Now is the perfect time to hit the great outdoors and try a new, adventurous fitness pursuit says Claire Chamberlain
With its warmer weather and longer days, summer is the perfect time to go on an adventure. While it would be wonderful to set off for weeks on end with a backpack and a map, the reality is many of us are simply not afforded that luxury. But if time, work commitments and (let’s face it) finances are not on your side, that doesn’t exclude you from living on the wild side for the next few months.
Here are six UK-based mini-adventures to try this summer, to help you get outside, challenge your fitness and embrace your adventurous spirit. They are perfect to slot into your weekends, and there are budget and family-friendly options too, so you can take your tribe along for the ride, plus some ideas of where to give them a go (but don’t be limited by our suggestions – a quick Google search will help you find places local to you). Adventure awaits!
1 Hiking and trail running
Heading into the hills for a day of hiking or trail running is one of the most budget-friendly ways to experience the exhilaration of outdoor adventure. The mountainous terrain not only challenges your fitness more than walking on the flat (one 2013 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, found that walking on uneven terrain increases your metabolism by 28 per cent compared with walking on level ground), but it’s also wonderful for your mental health, due to a combination of sublime views, fresh air, open space and sense of accomplishment. Plenty of walking groups offer the chance to join guided hikes across the UK – check out The Ramblers’ Association (ramblers.org.uk) for more information. Sturdy hiking boots or trail shoes are a must, and it’s vital to wear layers of clothing and bring waterproofs – the weather in mountainous regions is notoriously unpredictable.
Try it: With 282 peaks to choose from, why not ‘bag’ a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3,000ft)? The Visit Scotland website (visitscotland.com) lists great Munros for beginners, alongside kit, safety and weather information.
2 Horse riding
As well as being a fantastic way to improve core strength, horse riding offers a unique way to boost your mental health as you stay fit. Developing a connection with an animal is said to boost levels of serotonin in your brain – a mood-enhancing hormone – so being in close contact with a horse is likely to leave you feeling calmer and more positive. If you’re a novice or lapsed rider, booking a lesson or gentle hack can seem nerve-wracking, but stables and riding holidays cater for all levels of rider, so there’s really nothing stopping you – horse riding can be an adventurous way to mix up your usual fitness routine.
Try it: Check out your local riding stables for lessons and hacks. Or fancy a weekend getaway? Freerein™ Riding Holidays (free-rein.co.uk) in Wales offers a two-day guided holiday, priced £380pp, or three-day ‘Learn to Ride’ holiday, priced £595pp.
There’s something about being on the water that provides a rather unique blend of tranquility and adrenaline. The lapping of the water, the wild and natural surroundings, and the excitement of trying something new is a combination that’s hard to beat. And it doesn’t have to be canoeing: kayaking, paddle boarding or even sailing all provide the same mental benefits. There are great physical benefits too: as a low-impact activity, it’s a great one to try if you don’t want to place your joints under pressure, and it’s a fabulous strength workout – especially for your core, upper back and shoulders. What’s more, you can bring the whole family along for the ride – little ones can be kitted out with life jackets and given their own oars, meaning they can share in the adventure and begin to develop a love of life on the water.
Try it: There’s something magical about canoeing along a river: the peaceful setting and proximity to the riverbanks means there’s always wildlife to spot. Fowey Estuary in South Cornwall is one such perfect spot, with several organisations offering canoe and kayak hire, plus guided trips.
Abseiling (also known as rappelling) involves using a rope, harness and friction device to descend a vertical drop at a pace that’s comfortable for you. It can be done down mountains or high buildings – even out of helicopters! If you have a head for heights, join a group with a qualified instructor – done well, abseiling can be a proper thrill, but done badly, it’s downright dangerous!
Try it: You should be able to find an abseiling course local to you, but where better to descend (at speed or otherwise!) than in the rugged surroundings of the Peak District? Many organisations offer abseiling – some off Millers Dale Bridge, which involves a free-hanging 70 foot abseil above the River Wye.
Undertaken as an instructor-led group, to ensure safety, coasteering involves making your way along a stretch of rocky coastline (including ledges, sea caves and gullies) by clambering and climbing, with plenty of jumping off cliffs and swimming added into the mix. While the cold sea can prove a shock, you’ll be properly kitted out with a wetsuit, wetsuit socks and gloves, lifejacket and helmet, so you won’t catch a chill and will stay safe as you scramble. Coasteering enthusiasts rave about the thrill of exploring the coast in such a hands-on way, without the help of boats or fancy equipment, and spending a day traversing the cliffs together will see you bonding with teammates as an added bonus.
Try it: Many rugged coastal locations now offer the chance to try your hand at coasteering, but why not get stuck in at coasteering’s birthplace, Pembrokeshire, in South West Wales? Preseli Venture (preseliventure.co.uk) offers everything from half days to full weekends of coasteering.
6 Mountain biking
Heading off road on two wheels can be a heady combination of exciting, exhilarating and (at times) terrifying, especially if you’re new to the sport. All of which make it a fab choice for a weekend adventure – the sense of achievement you will feel after successfully navigating a section of single track is second to none. Testing both your physical fitness and concentration levels, you will have the chance to negotiate steep inclines and declines, tree roots and rocky sections. What’s more, you’ll be getting a great workout while pushing your limits, all without putting too much pressure on your joints.
Try it: The Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, truly has something for all levels of rider, from family and beginner trails, right through to cross-country, single track and fast downhill trails. Don’t have your own bike? No problem – there are several bike hire shops. Check out pedalabikeaway.co.uk or deanforestcycles.co.uk.