Category: Misc

How to Decide On Your Next Big Adventure

How To Decide On Your Next Big Adventure image

This week I’m delighted to share with you a piece I wrote for Tough Girl Challenges. As it says on the tin (so to speak), it’s written to help all you people out there who are determined to go on a Big Adventure! (And yes, the capital letters are deliberate. A Big Adventure is very different from a big adventure, dontcha know.)

But first, I have a bit of a confession to make. When I set out to write this article, I was planning on writing a ‘how to’ guide on planning your big adventure, from start to finish. But then I got a thousand words in and realised I hadn’t actually got past the first stage – deciding what to do.

For many people, this is the first stumbling block you come across when dreaming of adventure. Sure, there are lots of things you could do and perhaps many things you want to do. But sometimes there are so many options or ideas that narrowing them down feels impossible.

And, after all, things kind of get a bit easier once you have a goal. Then you can start thinking through what you need to do to get there – how much money you need to find, what visas to apply for and how much time to beg off work. Without that specific goal, your dream will stay just that – a dream.

So if you’re feeling stuck – if you’re pining for adventure, but struggling to work out what it is you really want to do – then check out my piece at the Tough Girl Blog. I hope it helps you move from daydreaming of adventure to living it.

If you need a bit more encouragement, then check out my review of The Push: Overcoming Obstacles to Adventure – a book designed to give you a polite kick up the backside when it comes to taking action.

Getting Off the Beaten Track in Skye

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A beautiful, deserted white-sand beach on Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful and best-known parts of Scotland. And where you get a well-known beauty spot, what else do you get? Sight-seers. Tour buses. Cameras/iPhones/iPads/electronic device of choice. I have never seen so many people crowded around a pair of bewhildered sheep on a single-track roadside, viewing the mountains behind through their camera lens.

But never fear, there are still many places where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy the best of Scotland’s wild, unspoiled landscape. It may mean you have to put on your walking shoes or brave the narrow, single-track lanes, but believe me, it will be worth it.

How to escape the crowds

Unfortunately, public transport is somewhat limited on the island, so some form of transport (two wheels or four) is a must for getting away from the tour buses. As with the rest of Scotland, Skye is a great place for motorhomes, with a choice of well-equipped campsites or wild camping spots. Just make sure you follow good campervan etiquette and don’t stay in one place for more than two nights. Cycling can be a great way to get around if the weather is nice, but be warned that the mist, rain and wind can descend at any point (even the height of summer) so come prepared!

Coaches and tour buses generally stick to the larger roads, so the easiest way to escape the crowds is to explore some of the smaller roads on the island. And yes, these are usually single-track roads with passing places! General etiquette is to pull in at the nearest passing place if you see someone coming towards you and, if you’re on a hill, give priority to vehicles coming up the hill. Drive carefully and look out for sheep and Highland cattle. Unless you really want to annoy the locals and other visitors, don’t park up in passing places.

Tourist hotspots (and the alternatives)

Don’t get me wrong – the places which attract the hoards are beautiful and worth a visit. But if you want to get these sites to yourself, you’ll need to get there first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Summer nights on Skye are short and as it stays light until after ten in June, there’s plenty of time to explore. But if you want to find a piece of Skye where the only company you’ll have is the odd sheep or moorland bird, then check out some of my favourite alternatives to the popular tourist traps.

Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle

The advent of Pinterest and Instagram have ensured the clear waters of the burn (stream) a firm place on the tourist route map. Many couples have picked this spot for their wedding elopement, only to find they themselves declaring their love to their spouse and twenty Japanese tourists (and their iPads).

A less-travelled alternative to the Fairy Pools is Coire Lagan. Park up at the end of Glen Brittle and hike up a good path for about an hour to reach this small lake, ringed by the imposing black peaks of the Cuillin mountains. Seen from above (you can scramble a short way up behind the lake) it looks almost like a heart. Cute. The clear waters are tempting on a sunny day, but it’s colder than it looks!

The Trotternish peninsula

The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing are certainly impressive, but there’s no need to fight the traffic on the peninsular ring road. You can get dramatic views of the imposing cliffs from the little-known An Aird peninsula. Take the minor road that leads off the A87 to the south of Portree and continue down the coast until the road splits at Gedintailor. Follow a footpath that leads across a rough open area before the enclosed fields, down to a small dell and round to a stony beach. It’s a short walk around the peninsula, but you could easily take a picnic and spend a full day exploring the coastline, paddling off one of the two beaches and taking in the views of the Trotternish peninsula to the north, Raasay to the east and the Red Cuillin mountains to the south.

Neist point

This is another site which Instagram has a lot to answer for. The dramatic cliffs and easy access make for a trail of people pottering down to the lighthouse at the end. If you’re willing to put in a bit more effort, the Macleod’s Maidens offer a wilder and equally dramatic viewpoint. The three sea stacks (mother and two daughters) can be viewed best from the headland above. It’s a 17km round trip, but the spectacular views across Loch Bracadale will help keep you going.

Coral beach

A romantic stroll to a white ‘sand’ beach at the end of a headland; it’s not hard to see why people swarm to this beach north of Dunvegan. The ‘sand’ is actually small pieces of fossilised and sun-bleached algae – beautiful, if slightly spiky underfoot. But (and I’m about to let you in on a BIG secret) there are proper white sand beaches on Skye. And with a bit of luck, you’re get them all to yourself.

I came across one such beach on one of those Scottish days that started with torrential rain and then gave way to a beautiful, hot, sunny day. It’s said you can experience all four seasons in a single day in Scotland and from personal experience, I can attest to the truth of this.

I’m actually quite relunctant to tell you about this spot. It’s one of those beautiful spots you come across and secretly want no-one else to find. (So keep schmum and don’t go sharing this post all over the internet.)

Head down to Sleat, to the most south-westerly road on the island, and keep going until you can’t drive any further. There’s a small car park next to one of those art galleries where you just want to buy everything in the shop. Get your walking boots on and follow the track for a couple of miles as it winds its way down to the sea. Keep following your nose and the sound of lapping waves until you come to a perfect, white sand bay ringed by rocks.

Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints and act all mysterious when your friends enquire which Mediterranean island you’ve been holidaying on.

How to get to Skye

Most people arrive on Skye by car, either via the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh or across the ferry from Mallaig. It is possible to get there by train, from Glasgow up to Mallaig (a beautiful journey in its own right) but once on the island, you’ll be at the mercy of the limited bus schedule. If coming from further afield, fly to Inverness (2 hrs), Glasgow (4 hrs) or Edinburgh (5 hours) and hire a car for the drive up.

There are plenty of B&Bs and self-catering accommodation on Skye, but it does get booked up during peak season so it pays to plan ahead. There are also a number of campsites with excellent facilities that accept campers and campervans/caravans.

What else do I need to know?

The Scottish midge is possibly the creature most feared in proportion to its (tiny) size. Though I seem to have particularly tasty blood and hence get eaten alive, I do have a slight fondness for the midge for its role in keeping Scotland relatively free of mass tourism. Take repellent, a head net (particularly if camping) and some antihistamine for when you inevitably get bitten.

Skye is pretty cosmopolitan as Scotland goes, but phone signal is limited in places and non-existent in others, which, depending on your perspective, is either a blessing or a pain in the backside.

The other reason people don’t flock to Scotland for their hols? The weather. That’s not to say it’s always bad. I’ve come back sunburnt from many a Scottish holiday. But it is somewhat unpredictable. When it’s good, there’s no better place on earth. And if it’s not so good? Well, that’s what waterproof clothing was made for.

Go to Skye. Find the places away from the crowds. Just don’t tell your friends.

10 Things to Do With Your Extra Hour of Daylight

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British Summer Time is here! With promises of long, warm summer nights, sunny evenings at the crag and weekends packed with adventure from dawn to dusk. Admittedly, we’re still in March, which means for every day of sun you get one of rain with the additional bonus of the occasional hard frost, but hey, that’s what living in the UK is all about.

I love this time of year. Finally, the dark days of winter are behind us. There’s no longer the agony of staring out of the office window, knowing that by the time you get to leave work, the sun will have slipped away. And let’s face it, it’s much easier to get motivated to go for a post-work run when it’s still light outside.

If you’re itching to get outside, but lacking in inspiration, here are ten fun things to do outdoors with your extra hour of evening daylight.

Take a Different Route Home From Work

If you cycle, walk or run to work, winter commuting can be a punishing experience. Every day becomes a battle of your will versus the weather. Whether you have your head down, pedalling into a headwind, or you end up fighting with your umbrella as you get soaked by a passing lorry, the shortest route home is usually the preferable one.

The reward for your perseverance, is the warm, dry summer evenings, where commuting becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. So now you have a bit more daylight, why not choose an alternative route home and explore more of your local area? Use the CycleStreets planner to plan a longer route home on quiet back roads and cycle paths or swap your road bike for a mountain bike and go off-road.

Go Bouldering Outside

It may not be quite light enough to justify getting your ropes and trad gear out just yet, but there’s plenty of daylight for a quick bouldering session after work. With roadside venues such as Almsclife (Yorkshire), Bonehill Rocks (Devon), Burbage (Peak District) and Dumbarton Rocks (west of Glasgow), you can be parked up and have your bouldering pad out before most of your work colleagues have driven home.

If you’re new to climbing and have been training indoors over the winter, now is the perfect time to test out your skills on real rock. Just remember that bouldering outdoors can be quite different to indoors; check out these tips from the good folks at UKClimbing.

Get Out in the Garden

If you need some outdoor time, look no further than your own back garden. Gardening is relaxing, creative and can be pretty hard work! The combination of spring sun and rain means that everything is starting to grow, so it’s time to get the lawnmower out, tidy up the garden and start planting out those seedlings you’ve been nurturing in the greenhouse. Follow the RHS’s guide for jobs to do at this time of year.

Go on a Microadventure

Have you spent the winter snuggled up at home reading, planning and dreaming of adventure? Now is the time to get out there and have some! I know, I know, you need to ease yourself into this adventuring malarky. After all, the grey drizzle spreading over the M25 is quite different to the hot, wild African plains. But this is where microadventures come in.

Microadventures are pint-sized adventures. They’re not about taking on some huge daunting challenge that you need to raise thousands of pounds for. And there’s no need to go to your boss and beg for six months off work. Microadventures are simple, local and cheap, but most importantly, fun. Whether it’s cooking dinner over a camp fire, a mid-week overnight bivvy or even camping in your garden, microadventures are exactly what you want to make them. For more ideas and lots of tips check out Alastair Humphreys’ excellent blog.

Try Orienteering

If you’ve never tried orienteering (and if not, why not?), now is a great time to start. Most orienteering clubs put on friendly summer evening events at local parks and woodlands. These are ideal for beginners, and they’ll usually be someone around to show you the ropes. Check out this newcomer’s guide to getting into orienteering, and find an event near you on the British Orienteering website.

Take the Kids on an Adventure

I’m going to be a bit controversial, but hear me out. Spring is here. It’s time to turn the TV off, put the iPad out of reach on the top shelf and limit access to the Playstation. It’s time for a family adventure.

Now the evenings are lighter there are loads of (free) outdoor activities you can take advantage of. Cycle along a canal towpath, go on a treasure hunt or feed the ducks in the park. Go in search of the Gruffalo, roast marshmallows on an open fire or build a den in the woods. Your kids will have a great time and will be so tired, you’ll all get a great night’s sleep.

Get Fit with an Outdoor Bootcamp

Fed up of sweaty gyms? Give yourself plenty of arm-waving space by taking your work out outdoors. There’s also the added bonus of being able to breath fresh, unfiltered air. If you like being shouted at, British Military Fitness run classes at all levels across the country. UK Outdoor Fitness also offer nationwide classes (possibly with less shouting) and there are plenty of local trainers around if you’re looking for some one-to-one training.

Go to an Open Air Cinema

If you’re looking for something a little less active, then take a seat at an open air cinema. You can usually take along a picnic and drinks and they’re hosted in venues from castles and stately homes to rooftop gardens and cobbled streets.

If a spot of theatre is more your thing, then get along to a performance at Regent’s Park in London, Grosvenor Park in Chester or the stunning Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

Enter some evening running events

If your weekends are packed full of family commitments, opportunities to enter running races can be few and far between. The good news is, that as the evenings start getting lighter, there are more opportunities to compete in events after work. There’s a pretty comprehensive list of events here.

If you’re lucky enough to live near the hills, then there’s no excuse not to try out some of the local fell races. The
Fell Runner website has a full list of FRA registered races and you can search by region to find events in your area. Want to have even more fun? GO ORIENTEERING. (I’m not going to tell you again.)

Take a sunset walk

One of the nicest things about this time of year is that the sun sets at a perfect time for evening sunset walks. It’s not so early that you’re stuck at work, and you have plenty of time to get home for a late dinner afterwards. Take a stroll through your local park, woodland or fields. Close your eye and breathe in the sounds and smells of nature. Relax and enjoy the swathes of colour across the sky as the sun dips below the horizon. Be at peace.

What’s your favourite way to use the extra daylight we have in the evenings? Get in touch on Twitter and let me know, or drop a comment in the box below. Happy adventuring!

The Twelve (Outdoor) Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt

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Get the family outdoors this Christmas with a fun treasure hunt

It’s ten in the morning on Boxing Day. The shine has already dimmed from the presents scattered around the house. The batteries in the whizz-around toy finally died two hours ago (thank God) and the kids have already started asking when Santa will be coming back. You sit slumped on the sofa; a combination of exhaustion and red-wine hangover creates a thick fog in your mind.

Sound familiar? With all the build up to Christmas and weeks of preparation, it’s easy to feel a bit blue come Boxing Day. But there is a solution! Something that will wake you up, keep the kids occupied and take their minds off their new toys (or the TV) for a few hours.

So dig out those wellies, hats and scarves. Get out of the house to your local wood or park and prepare to play the Twelve (Outdoor) Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt.

What do you need to play?

At its most basic level all you need is a bit of imagination and a place that’s safe for people to explore. You can either do the treasure hunt as a family or split into teams (ideal if you have relatives over). If you’re in teams and want to be competitive you may want to bring along a pen and paper and some kind of timing device plus a prize for the winning team or family. (Just re-use one of the boxes of chocolates you gave as presents – no one will notice.)

The beauty of this treasure hunt is that is needs absolutely no preparation. Because let’s face it, after Christmas Day, you’re all prepped out.

How to play

The purpose of the treasure hunt is to collect different types of natural materials in numbers relating to the Twelve Days. For example:

12 beech twigs
11 tiny pebbles
10 pine cones
9 holly berries (watch those prickles!)
8 orange leaves
7 pieces of silver birch bark
6 acorns
5 golden feathers (ok, brown feathers may have to do)
4 strands of ivy
3 earthworms
2 black stones
1 oyster mushroom growing on a tree (have an adult along to help pick the right edible mushroom)

You’ll probably need to adapt this depending on the flora and fauna in your local area. For example, if you live near a beach, you could look for shells and seaweed instead. Please DO NOT try and literally recreate the items in the Twelve Days of Christmas song. Gold rings are rather hard to find in your local park and swans have a nasty bite.

If you have teams competing against each other, the winning team is the first to collect all their items. Or the team with the prettiest feathers. Or whoever makes the best nature art out of what they’ve found. You decide. Need a tie-breaker? Get them to calculate how many of nature’s presents they’ve collected in total.

Adults-only version

Just because you don’t have kids doesn’t mean you can’t go on a treasure hunt! And what’s more, an adult treasure hunt can involve pubs (many of which do hot chocolate if you’re feeling a little delicate). Why not get some friends together and set a photo treasure hunt? A group of swans, a pear(less) tree, a bunch of mistletoe. First team back with a photo of everything wins (and gets to buy the first round).

However you decide to play, the main thing is to get outside, get some fresh air and have fun.

Merry Christmas everyone, and have an even merrier Boxing Day.

16 Christmas Gifts for People Who Love the Outdoors

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Find the perfect Christmas gift for outdoor-loving people

As we’re well into December now, I thought a bit of Christmas gift inspiration was in order. You may all be more organised than me and have your presents bought, wrapped and under the tree. (Is it wrong to admit I haven’t started shopping yet?). But if you’re stuck about what to buy for friends and family who love the outdoors hopefully this guide will help.

I’ve tried to keep it budget friendly (under £50) and included a few more unusual options, for the person who has everything.

Christmas gifts for runners

I was really jealous of my fiance’s merino buff when we were running in snowy Scotland recently. For warmth without weight (or itchiness), check out this stylish selection of buffs. Plus, 1 percent of the proceeds will be donated to non-profit organisations working for the environment. From £22 at www.buffwear.co.uk.

At this time of year, most runners are having to train in the dark. To get away from the roads and have a real run, a headtorch is a must. Alpkit’s Prism 630 is reasonable priced, water resistant and kicks out an impressive 630 lumens. Perfect to make sure your runner gets out and home again in time for dinner. £43 from www.alpkit.com.

If your running friend really doesn’t need any more socks, trainers or running mementos, why not consider a subscription to a magazine? Trail Running is the only UK magazine dedicated to off-road running and packed full of inspiration. From £24 with a free baselayer top from www.greatmagazines.co.uk.

Christmas gifts for cyclists

Every cyclist likes a tick-list and this is one of the best. Great British Bike Rides covers 40 of the best road rides across England, Scotland and Wales. The book gives a detailed breakdown of each route with downloadable GPX files. £25 from www.v-publishing.co.uk.

Combining a tyre lever, spanner, screw drivers and a host of other tools, the Nutter Cycle Multi Tool is a neat, lightweight tool that should fix problems a cyclist may come across. It even has a bottle opener (though no drinking and cycling please!). £39.99 from www.fullwindsor.cc.

If you’re looking for an off-the-bike gift, this recycled punctured inner tube belt may fit the bill. Or these bike chain earrings made from upcycled bicycle chains. Belt, £34 and earrings, £8 from www.cyclegeezer.com.

Christmas gifts for climbers

I have been a religious fan of Climb On! bar for years. It’s about the only thing that sorts my dry skin out after a day of climbing – and gets it ready for the next day. £9.99 from www.urbanrock.com.

3RD ROCK is a family run clothing business based in the Peak District with an environmental ethos. I’m a huge fan of their clothes for climbing in: if you’re looking for presents for the climber in your life check out the Orbit Vest (£22) and Luna Recycled Bra Top (£33).

Keep your climber injury-free with Dave Macleod’s excellent book, Make or Break: Don’t Let Climbing Injuries Dictate Your Success. Drawing on his own experiences and existing research, Dave covers both prevention and treatment of different injuries with advice and techniques specific to climbing. £29 from www.davemacleod.com.

Christmas gifts for hikers

A set of Contoured Coasters from Alp & Ash would be a great present for anyone who loves the British Hills. Handmade, you can pic ‘n’ mix across the range of English, Welsh and Scottish hills to create a bespoke collection. From £8.

I was lucky enough to get a Sigg Hot & Cold ONE bottle for my birthday and so far it’s shaping up to be the best thermos flask I’ve owned. It has a handy one-hand opening system and it guaranteed to keep your drinks hot for hours. (Though be warned – I actually burnt my mouth forgetting how hot the liquid could be!) £22.99 from www.uk.sigg.com.

A map is a great gift for any hiker. But what about a whole set of them? A 12-month premium subscription to OS Maps gives unlimited access to Standard, Aerial, OS Explorer and OS Landranger maps, plus over 400,000 suggested routes for the bargain price of £23.

Alternative Christmas gifts

Still struggling for ideas? If your intended recipient doesn’t want ‘things’, how about these alternative presents:

  • If your cyclist has one too many bikes, how about donating one in their name? World Bicycle Relief donates sturdy bikes to students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs across Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Looking closer to home? The Bike Project is a London-based project that takes second-hand bikes, fixes them up and donates them to refugees.
  • One gift that will go down a treat for any active person is a sports massage. Whatever sport they’re into, a massage is a great way to loosen up aching muscles after a hard training session.
  • Treat your explorer to a bushcraft course to learn the basics of surviving in the wild. Various companies run weekends and longer courses across the UK. For a lower cost (and lower commitment) alternative, TheCanoeMan runs taster sessions from £30.
  • The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour87 brings the magic and adventure of the Banff Festival to cities across the UK. The films cover a wide range of sports and adventures, so there’s something to inspire everyone. Tickets are £14 (or £12 if you go to both shows).

These gifts can also make great birthday presents at any time of year. If you’ve got a suggestion for a great gift, add it to the comments below! I should also say that none of the links are affiliate links and I get no compensation from any of the companies listed for promoting their products – I just think they look great!