Combine swimming, climbing and rock jumping and what have you got? Coasteering. We brave the elements of idyllic Clare Island in County Mayo to find out why this dynamic activity is so appealing.
From the top of a 30-foot sea stack, the Atlantic in all her glory stretches out around us below a cotton wool sky. It’s known as the ‘Bird’s Nest’ thanks to the grass that grows on its top, dancing and waving in the breeze.
Take a few deep breaths and jump. Let rip a roar before blasting into the sea. The light disappears, a storm of water and bubbles surges past. Then the blackness recedes and you surface into the light, grinning.
‘Coasteering’ off the rugged coast of tiny Clare Island in County Mayo, you’ll explore a section of coastline through a combination of swimming, clambering along the rocks and jumping clean off, into the sea. You’ll be getting to know part of the Wild Atlantic Way up close and personal as you grapple hand and foot with its jagged surfaces and burst through its rough ocean waves. It’s a wildly physical way to get to know this coast, a full-body experience to exhilarate the senses.
Clare Island Adventures, a local collective, makes visiting and experiencing everything that the island has to offer easy by organising transport to the island, accommodation, and all your adventure activities. The collective is made up of the Clare Island Ferry Company, Adventure West and Go Explore Hostel/Sailor’s Bar & Restaurant. The smart and comfortable hostel enjoys huge views over Clew Bay, and owner and island native Carl O’Grady dishes up a feast of delicious locally-sourced fish and a few drinks before a good night’s sleep and the activities to come.
Clare Island Adventures provides qualified guides for all the activities, in addition to all the gear for both comfort and safety: helmets, buoyancy aids and wetsuits –sometimes two each for extra warmth. With water temperatures of about 10° Celsius, it’s surprisingly easy to forget the cold as the stunning scenery of the West of Ireland pans out ahead. Soft lines of grey, blue, purple and green run from Achill Island to Croagh Patrick. Delicate white terns fold their wings atop the lapping water, gulls wheel overhead, disturbed by their strange new amphibious neighbours, and curious seals nose about the waves.
As you clamber up the rocks and leap into the sea, guides keep a watchful eye as the jumps increase in height – and reassure adventurers that there’s no pressure to jump. On Clare Island, which is ‘exceptionally safe’, all their routes along the Wild Atlantic Way are carefully scouted, and they use the best tide times for particular jumps. A discreet emphasis on safety is clear from the get-go, and guides come prepared with bivvy bags, a survival tent, hot drinks, a first aid kit and a throw line in case anyone gets into difficulty in the water.
But coasteering along the Wild Atlantic Way isn’t all bellowing adventurers hurling themselves from great heights. One of the most stunning highlights of the trip is visiting the sea caves, with their ethereal, darkness, the sunlight playing tricks through the crystal clear green water, and lonely caverns extending deep into the cliffsides. After a moment of peace in the caves, you’ll be ready to go back up the Bird’s Nest.
And if you'd like to combine some Clare Island thrill-seeking with meeting new people, the island hosts a Singles Adventure Weekend every September too.
Check out more adventure activities along the Wild Atlantic Way here.