Getting started with mountain biking
Mountain Biking can be a great way to get the whole family enjoying the outdoors. Yet as a beginner, and for families with young children, it can be a challenge to work your way into this world.
Our advice (as a family of ‘leisure cyclists’) is to start flat! Hills and young children don’t really go together, so get them off on the right pedal by making your route flat. The less of an incline, the more inclined the kids will be to get on and start (and keep) pedalling.
Hitting the road (the railroad)
There are numerous bike trails around the country created from disused railway lines. They make ideal family trails because they are reasonably flat and traffic free.
One such trail, near us, is the Tissington Trail, a former railway line connecting Ashbourne to Buxton, in the Peak District. It runs for 13 miles from Ashbourne in the south to Parsley Hay in the north. The dusty, crushed limestone surface inclines slightly as you travel north.
Over the years, we’ve done it in various ways, depending on the age and ability of the kids as they’ve grown up. There are numerous stopping points along the route which allow for breaks but also change-overs, meaning the route can be completed as a whole journey in small chunks, with a vehicle for support. As a family of four, this meant that we completed sections in pairs (one adult and one child) while the others drove to the next stopping point before swapping.
Then as the children got older we’d complete longer sections, i.e.one pair would do the route south to north while the other did the return leg. As older and more confident cyclists, the kids were then able to complete the whole route from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay and back.
There is also the possibiltiy of extending the route further by then joining the High Peak trail – the options are endless!
Beginner’s tips from the experts
Halfords have created the Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking. There’s skills tips, advice on what to bring and features on trail centres across the country.
Be sure to check it out.
Winter is a time when it would be easy to tuck yourself away and hibernate until the weather gets warmer and days longer but why wait? Why not get out and enjoy the fresh winter air and see new places? Start 2018 as you mean to go on.
The last couple of weekends we’ve headed for the outdoors choosing longer or shorter walks depending on the time we had and then stayed in a nearby YHA hostel. We’ve always been keen campers but hostels offer an alternative option at this time of the year, when many campsites are closed and sitting in a tent from 4 o’clock, when the sun starts to sink below the horizon, might not be your idea of a good time.
The YHA have over 160 hostels, shepherd’s huts, bunkhouses and camping pods around England; many situated in picturesque locations or nestled amongst the hubbub of vibrant cities. The hostels are often in buildings that have a historic presence and, with the recent injection of money that the YHA have invested, they have been refurbished to a high standard.
Our two recent stays have been in Edale – somewhere we have visited often and enjoy returning to for walks in the Peak District – and then, more recently, Coalport, near Ironbridge – somewhere new that we had never visited before. For both of these weekends away we took our walking boots and plotted walks on our OS maps during the day before returning to the hostels for the evening. We’d then spend a few hours sat in the lounge, with other fellow rosy-cheeked residents, playing board games and chatting. Even though the hostels have self-catering facilities, we opted to eat in the cafes (to make packing as light and simple as possible). There is a small but good variety of meals on offer plus a filling English breakfast to set you up for another day in the outdoors.
We’ve enjoyed our recent YHA experiences and are already looking for other nearby hostels that we can visit for future weekends away.
We don’t really set ourselves New Year Resolutions, instead we set New Year Intentions. What’s the difference? Well, probably not much, but to us the word ‘resolution’ seems to relate to changing something negative ( a trait or habit) that you might find undesirable or you are unhappy with. And the word ‘intention’ seems to feel more positive and proactive; something you want to do … more of a positive aim. Anyway, that’s just how we think of it.
With this in mind, one of the things we (the family) all agreed should be one of our ‘intentions’ for 2018 is to spend more family time together, in the outdoors.
OK, so this isn’t new – this has been a consistent intention for a few years now – but then I don’t think a New Year Intention needs to be new; I mean… if you’ve had a good year doing something, why not have another good year doing more of the same?
End as you mean to go on – more of the same, please
So, as New Year’s Eve approached, and our plans to camp at friends had fallen through at the last minute, we took this as an opportunity to do something spontaneous but still in line with our ‘intention’ for 2018;
“Let’s hitch up the Basecamp, pack a pop-up tent and head off to a campsite and see the New Year in together, as a family, playing board games and sleeping outdoors.”
To us all, that sounded perfect! So that’s what we did. Simple as!
Go on as you mean to end
And as the clock struck midnight and 2017 finally came to a close, we closed our eyes and clambered into our sleeping bags knowing that come the morning, we’d be starting 2018 the way we’d like to continue throughout the year:
A morning run and cycle ride got our blood pumping and our chins wagging, and we even managed to pick up some single-use plastic towards our 100,000 total.
Over to you …
So, Happy New Year everyone, and good luck with defining and working towards your New Year Resolutions / Intentions over 2018.
And don’t let the fact it’s winter stop you kicking off any outdoor-related resolutions. Remember: humans should say Nay to Hibernating; or #hiberNAY for short!
For more information about our cool Basecamp https://www.swiftbasecamp.co.uk/ For information about the site we stayed at Conkers Camping and Caravan Club Site
59,100 pieces of plastic (the big 4 polluters) collected to date!
We’re aiming to pick up 100,000 plastic bottles, lids, cups, straws (and microplastics) from all around the globe – beaches, forests, road-sides, anywhere we find them. Why 100,000 – this is the number of sea mammals killed each year from being trapped in plastic or eating it.
Along with others who wish to help us reach our total, and do their bit for the planet, we’re making progress – all of which is recorded below.
The hall of Fame
Thanks again to Donna Rainey for more litter picks and adding another 668 to the total.
Thanks to staff and kids at Derrymount school for collecting 300 pieces of plastic to add to the total.
28.4.16 – 3 pieces of plastic litter collected from along the Hadrian’s Wall Walk (Chesters Roman Fort – Steel Rig)
4 pieces of beverage litter collected by Aleks Kashefi.
171 pieces of plastic litter collected by Jason Rawles!
22.4.16 – 7 bottles picked up by Jason Rawles.
Escaping bricks and mortar (if only for one night)
Since our return to normality (boo), we’ve spent way too much time indoors. OK, we’ve been getting out as much as we can – cycling and running Kms towards our self-imposed challenge for this year, the Triathlon 2017 ,but one thing we’ve all been craving for a little while is a night away… in the outdoors. I guess the thing we’ve missed the most since relocating into a house is the reduced amount of time we spent TOGETHER in the OUTDOORS (two of our favourite words). So, despite a crappy weather forecast, we decided to get away, even if it was just for one night. We knew the therapy of a night away, running, cycling and generally getting a bit muddy and red-faced was what we all needed.
There was certainly no need to book a pitch this weekend – it seemed that not many other people were choosing to spend the night camping or caravanning. I bet I know where they were instead: stressed, rushed and spending too much money on Christmas presents in busy, artificially lit stores. This might be said with my tongue in my cheek as I know that we are by know means the only people that would rather spend a night outdoors as opposed to a day in the malls – we met some lovely people that we re doing just that – but the pressure of Christmas is a difficult force to fight. We are so glad that we saw the light and decided to JEDI (Just ‘Efin Do It).
A challenge keeps the motivation strong (even if you don’t complete it)
Last year we decided to set ourselves a challenge; to complete 2017 Kms by foot, on bike and by wild swim… a family challenge that we’d all contribute towards. Here’s the reasoning behind it.
Anyone who knows us knows that our family challenges are nothing other than ideas we come up with to ensure we keep getting outside, together, regularly to enjoy some exercise, chat and fun… while getting hot, sweaty and windswept in the process. The Triathlon 2017 was concocted exactly for those reasons.
Getting away this weekend may not have happened if we didn’t have such a challenge set? Actually, that’s not strictly true as we would have come away anyway because we have set ourselves another challenge: to not hibernate in the Winter! You see, humans are not meant to hibernate away like hedgehogs over the dark, cold months of Autumn and Winter. No – humans can put coats and jumpers on, and waterproof layers, that make them an all-year-round kind of species.
Humans should say Nay to Hibernating; or #hiberNAY for short!
For more information about our cool Basecamp (#hiberNAY mobile: https://www.swiftbasecamp.co.uk/
Blacks are sponsoring Children in Need this year and this is a charity that we regularly support and try to fundraise for. Therefore it made sense as Blacks family ambassadors that we don our Pudsey hats and head for the hills for some fresh air and fundraising.
We sat for a couple of hours in the winter sunshine providing fellow walkers with warm drinks. Serving them in reusuable mugs meant that we not only avoided using single-use plastic but encouraged people to stop, chat and admire the view. Snowdon may have a café at the top but on this day Kinder Plateau had a Plastic Clever café at the top.
This ramble was rewarding in so many ways; we enjoyed a walk in the fresh air, spent time together as a family chatting along the way, provided a service for thirsty and cold walkers and raised £59.17 for a worthwhile charity.
Why going outdoors is important
We’ve been a family who love the outdoors for a few years now, and we are constantly striving to spend as much time together outside as we can, regardless of the time of year, season or weather. Why? Well, it’s simple, really: being outdoors makes us all feel happy, and relaxed and contented.
Whenever we are outdoors together we feel alive and free. And in actual fact, it was our craving for outdoor time and family adventures that was a fundamental reason why, very recently, for nearly 3 years we left the rat race (work and school) and went travelling together – by caravan and motorhome. We had great experiences together; we created shared memories that will last forever; and we helped our children to maintain a healthy balance between ‘screen time’ and ‘green time’. Sometimes the simple things re the most important.
We’ve returned to a ‘normal’ life again now, but our enthusiasm for adventure and outdoor time is still alive and kicking: making us feel alive and giving us the kick we need to get outside and do more!
Enthusiastic but not expert = help needed
And this enthusiasm, or passion, for the outdoors has lead us into many an outdoor retailer or distributer over the years; after all, you need some essential kit to make sure your adventures and experiences are safe and as comfortable as they can be, right? And without naming names, it is fair to say that not every retail experience has been good or better than average, never mind great. You see, as non-outdoorsy experts like us (NB. being enthusiastic doesn’t = expert), looking for clothing or equipment for an outdoor activity can be a difficult experience. After all, outdoor kit can be expensive so making the right purchase is important.
Thankfully, it became apparent to us during our first of many visits to Go Outdoors Leicester, that two of our criteria as shoppers were bring met:
- There was a range of equipment at discount prices
- The staff were both knowledgeable and friendly
Since then, and as we travelled the UK we always look for a Go Outdoors whenever we need to replace kit or buy extras. And nearly a year to the day of writing, when we arrived back from our European travels to Nottingham we were excited to see that Go Outdoors had opened a new shop very close to where we live. So, it will be no surprise to read that I’ve since made several visits in the year we’ve been back and GO have been open, whether to go in to get DofE advice for a new group a colleague have set up, price up and buy new kit for our family adventures or to just go in and browse.
Celebrating an anniversary
When the team from GO Nottingham asked me to help them celebrate the 1st anniversary of their Nottingham store, it was a no brainer. I went in to chat with the staff to learn about how heavily they invest in their staff (training and morale) to ensure us, the customers, get the service we are looking for (and our (above) shopping criteria met). And with a modest voucher to spend, I went with a particular mission to get some new footwear for every day adventuring with a key requirement being they need to keep my feet warm and dry – I was heading to an outdoor weekend festival and the weather was looking wild (Storm Brian was on his way).
Sam from GO talked me through a whole range of options (how does he know about so many different shoes!) and guided me towards a reduced pair of Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX Men’s Hiking Shoes: waterproof and reduced from £115 to £85.
Thankfully, after a weekend of being up to my ankles in mud and slop, my feet remained warm and dry – thanks Sam for the recommendation!
Time for YOU to help GO celebrate the first anniversary of their Nottingham store
The team at GO really would like everyone to help them celebrate, and leave their store on their birthday weekend with a smile on their face. Be that from the fun activities they have planned for kids: face painting and more, or the free discount card and extra discounts they are putting on EVERYTHING over that weekend.
So, get yourself down to grab some bargains on outdoor clothing, equipment and accessories for a whole range of sports, including: camping, walking, climbing, cycling, riding, fishing, skiing and running.
Maybe I’ll see you having a great time in the great outdoors soon?
Details: Fun weekend: 28th and 29th October 10 % off everything in store from the 27th – 30th October Discount cards will be free for all over the four days
Address: Mansfield Road, Arnold, Nottingham, NG5 6BP
Last weekend (Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th October) were the official days for the BBC Countryfile Ramble for Children in Need – a charity event that encouraged us to get outside and walk in the autumnal countryside. Nationwide, groups of people donned their yellow woolly hats and took to the trails.
During our four-hour ramble we managed to pick up 257 pieces of plastic litter – another successful hoard to add to the total.
No yellow woolly hats this time but they are in the post and we’re looking forward to wearing them soon for another ramble!
Part of being a parent involves making sacrifices. Life changes after children and some people embrace it better than others. We weren’t particularly adventurous before we had children but when the girls arrived we wanted them to have an adventurous mindset and a love of the outdoors and nature so from an early age we made efforts to get outside and do something interesting and challenging – a family adventure.
Anyone who has been on an adventure with others knows that everyone has different capabilities; age, fitness, experience / confidence and mental strength can all affect how someone approaches an adventure. The same thing can be said when adventuring with children. The age of the child will affect greatly what can be done and how; younger children aren’t able to sustain strenuous exercise for long periods of time, get bored more easily, get tired quicker, need food more regularly but that shouldn’t stop us as adults involving the children. A bit of creativity and flexibility means that adventures can be done together; they might be shorter, there might be more rest breaks, the kids might need help but they can be done. Then as the children become stronger and more able to challenge themselves further, the adventures then can become longer and more challenging.
Whilst running a workshop at the Basecamp festival we attempted to illustrate this with a graph! Scientifically speaking it may not be accurate, but it illustrates the differences that need to be considered when adventuring with children.
Our graph very simplistically shows the abilities of an adult and a child. Adults, obviously older, have varying degrees of capability but, in comparison to children will appear much higher on the graph. The ability of an adult will also fluctuate according to fitness, age and health but will realistically gradually decline. The ability of a child, on the other hand, will increase. It is important to note that the ability isn’t just physical but also mental. In the early the years, whilst the child is learning to do amazing things such as walk and talk, their ability to go on an adventure is low but this rises with age. There will be one point on the graph when the child and adult are almost equal – this will differ from family to family.
This might not be the case for everyone but this is the case for us. In the early years, we went for short walks and tailored adventures around what the kids could do. At age 4, Ella was able to walk up Snowdon but caught the train back down whereas Amy that little bit older walked up and down; their age difference meant that the challenge was adapted to suit them. Now aged 14 Amy is able to do challenges alongside adults. At age 12 she completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge in 12 hours and the National Three Peaks challenge in 24 hours. We as the adults in the last decade have probably slipped down the graph and are now at optimum point where all our abilities are about the same. How long this will last, who knows since the girls will no doubt continue to climb up our graph and overtake us!
So, for us this is our optimum time and we need to make the most of it!
We are avid magpies – stealing ideas from other adventurers and making them our own. All of us seek inspiration and we have many inspiring adventurers that we turn to for ideas, e.g. Alistair Humphreys, Dave Cornthwaite, Sean Conway and Anna McNuff to name but a few. The problem is that these hard-core impressive human beings are often doing exciting things that are beyond the realms of the every day family.
So with that in mind, we decided to steal the essence of adventures and make them our own. We’ve nicknamed this approach as DIY adventures – Do It Your way. See our latest adventure ideas here: www.dotrythisathome.com
Whilst running workshops at the recent Basecamp festival we attempted to impress our participants with a bit of science – graphs! This particular graph attempts to illustrate (very simplistically) the way to approach adventuring with kids.
The y axis shows the length of time an activity or adventure can take, increasing as it moves up the page, while the x axis shows the difficulty, increasing as it moves right. These scales are not in anyway accurate and are relative to whatever content is put on the graph, but do give a rough impression of two areas of consideration when planning adventures.
Examples of more gnarly adventures would obviously appear in the top right corner of the graph – they take time and are at the difficult end of the spectrum; these are the adventures that would be difficult or impossible to do with younger children, e.g. Alistair Humphreys’ cycle around the world in four years. The idea is to find suitable alternatives that fit in the bottom left corner of the graph initially when planning adventures with kids. The time taken and difficulty will vary depending on the age and ability of everyone in the family and this will and does change as we get all get older (see next blog post – part 3). Who knows, one day, you might end up doing an adventure in the top right corner!
Kärcher OC3 Mobile Outdoor Cleaner
When I was asked to try out the Kärcher OC3, I thought ‘why not?’. As a fairly outdoorsy family – with a fair bit of kit that we take out-and-about, it seemed like it might come in as a handy little thing to have. I mean, I thought – and it’s proved to be the case – that a portable little low pressure could be used to:
- clean the mud off muddy boots after a walk
- get the majority of wet mud and mess off a mountain bike or two after a muddy ride
- hose down garden patio furniture
It’s also ideal for rinsing down anything you might want to put in your car to prevent you taking in mud, such as: the muddy wheels of a buggy, a gold trolly, any outdoor play equipment you might have, and even sandy/muddy/smelly children’s feet.
But once you have one of these compact and neatly designed gadgets, your mind starts wondering and wandering as to what other uses it might have. Surprisingly, we’ve found the washer so far most useful when we’ve been actually doing water-based activities! I know, this might sound a bit strange, but as anyone who paddles in rivers, the sea or lakes knows, when you take your boat/craft out of the water, the chances are there’ll be a fair amount of mud, silt, sand or all of the above both on the inside and outside. In such situations, a low power washer comes in very handy – OK, you still might get a bit wet when you turn your canoe upside down to put it on the roof rack, but at least it’s clean water that drips on you! Thought: maybe you could wash your craft with water + shampoo so that when you put it on your car roof, you get a soapy shower at the same time. (NB. not tried this).
Another use we’ve found for the Kärcher OC3 is for rinsing out – or should I say ‘flushing out’ wetsuits after a day of sailing, windsurfing and wild swimming when occasionally the wearers of said wetsuits may have taken a sneaky wee (as a relief or source of heat). C’mon, don’t react like that – we all do it …. don’t we/wee?
- Well designed and very portable
- Genuinely has some uses for outdoorsy folk
- Fun to use (which means the kids will get involved in cleaning stuff after an adventure)
- No more smelly wetsuits!
- A bit more power would increase its versatility
- You can’t transport it full of water (the valve on the top can leak)
For more information visit the Halfords website.
When the cat’s away…
We recently went to Basecamp festival, an adults-only adventure festival in the Peak District. Yep we ventured out without the kids and spent a full weekend squelching around in mud with other adventure-seeking adults, listening to inspiring talks and chatting around the campfire. Ironically our first weekend away from the kids in a while was spent talking about them for large chunks of the time! Not because we were pining after them but because we were there doing a talk about Family DIY adventures and running workshops on Adventuring with Kids.
It’s NOT the end of the world as we know it (ref REM song)
Adventure doesn’t have to stop when you have kids. It might just have to be a little different! We spoke to a keen climber and adventurer at a festival once and he’d said that he’d had to stop all of his previous exploits when the kids came along. But why? – that doesn’t have to be case. A little creativity might be needed and yes some adult-only time to do the hard core stuff but adventure can still happen with kids.
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
The people that attended our workshops included those with and without children and the ages of the children ranged from babies to teenagers. So the first part of our workshop was how to adventure with really young children. We believe you can start to instill a love of adventure and the outdoors in children from young age. Taking the kids on hikes, bike rides and camping can and should be part of an adventurous family . Whatever activity you choose, it is important to make sure that young kids have fun and are kept comfortable – after all you don’t want to put them off at an early age. This might mean you limit the amount of time that is spent in the outdoors, prepare for all weather conditions to ensure that they are kept warm and dry and accept that the activity will be tailored around their capabilities. Most parents will take joy in watching their kids having fun so whilst it might not mean a treacherous scramble up a mountain or exhilarating mountain bike ride through the woods there are simpler family alternatives that will give the young ones the thrill of an adventure and you the enjoyment of sharing it with them.
Here are some of our favourites:
- Go on a random walk. Every time you reach a junction, flip a coin to decide whether to go left or right.
- Kick a football through the woods. Take turns kicking a football through the woods and follow where it takes you.
- Let your dog take you for a walk. If you have one! It might mean crawling through bushes!
- Draw a simple map of the local area. Place some treasure in a chosen spot and identify it on the map. Stick the map on to the back of a picture / photograph. Cut it up into pieces and send them to a friend who have to piece the jigsaw back together and find the treasure.