I always think Northamptonshire gets forgotten when it comes to outdoor activities. For the first few years I subscribed to Countryfile Magazine I religiously collected, ordered and stored the ten route cards included each month – whilst almost every part of the country was covered, there was not a single route in Northamptonshire! So imagine my excitement to discover Northamptonshire has, in the opinion of Daniel Martin – Extreme Athlete, one of the best spots for wild swimming in the world!
After the initial excitement back in 2005, there has recently been a lot of negativity and cynicism and about the London 2012 Olympic Games – whether it is the McDonald’s monopoly on chips, the failings of G4S, spiralling costs or restrictive social media policies. However, for the last two years, project manager Mark Stanley has been working on a fantastic positive project for normal people to get involved in the Olympic celebrations – The Games Way, a 184 mile long distance path between Weymouth (the location of some of the Olympic sailing events) and the Olympic Park in London. The route goes through some fantastic British countryside – the Jurassic Coast, the New Forest, the edge of the South Downs, the Surrey Hills and along the Thames, past ancient castles, over hills and through woodland and across fields. The opening walk leaves from Weymouth on Saturday 28th July – you can either walk (or run) the whole thing, or join in for different stages.
Despite being only a short break, my recent family trip to Devon and Cornwall was certainly adventure packed. Although we were only away for 6 days, we managed to fit in: crabbing in Looe, watching stormy seas in Polperro, a visit to Plymouth Hoe, exploring rock pools on Seaton beach, walks, swimming and a wild camp on Dartmoor, body boarding in Salcombe and a visit to the largest waterfall in England. Here is a quick write up of some of the things we got up to.
Do contact lenses freeze? That was the first thing I thought as I checked the evening’s weather forecast. Why my first concern of spending a night in a hammock in a wood in subzero temperatures was my contact lenses rather than, say, my inadequate sleeping bag, I have no idea! It was New Year’s Eve when, after chatting to a friend about his outdoor plans for the new year, I had agreed to join him at the local bushcraft meet a few weeks later. Perhaps thanks to the festive ale I was consuming, I had also apparantly (my recollection is a little vague) agreed to leave my tent at home and borrow one of his hammocks. After last year’s 1000 mile challenge, I had decided that 2012 was going to be about experiencing the outdoors (rather than clocking up mileage) – so why not spend a night in a hammock in a wood?!
Before I start thinking too much about 2012 (yes I know I am running a week behind!), it is probably right to look back on 2011. Throughout 2011 I attempted a personal challenge to walk 1000 miles – the challenge was an excuse to get outdoors more and, with trips to Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Peak District, Brecon Beacons, Cotswolds and South Downs, as well as plenty of hikes in my local area, it certainly succeeded. I completed just under 900 miles (more details on that on my other blog: http://www.sequencenevershortened.com/2012/01/01/i-walked-500-miles-but-i-didnt-quite-walk-500-more/) and here are some of the best bits:
As a kid, I always loved the outdoors. We lived in a house in the countryside with a large garden, orchard and three small fields, and I have memories of being outdoors in all weathers climbing trees, playing soldiers with my brothers (fir cone wars) and creating bmx tracks. Although I do remember going on walks, it was not until I was about 13 that I discovered the joy of hiking when I did my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.
At my school, the expedition element of the award was done in a single week based at an army base in Devon. The kids doing the award were split into teams, with each team assigned an older leader from the cadets. After lectures on kit, route planning, and safety – the teams, under the guidance of their leader, planned and undertook a two day route across Exmoor. This practice hike was a chance to learn the basic skills needed for backpacking. Afterwards there were a few rest days where there were activities like abseiling, an assault course and a mock night time military exercise on the dunes. The mission for the exercise was to navigate as a team to contacts on each dune in the dark, whilst avoiding enemy “soldiers” hunting you (for extra effect there were usually a few flares fired into the air to keep you on your toes). The exercise, as well as being fun, was a chance to learn and practice map reading and navigation. Finally at the end of the week, the teams, this time without their leaders, had to plan and undertake their own expedition (this time along the more populated coast).
I enjoyed the week so much, that I went back every year for the next three years as a leader. The whole experience inspired me and provided the ground work for the pastime I now enjoy so much. I do not think I actually ever completed my Duke of Edinburgh award, but it achieved what it was there for.
When I found out a friend’s 15 year old daughter had decided to do her Duke of Edinburgh, I was excited for her – then the kit list turned up.
With that list you could be forgiven for thinking they must be going on some epic expedition… but nope this is the kit list for a two day hike in Northamptonshire in June. My overall concern is the thought of these kids having a miserable time lugging all this unneccessary kit across the countryside – that is not going to inspire them but put them off for life!
Sure, most of the kit on the list has a use, at some point or another, on certain types of trips in certain conditions. But no one has explained to these kids what half the stuff is (apparantly the teacher was unsure what was meant by ‘binos’), how to use it (rope for example)) and how to decide what equipment to take on what trip. Their first training walk is tomorrow (with all this kit) – when they planned their routes they were told not to walk near any water (rivers, canals, ponds etc.) as the school insurance only covers such dangerous areas for their main hike……
In an age where kids are unhealtier, fatter and stuck indoors on their game systems, is this really the best we can offer them? Surely we should be inspiring them and teaching them skills to reconnect with the great outdoors, not sending them out as overloaded dumb pack animals?
Fortunately this 15 year old girl has already climbed her first mountain, experienced the beauty of moorland bleakness, and discovered the joys of camping – she just wants the award!
When you set off on a challenge to walk 177 miles, over 13 days, carrying a 15kg backpack, with a dog, there are a number of things you expect: blisters, sore feet, aching shoulders, bruised hips, and exhaustion, to name but a few.
What I didn’t expect was to end up in hospital……