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Top 5: Microadventures in the UK

You don’t have to leave the shores of the UK for adventure and discovery — it just takes a little determination and a change of perspective

Top 5: Microadventures in the UK
Image: Alastair Humphreys

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Traditionally, adventurers have tackled far-flung challenges in remote landscapes. I was no different, cycling round the world, crossing Iceland on foot and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.

Only when I returned home did I begin to open my eyes to something I’d never noticed before: that wilderness and beauty had surrounded me all the time. You don’t need to travel halfway around the globe for gorgeous sunrises, or to marvel at starry skies from your sleeping bag. All you actually need to do is make a plan, this very weekend, to do something wherever you happen to live. To plan a microadventure.

The UK is the perfect place to evangelise about microadventures. It’s a crowded country. The mountains are small and the rivers short. In other words, if microadventures are great here, then the idea works everywhere in the world.

Even if you live in a city, you’re no more than an hour away from trees, hills and natural water. You may feel you don’t have enough time, but everyone can manage a night out in a bivvy bag. Microadventures are cheap too: anyone can enjoy cooking on fires or exploring woodlands. You don’t need to be fit or a professional adventurer. Since I began sleeping out on hilltops and swimming in rivers, thousands of people have joined the idea, sharing their experiences online with the #microadventure hashtag. The only hard bit is making the decision to go out and do it.

Image: Alastair Humphreys

Image: Alastair Humphreys

1// A bothy microadventure
Scotland has a great collection of unlocked bothy huts you can stay in for free, by lochs, in valleys and on clifftops. There are some in England and Wales, too. Planning is half the fun of a bothy trip. The Mountain Bothies Association is the charity that maintains them and is well worth supporting.

2// A journey round your home
A regular complaint people say is: there’s nowhere interesting where I live. Draw a circle around your home on a map. Then walk out to that line, and make a journey round your home. A two-mile radius becomes a 16-mile walk. I guarantee you’ll see places you’ve never seen before. In other words, you’ll be exploring! If you live in the countryside, camp out along the way to add to the feeling of adventure.

3// A five to nine Microadventure
Imagine leaving work at 5pm one warm, sunny evening. Instead of heading home as usual, hop on a train with a rucksack and a friend. Climb a hill, turn off your phone and watch the sunset. Sleep under the stars and wake at sunrise. Dash back down the hill, get on the train and be back at your desk by 9am. A simple but memorable adventure!

4// Cycle to the sea
A bicycle is a great machine for exploring as long distances become manageable. Nobody in the UK lives more than 70 miles from the coast so why not jump on a bike and cycle to the sea, or begin training for that challenge? Take a dip, have an ice cream, stare out at the horizon. Visiting the ocean is always good for the soul. Either cycle home or hop on a train, depending on your energy levels.

5// Take the tube
Microadventures encourage recapturing child-like joy. What kid wouldn’t love floating down a beautiful river on a tractor tyre inner tube, or cooking a meal on a stove they made themselves from a drink can? And wouldn’t most adults enjoy that as well? This is a chance to slow life right down, to simplify, to laugh and to appreciate seeing the landscape from a fresh perspective. It’s far cheaper and simpler than buying and transporting a canoe, too.

Wild camping essentials

Bivvy bag: Cheaper, simpler and more fun than a tent, the ultralight Alpkit Hunka lets you sleep out in the open. RRP: £47. 
Sleeping mat: The more you pay, the comfier your sleep. It’s as important as your sleeping bag. Try the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir, RRP: £65.
Down jacket: While wearing a pile of old jumpers does the same thing, a down jacket is a delicious addition to a comfy camp. The Haglöfs Bivvy Down Hood is £138.
Map app: ViewRanger has downloadable route guides, free worldwide maps as well as navigation features.
Stove: Making your own stove from a drink can really is quick and easy; Google ‘microadventure drink can stove’ to get instructions online.

Alastair Humphreys is a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and author of Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. RRP: £16.99 (William Collins).

Published in the Adventure Travel guide, free with with the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)