Britain is an adventurous country. Even if we are more armchair explorer than Bear Gryllsâ€™-style hanging from a cliff with the rope between our teeth, most of us enjoy stories of travel and adventure. We have a strong history here, of course, and can all remember from primary school the names of Captain Cook, Livingstone, and Shackleton.
Growing up, through school and into university, I had my own list of great adventurers who inspired me and made life feel more exciting, bold, and filled with possibility. Eventually I fizzed with enough restless energy from these stories to escape from the gravity of normal life and burst out on an adventure of my own. I didnâ€™t have much money or expertise, so I decided to see the world by bicycle. What began as excited dreams in the pub grew into a four-year-ride right the way around the world. I returned home thrilled to discover that adventures were not exclusively the domain of “real” adventurers. Ordinary people, like me, could choose to get out and do exciting things that were not at all ordinary. I was hooked.
Several years of big expeditions followed (ocean rows, desert crossings and so on) before I had my second big realisation: I did not need to travel halfway round the world to find challenging adventures or beautiful landscapes. I could find it all right here, at home, and squeeze it into a weekend after a busy week book-writing at the computer. I called my short, local, accessible, cheap adventures ‘microadventuresâ€™. The ideas I began suggesting proved popular, precisely because they were short, local, accessible, and cheap. I found it fun to see increasing numbers of people squeezing exciting microadventures into their busy lives.
All of my own adventures, large and small, originally came about because I loved reading books about braveÂ men and women doing mad but marvellous things. I decided to compile a selection of my personal heroes, and hope that these great adventurers will encourage children today to dream of exploring the world.
Everyone can be an adventurer, at any age. So here are a selection of my adventure heroes from my new childrenâ€™s book Great Adventurers, and ideas to turn their stories into a UK microadventure for all your family to tackle this summer holiday.
Name: Michael Collins
Most Famous Adventure:Â Michael Collins flew to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He is virtually unknown because, rather than bouncing on the moon, he was the pilot of the command module that would bring the men home and so continued orbiting the moon until Neil and Buzz returned. I love his story because he not only acknowledges that he did not have the best role on the mission, but also was thrilled and grateful for the wonderful adventure that he DID get to experience.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Watch a meteor shower
Idea:Â In our lives filled with time staring at screens it is very easy for all of us to forget that there is a wild and vast universe outside. Every August the Perseid meteor shower bursts across our skies and is a perfect excuse to get the whole family outdoors and sleeping in the garden together.
Where: In your own garden. Light pollution spoils star-gazing so if you live in a city this could be your excuse to go camping in the countryside.
Time Required: One Night
Difficulty Rating:Â Very easy and cheap
Specialist Gear Needed: A duvet, pillow, and midnight feast
What to look out for:Â The Perseid meteor shower peaks this year on August 12-13. The moon will be a small crescent making ideal conditions. All you have to do is keep an eye on the skies and look out for shooting stars. The pre-dawn hours are likely to be the best times, with a meteor a minute streaking through the heavens at peak times
Name: Laurie Lee
Most Famous Adventure: Laurie Lee walked out of his home one midsummer morning and set off on adventure to Spain. As the Spanish Civil War loomed, Laurie walked the length of the country living from the money he earned busking with his violin along the way.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Set out from your front door to explore
Idea:Â It is a common mistake to assume that you need to travel a long way around the world to have an adventure. But adventure is much more about having an attitude of curiosity and you can have that anywhere. Set out from your front door to walk to somewhere you have never been before. If you do that, you are an explorer. It might be a small wood you notice on a map, a playground on the other side of town, or a family member whose home you always drive to. If you turn up for lunch, unannounced and on foot, your family will still be talking about this in a year, and you will have had an adventure.
Where: The good part of this is that you begin from home. As kids grow bored over the long summer, taking a fresh look at where you live will freshen up your town. If you download a Geocaching app you will be able to take part in this free, worldwide treasure hunt wherever you live. Geocaching is a brilliant way for tricking a reluctant child in getting outdoors under the pretence of giving them extra screen time!
Time Required: Thatâ€™s up to you! This could be just an hour, or you could walk for a day, a week, or a month. Adventure can begin on your front doorstep, and there is less stopping you than you probably imagine.
Difficulty Rating: Very easy and cheap
Specialist Gear Needed: Comfy shoes, a rucksack with drinks and bribery snacks. The Viewranger app has an excellent selection of free maps to use.
What to look out for: Look really carefully for things that you have never noticed before. You might be surprised how much your brain has taken for granted until now.
Name: Rick Hansen
Most Famous Adventure:Â A car crash when he was just 15 left Rick in a wheelchair for life. Disappointed with the way he found people perceived disabled people, Rick decided to embark on a massive adventure. He travelled right the way around the world in his wheelchair, an astonishing journey that covered 40,000km in 2 years and raised 26 million dollars for charity.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â There are lots of organisations that help disabled young people live more adventurously
Idea:Â In Scotland, JAPES (https://www.japes.scot/) helps young people who live with mobility challenges to experience the thrill, excitement and camaraderie of taking part in mass participation running events. On the Isle of Wight the Miss Isle school (http://www.missisle.org.uk/) teaches disabled people to sail. Flyability takes disabled people hang-gliding (http://www.bhpa.co.uk/sport/bhpa/flyability/) whilst the Bendrigg Trust and the Calvert Trust both work to challenge disability through outdoor adventure.
Name: Felice Benuzzi
Most Famous Adventure:Â As a Prisoner of War in WWII, Benuzzi and two friends escaped in order to climb Mount Kenya. They had only the picture of the mountain on a tin of OXO cubes to navigate with, and had made all their climbing equipment using materials found or stolen in the prison camp. Once they had climbed the mountain they broke back into the prison camp and apologised for escaping! The commandant reduced their solitary confinement punishment “for sporting effort”.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Climb your nearest hill
Idea:Â Head out to climb the highest point that you can see from your home. Or, if you donâ€™t have a suitable view, climb the highest peak in your county (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_counties_by_highest_point). The key point of microadventures is that it really doesnâ€™t matter what you do, or where you go: simply the act of getting outdoors, with all your family, is what leads to fun adventures and experiences happening. An easy outing if you live in Norfolk, rather more of a challenge in Gwynedd, Lochaber or Cumbria…
Where: Look out of your window and see what you can see
Time Required: A day
Difficulty Rating:Â Even the highest peaks in England are within the reach of young children after a bit of practice.
Specialist Gear Needed: What you pack will depend very much upon what hill you are tackling. If you are aiming high, be prepared for the weather to change and pack waterproofs, a warm layer, food, water, and a map.
What to look out for:Â It is a very satisfying feeling to look back down from a hill and see where you have come from. Look out for your home: it will give the children a sense of achievement and a better understanding of the area where you live.
Name: Thor Heyerdahl
Most Famous Adventure: Thor Heyerdahl was an anthropologist who believed that the peoples of the Polynesia could have originally arrived there by raft from South America. Other experts scoffed at the suggestion so Heyerdahl decided to test his theory. He and five companions crossed the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft against almost insurmountable odds.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids: Build a raft
Idea: One of my happiest childhood memories was building a raft on a river. One of my happiest adult memories was building a raft on a river. It is deeply satisfying, very entertaining, and something that all the family can help with.
Where: You need to find a riverbank or lake shore that is easily accessible as you will have lots of stuff to carry. Pay attention that the water is safe, that currents or wind are not strong, and that you take appropriate precautions for safety. Do not use a raft on the sea.
Time Required: You will want to spend a whole day enjoying building, rebuilding, floating, sinking, picnicking, and voyaging.
Difficulty Rating:Â Moderately hard. It will be a fun project to combine with friends, for many hands will help. Youâ€™ll also benefit from learning how to tie a clove hitch and square lashing. Or, at least, remember that if you canâ€™t tie knots, tie lots…
Specialist Gear Needed: A bit of searching online will help you put together a kit list of plastic barrels, poles, and rope. Donâ€™t forget your lifejackets!
What to look out for: Keep an eye out for passersby who I can guarantee will be both amused by and jealous of your adventure.
Name: Ranulph Fiennes
Most Famous Adventure:Â Ranulph Fiennes was my first-ever adventure hero, and the benchmark I used for many years in measuring my expeditions. He has done so many arduous journeys over many decades, but without doubt his biggest adventure was the Transglobe which circumnavigated the globe via its polar axis. After 7 years of preparation, the 3-year, 100,000 mile journey took the team across the Sahara and Antarctica, through the North West Passage and into the hazardous icefields of the Arctic Ocean.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Circumnavigate your home town
Idea:Â My first ever microadventure was walking a lap of the M25. It was an amusing, but fascinating and surprisingly wild journey. What surprised me about that hike was how much the experience kept reminding me of cycling all the way around the world. Depending on where you live this could be an adventure tackled on foot or bike, on footpaths or small roads.
Where: Your town
Time Required: Walking a lap of the M25 took me a week to do. Unless youâ€™re boldly considering circumnavigating a big city, youâ€™ll be able to get round most small towns in a day.
Difficulty Rating:Â The challenges here are mostly navigational, though planning a journey is often half the fun. Bing maps online has a very useful Ordnance Survey mode so that you can plot your route via footpaths as much as possible.
Specialist Gear Needed: Comfy shoes, a rucksack with drinks and bribery snacks.
What to look out for:Â Look out for footpaths you have never noticed before, unusual views of your home town, and local wildlife.
Name: Dervla Murphy
Most Famous Adventure:Â On her tenth birthday Dervla was given a bicycle and an atlas. She decided that she would like to cycle to India. Once she was grown-up she did just that, and so began fifty years of prolific adventuring and book writing.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Jump on a train then cycle home
Idea:Â ‘Riding your bikeâ€™ becomes ‘having an adventureâ€™ when you add purpose and surprise to your outing. A bicycle is the best way for children to travel a long way under their own power. They will be surprised and proud at how far they are able to ride. The knack of this challenge is taking the train far enough to be a challenge, but not so far that the ride home turns into a misery penance!
Where: Another local plan chosen to demonstrate that you can live adventurously wherever you happen to live
Time Required: One day. Factor in time for detours, lunch,
What to look out for:Â Remember that the wiggly route home will be longer than a straight train track, so factor that into your plans. Your childâ€™s age plus five is a formula that errs on the side of caution for working out how far to ride. Also check your train operatorâ€™s rules about taking bicycles on trains.
Name: Sarah Outen
Most Famous Adventure:Â Sarah spent three years kayaking, cycling and rowing around the world. She rowed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans solo, facing tropical storms and hurricanes along the way.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Canoe a river and camp along the way.
Idea:Â The River Wye is one of the most beautiful paddling rivers in Britain and you can paddle anything from half a day to 100 miles. WyeCanoes.com can help you with all the equipment you need, and a qualified guide if you prefer.
Where: The River Wye
Time Required: from half a day to four days
Difficulty Rating:Â A short paddle can be done by anyone. Canoes are very stable and forgiving of beginners. Longer trips require some technique and fitness.
Specialist Gear Needed: If you or your friends own a canoe then get a license from British Canoeing and get going. If not, then the best option is to hire a canoe as there are quite a lot of gear and logistics requirements for what is ultimately a pleasantly simple way to travel.
What to look out for:Â Keep quiet and you might spot kingfishers, peregrine falcons, salmon, or even the elusive polecat.
Name: Jacques Piccard
Most Famous Adventure:Â In 1960 Jacques Piccardsâ€™ bathyscaphe, Trieste, touched down at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the very deepest point on the planet. The descent to almost 11,000 metres took almost five hours. Piccardâ€™s expeditions pointed an important spotlight on the need to study and care for our ocean environments.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Explore underwater
Idea:Â Wild Swimming has become extremely popular in recent years, and rightly so! Swimming in rivers, lakes, and the sea is one of my very favourite things to do in the outdoors. The Outdoor Swimming Society provides excellent resources and advice for anyone keen to dip their toe. But my suggestion here is to take a fresh look at a familiar activity. Rather than simply going for a swim, make a conscious effort to explore underwater. With a mask and snorkel riverbeds and rock pools take on a fascinating new dimension.
Where: Anyway with clean, clear, safe water
Time Required: Less than an hour
Difficulty Rating:Â Easy. Even toddlers can be encouraged, with supervision, to look for the first time at the underwater world.
Specialist Gear Needed: A mask or goggles and snorkel. A wetsuit will increase how long you feel comfortable swimming in the water.
What to look out for:Â Take appropriate safety precautions as you always should do when swimming. Look out for underwater life such as bullheads and caddis fly larva in upland rivers and streams, or a clearer view of old rock pool favourites such as crabs and shrimps.
Name: Benedict Allen
Most Famous Adventure:Â Although there was an unfortunate media-hyped madness after Benedict returned from a recent jungle expedition slightly later than planned, his most impressive adventure was a journey to the heart of the Amazon jungle, learning from the local people how to survive in the jungle.
UK Interpretation of the Adventure for Your Kids:Â Sleep in a home-made shelter
Idea:Â There is a problematic misconception that you need vast amounts of expensive equipment to have an adventure. This is neither true, nor helpful. Benedict crossed jungles with a tiny amount of gear, sleeping in his hammock or building simple shelters. Use your imagination to create a cozy shelter from branches, or learn how to make a ‘bashaâ€™ from a tarpaulin
Where: Provided you do not damage live trees, you can build a shelter in any woodland. Or you can make a ‘bashaâ€™ and sleep outside in your own garden even in pouring rain. In fact, I love being sheltered underneath a basha when it is raining hard.
Time Required: A few hours
Difficulty Rating:Â Definitely something that can appeal to all ages, from toddlers to big kid dads.
Specialist Gear Needed: A tarpaulin, bungees, string, sleeping bag and mat.
What to look out for:Â Take care not to damage living trees, and remember that much wildlife shelters under fallen logs, so be considerate with how you act in the woods.
This piece first appeared in the Daily Telegraph
For Sale, now – Great Adventurers.