Five ways to GetOutside near you!

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and there’s a lot we’re appreciating about being back in the UK and our local area. I’m really proud to be part of the Ordnanace Survey #GetOutside Champions team this year. Click here to see the team, including Ben Fogle. It’s made me think a lot about my own acitivities outside, and also what everyone else could enjoy about our beautiful country. When the sky is blue, I’m not sure there’s anywhere better, so here’s a few ways to appreciate brilliant Britain…

1. Find your nearest top-rated walk – the recent ITV Top 100 Walks had loads of inspiration for great places to wander, climb, hike or meanders, depending on your required level of exertion. In Leicestershire, our closets walk from the programme is Bradgate Park. We’ve been going there for years and love it. Even when it’s busy, you can still find quieter areas, especially if you walk north of the main path. Wander by the ruins of the old house, a bubbling stream or clamber on the rocks by Old John Tower.

Look out for: Deer, the park run a large herd; views of Leicester, Bardon Hill and surrounds from the highest point.

Access on foot from Anstey or Cropston, bus to Newtown Linford, or three car parks on the edge of the park.
More information: the OS GetOutside site has a full list of all 100 walks here.

2. Walk around your town or city centre in your lunch hour or after work. Anyone can do this. For us it’s Leicester, and if you’re local, you’ll have noticed a fair few changes over the last few years. While we were out of the UK, the city didn’t just go Richard III and Premier League winning crazy. There’s been lots of improvements to pedestrian and bike routes in the city, and a lot of new information boards to tell us all about Leicester’s past. Have a read of these, pop into the Cathedral or hunt out as many blue plaques as you can!

Look out for: Thomas Cook, all the football murals.

Access from anywhere in the city, travel in by foot or bike using the Great Central Way or one of the other National Cycle Network routes. There’s an information board at the train station, which has an impressive frontage.

More information: Look around in your town! Or try your local library.

3. Ride some country roads on your bike. Pick the smallest roads on your map (especially any labelled ‘gated’) and head out. While it’s still chilly aim for a coffee stop somewhere en route. For Leicester this means some of England’s very best cycling in the area around Market Bosworth. That’s right, England’s best – (very) gentle rolling countryside, pretty villages, narrowboats on the Ashby Canal, steam trains on the Battlefield Line. In particular, between Hinckley, Heather and Orton on the Hill there’s a network of small lanes that on a weekend mornings usually have more bikes than cars. Our favourite stop to get warm is Jasper’s in Market Bosworth – probably the best coffee in Leicestershire. Or try some local cheese at the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Co in Upton. Plenty of pubs around too!

Look out for: Boats going over the aqueduct at Shenton; lots of other cyclists; us!

Access: Pick a sensible cycling route from your area using low traffic roads. If you’re not sure, contact us or your local Breeze/Let’s Ride Leaders for advice. You can also use the British Cycling site to find ride buddies. You could make it easier from the centre of Leicester by popping your bike on the train to Narborough or Hinckley to cycle from there.
More information: Use OS maps online to look for areas with lots of small roads (and your refreshment break).

4. Do a journey by foot that you would usually use other transport for. Being car free, usually it’s a bike ride or train trip to get from Narborough into the centre of Leicester. A few weeks ago I had a look at my OS map (Landranger 140 map fans) and realised I could get right into the centre of the city with very minimal road walking. It took me about 1hr45 mins, so a bit longer than usual. I walked along part of the original Fosse Way (Roman road), through countryside, and along a river. In the 12km ish I only had to walk by a road for about 1km. I had a great time and saw a few things on the way that I’d not noticed from cycling a similar route, like the amazing Aylestone Packhorse Bridge.

Access: If your journey is too long, get a bus or train part of the way, then walk the rest. I’ve now walked from Leicester city centre to Fosse Park a few times and got on the bus from there. I don’t have to walk on the roads at all in that journey!
Planning: Use OS maps online to look for footpaths. Visit your local tourist information to see if they have walk/bike maps for your area.

5. Go to your nearest woodland area or Forestry Commission site. Walking in woods is even good in the rain. There’s plenty to look at and lots to do if you’re out with kids. There’s a number of these in the midlands, most recently we went to the National Forest Cycle Centre at Hick’s Lodge, near Ashby de la Zouch. You can take your own bikes, or hire there. There’s different off road trails depending on how hard you would like to work. Even the most challenging trail there can be done by most riders – you can make it harder by going faster or trying some MTB tricks. We saw a family with a 4 year old cyclists taking it on last week – they just had more rests!

Everyone will have ideas about how they can get outside more in their local area. I suppose the bottom line is – just do it!


Walking the Hillary Trail

There are plenty of well known walks (tramps to use the local term) in New Zealand and we were keen to do at least one overnight hike whilst here. Based in Auckland over Christmas and New Year, the 77km Hillary Trail (named for Everest climbing kiwi Edmund) in the Waitakere ranges west of the city seemed a good pick.

Should you be considering tourist opportunities in the Auckland area, there’s a reasonable amount of information available to help you prepare for the trail. However we found some discrepancies between the content of the reading material and what you will actually experience in real-life…

Jo at the start, clean and sweat free

“The Hillary Trail is a challenging four day/three night hike”

Translation: you can do this is four days if you would like to walk 27km on the last day, with only one water source on route, finishing at a beach ‘town’ where there is no public transport at all. Consider an alternative earlier finish point. Do not prepare by participating in Christmas, a well known festival involving much chocolate and little exercise.

Pretty sure that one silver D of E between two counts as experienced?

“It is likely to rain for at least part of your trip”

If you have been lucky and avoided rain for the first few days by having extremely hot weather, on day four it will piss down while you are waiting for your lift. Make sure you are able to construct a shelter in the car park using your tent groundsheet, a fence and a hair bobble.

It’s been a dry summer in Auckland. Apart from this day.

“Many tracks will be steep, rutted, rooty, slippery and muddy”

All tracks will be like this or made from really sharp stones that you can feel through the soles of your trainers if you complete the walk in the one pair of shoes you have been wearing for the last fifteen months. (See also below).

“Some stream crossings may be difficult”
Some stream crossings may in fact just be streams, so take off your shoes and socks and roll up your trousers. In some areas the track might actually be a stream for up to one kilometre. Don’t bother trying to stay dry. It’s about to rain anyway.

Top Left: Got to knee deep. Bottom Left: Scrambling to cross a waterfall. Right: The track is a stream, Lake Wainamu.

“You will have to carry a heavy pack with your tent, sleeping bag, extra clothing and four days worth of food”

OR you can pack three days worth of food and eat four pies between two when you get to Piha. (Important to try all the flavours: winner Chicken Balti). We packed super light and given the limited/very expensive supplies at Piha had a bit of a small lunch on the last day. We carried the day pack that is usually strapped to Jo’s bike and a borrowed 50L pack, swapping bags about every twenty minutes. We did squeeze in a couple of luxury items for New Year – a mini Brie and a couple of servings of baileys in a medicine bottle. Campsites are basic, water needs treating before drinking, long drops only and showers are the al fresco kind – wash in a stream or the sea.

New Year’s Baileys in the sand dunes
Piha. Translates from the original as ‘Baywatch with Pies.’ The black sand burned our feet.

“The fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the experience”

We were surprised that despite doing very little walking, our base cycling fitness was of huge benefit. We didn’t feel wiped out at the end of each day, and weren’t particularly sore or stiff in the mornings. So we did really enjoy it. The scenery was fantastic and it was a satisfying physical challenge, just like bike touring. There were a other hikers that were moving the campground with interesting gaits by day four though. The main difference between walking and cycling is that there is no coasting time when you walk. At least if you ride up a big hill, you get to zoom down the other side. On foot, the downhill seems even more leg damaging. The closest thing to freewheeling is a flat grassy track. I think there was about 400m like this on the Hillary Trail.

Approx 0.5% of the trail was as flat as this.

“A challenging wilderness adventure designed to introduce families and young people, properly prepared, to the joys of multi-day tramping.”

Despite being only about 30km from Auckland, the Waitakeres feel properly wild. A lot of the walk is in dense rainforest, and it’s dark enough at night to see the Milky Way. In terms of family participation, if you can answer yes to the question “Are you the Incredibles?” feel free to go ahead. If not, give some very serious thought to the length of the days, the uneven nature of the tracks and the amount of food/water you need to carry.

Brill scenery every day

We had a great time. The scenery made the sweating more than worth it. We loved the self sufficiency of carrying everything we needed on our backs, even if squeezing water through the filter bags did get a bit old by day three. We were pleased and surprised that our wicketkeeping and hockey knees held up to the descents and there were no lasting injuries, not even a blister. It was awesome and we will be looking for other multi day trips in the future.

Thanks to: Val for bringing much neeed sandwiches to the pick-up point. The English people that donated some spicy noodles to our baked bean dinner on the last night.

Ps. If you’re reading this HRH, Jo didn’t get to do D of E at school, it would great if you could pop a badge in the post for her.