With lockdown starting to ease and the weather sunny and bright, we’ve finally started to venture outside of Kent (!) to enjoy some much-needed family adventure time! As it was such a hit last year, the Beans have set themselves a goal of completing 52 new microadventures in 2021, one per week (see this post for the 52 they completed last year).
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 (although we stretch the local part of this definition…) and normally outdoors.
Here are seven such microadventures perfect for completing during springtime in the UK. My hope is that you’ll find some inspiration here for your own family.
1. Mist Netting and Bird Ringing
Since 1909, the British Trust for Ornithology has co-ordinated a nationwide bird ringing scheme, run by highly trained volunteers, to “generate information on the survival, productivity and movement of birds.” This helps them better understand the population dynamics of our bird species: whether populations are in decline and why exactly. Knowing the ‘why’ ensures conservationists and scientists can focus on the right resolution.
We were lucky enough to meet some family friends whilst visiting my Dad, both trained ringers, who very kindly agreed to involve the Beans in a ringing experience. It was a highlight of our trip – a fantastic experience to see garden birds close up and learn more about them. The Beans were well and truly fascinated. Although we were shown by friends, anyone can get involved in ringing (out of lockdown restrictions). As mentioned on the BTO site – see this link, there is no lower (or upper) age limit to getting started with training to ring. If your children are interested, have a look at the ‘How Do I Find A Trainer’ section in the link above – it’s restricted at the moment due to Covid, but I’m sure this will lift as the restrictions ease.
So, what does it involve?
Firstly, our friends showed the children how to put up the mist nets in the garden. Almost immediately, three birds were captured, which our friends very carefully and adeptly removed from the net and took over to the ringing/data collection table. The mist netting process doesn’t harm the birds in any way as the trainers are well versed in how to properly extract them from the nets.
Once at the table, they showed the Beans how to ring the birds, asking them to record each unique ring number into the logbook (note that the weight of the ring is so small comparative to the bird, that it’s similar to us wearing watches, i.e., it doesn’t affect them).
With their two excellent teachers, over the course of the morning in which 31 birds were caught, the Beans learned:
- how to identify the common species,
- which rings to use on each bird species,
- how to age and sex the birds (their favourite part!),
- how to measure the length of the wing and weigh the bird,
- the method of recording all the data, and
- how to properly release the birds.
They (and I) learned so much in this process. As they worked through the birds, the Beans gained confidence and became increasingly involved, having a go at each step of the process and taking control of the logbook to record the data!
Of the 31 birds captured, 3 of them were re-traps, i.e., they’d previously been ringed by our friends, so they were clearly thriving. 11 different species were caught, including dunnock; coal, blue and great tit; greenfinch; goldfinch; chaffinch; house sparrow; blackbird; robin and even a wood pigeon!
It was an excellent morning’s work, in which we all felt we’d contributed just a little bit to the BTO’s important work on our native bird species. I’m so grateful to our friends for teaching us – a microadventure I’d highly recommend.
2. Boating on the Norfolk Broads
The Norfolk Broads, a National Park with over 125 miles of navigable waterways (without locks) in the most picturesque of landscapes. There are various ways of exploring these watercourses, from the more energetic canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding options; to sailing; to the more sedentary choice of boat trips, be that a larger cruiser to sleep aboard, a boat tour or hiring your own motorboat for the day.
Ordinarily, we’d always opt for the more energetic option, but we were a little hampered this time as Bean10 is still recovering from a bad knee injury (think a steep downhill, combined with a little boy on a scooter singing Space Oddity at full volume, who comes abruptly back to earth with a big crash and a mashed-up knee…). As a large open wound, we didn’t want to risk getting it wet with river water and possibly infected, so we opted for hiring a motorboat instead.
God works in mysterious ways though, as it turns out this was a fantastic option and one which we wouldn’t normally have selected. We hired our boat from Barnes Brinkcraft (although there are many other options) and spent a very happy and extremely relaxed four hours pootling around the rivers and broads surrounding Wroxham, nosing into the gorgeous riverside houses, spotting wildlife, picnicking al fresco and sunbathing in the sunshine.
The kids spent most of the time either driving the boat (with some supervision to stop them accidentally cutting up overtaking boats…) or lazing on the bow. Half-way round, we moored in one of the Broads for a stretch of the legs and some coffee and ice cream. On our return leg, there was a little bit of excitement as we were attacked by an extremely aggressive Canada Goose, who was very clearly telling us to stay away from her nest! But other than this, it was the most chilled out of spring days. One for your bucket list!
3. Walking to an Island!
When I discovered there was an island in Norfolk which you could walk to at low tide, I thought it would make for an excellent microadventure.
Scolt Head Island is a long barrier island situated off Norfolk’s northern coast. At low tide, you can wade out to the island through the mud and across the salt marsh to explore a long stretch of isolated sandy beach, a mecca for bird life. Check out this website for more information about how to get to the island – we also invested in the writer’s new book: Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands. In the book, it gives detailed directions for a 13.8km walk around the circumference of Scolt Head Island (along with hikes around the circumference of 49 other islands scattered around the UK – more microadventures to bag in the future!). But as we had a little boy whose knee was still healing, we settled for a shorter walk over to the island and back again.
After a lovely morning exploring some of Norfolk’s pretty northern coastal towns such as Sheringham, Cley-next-the-Sea and Wells-next-the-Sea, we arrived at Burnham Overy Sraithe (a place that inspired Horatio Nelson to learn to sail) an hour before low tide. As usual I’d come up with the crazy idea and left the execution of said plan to MrJ. So, after donning wellies and waterproofs (which I later regretted – sandals would have been a much better option), MrJ led us all over from the harbour at Burnham Overy Staithe along the Norfolk Coast Path to Gun Hill. From there, we climbed over the dunes and headed north for the sea to find the narrowest part to cross over to Scolt Head Island. The next part required some wading and frequent squeals of excitement from the kids! Ahead of us lay miles of golden sand with not a soul in sight. We felt like we were in a Famous Five story!
After a little bit of exploring, we headed back a different route: to the south eastern tip of the island, over the salt marshes of Overy Cockle Strand, across some smaller creeks and finally Overy Creek. The kids were barefoot by this stage relishing the feeling of mud squishing between their toes as they picked their route across the normally submerged land. At the very end, we had one final stretch of shallow water to cross back to the car park. With some careful navigation by MrJ, we managed to find a section which only came up to our knees (MrJ gave Bean10 a piggyback to stop his bad knee getting wet). A definite adventure!
The kids have begged to return in the summer when they can hike across and then swim back, letting the incoming tide carry them back from the island to the car park!
Aside from Scolt Head, there are several other tidal islands in the UK you can walk to at low tide, such as: Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland, St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, Worm’s Head Tidal Island in Wales, Eilean Tioram in Scotland, and although you can’t walk there, I’ve always fancied getting a sea tractor out to Burgh Island in Devon, just so I can imagine I’m in an Agatha Christie novel!
4. Watch Seabirds Return to Breed
Spring is the perfect opportunity to see UK seabirds returning to the mainland to breed. Some, such as the famous colourful puffin, spend the winter out on the Atlantic Ocean in large flocks, known as rafts, and only come ashore to breed from April to July. Others, like the gannet, migrate south for the winter, to as far as the coast of West Africa, returning to our coastlines to raise their young between April and August.
During the spring and summer months, our coasts are jam packed with some of the biggest seabird colonies in the world. A variety of different species perch on every precarious rock and crevice, fighting for the best spot to build their nests.
Follow this link to find your nearest RSPB sites to spot these seabird spectacles.
We opted for a visit to the breathtakingly beautiful Bempton Cliffs in South Yorkshire. It was a long drive from where we were staying in Lincolnshire, but it was worth it just for the views alone along the cliff top walkway. Around half a million seabirds arrive here in the spring, making for some easy birdwatching! The Beans seriously increased their bird list for the year, spotting ten new species in an hour, including seven seabird species:
- Puffin – we were a little too early in April to see the large colonies of puffins return, but we did spot two of them bobbing out at sea, which made my day!
And three others:
- Peregrine Falcon – who very kindly relaxed on a ledge for quite some time, so we could get the telescope focused on him, allowing the Beans to take all the details of this stunning bird.
- Tree Sparrow – you can spot these rare and noisy sparrow species in abundance throughout the trees around the visitor centre.
All in all, it was a great experience, which the Beans really enjoyed: I would highly recommend you don some binoculars and find yourself some seabirds! And then follow it up with fish and chips on the beach!
5. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in the Garden!
Requiring minimal planning, this mini adventure is the perfect idea for a sunny spring day. The brainchild of MrJ (whose idea of sitting around a campfire all day is sheer heaven), he woke up early one Saturday morning, bounced out of bed and headed for the woods to light a fire. Once the Beans arose, they sleepily wandered down to join him armed with bacon and hot cross buns. They cooked the bacon over the fire, toasted the hot cross buns and ate them together, which made for an interesting, but apparently delicious taste sensation!
After spending the morning playing imaginary games in the woods, reading around the campfire, and doing a spot of cricket practice, they had a picnic lunch of toasted sandwiches huddled up next to the fire.
Thoroughly smelling of campfire smoke now, the afternoon involved more play, lots of board games and some time with friends, before they helped MrJ cook the dinner. Together, they filled our trusty Dutch oven with a mixture of potatoes, vegetables, stock and fish, before hanging it on its tripod over the fire. A couple of hours later and we were rewarded with a delicious stew. Consuming this whilst perched on little wooden logs next to the fire made for a much more exciting Saturday evening meal than usual! And boy did they sleep well that night after all that fresh air!
6. A Random Walk
Requiring only a single coin, this is the easiest of our microadventures to put into practice. The simple concept is to head out for a walk and at every possible junction you happen upon, toss the coin to determine which direction you’ll take next!
Clearly you have the very real possibility of getting lost (if you’re anything like me), so it’s best to do this somewhere familiar or at least track your progress on a map to help you remember how to retrace your steps. Alternatively, stop after a certain time, and plan a different loop back to your starting point or ask some kind person to come and pick you up!
We did this in the middle of lockdown and kept it local. At that stage, we were going for daily three-mile walks, with limited route options, so adding in this random element made it much more fun for the kids. You could also use this as a way of testing your kids’ OS map skills, by setting them off on a walk of their own (possibly staying behind and keeping them in sight, depending on age and capability), asking them to follow the random principles but to track their progress on the map and after a certain distance, find a route back to the beginning.
7. Scooter Safari
Again, as a way of mixing up our daily exercise throughout lockdown, we decided to do a scooter safari. We live in a little village and choose to keep the microadventure local and scoot down every single road and cul-de-sac in the community. We underestimated how long it would take us – so we split up the route over two days and explored all the nooks and crannies of our local area.
Although simple, this turned up to be a really fun experience, particularly if you’re nosy like me, and like the opportunity to have a good look at all the houses, even those tucked away on quiet streets! For a larger village or town, you could pull out the maps and let the kids plan the most efficient way of scooting down every single road over the course of a few days or weeks.
One word of caution though, don’t get overly confident with your newfound scooter skills like we did and take them to bike parks with very steep hills (not meant for scooters with poor brakes), or you may find yourself in hospital with a little boy and a very mangled knee…