Autumn adventures

A guide to outdoor fun before the winter comes

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Just because the nights are drawing in doesn’t mean we need to retreat to our pillow forts just yet. There’s still plenty of fun and adventure to be had in the great outdoors and, as our friends at Windswept Brewing are fond of saying “the best pint is one you’ve earned”. Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep busy now the sun has retreated to warmer climes.

Mountain biking in Scotland

With some of the best mountain views in the world, it’s little wonder that so many choose to explore Scotland by bike. The 7stanes is a world-class network of mountain biking trail centres spanning the south of the nation, from Dumfries to the Borders south of Edinburgh. Trails are graded by technical difficulty – ranging from child-friendly green to hair-raising black – and criss-cross the landscape, making it possible to keep returning to the same centre and never ride exactly the same route twice.

It’s free to ride, but most centres offer courses for newbies and even bike rentals (including leg-saving e-bikes). Most also have excellent independent cafes, if you’d rather see your family hurtling down the side of a mountain than take part yourself.

The Cairngorms, photo by Richard Croadale

Stargazing in a National Park

If you grew up in the city, then seeing a truly clear night sky for the first time is a (literally) horizon-expanding experience. For me, it was a camping trip to the Peak District, stepping out of my tent for a call of nature, looking up and seeing the Milky Way, crystal clear, painting a band of impossible light in a way I’d previously only seen in books. 

There are also plenty of apps available to help you spot various celestial bodies if that’s your thing. In my experience though, looking at a phone screen will mess with the sensitivity of your eyes. Sometimes it’s more fun to suppress the urge to understand, and just enjoy the view.

For more information about stargazing in the UK’s amazing and priceless National Parks, go to www.nationalparks.uk/dark-skies/ 

Snowdonia, photo by Joshua Earle

Geocaching

Ever wanted to try orienteering, but worried it wasn’t quite nerdy enough? The Geocaching may be just the autumnal pursuit for you. It’s essentially a global treasure hunt, in which clues to the location of ‘caches’ are posted online, in the form of longitude and latitude coordinates. Seekers then use a GPS device to reach the location – it usually involves a good walk, sometimes a climb, occasionally a paddle – where they will find a waterproof box containing a logbook to record their achievement, and sometimes a low-cost trinket (known as a ‘geocoin’).

Photo by Martin Lostak

Via Ferrata

Literally meaning ‘iron path’, a Via Ferrata is a permanent, protected climbing route, comprised of steel cables, steps, ladders and other fixtures, to which the climber attaches themself with a harness and double leashes. Despite being completely safe when used correctly, it feels extremely deathy, which is perfect if you’re a thrill-seeker with a normal aversion to real bodily danger.

Via Ferratas are found all over the world, though I only recently learned there are plenty in the UK (you can Google locations yourself). Since this is a history issue of Ferment, I also recommend reading up on their use in the Dolomites during the First World War. Proper swashbuckling stuff.

The Burma Bridge, Honister. Photo by Anthony Foster, licensed under (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Foraging

Since Brexit means we’re now having to physically wrestle pensioners for the last bag of wizened potatoes in Asda, foraging can be a fun way to get out in nature and feed your family. Think of it as levelling-up your autumn.

However, as we know from the fun and educational book Into The Wild (now a major motion picture), some degree of knowledge and preparation is required before you run nude into the New Forest, shovelling mystery berries into your gob. Probably the safest place to start is with herbs; there are many growing wild throughout the year that you can harvest responsibly for a tasty addition to any salad, or use to make a refreshing soft drink. Berry-wise, blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and even wild blueberries are easy to spot and vastly superior to their supermarket counterparts. Beyond that, and into mushroom hunting, extreme caution and an experienced, professional guide are advised; delicious and poisonous can be virtually identical, right up to the point where you’re pooping out a kidney.

Photo by Lizzie George

Disc golf

Love golf, but wish it was played by people who got too old for hacky-sack? Then why not give disc golf a shot? It’s essentially regular golf, except you play with special frisbees (except don’t call them that, or you’ll offend the disc golfers and the Ultimate Frisbee people) which you try to throw into chain-link baskets.

It’s surprisingly technical, and you can set yourself up with a dizzying array of discs for different purposes: drivers, mid-range, putters, discs that fade to the left, discs that curve to the right. And, of course, technique is everything. This is in many ways the ideal autumn sport, as courses are often set in forest, and you’ll spend less time looking for lost discs among the season’s denuded trees.

Sounds dumb, is actually a phenomenal hobby.

Photo by Tuomas Harkonen

Sea kayaking

It’s getting chilly, so we’re trying to avoid too many activities involving water, but I’ve only recently discovered sea kayaking and it’s great. Besides, if you’re doing it right you shouldn’t end up in the drink (unless your instructor is a sadist and makes you do a capsize drill) and the season runs until quite late in the year, so you should still be able to book a session.

It’s a great way to explore the coast and, with a good amount of experience under your belt, you can even paddle out to small islands for a spot of low-risk pioneering. Throw a tent and some food into your kayak and you can make your adventure an overnight stay.

Portstewart, photo by Michael Shannon

Conker fighting

As I child, I collected a lot of conkers, but chose not to put them into battle; I was a sensitive wee soul, and the rich, silken lustre of a ripe horse chestnut stirred something in me that I feared would be easily bruised. So when my son challenged me to a game many years later, I had to Google the rules (which I remember being a source of constant argument at school).

Turns out this is quite the rabbit hole, so for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to stick with the Battle Royale Rules, as set out by Peckham Conker Club (www.peckhamconker.club). This is an “anything goes” approach to the sport, in which “special moves, nut pimping and stampsies” are all permitted, if not actively encouraged. 

The club does outline five core rules though, as follows:

1. Players face their opponents, one meter apart – with their conker out-stretched in front of them.

2. Each player takes three strikes at the opponent’s conker, before alternating.

3. The game continues until the winner smashes the other’s nut.

4. The victor does a victory dance – humiliation is essential.

5. Repeat - until bored / your arm gets sore.

Photo: Wiki/XCalPab, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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