Magazine article Geographical

Adventure Playground

Magazine article Geographical

Adventure Playground

Article excerpt

You don't have to go to far-off, exotic places to experience adventure travel. Britain offers almost too much choice for the would-be adventurer. Rupert Isaacson guides us through some of the more exciting experiences on offer

Falconry on horseback or hawking was once truly the sport of kings. The sport, or art, as its adherents would claim, died out in the last century. However, since the 1970s, it has been making a terrific comeback, using captive birds rather than hawks or falcons captured in the wild.

There is now a variety of falconry centres operating around the country, offering `taster' days for the uninitiated, and full-on courses for the would-be austringer (falconer). Falconry on horseback, though, is still reserved for the few, if only because it is such a difficult thing to organise. However, the Scottish Academy of Falconry, which operates in the wide, open hills of the Scottish Borders, has both a stable of hunters and a mews of various species of raptor, all with their own speciality. You have to be an experienced rider, as the hunters are fit, keen, and up to the challenge of crossing the rugged country at speed. Most exciting is to fly peregrines at grouse: both birds are fast-flying and athletic, and the ariel hunt can involve a gallop of many kilometres. The best time to go is September, when the Borders' notorious winter gales are far off, but there's still a nip in the air, and the birds and horses have shaken off their summer torpor.

If you'd rather experience what it's like to take to the skies yourself, try paragliding.

You sit in a kind of chair, similar to the baby seat in a car, which is moulded to your lower body and allows full movement of the legs -- necessary for making your running take-off from the edge of a cliff. There is no need for great physical strength; the net result of flight is quiet euphoria rather than sweat. As James Bedding wrote about paragliding in the Daily Telegraph, "I felt as if the gods were thinking me through the sky."

Another summer adventure is coasteering. Preseli, a company that operates on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, leads trips where no experience is necessary to explore the headlands and bays.

There is a well-marked coastal footpath to follow -- only the company doesn't follow it: instead it leads you as the crow (or gull) flies and as the fish swims. This means that you abseil or jump off the cliffs, bob across the waters, and climb the cliff on the farthest side of the bay until your strength runs out. It's as well to be halfway fit for this phobia and endurance tester. A good head for heights doesn't hurt, and it's a good idea to allow a couple of days; one day to build up your courage, and one to really go for it.

All Preseli's coasteering leaders are fully qualified, and groups are kept small. There is more than one instructor in tow, to make sure all safety procedures are followed and that clients are under constant supervision.

A more peaceful way to explore the British coast is in a sea kayak. As with coasteering, this can be enjoyed by the experienced and novice alike.

There are several good places to do this. Up in the Hebrides -- a paradise of empty sandy beaches and sheltered crossings between islands -- Uist Outdoor Centre runs trips that stand a good chance of running into whales, dolphins and porpoises. …

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