Reflecting on 6 years of blogging after being shortlisted for Go Outdoors Walking Blog Awards 2014

I started this blog (originally as countryside-walks.org.uk, then a few months later moving to mycountryside.org.uk) back in March 2008 (has it really been that long?). I had just started walking again (for the first time since a child) and, inspired by a few other walking blogs I had discovered (but long forgotten), I wanted a place to record my walks and share my experience.

Continue reading “Reflecting on 6 years of blogging after being shortlisted for Go Outdoors Walking Blog Awards 2014”

Outdoor wild swimming in Northamptonshire

Daniel Martin - swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire
River Nene near Tansor (Photo by Daniel Martin - used with permission)
River Nene near Tansor (Photo by Daniel Martin – used with permission)

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!

Whilst Northamptonshire may not have any mountains (or indeed any hills of note), moors or other ‘exciting’ landscapes, I find it a really nice place to walk – peaceful farmland, picturesque villages, hidden woodlands (and more obvious woodland like Salcey Forest just around the corner from me), stately homes, canals and rivers. And it is quiet – you pretty much have the footpaths to yourself once you outside the dog walking perimeter of the villages.

So it was with some excitement that I spotted ‘Northamptonshire’ mentioned in a Google+ post in my outdoor circle – and not just a passing mention… Daniel Martin (his Google+ profile), an extreme athlete with plans to become the first man in history to swim the Atlantic, was describing a stretch of the River Nene near Tansor, Northamptonshire as his favourite place to swim in the world! (you can view the post on Daniel’s site  – you will need to scroll down a bit).

Daniel Martin - swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire
Daniel Martin – swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire (Photo by Daniel Martin – used with permission)

Wow.

It was only last year that I discovered the joys of wild swimming (or in my case wild bobbing about) – after accidentally choosing a hike in Brecon Beacons that was part of Trail Magazine’s series on wild swimming hikes, followed the following day by a dip in a waterfall plunge pool on this brilliant waterfall walk in south Brecon Beacons. I have never felt more alive or in touch with the outdoors than when I was sitting on the bank drying out with my whole body (literally) buzzing from the experience. This year trips have been few and far between, although I did introduce my partner’s daughter to wild swimming in the Tavy Cleeve on Dartmoor, so discovering there is an excellent swimming spot somewhere just down the road from me  means I can have the chance to go for a dip more often. Although he may have been joking, Daniel has invited me to join him for a swim one day – apparently it is more beautiful the colder it gets!!

Me swimming in the Tavy Cleeve, Dartmoor
Me swimming in the Tavy Cleeve, Dartmoor

And it is great to see Northamptonshire get some recognition for outdoor activities.

You can read more about Daniel, his expeditions and his experiences outdoors, on his website, and you can follow him on Google Plus and Twitter (he is using the hashtag #MyFaveSwims for the series on his favourite swimming spots).

Tempted to go hiking in Northamptonshire? Check out the Northamptonshire Round – a route around Northamptonshire including some of the best parts created by a bunch of hikers keen to show off what Northamptonshire has to offer. There are also loads of resources on Google.

(Many thanks to Daniel Martin for permission to use his photos)

Celebrate London 2012 Olympics by hiking all or part of The Games Way

Durdle Door (used with permission from http://walk2012.co.uk

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.

Continue reading “Celebrate London 2012 Olympics by hiking all or part of The Games Way”

Adventures in Devon and Cornwall

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.

Continue reading “Adventures in Devon and Cornwall”

A wintery night in a hammock!

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?!

Continue reading “A wintery night in a hammock!”

My outdoor highlights from 2011

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:

Continue reading “My outdoor highlights from 2011”

Inspiring hikers of the future… or not!

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!