goddess’ is a boy’s name too, apparently) and I pick up our sexy and incredibly manly (are you spotting a theme here?) hire car from Hertz and hit the road.

Our MANLY hire car

Correction, we stupidly follow the sat nav straight through the centre of London, which takes a couple of hours more than we would have liked… and then we hit the road.

The cottage we’re staying at looks as pretty as the picture online, which itself was pretty as a picture. Cats, hens and even a wallaby roam the grounds. Any lingering concerns that our money would have been better spent on a trip where we could have had a background role in some awful Brits abroad documentary vanish entirely. We’d arrived at an entirely different kind of paradise to what we normally associated with a holiday. And it was bloody lovely.

It’s a cave, Dave

Hopping in the hire car the next morning we drive to meet our Adventure Britain guy Dave (or Andy as I was convinced he was called for most of the day) to go caving. Andy (sorry, Dave) wastes no time getting us in overalls and helmets with attached torches, and we waste no time starting to sweat profusely in the midday sun.

Sizing up the cave’s entrance before heading inside

Amateur miner look acquired we head down to the cave entrance choosing to ignore the sign warning of potential death.

Not just a few, no, many people

It’s not too claustrophobic at first, but the deeper we go the tighter it gets. Stopping for a quick chat Dave delights in telling us about the deaths that have occurred in caves. Thanks Dave. Within a few minutes of moving on things get tighter and tighter until we’re crawling through a tunnel only slighter larger than us. We’re definitely not scared or anything.

Scrabbling through on our hands and knees the tunnel has icy cold water running through it and seems to be getting smaller by the metre. The end is eventually in sight, but the ordeal isn’t over yet. Getting out requires some crazy contortions and by the time we’re all through the atmosphere’s changed. Smiles are replaced by grimaces and our laughter sounds more nervous than jovial as we all wonder what Dave has next for us.

I’m not a celebrity, but still, can someone please get me out of here?

The descent

Turns out that first tunnel was nothing. After half an hour of shivering, shimmying, crawling, squeezing through gaps and at one point actually floating on our backs with only enough space between the water and ceiling for our lips to poke out and breathe, we’re clamouring for daylight and space and warmth and just generally not being in a bloody cave. Maybe we’re not as manly as we thought.

And this was one of the roomier tunnels

Despite it being a minor ordeal at the time, shortly after exiting everyone agrees it was a great experience and we’re all glad we’ve done it. Though to be honest it’ll probably be a while until we do it again.

Up next? Canyoning.

DO go chasing…

Not far from the cave there’s a series of waterfalls. We swap our overalls for wetsuits and head to the first one. For the next couple of hours we jump from increasingly higher waterfalls while heading down the river. It’s great fun and another reminder of how stunning the scenery can be without having to endure a budget airline flight to the continent.

This is every bit as fun as it looks

At the bottom of one particular ferocious waterfall Dave challenges us to make our way across a tiny ledge without getting knocked off. After several attempts we begin to think Dave is taking the piss. Surely it can’t be done? A 56-year old ex-marine, Dave casually approaches the ledge, shimmies his way across to the point we kept getting stuck on… and falls in. Apparently the water is flowing a bit faster than normal. Yeah right, Dave.

Still not sure it’s actually possible to get across that without ropes

A leisurely stroll back to the car and a typically lighthearted story from Dave about a woman who nearly died by falling off one of the ledges and the mood is relaxed. Caving has already developed a smidge of rose-tinted nostalgia and our day is almost over. We top it off with a drive through the beautiful Brecon Beacons and a delicious fish barbecue back at the cottage. Perfect.

Feeling fishy

Sunday is climbing day. Or at least it’s supposed to be. Turns out that ‘perfect’ barbecue has given Mike and Rhian food poisoning, but Spender and I somehow escape the wrath of the white fish, which is nice. After a couple of toilet trips Rhian and Mike decide to brave it in the car and we all set off to meet an incredulous Dave who suspects alcohol, rather than our typically British barbecuing skills is to blame for the sudden sickness. His doubts seem to be dispelled when Mike vomits in a convincingly ill manner as soon as we arrive at our pretty coastal location.

We schlep it along the coast for a couple of kilometres carrying the climbing gear until we get to an incredible rock face looking directly over the ocean. It’s a hot, sunny day and despite yesterday morning’s experience Mike and Rhian head to the nearest cave to get put of the heat leaving Spender and I to climb.

The (short-lived) ascent

It’s a shame they can’t get involved because its an incredible location to climb. Multiple routes up the face offer different challenges and despite our initial reservations Spender and I are soon taking on the less obvious routes helped along by shouted advice from Dave. Sadly, our quick break for lunch turns into the end of the day because as soon as Spender sits down the colour drains from his face. ‘Feeling a bit peaky,’ are the last words he utters before dashing behind some rocks for a cheeky little puke.

Dave was understandably worried about belaying directly under us with food poisoning doing the rounds

Our day may have been called short, but every cloud has a silver lining and all that. I get to eat all the tasty food we’ve brought along all by myself. (Dave has his own and some understandable doubts about eating food we’ve prepared). Cheeses, meats, bread, salad stuff, and of course scotch eggs. Life couldn’t get much better. Well, for me at least.

Death march madness

On the way back Dave tells a particularly horrifying story about the Borneo death march and suddenly our own walk seems easy in comparison, despite three of us being in the throes of poisoning.

Though a little arduous, the death toll from our walk remained a healthy zero

Back at the cottage I have a steak dinner for one. Lovely, if a little lonely. We have an early night, followed by a fairly subdued drive home (none of us scream, ‘ROAD TRIP!’ at the top of our lungs like we did roughly every 20mins on the way there) and our adventure comes to an end.

Yeah, the food poisoning sucked. But everything else about the trip was a massively pleasant surprise. If you’re looking for an active holiday that’s about more than drinking and trying to chat up European girls with a combination of pigeon English and hand gestures then consider all the amazing places and things to do in England, Ireland Wales and Scotland. All you need is a car (or hire one like we did and pretend that you’re rich by driving a car with a larger engine than all the cars you’ve owned combined) and a couple of days off work. Can’t think of anything more MANLY.

All Photography is copryright of Mike Massaro