Show/Hide Navigation
city man walk commuter pavement
 

Commuter Microadventure

Every day, millions of people commute into cities by train and bus and car. For most people this is a tedious, expensive, time-wasting part of their day.

But the route of your commute route offers a great opportunity for a microadventure. I decided to give it a try.

Most people commute the same route, day in, day out, for year after year.

But how much do you know about this journey? How much do you even see? Next time you are on the train, pause for a few minutes and look up from your phone or book or laptop. Look out of the window at the world whizzing by. Between the towns and villages you race through are the places in between: the fields and woods and pockets of countryside that exist even in the most built-up regions of Britain. It is easy not to notice these.

But what would it be like out there? What would it be like to sit on that small hilltop and watch the trains racing past? Where does that small footpath beside the stream lead to? How would it feel to be in that copse of trees when the sun sets and the moon rises?

So here is my suggestion.

One evening after work why not walk or cycle or run the route of your commute? Try it. And find out for yourself how it actually feels to spend a night in that small copse, a night in the wild in the small pockets of countryside that lay beyond the fringes of the cities you work and live in.

The next morning simply get back onto the train -usual time, usual carriage- and head back into work as normal. (These people did it. So did these.)

In case you need convincing that this is an achievable challenge for “real” commuters with “real” jobs, here are a couple of comments from a blog post I wrote a while ago:

Martin: Everyday I sit on the train to work and watch the countryside go by and look oh so longingly at the woods, the woods, we gotta get into the woods!
Me: Why don’t you walk home from work one night. Try to follow the train line as close as you can cross-country. You will see things from such a different perspective. And whenever you are on the train to work in the future you will have great memories of the microadventure…
Martin: Am taking your idea a step further and will wild camp the night in the woods that I see from my train.

Martin kept to his word, writing on his blog, “I’m pleased to say the adventure went well and I spent a very enjoyable, and cosy, night.”

I work from home so I don’t have a commute. So for this microadventure I decided to pick the journey that commuters from St Albans into London take every day. They have the most expensive journey per mile in the country. I would travel there, not by train, from the heart of London. Somewhere close to St Albans I would find a spot to lay my head for the night. And in the morning I would join the commuters on their expensive train ride back into the city. 
As well as comparing how different the journey felt in the train and out of the train, I was interested to test my theory that simply heading in a straight line out of any city will lead you, in a couple of hours, to a pleasant patch of countryside, thus making microadventures incredibly easy for anyone to get involved in.

As I don’t have an office I had to pretend that I did! So, at 5pm, I left “my” office by London Bridge, built 2000 years ago by the Romans whose road I would follow to St Albans.

The Shard

In a city it is hard to imagine that somewhere out there are fields and rivers and peace.

Shake Up Your Commute

Rather than taking the train out to that horizon I set out on my own.

Train tracks to the horizon

Although I have done this sort of thing so often, I still found it hard to imagine that I could leave all these city things behind and make my own way out to the countryside. If you have never headed out of town in search of a field to sleep in then this is likely to be the most daunting part of the microadventure.

Tower Bridge

But resist the Tube, resist the bus, and keep going!

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

I turned north at the Queen’s house and set out to see where everybody else lives.

Shake Up Your Commute

Soon it felt like I was in a different land.

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

It’s interesting how commuters’ homes change as you travel further. They gave me a pretty good indication of what stage of my journey I was on without needing to resort to a map. All I had to do was follow the Roman Road in a straight line.

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

I loved the simplicity of this trip – just following that old Roman Road until I made it to the countryside.

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

And then I made it! I reached the first proper field! I was out of London and into the countryside.

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

Only then did I cross the M25 (the scene of my favourite microadventure).

Shake Up Your Commute

Now I was into proper countryside, tucked in small pockets amongst the bypasses and satellite towns and 24 hour McDonalds.

Shake Up Your Commute

This was beyond all my expectations. I had envisaged a pretty rubbish, covert bivvy spot for the night. I certainly had not imagined a refreshing swim in a chalk stream and a hilltop all to myself for sunset.

Shake Up Your Commute

Shake Up Your Commute

So this was the end of my journey.
What did I do all evening out there by myself? Not much. In fact, probably exactly the same thing as countless other commuters that evening: just a takeaway and an early night…

Takeaway and an early night

In the morning I was only a mile or two from the station and a chance for me to experience “Britain’s most expensive commute”, whisking me back into London in time for another day at the office.

St Albans train

St Albans train

This trip was simpler and more enjoyable than I could have imagined. I highly recommend it. The worst that can happen is that you do not enjoy it and never need to try it again. There’s not a lot to lose.
But if you enjoy it, how will you feel on future journeys on that train when you zoom past “your” wood or “your” hill?
You may have to resist the urge to shout out to the carriage, “I slept up there and it was fantastic!”
Because, remember, it is unseemly to speak to anyone in commuter-land…

If you attempt this for yourself, please share your experience. Either post it on the Microadventures Facebook Page or post in on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #microadventure and #ShakeUpYourCommute

If you like this post you might like this one too about a New York Microadventure.

Read Comments

You might also like

Too much to choose from The irony of finding in my inbox, three years old and still unfinished, the embryo of a blog post about “just get on with it”… So, in the spirit of those notes, which suggested that the time to begin is […]...
Urgent versus Important Frustrated at the continual interruptions of modern life, I headed to a bothy in the hills to get some work done on my book. It was the most productive three days I have managed in ages! The book – when […]...
A Day with the National Trust The National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity, looks after many beautiful landscapes in Britain. As part of my occasional series on what makes people passionate about spending time in the outdoors, I visited the team at North Devon National Trust. […]...
 

Comments

  1. Srinivas Prabhu Posted

    Hi,

    My commute to office is only 4 Kms in a big concrete jungle 😛 I travel on my motorbike and there is nothing to see 🙁 I am from Bangalore and here the only countryside you get is outside the city (outside the 60 Km radius ) outside the city.

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      If you have a motorbike then you can easily zoom 60k to the countryside…

      Reply
      • Srinivas Prabhu Posted

        Yep! The countryside is explored, the mountains climbed. The only thing to do is to expand the horizons beyond 60k. There comes the problem. Weekend isnt enough for a long adventure !!!

        Reply
        • Did you tried to look for cheap flights to Norway? Maybe it’s hard to belive, but from some places in the UK, you can go there just for a moment to see the Fjords, and be back in monday morning.

          Reply
          • Srinivas Prabhu Posted

            I live in India luke 🙂 We have Kerala state with one of the most beautiful reservoirs in the world 🙂

  2. Wow, what a lovely spot for a wild camp.

    People often don’t realise that the home counties are are a great location for adventure, I’ve been exploring Hertfordshire recently, lots of woods, plenty of scope for micoradventures and on the doorstep of London.

    Reply
  3. Anyone got some good ideas for east of the city? Would take me an eternity to hit some fields from central London after work travelling eastward, unless someone knows otherwise.

    Reply
  4. That sense of ‘Ooo what IS that?’ is what inspired me to start prowling all of London’s green spaces, not just my commute. I found that my commute along arterial routes led to a feeling of discombobulation – Years ago I had a eureka moment when I discovered how close Brixton and Clapham are to each other. Previously the train and bus routes had made them feel extremely distant from each other. I have to say that it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever taken up. Now I’ve walked to the south coast from Croydon and have clocked up over 400 miles of London paths in the past two years. My free time finds me mentally drifting off along national trails and scrubby footpaths I’ve discovered exist but am yet to tread. I’m becoming a wee bit obsessed. Didn’t see that coming!

    Reply
  5. Luckily I live in Leeds and am able to commute to work on the bike along the canal. Decided oe day if there was a track on the other side of the river to the canal and found a fantastic single track route which has now become my main route to and from work. Only 3/4 of a mile on road the other 10 miles in secluded woodland and in winter- mud!! Helps me clear my head after hard days at work!!

    Reply
  6. Karen Smith Posted

    Hi, while my upcoming adventure isn’t quite a commute from home
    to work, it is a journey of 117k between my friends place of work and mine. My friend and I are walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness. A 4 day expedition with wild camping, campsite camping and last night in a comfy bed before the last days walk from Drumnadrochit to Inverness. At the ripe old ages of late 40’s and early 50’s we’re looking forward to our adventure.

    Reply
  7. Oh what a fabulous idea. Actually I’m quite lucky that I am able to cycle to work (although I am a fair weather cyclist) along by the river, but even when I do that I always go the same way and never explore. I cycle along the edge of a large park here in Lincoln and I’ve never been in to have a look – not quite on a par with your micro adventure but I hereby vow that I will go and cycle around the park on my way home next time, just to see what’s there. There’s also a path that continues beyond my office that I’ve never cycled down – so next week I’ll go the long way home and see what is that way.

    Reply
  8. Fabulous! I live in Caddington and cycle to Luton station where I catch that expensive train (passing through St Albans) on my way to St Pancras before boarding a second bike (yes, mine) to make my way to the West End. I look at those fields between Luton and Harpenden, between Harpenden and St Albans, between St Albans and Radlett…. and see cattle, sheep and myriads of bunnies. I really need to try this overnight microadventure thing sometime and get myself right out there with them. Thanks for sharing this – really inspiring and very close to home.

    Reply
  9. That’s a nice one, at first I thought it was going to look like running or biking through different routes to work [what I do and main reason to arrive late]. My favourite is still to walk back home walking one hour through as many green parks I can’t find. In the end the city end up in your pocket 🙂

    Reply
  10. Richard Welsh Posted

    Without doubt inspiring and a fabulous idea. I just wondered how you travelled the ground so quickly. thats an 18 – 20 mile walk and a challenge for most people. Setting off at 5pm, it would be dark for most folks before they arrived…

    I might do the same trip but tube to the M25 somewhere, in order to walk the last bit and have more time in the greenery.

    Keep up the great work…. MiAd essential for city folk

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      Set off at 5, arrive by 7 (on the bike). Sunset 9.
      Yes – go by Tube – very good idea.

      Reply

 
 

Post a Comment

HTML tags you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

 
 
 
© Copyright 2012 Alastair Humphreys. All rights reserved. Site design by JSummerton