Category Archives: Outdoor activities

Winter walk in Cornwall

The purple double decker broke free of the housing estate and we were riding high above the hedgerows, surrounded by frozen white fields. We’d crossed the River Tamar on the Plymouth Torpoint ferry, watching from the top of the bus as Cornwall draw imperceptibly closer. And now the world suddenly opened out, with a dizzying vision of long rolling white waves.  This was Whitsand, where we planned to connect with the South West Coastal path and walk the Rame Peninsula.

The driver stopped for us and we stood dazzled, listening to the roar of the sea, and watched two tiny silhouettes walk in unison across the hard sand, each carrying a surf board. Off in the distance was the tip of the peninsula, crowned by the small silhouette of St. Michael’s chapel, our first destination.  The view reminded me of winter travels in the Mediterranean.  True, here there was frost on the grass, but the dazzling light engulfed us just the same.


Continue reading Winter walk in Cornwall

Poet climbs Scafell

In August 1802, poet, scholar and journalist Samuel Taylor Coleridge set off on a tough 9-day walking and climbing tour of the Lake District, which would include Scafell, the second highest peak in England.  It’s interesting to see how he went equipped. For a walking stick he dismantled a broom, to the annoyance of his wife. His knapsack was made of a square of green oilskin, closed by string, and inside

. . . he carried a spare shirt, stockings, cravat, and night-cap (which seems to have been Coleridge’s equivalent of a sleeping bag), together with paper twists of tea and sugar, his Notebook, and half a dozen quills with a portable inkwell.”  – Early Visions by Richard Holmes

Coleridge is said to be the first “outsider” to climb Scafell and his descent is hailed as the first ever recreational rock climb.  It was a memorable piece of improvisation. Threatened by an approaching storm, he chose a way down, without any idea of what lay below.  He found himself descending a series of ledges, a kind of giant’s staircase, known today as Broad Stand. As the ledges grew further apart, he lowered himself over them and let himself drop.  The succession of jolts soon “put my whole Limbs in a Tremble, and  . . . I began to suspect that I ought not to go on . . ” Continue reading Poet climbs Scafell

RSPB letter

I thought this mass letter by the RSPB for the new government was worth signing: Sign the letter: (for UK residents)

I’m writing this now to make sure our children have a chance of growing up in a world worth living in.

Today there’s still time to save nature.

If we act now, our children may yet be able to share their world with sparrows and polar bears, eagles and tigers. There’s still a chance that they’ll inherit a world where the engines of life – the air, seas, rivers and forests – are healthy. Where bluebell woods and rainforests won’t be lost forever.

Yes, I accept that recovery from recession has meant spending billions of pounds – one way or another future generations will have to pay for this. The least we can do is to use this money to create a future they’ll thank us for. I want governments to invest in a healthy economy and a healthy environment. As well as protecting jobs, I want them to tackle climate change and to protect our seas, countryside and wildlife.

I’m signing this letter to show that I care deeply about nature and the world we are creating for our children. In years to come I hope they’ll be able to see that their world is a richer one because of the action we took today.

I’m hoping that many thousands of people will join me in signing it.

Together we can be a powerful voice for nature.

Yours in hope.

How to stop your cat from killing birds

Blue tit feeding

The RSPB have released a checklist of top tips of how to stop your loving moggy slaughtering the local birdlife ( 27 million birds are killed every year  by the 7.2 million cats the British keep as pets). Amusingly entitled “Sylvester and Tweetie Pie can live together” it recommends:

  • Put a bell on the cat’s collar – an RSPB study shows that this can reduce predation of birds by 41%. The collar should have a quick release buckle and fitted properly
  • Make sure cats are well fed and cared for. This may encourage them to stay close to home and be less likely to wander
  • Keep your cats indoors around sunset and sunrise and after bad weather – birds are most vulnerable at these times as its when they are most likely to come out to feed.
  • Take your cat indoors if a fledgling is in the garden, until its parents lead it away
  • Avoid putting food on the ground for a few weeks where cats are known to catch birds. Use a bird table or higher ground where cats cannot reach it
  • Place spiny plants such as holly or an uncomfortable surface around the base of the feeding station to prevent cats sitting underneath it
  • Position nest boxes where cats cannot reach them or sit close to them (preventing the parents birds from getting to the box.

The photo is from the Guardian who note on this story “our feline companions are supplementing the £829m we spend on cat food every year with their own avian breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here

Guide to camping in Britain

The Guardian has put together a special Travel issue dedicated to camping: find out about Britain’s best tiny campsites which are never crowded, island camping and some remotely located campsites.  Read and be inspired to start planning your next camping trip in wild Britain.

Britain’s oldest road

The 87 mile-long Ridgeway National Trail is remarkable in being the oldest road in Britain and because you can still walk it, following the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers and, herdsmen.  The route connects the Dorset and Norfolk coasts, passing over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east. It is littered with historical sites dating back to the iron age. Lots of details from the National Trail website here.

Children’s farms in the lambing season

A trip to a children’s farm is a great idea in the lambing season.  The Guardian has a list of recommended places in their half-term holiday special, including Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, where they are expecting no less than 300 lambs and 50 piglets to be born in February, with more expected for Easter.  They have other attractions such a baby Alpaca called Snowy.

Most popular walk in Britain

A contender for this title is the 6-mile Bath Skyline walk, the most frequently downloaded trail from the National Trust webpage.  The National Trust owns 500 acres of land at the edge of the city, only a mile from the centre.  Safe from urban development, the land is a mix of woodland and meadows, rich in wildlife and flowers, with views of the famous Bath stone terraces in the valley below.

Ice skating in the Fens

For the first time in many years, the freezing conditions have been perfect for ice skating, allowing the inhabitants of the Cambridgeshire Fens to revel in a centuries-old tradition. The Guardian

The Fens of East Anglia, with their meres and washes, networks of drainage ditches, slow-flowing rivers and easily flooded meadows, form an ideal skating terrain. Skates were introduced into Britain from Holland or France in the seventeenth century. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early nineteenth century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The golden age of fen skating was the second half of the nineteenth century, when thousands of people turned out to watch the top skaters. Wikipedia

Sleeping in an igloo


David Munt from Potter’s Bar, Hertfordshire braved the Arctic weather and sub-zero temperatures to spend a night in an igloo in his garden. He decided to sleep in his creation after spending the previous day making the igloo from snow and ice, with help from the children on his street. 

Ideas for walking in the snow

Yowie snowshoes were designed, fittingly, in Australia.  They look like beach sandals attached to rubber flippers with a deep hexagonal tread and metal cleats.  Extremely versatile and user-friendly, once you’re strapped in, with body weight nicely spread out to avoid sinking, you can enjoy  snow walks on the flat or more challenging treks up and down mountains.  The material reportedly offers better insulation from the cold than more conventional heavy-duty snowshoes. They are also lighter, cheaper and easier to stow in your ruck sack.

Another idea is to use ice grips – unobtrusive devices you can attach to your usual footwear to radically increase traction on slippery surfaces.

Taking the Corpse Road

One of the pleasures of walking is knowing the history of your path, why it exists and who walked there before.

The need for Corpse Roads disappeared centuries ago, though a few are still known by that name.  When population was low and villages were widely scattered, the nearest consecrated ground could be miles away, across harsh and inhospitable terrain.  Sometimes coffins had to be abandoned in blizzards, miles from anywhere.  When weather improved, they would be picked up and the journey resumed.   Coffin-bearing horses bolted with fright during storms, never to be seen again, but living on in legends and ghost stories. Continue reading Taking the Corpse Road

Herding ducks with the Quack Pack

Meirion Owen is an expert sheep dog handler, who’s been working with Border Collies since he was nine. He now travels around Britain, showing the skills of this intelligent breed at fairs, private parties and, increasingly, corporate days out. The other stars of the Quack Pack are a troop of Indian Runner ducks, who love to charge around at a fast pace in a tight group (with the occasional lone rebel). First of all, Owen gives a demonstration of how it’s done, instructing his dogs with only four commands to herd the ducks through an obstacle course. Then the spectators have a go.

“We never try to embarrass anyone,” he says. “I’ll always try to help. With duck herding, there is a sense of the unexpected and seeing a manager lose control of his ducks is great entertainment for the staff.”

A recent tendency among lowland livestock farmers is to replace Border Collies with quads, and Owen would like to turn this around by promoting the many qualities of this breed.  More information

Living in the Stone Age

The Woodcraft School runs various courses for acquiring skills that pre-historical man needed for survival.   Bark, Bone and Antler is a particularly interesting 2-day course that explores the materials available to our primitive ancestors.  Those attending will be taught about the sustainable harvest of bark, weaving crafts to make knife sheaths, folding crafts to make baskets and containers, and the preparation of bone and antler.

This particular course will be held in May 2010 in West Sussex, with groups limited to 12, but there are many others to choose from.