summer surfing in Wales

It’s finally warm enough to contemplate swimming in the Welsh sea without getting frostbite, which is good news for surf enthusiasts like me, as the country has some of the best beaches for the sport this side of Cornwall. The four listed below are beginner friendly and have surf schools on the beach as well as offering bigger swell as well for thrill-seekers. Check out Magic Seaweed for surf predictions and hit the sand.

Rest Bay
A popular destination only a bus-ride away from Cardiff and Swansea. Rest Bay gets busy in the summer but has beginner friendly waves all year round on a beach fringed with beautiful grassy cliffs, away from the tacky shoreline of Porthcawl. Cressey’s Surf Academy are based here and offer a good range of classes for all ages and abilities. There’s a lifeguard station keeping an eye on people in the water, and you can hire gear from the fabulous Malc’s Cafe (boards £10/day, suits £5/day, a a popular surfer hangout with views out over the bay, tables made from boards and cosy sofas

Caswell Bay
A pretty, sheltered beach near Mumbles which is really beginner-friendly, as the surf is big enough to give you a challenge but small enough to stop you wiping out mid-wave. There’s year-round reliable surf, easy parking and a cosy little cafe serving amazing hot chocolate to get rid of the water’s chill. GSD surf school operate from here if you’re looking for a lesson – their instructors are all patient and knowledgeable.

Newgale
Newgale, nestled in St Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire, is a gorgeous little picture-postcard beach – long, sandy and perfect for all levels of surfing. It’s in the national park, which means it’s well maintained, and it’s a few minutes’ walk to the village of Newgale which has some good coffee shops and pubs. The local surf shop, Newsurf, issues a daily surf report and hires out cheap boards and wetsuits to learners.

Freshwater West
One of the most consistent surf breaks in Wales, this beach has it all – reefs, point breaks, sandy beaches and an abundance of wildlife. Outer Reef surf school operates from here, so if you’re unsure of your ability, it’s worth getting a lesson and some local knowledge from them before heading out, as the waves can sometimes be a bit overpowering – watch out for warning red flags on the beach which mean it’s unsafe to swim.

- The Girl Outdoors

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wild swimming

photo © Daniel Start at wildswimming.co.uk

It’s finally getting warm enough to contemplate beaches, barbecues and sandals without socks. Joy! This temperate weather means I can finally get back to one of my favourite outdoors activities: walking on squidgy river bottoms in weeds. No, really.

Wild swimming might be some people’s idea of a nightmare, but everyone I’ve met who has tried it has been immediately hooked. All you need is a handy lagoon, lake or sheltered cove, some reasonably warm weather and a little bravery. Luckily, the UK is peppered with stunning locations in which to dip your toes, from waterfalls in Wales to skinny-dipping beaches in Dorset. Check out Daniel Start’s fantastic website guide to where to do it (or buy the book for beautiful photographs) and take the plunge.

Need more inspiration? Check out Guardian writer Kate Rew’s wild swim videos.

The Girl Outdoors

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How to survive a bear attack

This is essential knowledge for the outdoorsy type as you never know when you could come across a Grizzly up a mountain. Unfortunately, opinions seem to vary on what to do when there’s a big bear snarling in front of you, quite possibly because some do not live explain their failed methods to pacify their fuzzy attacker. At least after our handy guide you’ll have lots of options to consider.

1. Watch the Backpacker Magazine’s guide to Black Bears and Grizzlies video guide. The best bit is when they tell you not to run away. Yeah right.

2. Adventurer Steve Young is about to embark on a walk to the North Pole, and recommends that you “take a big gun” to shoot polar bears, as their paws are about five times as big as your hands and you probably can’t run away very fast on ice.

3. Bill Bryson says that “All the books tell you that if the grizzly (bear) comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life”. As for the difference between Grizzlies and Black Bears, Bryson reckons that “A grizzly may chew on a limp form for a minute or two but generally will lose interest and shuffle off. With black bears, however, playing dead is futile, since they will continue chewing on you until you are considerably past caring. It is also foolish to climb a tree because black bears are adroit climbers and…you will simply end up fighting the bear in a tree,”

4. The Art of Manliness website differentiates between species.
Grizzly Attack: Carry bear pepper spray. Don’t run. When you run, the bear thinks you’re prey and will continue chasing you, so stand your ground. And don’t think you can out run a bear. Bears are fast. They can reach speeds of 30 mph. Unless you’re an Olympic sprinter, don’t bother running. Drop to the ground in the fetal position and cover the back of your neck with your hands. If you don’t have pepper spray or the bear continues to charge even after the spray, this is your next best defense. Hit the ground immediately and curl into the fetal position. Play dead. Grizzlies will stop attacking when they feel there’s no longer a threat. If they think you’re dead, they won’t think you’re threatening. Once the bear is done tossing you around and leaves, continue to play dead. Grizzlies are known for waiting around to see if their victim will get back up.

Black Bear Attack: Carry bear pepper spray. As with the grizzly bear, bear pepper spray should be your first line of defense in a bear attack. Stand your ground and make lots of noise. Black bears often bluff when attacking. If you show them you mean business, they may just lose interest. Don’t climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers. Climbing up a tree won’t help you out here. Fight back. If the black bear actually attacks, fight back. Use anything and everything as a weapon- rocks, sticks, fists, and your teeth. Aim your blows on the bears face- particularly the eyes and snout. When a black bear sees that their victim is willing to fight to the death, they’ll usually just give up.

The Art of Manliness has a handy disclaimer at the end saying that the website “does not encourage people to go out and find a bear to practice these skills with. Practising on your significant other will not do either,”

The Girl Outdoors

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How to build an awesome igloo

photo by the Banff Lake Louise tourism board

There are blizzards and flight cancellations and it’s all a bit terrible, we know. But it was a White Christmas! Snow ain’t all bad! And if you are experiencing a bit of post-festive depression, you can work off all that turkey with our amazing guide to building an igloo in your back garden.

How to build an igloo

1. Find a large, rectangular plastic box – you’ll use to make your snow bricks.
2. Clear a flat space on the ground and mark out a circle shape, trying to keep it as perfectly round as possible.
3. Make snow blocks by tightly packing snow into your box. Sprinkle a little water on the snow to make it easier to pack it together tightly. Hold the mould and tap the top or sides of it sharply to release the snow block.
4. Form a row of the large blocks around your circle. Make the joints smooth and even.
5. Form a second layer of the large blocks on top of the first, laying each block above of the joint of the ones underneath.
6. Stack additional layers on top, each time moving the bricks in slightly so that the walls will dome inward.
7. Cut a cap brick that is larger than the hole on top of your igloo and set on the roof.
8. One person should get inside the igloo and trim the cap until it fits snugly into the hole.
9. Fill in the cracks and holes with snow and pack it in as tightly as possible. Smooth out the inner dome walls as much as possible.
10. Dig down to make an entrance to the igloo.
11. Strengthen the structure. Drip water over the top of the igloo at night before going to sleep. This will allow the water to freeze and will make the walls stronger. Poke a small hole near the top, and then light a candle inside the igloo and let it burn. The heat from the candle will partially melt the inside of the igloo, and then it will refreeze into ice.

Now the obligatory safety bit!

-It’s best to attempt this with two people, as snow can be heavy.
-Never build a fire inside your igloo, as it is very dangerous due to smoke inhalation and rapidly melting snow.
-Be careful about the air’s oxygen level, as most igloos provide poor ventilation.

Here’s one we made earlier (notice that we forgot to gradually dome our igloo and so made more of a wall. Woops).

The Girl Outdoors

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