Adventures in Nature
You can pack a lot into a rucksack and a weekend if you put your mind to it. Our microadventures so far had all come in well under the 24 hour mark and had not left the boundaries of Yorkshire. But with a four day pass from my family duties and an arrangement to meet some old friends for a long weekend in Norfolk it looked like this microadventure could finally tip out of the nano zone.
Adrian, Dave, Gav and I have known each other since the days BC (before children) when we would fill our abundant free time with campaigning activities for Leeds Friends of the Earth. We were a pretty resourceful bunch, coming up with eye-catching media stunts to draw attention to saving the planet, and have the photos of us dressed up in various silly costumes to prove it. 20 years later and we’re spread to the four winds and have almost forgotten what free time is but keep our friendship alive in our once a year weekend reunion of fun and activity that rarely passes without incident. So far we have been narrow boating in Skipton, tobogganing in Munich, cycling in Herefordshire and surfing in Wales. Seeking further adventure we had opted for a canoeing and wild camping weekend in Norfolk.
The Bure is a quiet waterway west of the Norfolk Broads, too narrow at the top end for navigable craft. It’s reed filled channel is bordered by fields full of cows, with flint churches and cute red brick cottages peeping from behind the trees. Despite it being a sunny Saturday afternoon we barely saw another soul and did not encounter any other boats on the water, so spent the first day with just ourselves and the wildlife for company. A goose and gander out with their young goslings were alarmed to see a couple of canoes head get towards them and squawked a panicked alarm call to their young charges. The goslings dived under the boats and we held our breath until they popped out the other side and struggled to swim back upstream to their flapping parents. Mayflies struggled on the water surface, snapped up by the occasional rising fish. Herons flew noiselessly overhead and vocal cuckoos made their presence known in the woods. The pace slowed right down and we soon lulled into a gentle rhythm of paddling and admiring the quintessential English scene gliding by to either side. Long lazy lunches, awkward portages around sluices and weirs and a capsize incident (they said it couldn’t happen on the Bure but we managed it!), meant we were well into the evenings when we reached camp.
Knowing what to pack when you’ve to carry everything for sleeping, eating and keeping warm and dry takes some resourceful thinking. Gav had brought a Kelly Kettle, a self contained device for boiling water using small sticks as fuel. He was keen to test out its set of attachments which enabled us to cook porridge, scramble eggs and toast bread for breakfast. More substantial meals were eaten in the excellent local pubs. After all, resourcefulness is about making the best use of what is available and why survive on camp food when you can enjoy tucking into locally sourced crab and samphire and a pint of Suffolk’s finest?
After two full days canoeing our third night was in a woodland miles from shop or pub. At forest school we acquire all sorts of woodland skills like fire lighting and shelter building – lots of fun but not ones you need every day when we’ve got matches and ovens and houses. But out in the woods those skills became relevant and necessary. With a cracking fire going Adrian set about making a lentil and coconut curry but lamented that that his plastic spork was no good for stirring the dish over the campfire. With a supply of wood on hand and a knife in my rucksack I offered to make a spatula and set to work whittling something quickly before the curry stuck to bottom of the pan. OK, so you might argue that if you can pack a knife, you can pack a wooden spoon, but there was something satisfying about being able to fashion what we needed from the resources at hand. The only rain of the weekend came in the early hours of our last morning, dripping on our bivvy bags and in huge puddles on the tarp shelter. Collecting it in pans before it gushed down the back of our necks, provided us with water to wash up from last night’s delicious tea.
Packing up to go I realised I had used every item in my rucksack; bivvy bag, spare clothes, lightweight cooking equipment, pocket knife and cash for eating and drinking out all proved useful. But good company, ingenuity and a a sense of humour were the essential resources to pack for a microadventure to remember.
We’d love to know how being part of our work helps you to get out more, so we are launching a photo competition. We want to see you out and about enjoying nature, getting hands on with habitats and breathing in the fresh air. Why not get snapping over the next May bank holiday?
For the chance of winning a place for your child on one of our summer forest schools, simply upload a picture of you and your family as you ‘Get Out More’ using #wegetoutmore to one of our social media channels – Twitter or Facebook or email them to us at email@example.com *
*The winner will be selected on 8 June from all entries uploaded before 5 June and will win a place on the forest school of their choice, subject to availability.
It was a simple enough idea; pack a bivvy bag, warm fleece and a toothbrush, meet friends in a Dales pub then camp out nearby. What could be more liberating than packing light and camping out underneath the stars? But like most things it wasn’t that simple. We took weeks finding a suitable date for a group of us to meet, then on the date we’d finally picked the weather forecasters were giving out for heavy rain. With childcare plans falling through and the likelihood of sleeping under a downpour some of us were having second thoughts. In the week before the microadventure it was on, then off, then, after persuading ourselves that it’s not an adventure unless there is some sort of challenge, we committed to do it, and taking the kids too.
So out went packing light and in came the a checklist of sleeping bags, sleeping mats, spare clothes and all the gubbins that goes with going anywhere with children, plus bags full of food and cooking stuff as we weren’t going to be able to eat in the pub. After faffing about trying to get kit together, a drive up there in drizzling rain, then traipsing across a field laden down with bags on every arm I wondered what had happened to the dream of a spontaneous adventure, and was it all worth it for one night outdoors?
Leaving the pub an hour or so later, the clouds had cleared and the low evening sun was casting a golden light on the dale, highlighting the contrasts in the limestone landscape. Whether it was the unexpected sunshine, the glorious Yorkshire Dales or the beer, our spirits were lifted. We were camping on a spot on my sister’s farm where we often go as a family to picnic and swim, but I’d never stayed overnight there, nor slept out without a tent so perhaps more than our first two outings, this classed as the real thing in our Year of Microadventures.
The great thing about camping with fellow forest school practitioners is that everyone knows what to do outdoors. Wood was gathered, the fire was lit and tea was cooking in a matter of minutes, leaving us to the relaxing business of listening to the birds, toasting haloumi and marshmallows and chatting away about this and that whilst the kids ran around and swung from the trees. Before long it was time for bed and, after tucking the children up in their cosy tent, I put on several more layers of clothes, unrolled my bivvy bag and wriggled about trying to get my well padded body and a hot water bottle into a sleeping bag, causing much giggling all round, then lay down on the ground to sleep. The feeling of being part of that landscape, rather than sealed off from it, was unreal. The gentle sounds of the night and the vast dome of stars above was like a soothing lullaby and I drifted off to sleep in no time.
They were the same night time sounds and twinkling stars I experienced at 3am, when I woke up freezing, and again at 4am and 5am. By this time I could see the welcome light of dawn and lay there anticipating the sun coming over the hill to melt the ground frost that coated our bivvy bags. I rekindled the fire and sat by the river drinking a cup of hot chocolate and feeling the warmth slowly creep back into me.
So this adventure had involved more organising, more children and more kit than I had planned for, I got limited sleep and was frozen to the bone. Was it worth it? Absolutely. In a short space of time we had left our familiar surroundings, cooked and slept under the stars, had a laugh, made new friends and felt close up with the sights, sounds and smells of nature. Not your average Saturday night out. It may not have been a month surviving on deserted island, (but whose got time for those sort of adventures, Bear Grylls?), but it was an achievable adventure in its own right, which has attracted admiration and ridicule in equal measure, and it left us buzzing.
We can’t wait to go again and I am looking forward to a weekend of canoeing and wild camping in Norfolk next month – I’ve just to break it to the kids that they’re not coming (woo hoo!)
In life we rarely celebrate the middle; we are drawn to superlatives; the fastest, the biggest, the first, the best – but what about the unsung heroes of the medium, the intermediate, the average? For our second outing in our Year of Microadventures we had decided to meet in the middle. Clive had found an app (www.geomidpoint.com) that calculated the mid point of our postcodes and emailed us a map, inviting us to meet there at midday on the middle day of the month.
Given the relative distance of our houses, it was surprising to find that the meeting point was so close to home, but half the group couldn’t make it and the rest of us only had a few hours to spare so it seemed a good fit. So far our lack of time and surfeit of responsibilities meant our adventures have not taken us far from home, but checking the Microadventure book, I found this from author Alistair Humphreys:
“You should not compare you adventure to climbing K2. You should compare it to the realistic alternative that faces most people with busy lives and tight diaries which is doing no adventure at all”
So reconciled to another micro microadventure, I set out from my house and headed up to the moor where I met my good friend Louisa. The dogs set off ahead and we were soon striding out and warming up, despite a grey and misty sky. It’s rare for us to be able to talk uninterrupted by children and phones, so took the chance to have a good catch up without distractions. I love how conversations flow so easily when you are out walking, as if the twists and turns of the footpath are reflected in the meandering route of the discussion. Half way to our destination I raised the discomforting notion that in terms of life’s journey we are probably getting towards the mid point. We are not nearly ready to describe ourselves as middle aged, but in our working lives at least there is about as much behind as ahead. We chatted over how far we’ve come and where we’re going. Generally happy and content with where and who we are, it was interesting to compare our different attitudes to life. One of us too often looking back, the other too focused on the future, we agreed we could learn a lot from each other’s approach. Walking through the woods we chatted over life’s worries, the usual adult stuff; children, work, health, money. But as we came out of the woods and the town in the valley came into view, we could feel concerns melting away as if like the landscape, everything was getting into perspective.
The meeting point on the map was not specific and we only had a rough idea of where we were going. We walked through Bingley and its residential streets before heading back up the moor on the other side. Suddenly Clive appeared waving from a rocky escarpment above us and we scrambled up to meet him and his family. None of us had ever been to Gilstead Crag before and the view was a fantastic reward for our walks to get there. From Cottingley to the east and Cononley the west, Oxenhope Moor to the south and Ilkley Moor to the north, we were in the middle of a large sweep of West Yorkshire countryside, feeling like small dots in a big landscape.
We had a very upbeat walk home. A pint in the local, encountering some deer in the woods and the sun finally coming out to give the day a spring-like air, could all be credited with our happy mood. But more than that I think it was the walk itself that put us in a positive frame of mind. So often I find this is the case and welcome the restorative power of a walk in the countryside to put worries in perspective and give me a boost of positivity. It may have been a middling sort of microadventure but there is no such thing as an average walk.
I love an adventure, but the trouble with adventures is that its hard to fit them in when you have a family, a busy worklife and a limited resource of time and money, so like many people I know I have been inspired by the book Microadventures . Its author Alistair Humphreys is a fully fledged moutaineering, Amazon-canoeing, rufty tufty type of guy, but here he advocates for a simpler, closer to home sort of adventure, taking the spirit of new, exhilerating experiences and distilling them into the weekend, day or even few hours that you may have at your disposal. Sounds perfect!
So in January a few of us, met in the pub and committed to a year of Microadventuring; twelve do-able mini adventures that would take us out of our comfort zone and open ourselves up to simple challenge and new discoveries. We made a list of ideas including wild camping, wild swimming and mapless exploring (and some other ideas which maybe don’t quite stand up in the sober light of day!) and got our diaries out. Perhaps the easiest on the list was a full moon walk, so we checked the calendar and arranged to meet at St Ives estate at the next full moon, 3 February.
As eight excited adults and children standing in the car park, we were a little disappointed that the only light in the sky was the orange glow from nearby Bingley and Bradford beyond it. We all know this woodland well, being the site of many of our dog walks, family bike rides and some of Get Out More’s forest school programmes. Even so setting off into the woods it felt eerily different; far quieter and still than in the daylight hours. A hazy moon peeped out of the clouds just long enough to feel like a good omen. With eyes not used to the dark, we found our feet were feeling their way, understanding the path from the rise and fall of the ground. We stopped to listen to the woodland sounds but there was still too much traffic noise and giggling to feel we had immersed ourselves in the nocturnal woodland just yet. But later on as we crossed a snow filled field up towards an abandoned barn, a hooting owl silenced us and soon there seemed to a woodland full of owls screeching and hooting to each other, perhaps warning each other of our presence. Familiar sights became strange shapes looming out of the darkness; the silhoettes of horses, a vast electricity pylon. Walking along a rough track we saw the lights of a car and stepped to the side to allow it past, but it spookily made no noise as it approached. Only as it passed us was it clear it was a couple cyclists riding two abreast, looking surprised to see families out walking at night.
We tried to tell the children stories of the ghosts, giants and the legend behind St Ives’ peculiar stone coffin, but they ran ahead to wave at us from a bridge, when suddenly the moon cleared the clouds and cast clear shadows on the ground, creating a cheer from the group. We stopped to admire its reflection on the ice of the coppice pond and shared a warming nip of last of September’s plum vodka. The children were happy with a handful of sherbet pips and making strange pinging sounds by skimming pebbles across the ice.
By now with our night accustomed eyes and the bright light of the full moon, we had become totally confident walking through the woods, taking the darker path back to the car park and admiring the shapes and colours of the moon shining through the branches of the bare winter trees. Back at the van, we tracked the movement of stars with our fingers and identified the constellations we knew as we waited for the kettle to boil and cook the Pot Noodles which we had brought as our post-adventure feast. As adventures go it may be of the micro micro variety, but it still felt like an exhilerating and refreshing thing to do on a Tuesday evening in winter. It made me realise than the dark nights of winter do not have to mean hibernating indoors; an evening’s stroll at night helps me to see the ordinary world in a different light and feel all the more alive for doing it.