The idea that being indoors all day every day is considered normal and the right place to live our lives these days is hugely concerning to me. We know thanks to science that being outdoors, in the fresh air and natural light, is good for our body, mind and soul. So what’s stopping us?
All too often we assume outdoors adventure to be something difficult, time consuming, tiring and expensive, and that can very quickly lead to “it’s not for me, I’ll just stay in”. With the introduction of Ordnance Survey’s National GetOutside Day last year, I wanted to make sure I used it to demonstrate that the outdoors is for all, that there is something for everyone, and that just an hour outside each day will make a massive difference to your enjoyment of everyday life.
Now my problem, and the reason I am involved in the GetOutside campaign, is because I love to be outside doing ALL the activities. Not just one thing. Actually, this is my problem in life in general – I have a total inability to choose between things, very much a jack of all trades and master of none, preferring to burn myself out doing it all than choosing one thing to concentrate on. I wrote a blog post called “you can do anything but not everything”, which was most certainly aimed at myself. But with that problem comes a breadth of experience; I’ve tried a lot of stuff. My personal view is that we should each try to spend one hour outside every day, doing whatever kind of activity takes our fancy at the time – walking, cycling, running, swimming, visiting a castle, reading a book, going to a farm, drinking a coffee – anything really.
In order to put that into practice, and set some kind of weird example, I came up with my GetOutside Activity Challenge, in which I tried to take part in as many outdoors activities as I could in 48 hours. In my head this was a touch of brilliance and it couldn’t be more me. I got completely giddy with excitement thinking about all the things I could do. I imagined wild swimming, mountain biking, having a picnic with friends, trig bagging, watching the sunset, walking a llama, horseback riding… Okay, definitely not horseback riding because they scare me, and I don’t have easy access to a llama, but I did get carried away. I called it a challenge, but really I was just going to have two full days of outdoorsy fun with a night camping in between, to give me lots of fodder for encouraging blog posts like this one will hopefully be.
Last year I managed what I considered a whopping 55 different activities in the 48 hours, taking part in each one for long enough for my friends Sarah and Katy to agree that they could go on the list. We climbed hills, swam in a Lido, camped, played silly games in the park, foraged for berries, went paddle boarding, and lots more besides. You can read about it all here, and even watch a video. And because I’m a sucker for a bit of personal competition, when Ordnance Survey announced the date for the second annual National GetOutside Day, I quickly decided I wanted to try and beat that total – why wouldn’t I?!
I’m not suggesting this was a particularly big undertaking. Yes it took a lot of planning and organisation, but it wasn’t meant to be anything other than a really ridiculous way to spend a weekend. This wasn’t a record-breaking attempt, I didn’t risk my life, and I didn’t push my outdoor skills and experiences to the limit – just my energy levels. It was always just a bit of fun, an awful lot of fun, but there is a message – honest.
My challenge started at 5pm when I walked into Pittville Park in Cheltenham to meet my friend Sarah for a catch-up after work – this is when the weekend officially starts, after all. By 10pm when I was tucked up in my bed, I’d already completed 17 activities, so the next few hours were very busy indeed. I’m not going to go through them all individually in this post, but there will be a long list coming soon, I just want to give you a flavour. For example, we spent an hour walking home, chatting away about life, the universe and everything. Commuting on foot is a necessity for some but a luxury for others, I’m in that latter category. During the three-and-a-bit-mile walk we also foraged for berries – the blackberry harvest is amazing this year – and picked up litter thrown from cars and dropped by School kids.
Once home we really got to it; I planted some tulip bulbs in the planter in my garden, it’s that time of year if you’ve not already done it, made a bug hotel to hang in my garden next to the one I made last year out of bamboo canes and string, rode both my mountain bike and my motorbike, had a barbecue for dinner, painted some pebbles to hide around the area, and did some night sky stargazing. We ended our day having a sit down with a magazine (Overland for me, Countryfile for Sarah) and a cup of tea, it really can be as simple as that.
I cooked up some eggy bread – my favourite breakfast for weekends outside – and we ate that outside in the early morning September sunshine, wondering how long the clear skies would last. The forecast for the whole weekend was pretty much a wash-out, and I knew that was going to make things a but more testing than they were the first time around last year. I remember last year continuously reapplying sun cream – no such requirement this year.
I was kindly gifted entry to Cotswold Country Park and Beach by the team there to help me with my challenge, and so we spent Saturday morning around the water. After a few beach-side activities including building a sandcastle, playing boules, and making folded paper boats and floating them on the lake, we headed to the North Lake to give Aquaventure a try. We’d seen this during the challenge last year and thought it looked like amazing fun; at £15 each plus £5 wetsuit hire it was the most expensive activity of the weekend by far, but it was so much fun. I admit I spent more time feeling like a beached whale on the inflatable obstacle course, but spent an equal amount of time giggling so it must have been good. We also hired paddle boards and kayaks, and had a game of mini golf (dodging the rabbit poo…) before eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under the shelter of the veranda by the lake.
Staying in the Cotswolds, we first followed a brown “view” sign that took us to Barrow Wala overlooking Birdlip and a bit of the Cotswold Way I’ve never walked before, before heading up to Cleeve Hill for some map and hill-based activities… I mean, National GetOutside Day is an Ordnance Survey run event, after all! We learnt something about the history of Cleeve Hill and why the geography in this area looks as it does, visited the trig pillar – which one of my favourite outdoors activities because it is a great way to find good views even if you’ve never visited a place before, took some scenic photographs. I also did two activities from my childhood up on the slopes – I rolled down the hill on my side, and we flew a kite. The kit flying was actually very successful, and most enjoyable, when was the last time you did that?
I was hugely grateful to Cotswold Farm Park, who kindly allowed us access to their camping and other facilities for the evening and the following morning. They were very accommodating, and this challenge was made a whole lot easier thanks to their input; the team had put on two days of free outdoor activities in celebration of National GetOutside Day, and if I hadn’t have been doing my challenge I would definitely have spent the weekend there. In return for our stay and the activities provided, I gave a short talk to some Cotswold Farm Park staff and guests in the Ox Bar about my silly challenge, which seemed to go down well. I wonder how many activities those listening have done since then? If you were there, let me know!
After just about managing to get the tent up in the dry, we battled the rain for the rest of the evening. We couldn’t watch sunset because there wasn’t one, we couldn’t do our paintings because they’d have got soaked, and we couldn’t sit outside and listen to live music because it was very much done indoors. But there were things we did do, including having a campfire, cooking our dinner backwoods style (including baked bananas for dessert, oh yes), doing some whittling, and headed out on a short night hike before bed.
It was a very wet and windy night, which was not conducive to good sleep, but we’d already completed just shy of 50 activities and were looking forward to another day of fun outdoors. Character building fun, of course. We’d already decided it was far too wet to head to the Sandford Parks Lido, but there was so much going on at the Farm Park that we were confident we could leave that out and still get a great number of activities in.
We started by getting up before sunrise so we could head into the Farm itself to give the goats and sheep their breakfast – wow goats, sheep, cows and donkeys are noisy when they are hungry! We may have also sneaked into the barns to meet some four-day-old Saddleback piglets, and cuddle a bunny called Pongo – there have to be some perks to being first in! After cooking some simple flatbread for breakfast back at the tent, we did the waymarked wildlife walk, dug for potatoes in the potato patch, planted a couple of trees courtesy of the Woodland Trust in one of the Cotswold Farm Park hedgerows, walked through the woods, and did some bird watching – they were very active after the rain.
The rain subsided a bit thankfully and so we headed into Cheltenham to finish the challenge where it started, in Pittville Park. We made use of our tree identification skills, climbed trees, did some geocaching, played Pokemon Go (thanks to one of the Cotswold Farm Park staff members for suggesting that one!), walked around the lake, and played Pooh sticks. We also did some urban wandering, finding Cheltenham’s centre stone and the oldest building in the town, before buying our picnic supplies and heading to Pittville Park to eat.
And our final activity of the weekend was… Conkers!
And that was it. I finished my 48 hour GetOutside Activity Challenge, having taken part in 71 activities, and having had the most brilliant weekend of fun.
As you know, the whole point of this is to do my part in encouraging you to spend a little bit more time outdoors. My One Hour Outside project is all about making – creating – time each and every day to get some fresh air, do a little bit of exercise, and give ourselves the opportunity to get the natural light we need to keep us healthy.
I certainly didn’t spend an hour on every activity I took part in over the weekend; I must say a huge and massive thank you to Sarah and Katy for playing the part of my judges – they decided whether I’d done something enough for it to be included on the final list. Oh, and they took 100s of photos between them which was also very much appreciated. But the principles of One Hour Outside are definitely at play. The vast majority of activities were free or very low cost, based at home or in parks, which is the way I like my outdoors time. The activities are also accessible to most, things that any person can organise for a Sunday or mid-week day out without hours of preparation or years of training, and where specialist equipment is needed, such as a kayak, it is easy to get hold of. We don’t have to spend loads, have loads or go far to get outside.
The reason I was chosen as a GetOutside Champion had nothing to do with fame or special skills or athletic prowess (really…). It is because I am supposedly normal. Working the nine to five and having all the usual life commitments, doesn’t mean the outdoors is closed off to me; I don’t have to do anything more adventurous than putting on my shoes and leaving my own front door for a walk around the block. And so this challenge was simply about demonstrating the plethora of activities that are open to us all, however little time we have left at the end of the day, with a view to encouraging you to try at least one of them the next time you have an hour to spare. Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas to choose from!
I really hope you will take this silly challenge, and my badly written recap, and feel inspired to go outdoors to do whatever outdoors activity you like the sound of – everyone is welcome outside. I’d love to read your comments below on which activity you’ll be doing this weekend – or which you’d love to try.