One of our family goals for 2020 (see this post) was to complete 52 microadventures throughout the year, one per week. According to Alistair Humphreys (the author of Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes), “A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.” It’s about trying something new, different or challenging in your local area, normally outdoors.
We stretched this definition a little as there were a few exciting adventures we wanted to experience further afield, such as hiking a volcano in Dominica (maybe not so micro, but hey!), but we planned for the majority to be completed close to home – rather fortuitously given the Covid situation which subsequently unfolded!
I’m very excited to say that we’ve finally achieved our goal, one month early, and we’ve had such a lot of fun along the way. So much so, that the kids have asked if we can have the same goal for 2021!
Without further ado, here are the 52 microadventures we completed during this strangest of years:
1. Mud Bike Skiing!
Or this is what we’re calling it anyway! We were to attempt cycling a section of what we call the free zoo walk, skirting the perimeter of a safari park, set on an extremely steep hillside. It had been raining for weeks. When we arrived at the top of the first downhill section, what faced us was more akin to a mud ski slope from a Tough Mudder than a relaxing countryside bike ride!
The kids and MrJ were fine, quickly slipping and sliding down the slope with giggles and exclamations of glee. Being more cautious and slower did not serve me so well, and within the first five minutes I’d landed flat on my bottom into a pile of mud! I laughed out loud. There is something primally satisfying about being covered and I do mean truly and fully coated, in a layer of wet sludge.
It was a joyful and bonding time for our family of four, but what made me chuckle the most was the sight of five enormous giraffes peering around their house looking at us in complete bemusement with facial expressions that clearly said, “These animals they call humans do the most crazy things!” Our rolls had been reversed – today, they had come to watch us at the zoo!
2. Night hiking
We’ve done a couple of these now and they’re well loved by the Beans. Walking in the darkness by moon or torch light just adds that frisson of excitement to a familiar route. We have a resident tawny owl near our favourite ramble and listening to him call as we walk is hauntingly beautiful.
For Bean10’s birthday, we even did a secret spy mission in the dark – one for another post.
Coasteering includes swimming, rock scrambling, jumping, cave exploring and climbing along a rocky coastline. We coasteered along Baggy Point in Devon in September. It was a huge hit with all the family; it made my heart flip over watching the kids jump off from the highest of rock jumps, but they had a ball!
4. Building a treebed
Yes, not a treehouse, a treebed! One spring weekend, MrJ and the kids spent the day in the garden building this unique structure in one of our trees!
5. Walking a marathon!
As part of our summer endurance week (see this post), the Beans set themselves a challenge of hiking a marathon distance of 26.2 miles! This turned out to be a very tough challenge for them, but they persevered and managed to complete it in just under 8 hours of walking time. Super proud of my babies for doing this. Here’s what their feet looked like post walk:
6. Climbing behind a waterfall
Not a bad location for a spot of swimming and playing in the waterfall (although I failed to get a picture of them actually behind it!):
7. Cooking over a campfire
One of MrJ’s favourite activities is to spend a lazy Saturday around a campfire in the woods and if we can cook our dinner over it, all the better!
8. Beach cricket
Our resident cricket fanatic, Bean10, is happy to play cricket anywhere, but the beach is a particularly fun spot!
9. Surfing the waves
Bean11, as a goofy-footed surfer (right foot forward), definitely has the best balance in our family! Somewhat surprising because as a younger child, she’d regularly fall off chairs and walk into stationary objects!
10. Chopping logs with axes
Great exercise, a job we need doing and an activity they think is great fun = a win all round!
11. Snorkelling over a volcanic thermal spring
The stunning Champagne Reef in Dominica is named after the continuous stream of small gas bubbles rising from various points in the volcanic sea floor. Snorkelling through a crystal-clear sea filled with bubbles and feasting our eyes on the colourful array of corals and fish around us was one of the highlights of our trip to this adventure island.
12. Running a barefoot mile
Sadly, there are no photos of this, but after reading about the benefits of running without shoes, we all had a great time running several different barefoot miles round and around our garden in the late summer. Giggles abounded but the section under the beech tree with its recently fallen nuts, was particularly painful!
13. Wild river swimming
We opted to do this at the bottom of an enormous waterfall, so the water was ice cold, but it was a joy to watch the Beans splashing around in the river, sticking their heads under mini waterfalls and scrambling over boulders.
14. Fossil hunting
Beside the banks of the River Severn and closer to home along the Kent coast, the challenge to find the most intact fossil always makes for an enjoyable afternoon.
Look at this concentration!
After one of their secret spy missions, they spent a whole afternoon in deep concentration whittling sticks to fashion weapons, useful items for around their camp – such as a shoe rack – along with a spit positioned over a fire they’d carefully laid.
17. Bathing in natural hot springs
With abundant health benefits, often in gorgeous settings, who wouldn’t want to chill out in a natural outdoor hot bath? Particularly if you can have them all to yourselves (or just with your guide!). This one was especially appreciated after a long hike.
18. Learning to sail
Being allowed to sail a boat across a lake with your best friend, learning how to manoeuvre it efficiently, feeling like you’re in a Swallows and Amazons story, might well be their favourite part of our home ed curriculum!
19. Cycling a National Trail
There are some beautiful national cycle trails in the UK. We were lucky enough to cycle the length of one of them: The Crab & Winkle Way – and complete a 40 mile stretch of another: The Tarka Trail.
Both Beans love birds so we managed to fit in a wonderful falconry experience in Exmoor, where they had the opportunity to fly several species of owl, a kestrel and hawk (see this post).
21. Catching newts
One of their friends loves animals and all through the spring and summer, they spend hours around our pond, catching newts and other pond life, identifying the various species and observing their activities. Classic childhood fun!
22. Kayaking through the seasons
Their favourite presents last Christmas were the inflatable kayaks, which we’ve taken out and enjoyed throughout the winter, spring and summer seasons (I have to confess to being much keener in the warmer months…).
Initially an indoor microadventure initiated by Bean11, although they subsequently took the skills they learned outdoors to practice on the (small) cliffs surrounding some of the beaches we explored.
24. Whale watching
Maybe not so micro as adventures go, but in Dominica we were very blessed with the opportunity to go on a whale watching expedition to search for sperm whales, a pod of which live permanently in the deep waters surrounding this island. After hours of exploring, we finally got a close encounter with these majestic creatures.
To an adult it might not seem as exciting as the previous adventure, but for children, the opportunity to sleep under the stars, even if you’re restricted to your own garden because of Covid, is just as thrilling! Especially if a group of friends join you and you’re allowed to stay up late toasting marshmallows and running around playing games in the moonlit wood!
26. Running 5K
Although not natural lovers of running unless they’re chasing their friends around in a game of tag, through lockdown MrJ and I took the children for a run twice a week. And as they started to get better, they were keen to challenge themselves to go further, until eventually it was them who asked if they could run a 5K, and then 4 miles and then 5…
Our coasteering instructor told us about the sport of wakeboarding (I’d genuinely never heard of it) and as soon as Bean11 (my daredevil) heard about it, she was desperate to give it a whirl. We tried it out at a wakepark, where you’re pulled along a lake by an overhead cable system. It turns out Bean11 was a bit of a natural and within 15 minutes of trying the sport was up on her feet, carving and turning like a pro!
28. Jumping off the pier
The Beans had lots of fun challenging each other to dive and jump off this pier in as many daring ways as possible!
29. Planting your own garden
Some successes and some failures from their vegetable garden this year, with the courgettes dominating and the tomato plants proliferating like crazy but not actually producing any actual tomatoes! Regardless, the joy they experience from harvesting their crop or discovering a giant courgette is a pleasure to watch 😊
30. Biking a marathon
If walking 26.2 miles seems like too much of a challenge, why not try biking the distance instead? The Beans completed this feat is a couple of times in 2020, once the day after hiking the marathon distance (see this post), which was somewhat punchy, but they were thrilled to have achieved it!
31. Climbing a tree
This one I prefer MrJ to supervise as it turns my stomach just watching them balanced precariously in the tops of trees, but allowing children to take simple risks like this at a young age is such an important part of their development.
32. Hike across a fumarole field, up an active volcano to its boiling lake at the summit!
OK, so not your everyday escapade, but this was one of our favourite adventures from our February Dominica trip. One for another post, but we were guided up the volcano by a resident volcanologist who was happy to field Bean10’s near constant questions over the many hours of our hike (we certainly got value for money!). Carefully picking our way across a brightly coloured fumarole field, known as the Valley of Desolation (so glad we had a guide at this point!), we hiked and scrambled our way to the amazing boiling lake at its summit. A truly amazing day!
33. Making your own hammock and rope ladder
Another part of our endurance week involved the Beans making their own hammock and rope ladder – see this post for more details on how to do it yourself. The finished hammock is the perfect comfy spot to lay in the sunshine and read your book.
34. Horse riding
The Beans have only been horse riding a couple of times before, so they thoroughly enjoyed this one-hour hack across the Devon countryside where they had the opportunity to ride alone and to trot for the first time.
Voted as the best day of 2020 by Bean11, we had the most amazing time abseiling, traversing and cannonballing along a stunning ravine in the Titou Gorge, Dominica. Just awesome – see this post for our video!
Being the extroverts that they are, the Beans much prefer these two-person canoes to the single kayaks, so they can chatter away to their friends as they paddle gently across the lake. It’s not a bad life they have!
37. Planning & navigating their own walk
If you’re feeling patient, hand over the reins to the children and allow them to plan and navigate your weekend walk. As long as you can resist the urge to jump in and take over when you know they’re about to take you the wrong direction, allowing them to make these mistakes is the very best way for them to learn.
All you need is a bit of balance, a bodyboard and the steepest sand dunes you can find for an exciting afternoon of sand surfing! The video below was taken at Croyde Beach, Devon.
39. Lake swimming in a volcanic crater
They’re braver than me – this volcanic lake at 2,800m altitude, which fills a volcanic crater between two of Dominica’s volcanoes, was ice cold!
40. Building a giant sandcastle
They may be 10 and 11 now, but that doesn’t make them too old for some good old fashioned beach fun of building the biggest sandcastle they can, standing on the summit and letting the sea wash it away as the tide comes in!
My two love the challenge a spot of orienteering brings, with the opportunity to bring out their compasses; test their spatial skills to see where they are on the map and in which direction they need to go to reach the next post or plaque; and use their eagle eyes to scan an area for the next marker (see this post for more details).
42. Walking across an isthmus
Walking across the tiny strip of land linking the small fishing village to this little peak known as Scott’s Head in Dominica, made for a fun afternoon.
43. Watching the sunrise on the beach
One Sunday evening, MrJ and I planned a little surprise for the next morning. We pulled out the camping stove, laid out warm clothes and set an alarm. At 6:20am, we woke the kids, told them we were going on a microadventure, dressed and jumped in the car. About twenty minutes later we were sat on the beach cooking bacon and egg butties whilst watching the sun rise over the sea. Breakfast tastes so much better when eaten outside!
44. Climbing to the highest point on your local OS map
One Saturday, to add a little more focus to our weekend hike, we challenged the children to find the highest point on our local OS map and plan a hiking route around it. Here we are at the top:
45. Starting a bird list
Since our recent visit to Dungeness where they saw a Cattle Egret, rare for the UK, along with a Great Egret, Cormorants, Widgeon, Lapwings, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls and Tufted Ducks, the Beans have been addicted to bird watching. They bring their binoculars and bird book out on every walk, and have each set up an eBird account, an online worldwide database of bird observations and a free way of recording an online bird list. Every time we sight a new species, they’re eager to get home and add it to their burgeoning eBird list!
46. Collecting 30 different kinds of shell
Barricane beach in Woolacombe, Devon was the perfect setting for the simplest of our challenges: hunting for over thirty different types of beautiful intact shells.
47. Pedalo fun
Given the amount of noise and giggling emerging from this little pedalo, I was very grateful it was a microadventure they could do on their own, without adult supervision!
48. Secret spy missions
They’ve now completed three exciting secret spy missions which have seen them navigating their way across the countryside on foot and by kayak, collecting important documents on route, solving puzzles and liaising with “local rebels” at various checkpoints – see this post.
49. Hiking the length of a National Trail in sections
Over the course of several months, we hiked the Elham Valley Way (22 miles) alongside our home ed group, with ages ranging from toddlers to teenagers. It proved to be the perfect way to connect with friends outside throughout those grey winter months.
50. Making a den in the woods
And in the process, making classic childhood memories.
51. Free diving over a coral reef
Sadly, no photos of this one, but the Beans challenged each other to see just how deep they could free dive.
And finally, for a spot of slacklining in the woods, in a fetching outfit of dressing gown and wellies!
A year of microadventures was the perfect antidote to the difficult 2020 Covid pandemic. At various points, we all pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, tried new activities, made the simple feel special and exciting by adding a new dimension, and had a ball in the process.
I’d highly recommend adding microadventures to your New Year’s family resolutions – they provide the perfect bonding experience. Now, I just need to come up with 52 new ideas for 2021!