Thursday 16 January 2014

Making more of the great outdoors

Before I get started,  I acknowledge that writing a post about going outdoors in January might seem a little odd. However (deep breath), I think there are lots of good reasons why now is exactly the right time...
a) When the weather is kind enough to co-operate at this time of year (as it has done today in my little corner of the world), then we really do need to make the most of it.
b) Money tends to be tight in January and indoor activities usually cost a bit more (notwithstanding some of the excellent art galleries and museums that may be free and within reach if you live near a city).
c) Doing some exploring now means that, come Spring, you'll have a host of tried and tested outdoor spaces to return to!
Although this post is meant to be family friendly, you don't need to have children to take up most of these suggestions.  I've based them on what's available in my local area but hopefully there will be equivalents near you too.  So, without further ado....
If you go down to the woods today...
If there's a cold breeze, then a woodland walk can provide a bit of shelter while still letting you get some much-need fresh air.  I was lucky enough to grow up near woods and the smell of pine needles and the feel of a springy forest floor brings me back to my childhood every time.  Check out the Forestry Commission website to find nearby trails for all abilities. If you have small people with you, it's worth taking a quick peek at the Nature Detectives website before you depart.  This site has a range of excellent downloads, such as spotter sheets, scavenger hunts and woodland log books.
Climb every mountain
Well, perhaps not every mountain and maybe a hill instead if you have little legs accompanying you!  If you strike lucky with a crisp, clear winter day, then there's no better feeling than reaching the summit, admiring the view and saying to each other "yay - we did it!".  One of the most popular hills to climb near me is Bennachie, which also falls under the management of the Forestry Commission.  The routes are clearly marked and there's a great visitor centre where you can learn more about the area's history. There are sometimes even orienteering courses available for little (and large) explorers to try out.
Take it on trust
The National Trust for Scotland has properties throughout the country; these are often situated within extensive grounds which - you guessed it - tend to offer some very pleasant walking trails.  As with the Forestry Commission routes, these are usually clearly marked and a 'map' at the start often gives an indication as to the difficulty of the terrain and the time you should allow yourself to complete the walk. Even when the properties themselves are closed over winter, you should still be able to gain access to the grounds.  Take some change with you if you're not a member though - many of the larger properties charge a small sum for parking (as do some Forestry Commission sites).
Exploring a nearby National Trust trail
Life's a beach
Don't leave the seaside until the summer - beaches are worth a visit all year round. Just wrap up well! Check out sites such as Nearest Beach and the Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide for inspiration.
Modern day treasure hunting
If you're still struggling to motivate the kids (or indeed yourself) to get outside, you can add an extra sense of purpose to your walk by signing up for geocaching.  Most easily described as a modern day treasure hunt, you simply sign up on the website, then search for geocaches in the area you're intending to visit (or use the geocaches locally to provide inspiration for your next walking destination).  Although you can look up geocaches online before you depart, it's even better fun if you have a GPS-enabled 'phone. That way, you can track your progress towards the cache (and the little 'uns just love counting down the last few metres).

Wherever you decide to explore this season, I hope you have some great adventures.  Here's to winter sunshine!

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