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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What a rush

Check out the adventurous side of Wales

Posted: 10/12/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Rather than risk being mashed against the jagged rock by the tidal swell, I go limp and let the sea sweep me back.

Seems I'm catching on to coasteering -- the inter-disciplinary adventure sport invented in Wales that combines swimming, rock climbing and cliff jumping.

What better place to experience this adrenalin rush than Wales itself, on the northwestern-most tip of Holy Island, the little speck of land off Anglesey Island.

Anglesey was made famous because Prince William was stationed here as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot.

Fifteen or so years ago, Welsh mountaineers were frustrated because some of the best rock climbing was inaccessible on the coast. So they started to don wetsuits with their hiking boots and simply swam to climbing rocks.

Our uniform for the morning is a bit modified -- a wet suit with running shoes, a waterproof jacket and helmet.

Our group of eight initially thinks we've made a terrible mistake.

We arrive at the top of the cliff and the wind is fierce, there's a light rain and the sea and sky are the same angry colour of grey.

We hike down the path to the water -- at least it's lined by pretty purple heather -- and hit the pebble beach with resignation.

The air temperature is 11 C, but we're told the water temperature is a warmer 14 C.

Coasteering, after all, is a year-round sport.

Guide Matt Shaw of Surf-Lines Adventures leads by example and sprints into the water.

We follow less enthusiastically and inhale at the cold and wet.

Half the group threatens to quit there and then, but we endure and swim across a picturesque cove to the first chunk of pre-Cambrian rock.

Some of us ask if we get into trouble will Prince William come to rescue us in his helicopter.

The answer is no.

Matt advises us to swim to every rock outcropping feet first so we don't get smashed into the rock by the waves the incoming tide is creating.

Land feet first, find a hand hold and haul out of the water,

Climb a bit to a high point and jump back in the water.

With the endorphins kicking in we warm up and start to enjoy ourselves.

Various length swims are punctuated with increasingly more difficult rock traverses and scrambling and more daring cliff jumps.

It culminates with a plunge into the sea while water foam ricochets off the ledge and envelopes us; a quick swim and rock climb to an even higher perch; a final jump and then a long climb to the cliff top.

We high-five each other, excitedly get a group photo taken and start to chatter about what a buzz coasteering is.

As if to match our mood change, the clouds have parted, the sun is peaking through, it's warmed up and if not blue, the sea is at least less grey.

"Wales is getting on the map for Canadians," says Tanya Saba of Air Transat.

"We're seeing more and more people take the three-hour train ride west from London or rent a car to experience Wales."

Our adventures don't stop at coasteering. We find out the fastest zipline in the world is nearby at Zip World and we make a beeline for it.

The adrenalin gets going again as we are outfitted in red jumpsuits. Unlike regular ziplines where you hang vertically from the wire, at Zip World you are attached parallel to the line for increased momentum and the cool factor of looking like a rocketman while shooting through the air.

The line stretches 1,600 metres over an abandoned slate quarry and lake and you zing along at 140 kilometres an hour while descending 430 metres in 55 seconds.

As you zip, the line sings like an airborne jet, adding to the effect.

A Rib Boat Ride also got the blood pumping as we skimmed across the water at 60 kilometres an hour in the Menai Strait under the Britannia and Menai bridges and past the stately homes of the Marquis of Anglesey and a hotel that looks like a mini-Balmoral Castle called Plas Rhlanfa.

"It's sight-seeing and thrill-seeking all in one," says Rib Boat Ride owner Mike Biggs.

Our soft adventures leaned toward exploring Beaumaris and Caernarfon castles; eating nouveau Welsh cuisine at gastro pubs Ye Olde Bulls Head Inn in Beaumaris (try the pork shoulder) and Black Boy Inn at Caernarfon (the Dwynwen's chicken and leek pie is delicious); and sleeping and sauna at the Celtic Royal Hotel, the same place Queen Victoria stayed when she visited Caernarfon in 1832.

Check out VisitWales.co.uk, Surf-Lines.co.uk, ZipWorld.co.uk, RibRide.co.uk and Celtic-Royal.co.uk.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 E1

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