Like in 2020, one of our family goals for 2021 (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 swimming on horses in the sea in Crete, but we planned for the majority to be completed close to home given the continued Covid restrictions in the early part of the year.
This time, it was a little trickier to find 52 new and different microadventures – see this post for the ones we completed in 2020 – but I’m pleased to say we’ve finally achieved our goal and have had an awesome time along the way.
1. Horse Swimming!
This had to be number one on our list as it was the most unique and special experience of them all! After instruction from our guides, one by one, we were led bareback on the swimming horses into the calm sea. When it was deep enough, we lay along their backs as they swam around in circles, led by the enthusiastic guides. The horses seemed to enjoy it as much as us humans! James later told me that the sight of me riding out of the sea with a look of sheer joy will stay with him forever. I would return in a heartbeat (see this post).
2. Autumnal Photo Competition
The challenge: to take a selection of autumnal photos over the course of a week, choose your favourite and enter it into a family competition. For a competitive family, this microadventure was the perfect fit! After a bit of deliberation (and maybe a few light arguments…), here is the winning entry:
3. Bird Mist Netting
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.
Two trained ringers very kindly agreed to involve the children in a ringing experience. After carefully removing the birds from the mist net in the garden (31 were caught in total), they were shown how to ring the birds, along with:
- 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.
We all learned so much throughout this process and had a fascinating morning during which we felt we’d contributed just a little bit to the BTO’s important work on our native bird species (for more information about mist netting, see this post).
4. Walking to an Island at Low Tide
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. This made for an excellent microadventure as 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 some exploring, we headed back via a different route. 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 (see this post for more photos)!
Note if you do this in the summer, you can hike across and swim back, letting the incoming tide carry you back from the island to the car park!
5. Mud Obstacle Race
Ever since James did the Tough Mudder race, Harry has been very keen to do a child’s version – you know, minus the obstacle where you run through a field of dangling wires clicking as 10,000 volts crackle through them…
The Nuclear Rookie Rush Race fit the bill perfectly. A 3km course with 20 mud-based obstacles, he’d have the chance to get covered from head to toe in glorious mud, as he zip lined or slid down into muddy pools, scrambled under cargo nets, crawled through tyres, climbed slippery ramps, squeezed themselves through tunnels and so much more. The perfect muddy adventure (see this post)!
Champing: the unique concept of camping overnight in historic churches across the UK. We chose to overnight in St. James’ church in Cooling on the Hoo Peninsula. Its churchyard was the inspiration for the opening chapter of Dicken’s Great Expectations, where Pip meets Magwitch. Here we found ‘Pip’s graves’ – the heartbreakingly tiny gravestones of 13 babies that Dicken’s describes as “little stone lozenges.”
The little church itself, with its enormous key, had such a beautiful feeling and it was home to us for the night. After the children enjoyed reading bible passages from the pulpit, we snuggled into our camp beds and a LOT of layers for the night. I woke the next morning to see Harry staring intently at the rising sun shining Jesus’ light through the stunning stain glazed windows. So very special.
7. Foraging Course
Back in May the four of us went on an excellent one day’s foraging course with Jack Raven Bushcraft, to learn about the many spring plants we could safely collect and eat. It opened up a whole new world of possible cheap but highly nutritious additions to our weekly menus. Nettle curry anyone? Or perhaps you’d prefer a dandelion bhaji? At the end of the day, as we were driving away, Harry looked wistfully out of the window and said, “When I look out there now, all I see is food!” Highly recommended (see this post).
8. Hiking the Longest Gorge in Europe
One of my favourite not-so-micro adventures on the list, we hiked the Samarian Gorge in Crete: 16km of beautiful trail through pine and cypress forests, past abandoned villages, tiny churches and many freshwater springs, criss-crossing a crystal-clear river. Just stunning (see this post).
9. Bavarian Curling
This game involves donning some grips for your shoes and heading out onto the ice to slide wooden ice stocks (or in the case of the children, plastic ones as these were easier to slide) rather than stones to see who can get closest to the target. One of our recent Christmas adventures which proved great fun for all the family.
10. Sea Kayaking
Another of our Cretan adventures, we spent the day exploring all the nooks and crannies of its dramatic southern coast by sea kayak, peering into caves, snorkelling off isolated beaches and visiting its picturesque, whitewashed villages – only accessible by boat – for a lunch of delicious local fare (see this post).
11. Sledging & an Impromtu Skeleton Run!
At the start of the year, we were lucky enough to have some rare wintery weather – plenty of snow for sledging and on one day, an excellent covering of ice on our local street. This made a perfect location for learning how to skeleton down the slippery slopes, which we found to be the best way to spend a cold January Monday morning!
After their success with wake boarding back in 2020, the children were very keen to try out waterskiing. After practising on the barefoot boom, they quickly progressed to a line off the back of the boat and then were up and off! Rosie was particularly proficient, with exceptional balance – a fact I find amazing, because as a little girl, she would regularly walk into stationary objects, trip over her own feet and fall off chairs for no reason (I was like this too!).
And for a super fun and unusual adult microadventure, James tried out flyboarding, which was a huge hit!
13. Spotting 100 Bird Species
With help from their grandad – a seasoned twitcher – the children set themselves a yearly target of spotting 100 different bird species, keeping their list up to date in eBird. All through lockdown at the beginning of the year, they’d take their binoculars on our daily walks, enthusiastically identifying new species to add to their growing lists. It made lockdown that bit more tolerable! We visited many RSPB sites and by September they’d proudly achieved their goal. Some of their favourites: treecreepers, storks, spotted flycatchers and haunting griffon vultures circling us in Crete.
14. A Barefoot Walk
On one of our last days in Crete, we decided it would be fun to do a barefoot walk along a quiet back road which wound its way 1.5 miles to a local taverna on the banks of a shallow river. It was an incredibly grounding experience and our slower pace meant we noticed so much more, from the scent of the orange trees to the olives and figs hanging low on their branches to the crickets jumping along beside us.
15. Singletrack Mountain Bike Trail
This microadventure was an unexpected find (at Bedgebury National Pinetum) and oodles of fun. 13km of exhilarating singletrack trail through the forest, with jumps, exciting downhill sections, challenging climbs, berms, drop-offs and rocky sections. It was a red grade trail which apparently was only suitable for “proficient mountain bikers with good off-road skills” but it was fine for a crazy mum with her 11 & 12-year-olds (although we did move out of the way of any serious riders when necessary)! Found myself smiling the whole way around!
16. Whittle Christmas Santas
A simple and fun activity to find the perfect stick from which to whittle and paint a Santa’s head to display on the table at Christmas time!
17. Badger Sett Watching
We were lucky enough to spend some time at the beautiful rewilded Knepp Estate in West Sussex during the summer. One evening, we joined a few of the scientists to watch an active badger sett at dusk to see if we could spot these beautiful creatures. This was probably one of the hardest micoadventures for my wiggly and chatty little man. Sitting still for 90 minutes whilst we waited patiently for their arrival was no mean feat. But he managed it – more or less… – and just as we were about to give up, our patience was rewarded with a sighting of these elusive animals. Worth the wait 😊
18. Bee Identification Walks
After initial training in bumblebee identification with The Bee Conservation Trust (all for free), we set up our own local bee walk. Once a month, this involved walking a set transect of land, identifying each bumblebee species, its sex and behaviour and then recording the data in the master database. This feeds into a national project to understand the distribution of bee species and thus better target the conservation effort for these declining populations of important native species.
19. Riding on a Beach/Bareback Horse Riding
Riding a horse along a beach has been on my bucket list for ever and in Crete I finally got the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream. Galloping along that shoreline with the sun beating down and the sparkling sea beside me was one of the most exhilarating and exciting times of my life. And the children too were allowed to walk their horses along those stunning sandy shores. Back in the UK, thanks to some very good friends of ours, Rosie had another first: riding a horse bareback – another unique and fun experience.
20. Jet Skiing
My daredevil girl enjoyed this experience the most and together with her adrenaline-junkie dad jetted around the bay at speeds of over 50mph twisting, turning and loving the sensation of flying over the waves!
21. Bat Walk
A Knepp adventure and something I’ve been wanting to do with the kids for a long time, we joined a group to track the bat species on the estate. Using detectors to convert the bats’ ultrasonic calls into audible sounds, they learned how to identify the different species based on the frequency of the sounds they were picking up (each species calls at a different frequency). They spotted the Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s and Noctule species.
A birthday treat for my little man, there was much squealing and laughter as the children and their friends sped down the toboggan run at full speed!
23. Write Stories/Christmas Poems Sat in Nature
Last year, they made this tree bed and whenever they need their creative juices to flow, they take themselves off up there to sit quietly, surrounded by nature and let their imaginations flow. And quite often animals spotted, such as a chance meeting of a pheasant and squirrel, make it into their stories.
24. Rock Climbing on an Abandoned Lorry!
A chance discovery on a walk home late one night of an abandoned lorry with a real climbing wall on its side made for an amusing impromptu microadventure!
25. Climbing the Highest Peak on an Island
Ever the adventurer, James was keen to scale Crete’s tallest peak, Mt. Psiloritis, on our visit to the island. He found us a relatively doable route up the last third of the mountain and although it was only 2.8 miles of walking, it involved an elevation gain of 891m and so was slow going. On top of this we all felt the effects of altitude sickness, but the children powered up that mountainside like the little mountain goats they are, and the views from the summit made all our effort worthwhile.
26. Watch Seabirds Return to the UK
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. We opted for a visit to the breathtakingly beautiful Bempton Cliffs in South Yorkshire. It was worth it for the views alone, in addition to the ten new bird species they spotted in an hour, including the colourful puffin and majestic peregrine falcon.
27. River Floating
At the mouth of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, the Grand River flows into the sea along the banks of a palm forest, giving the setting a tropical feel. This was the location of a children-driven microadventure to float down the ice-cold river back to the sea!
28. Ice Skating
Another of our Christmas microadventures was a visit to the ice-skating rink. I found it fascinating to watch how the two children approached learning to ice skate in completely different ways. Rosie was cautious initially, building up her confidence slowly and persistently, not giving up until she could skate all the way around without holding on. Harry on the other hand threw himself into it headlong, going as fast as he could right from the off, complete with some spectacular falls. He was over time and time again, which was quite funny, until eventually he also mastered the skill sufficiently to stay upright for a complete lap. Love watching children learn 😊
29. Watching the Sunset on a Beach
A must for everyone and an incredibly calming experience.
30. Building an Ice Shelter
Back in the wintery snow of the first part of the year, Harry spent all morning packing snow into a plastic Tupperware box to build this little ice shelter: a construction of which he was very proud!
31. Run Part of a Backyard Ultramarathon!
In June, James and I along with two other crazy runners, decided to create and run a 100km back yard ultra in a 4km loop around our house. The concept: one 4km lap to be completed every hour, starting at the top of the hour, for 25 consecutive hours (see this post). It was without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m pleased to say we completed it. The kids joined in with this adventure running several loops with us: in Rosie’s case filming as she ran and in Harry’s achieving a PB as he determinedly tried to keep up with his older cousin!
32. Aqua Park Madness!
A birthday treat for Rosie this time as they climbed, raced, slid and balanced around the obstacle course, daring each other to try out different jumps from the top of the tower.
33. Try a New Sport
Although cricket will always be number one for Harry, he tried several new sports this year, including tennis, rugby and golf, joining regular weekly lessons. Rosie tried her hand at rugby and fell in love with the sport. I think the fact that rolling around in the mud is actively encouraged was the swinger for this wild child of mine!
34. Reciting Poetry Across a Lake!
Earlier in the year, Rosie fulfilled a dream to perform at the Globe, reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade as part of a national poetry competition (see this post) on its hallowed stage. To practise, her acting coach had her recite the poem from on an island in the middle of a lake whilst she stood on the other side, in order to perfect her projection!
35. Night Hike to the Top of Our Highest Hill
Late one evening, we bundled the kids into the car to climb our highest hill in the dark. At the summit, we drank hot chocolate together and watched the stars on the beautifully clear night. A simple adventure but one that felt very special.
36. Beach Time: Ball Runs, Beach Games, Stone Towers and Fun Beach Photos!
Finding inspiration from this Beach Book, they had a great time building stone towers; constructing a ball run; playing stone jenga and beach draughts; and creating funny beach photos like this one of Harry eating an island!
37. Cycle Halfway Around an Island
The Round the Island cycle route around the perimeter of the Isle of Wight is 65 miles in length. Harry joined me for half of the journey, making it to Ventnor, a very impressive 33 miles for a then 10-year-old.
38. Go Karting
A Top Gear super fan, anything car related including go karting has been high up on Harry’s list for a while. After trying it in Crete, he felt more confident racing his dad and friends at a local course.
39. Butterfly Catching and Identification
There were abundant butterfly species to catch and identify on the biodiverse Knepp Estate, including a sighting of the rare Purple Monarch butterflies high up in an oak tree.
40. Alter the Course of a River
One of James’ favourite river-based activities is to see if you can alter its course by moving rocks and boulders around. It never fails to amaze me how many hours of entertainment this can provide for him and the kids!
41. Night Swimming
Just because there’s something super special and thrilling about swimming in a pool at night-time!
42. Tracking Animal Prints in the Snow
With the snow came the opportunity to search for animal prints and the kids discovered these fox tracks through the garden!
43. Make a Snowy Pinecone Garland
A simple Christmas activity involving a pine forest walk to collect some cones, drying them out in front of the fire, adding a smattering of white paint for the snow and hanging up over the fireplace.
44. Grasses Identification
At first glance, this doesn’t sound that exciting as an activity, but it was honestly the favourite of the sessions we did at the Knepp. A scientist took us out into the meadow armed with an identification guide to show us the unique characteristics of each species. For me, even just knowing a few of the commonest native species makes me look and appreciate our local environment in a completely different way.
45. Banana Boat Ride
What can I say? Thrills, squeals of joy and a lot of laughter accompanied this adventure!
46. Scooter Safari
A scooter safari spiced up our lockdown experience earlier in the year, as we explored every nook and cranny of our village by this method.
47. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in the Garden
Perfect for a sunny day combined with a dad and his children who love to sit around a campfire, the decision was made to cook all our meals outside: bacon and hot cross buns for breakfast; toasted sandwiches for lunch and a stew cooked in our trusty Dutch oven for dinner!
48. An Official 5K Race
Amazingly after deciding a week before that he’d like to enter the Port Lympne 5K Run Wild Challenge, Harry came in as the fourth fastest male (including all adults and children) behind his papa in third! James said it was a beautiful run – despite the ridiculous elevation gain up the hill – as the route wound its way around the zoo, passing next to all the animals receiving their morning feed!
49. Follow the Course of a River
Another impromptu microadventure, after lunch at a local taverna, James and the kids decided to try and follow the river back to the apartment rather than walk along the road. It was a lot harder than they’d envisaged and involved scrambling up rock faces and sinking into sand up to their calves, but the parts where they could float combined with the abundant birdlife (kingfishers, egrets, eagles and herons) more than made up for the difficulty.
50. Boating on the Norfolk Broads
An extremely relaxed four hours was spent pootling around the rivers and broads surrounding Wroxham, nosing into the gorgeous riverside houses, spotting wildlife, picnicking al fresco and sunbathing in the sunshine. But the best bit for the kids: driving the boat!
51. A Random Walk
A super simple concept: head out for a walk and at each junction, flip a coin to decide on which direction you’ll take next!
52. Large Mammal Transects
Another scientist at the Knepp taught the children how to complete line transects to monitor mammal populations. They saw free roaming long horn cattle, wild pigs, red and fallow deer, but their favourite part was using the rangefinder to determine how far the animals were from the line.
Another year of microadventures was the perfect antidote to the ongoing 2021 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 2022!