How To Go On A (Micro) Adventure

It may be the end of summer but the temprature hasn't dropped drastically... yet. For those of you who can't get away from your desks from now until Christmas may be happy to find that you can savour the great british summer this month with a quick getaway. A getaway which will have you feeling rested and rejuvenated and ready to return home in four hours. Seriously. 

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As the last days of August ebb away, you might start thinking about getting on a plane and flying to the other side of the world in search of adventure and good weather. Fine, but that comes with some major costs – money, time off work and no small amount of organisation.

So think about this: Right now, there’s still time to savour the Great British Summer (according to the Met Office, average temperatures in September are less than a degree lower than June), and you don’t need a week off work to take advantage.

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In fact, you don’t even need a day. Go on a ‘five-to-nine’ microadventure and you can see the sun set over one of the British Isles’ most beautiful vistas while enjoying a barbecue, then get a night’s kip in the wild and be back at your desk the next day in time for the other side of the coin, your nine-to-five.

Alastair Humphreys, who champions this philosophy in his book Microadventures, reckons that all it takes is a few hours to feel transported and transformed; suck clean air into your lungs, listen to the foreign, wild sounds that float on the breeze, and return to your routine feeling like a new man who has firmly carpe’d the diem.

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And, although it might not always feel like it, the great outdoors is within easy reach. A recent, detailed study showed that a mere 2.7% of England is built on, or concreted over. Even if you live in London, you don’t have to leave the perimeter of the M25 to find places where – apart from the odd path or fence – there isn’t a manmade structure as far as the eye can see.

A different type of one-day expedition could also take you to one of Britain’s numerous, idyllic – and surprisingly clean – waterways. "You can immerse yourself completely in nature and see things from a different perspective," says Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming and Hidden Beaches. Anyone who has swum in a river will know that it bears little resemblance to the claustrophobic, chlorine-filled indoor pools, where you have to stop and turn around every 25 metres. Being able to see the sky and follow a river’s natural meandering course is a uniquely relaxing experience.

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But microadventures, as the name suggests, aren’t all about chilling out. They can also be a time to push yourself to the edge of your comfort zone – climb to the top of that rock and launch yourself into a natural pool below, despite every sinew in your body telling you that it’s too high. Recapture the essence of those childhood holidays that now seem more like dreams than real memories. Just make sure you don’t kill yourself by diving into shallow waters.

One of life’s paradoxes is that there is an elated mood of satisfaction and renewal that you can only reach by feeling utterly exhausted at the end of a day. To unlock this almost spiritual high, you could join those who are reigniting the forgotten rite of the British pilgrimage. Travelling by foot, Will Parsons of A Walk Around Britain has completed journeys that have lasted for weeks. But, he says, the microadventurer can get a taste in just a day.

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For Londoners, he suggests catching a train out of the city and walking a 17-mile section of the ancient North Downs Way that ends at Canterbury Cathedral. "It isn’t about religion for me," says Parsons. "But at 5:30 pm every day there’s a free concert of world-class choral music; the whole place is built for sound and vibrations. And after a hard day’s walking, you’ll vibrate with it."

But sometimes, enthusiasm only gets you so far. For the amateur adventurer who wants to step things up a notch, hostile environment training could be a good use of a day or two.

Using everything from classroom sessions to group role-play exercises with actors, the ex-SAS officers who run courses for companies such as AKE can put together custom packages that are not only microadventures in themselves, but also serve to prepare you for a next-level challenge.

OK, that one comes at a price, but the beauty of the microadventure is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot – either in terms of time or money. And, if you do it whole-heartedly, it has the power to displace you both physically and mentally, to cast things in a new light, and to put your everyday emails, meetings and bills into context. And that, most of us can agree, would be priceless.

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Five of the best microadventures

1 | Wild swimming

One of the best spots to do this is the River Stour in Dorset. And, Daniel Start says, there is still plenty of time to get down there this year. “We reckon wild swimming season is between Easter and Halloween, depending on how warm it feels. That’s the British summer for you, when the sun comes out, you’ve got to grab it.”

How to get there: head out of Wimborne on the B3082 Blandford road, turn left down Cowgrove Road and continue ¾ mile. Pamphill Dairy is a good place to stock up for a picnic.

2 | Tomb-stoning

Abereiddy in Pembrokshire hosts Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series events, where the pros jump from an 89ft-high platform into the Blue Lagoon below. But here, and in Cornwall’s Port Gaverne, you can pick out loads of different spots to jump from – all from more modest heights.

wildthingspublishing.com

3 | To be a pilgrim

For a one-day trip out of London, Will Parsons of A Walk Around Britain advocates catching a train at about 8 am from Victoria or St Pancras and walking a 17-mile section of the ancient North Downs Way that  begins at Charing and ends at Canterbury Cathedral, taking in churches, hill forts, forests and holy wells along the route.

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awalkaroundbritain.com

4 | Hostile environment training

AKE can put together custom packages based on specific requirements and the type of environment or situation that you anticipate having to deal with. A bespoke one-day course starts at around £375 per person, based on a group of nine participants.

akegroup.com

5 | Mid-week camping

If the weather’s good, says Alastair Humphreys, author of Microadventures, all you really need is a sleeping bag, a disposable barbecue, a change of clothes and a toothbrush. But you could also take a waterproof bivvy bag (smaller and cheaper than a tent) and a ‘shower-in-a-bag’, which costs less than a fiver. For Londoners, Humphreys recommends getting a train from Victoria down to Eastbourne and then going on to the Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex. “It’s beautiful, and feels a million miles from London.”

alastairhumphreys.com

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This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our new iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand.