verb | To jump into the sea from a cliff or other high point.
Where we grew up in Cumbria tombstoning was as common as swimming, really. It wasn't ever called tombstoning though. Cliff-jumping was the closest we, or anyone we knew, came to giving it an official designation. It was always something that you had to do with caution and consideration of potential outcomes. But it was also one of the most liberating activities going. Nothing could beat that moment of release, after your foot had left the outcrop, when you were flailing through the air like an ineffective fledgling, before the water suddenly came rushing up beneath you.
In this adrenal spirit, we've decided to compile a list of our Top Ten Spots For Tombstoning In The UK. We've included something for everyone. That being said, we would hate to be responsible for anybody injuring themselves, so please do take the hazards into consideration before you make that leap of faith. Remember that obstacles, such as rocks or debris, can be lurking unseen beneath the surface. Always check the landing area thoroughly, swimming down with goggles to ensure there's nothing there that might catch you. People have died from tombstoning, but it doesn't have to be dangerous if you take the precautions seriously and don't push yourself too far.
Then again, as long as you're safe and comfortable with the jump you're attempting, there's no reason why we shouldn't partake in the age-old pastime of hurling ourselves off high things, into flowing water.
Armathwaite Cliff, Cumbria
Where we grew up, Armathwaite Cliff was the local Goliath that everyone feared.
In hushed schoolyard circles, older kids would puff themselves up and bait the younger ones by asking: "Haven't you ever jumped off it?"
To which the answer would often be a reluctant "no." Then the conversation would move on to grand discussions of the unnamed school-kid who once dived off it and lived to tell the tale.
The cliff itself is only several metres from a popular footpath. If you walk upriver from the bridge in Armathwaite you'll find the outcrop after about ten minutes, half-hidden under a gnarled tree, overhanging a beach and a small cove where engraved faces are scattered across the chalk-spotted rock. Maybe they were prehistoric jumpers, or members of a long-lost tombstoning cult... who knows?
One thing is for sure, if you take this leap you'll wind-up flapping your arms and kicking your feet as you plummet towards the water. It's not uncommon for jumpers to roar or squeal either.
Fear Factor: 7/10
Port Gaverne, North Cornwall
If you're a kid raised in the coastal county of Cornwall it's likely you'd be confused by someone who touts the term tombstoning, like we were in Cumbria - "it's just jumping... or cliff-jumping if you want to be fancy."
Of course, there are lots of popular spots in Cornwall to pursue the ancient art of cliff-jumping. The locals have been doing it for centuries, ranging the country, in search of high things above deep water.
Newquay Harbour is a very popular destination with plenty of precarious ledges to ascend up to and leap from. Namely Bog's Ledge, so-named because the jumping point leads through a gap in a wall alongside a disused public toilet. Jumpers empty their lungs and flap madly as they plummet down the 40 foot drop into the cove-cradled ocean below. It's become a particular favourite of kids in Newquay looking for kicks. Just remember that (as the locals say) it's only safe to make this jump one hour before or after high water. And make sure you leap out at least two feet to clear the rocks.
Bog's Ledge sounds appealing 'n all, but we decided to choose somewhere a little less treacherous. Hearsay has it that in Port Gaverne there's an idyllic Cornish cove shouldered by tiered rock promontories that the local kids often hurl themselves from. There's a rocky inlet that's ideal for a dip at low tide and more intrepid swimmers also head through the channel and round the headland, uncovering a large sea cave overshadowed by the towering cliff wall.
Fear Factor: 5/10
Waterswallows Quarry, Buxton
Waterswallows Quarry is something a little different. This body of clear, cold water, encircled by a basalt rock wall, belongs to a once abandoned and now water-filled quarry with steep sloping sides and little vegetation. Remember that this is a manmade area, which means that it does lack the wilder, more natural aesthetic of some of our other choices, although what's great is the run-up you get as you bound towards the precipice. Getting plenty of propulsion on a jump is paramount. And if you're still yearning for your nature fix, there's still a line of trees half-submerged at the water's edge and the quiet isolation is very appealing too.
The local divers report that there's nothing much beneath the surface, besides a few rusted pipes and vales. Most divers descend to depths of around 25 metres so don't worry too much about hitting your feet on the bottom when you land.
Fear Factor: 7/10
Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry
The rugged Highlands of Scotland beckon anyone with any serious wanderlust. You can pretend to be William Wallace as you bestride the heather-swathed peaks in your kilt. Or unleash your best Nessie impression as you breach the surface of a quiet loch. It's certainly a wild paradise ideal for anyone who enjoys wild swimming. Unsurprisingly, the cult of tombstoning has its own devoted following there as well.
If you're unsure where to go exactly, a company called Freespirits in Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry, offers cliff-jumping for beginners and canyoning without ropes. They also have a jump that's about 40 feet high, leading down into a cauldron of bracing mountain water. This all unfolds with sweeping views of Loch Rannoch and the autumnal hills roundabout. If you're not sure about that particularly hairy jump, you can start at 15 feet and work your way up to the top ledge. Free spirits will ensure you know the correct technique so, under the supervision of vigilant instructors, you'll hit the water at the right angle and won't cause yourself any harm. There are several different sites and the one they choose on the day will depend on the water levels.
Fear Factor: 4/10
Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
The video linked above, produced by the Coalder t-shirt company, shows some of the abrupt descents on Ireland's North Coast, many of which are used as launching points by the local cliff jumpers. The video was made at two separate locations on the Causeway Coast. As you can see, this is a rugged stretch of land scattered with nesting grounds for the local wildlife and all manner of sights that could clear the mind of any weary traveller. There's plenty of surfing, bodyboarding and coasteering to do this in region. Otherwise known as the Giant's Causeway, this chain of 40,000 basalt columns was created during a primordial eruption and still stands today, snaking across County Antrim like a great, grey scar. For the most part the columns are hexagonal in shape, the tallest is about 39 feet high and the cliff walls are entwined with solid lava that is 28 metres thick in places.
We'd certainly recommend you rely on local knowledge if you want to find a safe spot for cliff jumping. Please don't go climbing these columns and leaping into the sea without gaining any prior knowledge or insight.
Fear Factor: 6/10
The Blue Lagoon in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is a former slate quarry turned natural stadium for the 2012 and 2013 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The lagoon itself was formed after the breach of the outer wall, over a century ago. Due to its industrial past, the site offers natural, tiered platforms commonly used as launch-points for those seeking to plummet hard into the deep, greenish, mineral-rich water.
This is a beautiful cliff-jumping mecca for all aspiring divers and landsick nuts alike. The rocky tiers offer varying heights for you to enter the water from, so don’t think you have to mimic those Red Bull diving videos and attempt some mad, corkscrewing, somersaulting salmon dive the first time you step up to the ledge.
Fear Factor: 8/10
Adrenalin Quarry, Cornwall
Okay so there’s more to this one than tombstoning, but we discovered Adrenalin Quarry whilst we were digging through our research and we just couldn’t resist including it. Plus, the Adrenalin Quarry tagline states that its owners have been ‘throwing people off cliffs since 2009’ so we eventually agreed that this would suffice.
Of the many attractions in this man-made quarry, the stomach-churning Giant Swing looks to be the most daunting. It starts with a winch pulling you up and up, leaving you weightless for a brief moment, before you drop, swing and hurtle over the cliff edge, 160 feet above the surface of the lake.
There’s also a 490m long zipline that carries you 50m above the ground at speeds of up to 40mph. Riding on parallel wires you’ll fly like a hunting eagle over the flooded quarry, descending from the sheer cliff.
What’s really great for visitors, particularly wild swimmers, is the fact that Adrenalin Quarry is free to enter. It has a large expanse of grass on the eastern side of the lake, which is popular for picnics and daytime dosing, as well as a floating platform you can dive from and even a small, sandy beach so you can get you can get to work on your sand-castle empire.
Fear Factor: 7/10
Horseshoe Falls, Denbighshire
A series of cascades funnels the cool River Fechan into a 10 metre, horseshoe-shaped waterfall that leaps down into a deep forest plunge pool. This idyllic little hideaway is shaded by a wooded amphittheatre. You can swim under the falls, climb the mossy rocks (be careful) and then dive in or attempt a spot of gentle tombstoning. The top pool is overshadowed by a large, gnarled tree and overlooked by a high cliff that’s also suitable for jumping from.
Fear Factor: 4/10
Calvine Gorge, Perthshire
Finally, we come to Calvine Gorge, the last stop on our tombstoning journey. If you choose to visit this spot, you’ll first enjoy a gorge walk (just a few minutes from the village of Blair Atholl) amongst the rolling Highlands of Perthshire. It’s likely you’ll have to wrestle with rocks, scramble down natural flumes and wade through icy pools. Eventually, though, you’ll arrive at a watery Scottish paradise - a place where the company Nae Limits has refined the art of Aqualining and created a safe cliff jumping experience for all. Aqualining basically involves a participant edging along a slack line suspended 10 feet above the still gorge pool. If you fall, you get wet. There are plenty of great natural platforms and boulders for jumping from too.
Aqualining runs from April to September so don’t forget to book now!
Fear Factor: 5/10
Now, we did feel a little cheated that we didn't get up to 10 on the Fear Factor scale. Just for reference, the Devil's Bridge, in Cumbria, would hit a solid 10. It's now illegal to jump from the bridge so we thought we best not include it. Mind you, the local bikers don't seem to mind much. They still strip off their leathers and hurl themselves down into the river on warm summer's days.