A Sense Of Adventure Psychologists at the University of Bhunkum have found that adding the words ‘at night’ or ‘by moonlight’ to any activity increases its AQ (Adventure Quotient) by an incredible 308 percent.

Leaving the car at the Picket Plain viewpoint, I stumbled quickly through heath and gorse and mud, using the light of the moon to see the pathshine and feeling my way over the contours.

I worked my way over the valleys and into the woods, the fractals of the trees in their winter coats standing brilliantly against the sky.

As the year scribbles its way to a close, and penned in by the invisible boundaries of good health, I’ve spent the last week sketching out adventure close to home.

I’m often asked what kind of experience counts towards my 100 Days of Adventure challenge. The answer isn’t very satisfying: you know an adventure when you have one. You can’t always predict it; it’s something you feel.

That’s why we call it having ‘a sense of adventure’.

Darkness definitely eases back the threshold of adventure. Indeed, psychologists at the University of Bhunkum have found that adding the words ‘at night’ or ‘by moonlight’ to any activity increases its AQ (Adventure Quotient) by an incredible 308 percent.

  • Getting lost in the woods: annoying
  • Getting lost in the woods at night: adventure
  • Climbing a tree: fun
  • Climbing a tree by moonlight: adventure

See? This is why wintertime is the best time for adventures: darkness falls in late afternoon, leaving ample time for adventure before cocoa and bed.

This reframing turns our usual seasonal preferences on their head: the long summer evenings are a barrier to adventure, not an opportunity. Winter is where we get our kicks, sunset marking time to shut the laptop and pull out the map.

Equal parts terror and wonder

Feeling the sublime sense of awe is pretty good for us humans: falliable scientific experiments have shown that these wow-experiences can make us happier, healthier, brainier, humbler and kindlier.

And nature is the ultimate awesome experience, equal parts terror and wonder.

That’s what I thought as I rambled through the Purbecks on a foggy Sunday night, anyway.

The Purbecks are famed for their crumbly white cliffs, dropping sheer into the rocky water from the pleasant and abrupty terminated grassy heath above.

On a clear day, it looks a lot like this:

For daredevils, there is a narrow spit of land connecting to a lonesome chalky pillar. The cliffs tumble away either side and you can look down into your doom and see it swirling in the foam below.

On a clear day, it looks a lot like this:

On a wintery night, when the sea fog has rolled in after dark, it doesn’t look anything like this at all.

All I can see, as I creep out into the void, is the ghostly white of the chalk and the angry foam of the waves.

I lie down, nothingness either side of me, wind howling above, sea raging below, and I laugh. This is why they named this place for the devil: Old Harry Rocks.

Cut off from the solid ground of the heath, I imagine a shadowy figure looming at the end of the lace thin path. Cackling with delight, I crawl back on my hands and knees.

That’s awe.

Ignore your smoke alarm and look up

Of course, awe is much more safely experienced by simply looking up on a clear night. The key word there is ‘night’. This cannot be done during the daytime. Score another point for winter’s early evenings.

(Yes, ‘clear’ was also a key word. Unless otherwise stated, assume all my words are key.)

I’m sure we’ve all stared up into a wintery sky and felt very small. Nothing turns burning the toast into the insignificant annoyance that it is faster than boggling over the number of stars in the universe.

So ignore your smoke alarm for a second and imagine: how many stars are there in the Universe? More than there are grains of sand in the world.

Having said that, more prosaically, on a night like tonight, using the eyes that evolution gave you, you might see anywhere up to 4,548 stars — although that number will depend greatly on light pollution.

Starry views from (L) Dark Sky reserve and (R) city centre. Source: Stellarium

Each one of these stars is its own solar system, each one is home (potentially) to billions of lifeforms, each one enjoying the unfathomable richness of your own earthly experience. Take that in for a second.

Now switch off your smoke alarm.

Given that it’s nighttime, the closest star you can see in the northern hemisphere is Sirius, the Dog Star, about 81 trillion kilometres away.

The furthest star that humans have ever clapped eyes upon is called Icarus, and it sits in the night sky about 5 billion light-years away from Earth. A light-year is more than 9 trillion kilometres.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, holds about 300 billion stars and the billions of other galaxies scooting along around us mean that there are about 70 billion trillion stars in the observable universe.

Beyond that..?

Silence, Senses, Solitude

But the value of nighttime is not only the ghoulish darkness or the Mills & Boon soft celestial lighting: nighttime, especially in winter, is also a time of solitude.

I met no earthly being but horses during two evening rambles through the New Forest and the Purbecks this week. On two similar daytime adventures in the Forest and the Heath, I could hardly move for chirpy off-schoolchildren and professional dog walkers.

That solitude brings with it the gift of silence — which is itself the gift of sensory abundance, for even the most silent night is full of sound.

The stochastic comforts of matter moving through matter. The crackle of boots through leaves. The percussive snap of twigs under weight. The creak and rustle of unseen insects laying a trail.

The darkness sharpen other senses too: I smell the moss-sucking damp of the bog before my boots get wet. Movement, real or imagined, is enhanced in my peripheral vision. My skin tingles, every follicle straining for sensory input.

I followed the stars of Cassiopeia out of the woods and back up towards the A31. The mud on my jeans gave me away to the petrol station attendant.

I feel a sense of adventure.

How to navigate… in fog… at night

Your sense of adventure can be sharpened, in order of descending visibility, by haze, mist and — as I enjoyed on Sunday night in the Purbecks — fog.

As the waves of the English Channel hurled themselves onto the white cliffs below, clouds of water vapour condensed around the flecks of salt in the cold air.

I was navigating towards the obelisk of Ballard Down. To give you some idea of visibility, here’s what that imposing monument looked like at ten paces:

The Obelisk: a 19th century souvenir taken from a church near Bank, London

Definitely a night to practice my navigational instincts.

  • Use all your senses, starting with your common sense. Foot feel is your most reliable feedback system in fog. Sound, smell and sight are also useful and sometimes combine to make an inexplicable sixth sense: if you get a funny feeling that you might be going wrong, pay attention.
  • Fog is low-lying cloud, so if you need to use a torch (generally you don’t if your night vision is switched on), then hold it at hip height or lower, otherwise it’ll just reflect water vapour back in your face.
  • Contour lines are your best friend: you can feel them through your feet and if you’re walking up a steep hill or along a ridge you can often see a change in shadow below the line of the fog.
  • If you really can’t detect anything, not even a contour, lie down on the ground and see if the view is any better from there. If you’re worried about cliff edges, a crawl is safer than a walk.
  • Expect a discombobulating sense of vertigo if you stare into the fog for too long: keep your eyes moving and check in with solid ground every now and again.

Fire!

Over the past few years, I’ve become a much more qualified arsonist.

Back in 2009, I remember footling around with a grate and some matches for about three hours, before a consummate fire-starter dragged a toothpick along an emery board for an instant conflagration.

Here are a few of the cheats I use today:

  • Cotton wool balls rubbed in Vaseline make for excellent lightweight, multi-purpose and fragrance-free starter fuel.
  • Stop using cigarette lighters and matches. Start using a torch. Not those kind of torches. These kind of torches, the ones with a steady, focussed blue flame that you might use to cremate a crème brulée. I’ve started fires with wet tinder using this. Definitely cheating.
  • Use an axe, penknife or saw to cut your fuel down to the right size for whatever stage of fire building you’re at. From bundles of finger-width twigs to hefts of wood block.
  • Make sure there is enough draft under your fuel. Oxygen is the forgotten force in the fire trinity of fuel, heat and air.
  • Don’t waste your breath on breathing life into your baby fire. Fan the flickers by using a piece of card, a scrap of bark, a book or even a t-shirt. You’ll get a much steadier draft and won’t pass out from smoke inhalation.

The solitude of stars

One of the consolations of winter is the growing role of the moon and stars in our lives. Last night, I watched the moon rising in a fine crescent over the sea, backing into the inky gap between Jupiter and Saturn.

Together with Venus, these are the easiest planets to spot at the moment because, at dusk, they form a nice easterly curve up from the horizon in the southwest.

As the night deepens, you’ll be able to pick up the constellations ever present in the northern night sky: the two Bears, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Draco the serpent or dragon.

The first three are important to the nightwalker: the constellation of Little Bear holds the North Star and, when you know how to read them, both Cassiopeia and Big Bear point the way north.

Fascinatingly, the head star of Draco was the pole star for the ancient Egyptians, who constructed their pyramids so that the serpent’s head should be visible from the entrance passage.

Because the stars are slowly parading through our night sky, Draco’s head will once again shine forth as our pole star in about 21,000AD. Assuming we make it that far as a species.

In winter, we get the starry show of every child’s favourite pattern of stars, Orion the hunter, who draws his deadly bow in the east.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that winter is the finest time to explore, not only the celestial firmament, but also terra firma.

The weather is nowhere near as bad as we fear and the darkness brings the twin balms of silence and solitude.

I hiked about 72km over four days while on Dartmoor and saw no more than eight other human beings the whole time — and only one group of four who were close enough to bid good day.

The only action that broke the peace were military manoeuvres: four helicopters ploughing furrows in the sky over my head for half an hour.

Hiking back up to the car park, following the North Star with Jupiter at my back and Orion by my side, I saw two headtorches bobbing in the distance. I passed an empty tent.

Litigation not education on Dartmoor

Dartmoor is the only place in England where wild camping is allowed without seeking permission from the landowner.

Unfortunately, reactionary forces are trying to ban camping in many of the most popular places on Dartmoor, including around the quarries of Foggintor, where I spent my first night’s wild camping on the moor in 2020.

It’s a beautiful spot and, crucially, it’s easily accessible from the road on foot or bike.

It’s an area where many people like myself will have had their first wild camps before building the confidence and the skills needed to safely camp in the more extreme environments of the open moor.

I understand the reasons why the Dartmoor National Park Authority are trying to curtail our right to the land: humans inevitably damage the environment they travel through.

But the popularity of Dartmoor after the easing of lockdown restrictions in the summer of 2020 need not be the trigger for ranger patrols and keep out signs.

First time or inexperienced campers can be the most destructive because they simply don’t know how to behave in the outdoors yet.

So teach them.

(Did I mention that I’m an outdoor instructor?)

The Dartmoor National Park Authority has also identified a problem with ‘fly camping’ — disposible dump and run campers — as well as with hordes of revelling ravers.

These problems crop up where there is immediate road access. So is there reallly any need to change the byelaws when camping within 100 metres from a road is already banned? Not to mention the byelaws that prohibit noise disturbance.

Even so, similarly popular areas near to roads, towns and rivers have also been removed from the proposed camping map. It amounts to an 8 percent cut in the allowed camping area.

This doesn’t sound like much, but if those areas are where first time campers are most likely to be able to access, then it’s a huge barrier for people ‘not like us’.

The outcome of these proposed changes is that campers who are not white, wealthy and middle class enough will be discouraged from communing with one of our last expanses of wilderness.

How depressing.

Other proposed changes to the Dartmoor access byelaws include:

  • A clear ban on van or car-based camping, and even the occupation of a parked vehicle after 9pm. So I can’t prepare a bit of night nav or stargaze under some of the only dark skies in England?
  • A ban on tents of more than 3 people and groups larger than 6 people. So what — no families, no school groups, no Ten Tors expeditions?
  • A ban on hammocks suspended from trees. Fair enough. I’m not sure this needs to be in place for the biologically dead pine plantations, but byelaws aren’t built for nuance.
  • A ban on the gathering of fuel, as well as the lighting and tending of a fire. Camping stoves are still fine. I get it, but this is another byelaw that falls under the heading of ‘litigation, not education’.
  • A ban on mass participation activities involving more than 50 walkers or 30 cyclists.
  • A clarification and extension of the ban on paid guides and instructors. This inexplicable byelaw is ignored by almost every single school expedition, but hey.
  • A ban on the use of drones. At last! Now if they could only ban those blasted military helicopters who strafed my peaceful walk up Cocks Hill…

Exploiting scarcity with my 100 Days of Adventure experiment

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this year’s 100 Days of Adventure experiment: 81 days and counting.

I’m already well past the 67 Days of Adventure of last year and, thanks to the self-imposed scarcity of the deadline, I feel genuinely motivated to somehow wring another nineteen Days of Adventure from the dirty dishcloth of 2021.

Bearing in mind that I’d only managed to collect a quarter of the adventures by the end of June, I think I’m doing bloody well.

I could find excuses for the slow start — a lockdown, winter weather — but the same thing probably would have happened under any conditions. That’s how deadlines work: we fritter away our time during periods of abundance and only when time is running out do we knuckle down and commit to completing the project.

One solution to the last minute panic effect could be to make the deadlines come around quicker. Rather than giving myself a year-long deadline, I could work in seasons of three months each, perhaps aiming for 40 Days of X.

This is actually a much stiffer target (160 days over a year), but with more regular deadlines I will be held more closely accountable. There’ll still be last minute panic, but the panic will be less daunting. Maybe.

Whatever I end up doing, I’ll definitely be reporting my progress in this newsletter. Having a public forum of accountability is almost as good as having a deadline!

~

There are only seventy days left in 2021. Cast your mind back to January. What did you have planned for this year that you haven’t finished yet?

Time is running out.

Get on it.

100 Days of Adventure: Solstice Update

What is this?

I’ll begin this six-month, solstice update on a downbeat note. Earlier this week, I was scheduled to instruct my first Duke of Edinburgh Award Silver Expedition.

I was very excited about this event, not only because I’d be working in the G.O.D. (Great Out Doors) with more experienced, enthusiastic young people, but also because it was in the New Forest, a wilderness I’ve not much explored (despite the fact it’s only forty minutes down the road).

Unfortunately, there was an outbreak of Covid at the school and they had to cancel. A shocking reminder that shit is still very much going down and we are lucky to be able to get outdoors whenever and however we can. Make the most of it, people.

Cumulative Days of Adventure so far: 28

According to my optimistic Equinox Update, I’d been hoping to get through 36 DoA by this point. Given that four days of outdoor work have been cancelled over the past couple of weeks, I’m not too far off my ambition.

July to September

This is where the battle will be won and lost. On 17 July, I’ll be resuming my Round Britain cycle, riding around Wales for a couple of weeks. My vague route is on Komoot.

NOTICE: If you live in Wales or have any recommendations for the route, please reply to this email or leave a comment. Thanks!

Then, in August and September, I’ll be part of the core team for Thighs of Steel’s epic world record-breaking Spell It Out ride across the south coast, helping make Refugees Welcome. (You’re invited too, btw.)

By the time I get home, I could be on 75 DoA. That still leaves a pretty stiff target of eight days for each of the winter months—but I’m hoping that my soon-to-be-booked Hill and Moorland Leader assessment will light a fire under my efforts to get outside a-venturing.

Do it while you can.

Broken in Finding suppleness of mind and body in post-lockdown Dartmoor

Here in the UK, this was the week that we unlocked a little more. As I write, a paraglider drifts past my eighth-floor window. On my run this morning, the promenade was spilling over onto the sand and the bucket and spade buccaneers were doing a fast trade.

I’m late coming to you this week because I spent the last five days getting sunburnt on Dartmoor. As some of you know, I’m slowly working my way towards my Hill and Moorland Leader Award, chipping away at the forty logged walks needed before my assessment.

But the weather was so good this week that I worried my four hikes weren’t particularly good practice for the ultimate examination that will doubtless be undertaken in the filthy conditions for which Dartmoor is famous. Nevertheless, I’ve got only sixteen more training walks to go!

All my Dartmoor hikes. Map created thanks to Jonathan O’Keefe’s amazing Strava integration. Incidentally, you can see the pros and cons of car ownership: helping me access more remote parts of the moor, but forcing circular routes.

What I really valued about this week, however, was the feeling of breaking myself in again after a winter of semi-enforced inactivity. The sun rising over the horizon every blue-sky morning took on metaphorical overtones as I stood out in the chill dawn with a mug of tea and the birdsong.

Day three was the one that really did it for me. On day one, a fifteen kilometre tramp to the rising of the Avon river, I was powered by first day enthusiasm. But my enthusiasm drained overnight and, on day two, my feet dragged. I only survived a tour of Bellever and Laughter thanks to the morning addition of a hearty walking companion.

Resting atop Bellever, we watch a young boy hopping around the enormous boulders of granite, chasing the family dog. Mother, leaning back after lunch and looking up to us for solidarity, says: ‘Be careful—remember he’s got four legs, not two.’ But boy scrambles after dog. ‘These are too easy,’ he complains. ‘Can we find harder ones?’

Out loud, I suggest Great Mis Tor and the Devil’s Frying Pan, but what I’m wondering inside is whether I’ll ever have that boy’s energy again.

I perked up later in the evening after lighting the wood burner, but I was concerned for day three: did I have the strength to hike alone for four or more hours? Especially as, for some unknown reason, I’d decided to hike up the steep face of the moor’s highest peak, Yes Tor. It was yes again to my friend’s sound advice: ‘Go slow and take plenty of breaks.’

Trundling up the slopes from Meldon Reservoir, I ran into packs of army recruits, themselves making the most of a lifting lockdown. But as I clumped down the other side of High Willhays, I had the moor to myself, with nary a sheep to be spotted.

Somewhere between the solitude and the sunshine, the air and the exercise, I noticed that I hadn’t felt better in months. The stiffness of my mind and body had given way to suppleness, broken in.

When I made it back to base, after five and a half hours, eighteen kilometres and over six hundred metres of climbing, I felt stronger than when I’d left that morning.

The next day, we stopped at Haytor Rocks and spent the heat haze of Friday afternoon clambering around a mini version of the Ten Tors. Five hours down the trail, number ten on the horizon: from my lookout post in the clear blue sky, I see myself leaping from granite to granite, forever young in springtime.

Thanks to G.C. and B.Q. for fine company and penguin packets.

The sun rising over Bellever, seen from Powdermills

100 Days of Adventure: Equinox Update

Way back, you may remember, I resolved to aim for 100 Days of Adventure in 2021. In the spirit of accountability, I thought I’d better report back on how it’s going. So here’s my Spring Equinox DOA impact report, starting with THE HARD STATS.

Cumulative Days of Adventure so far: 1 (one)

No surprises here: I am well behind schedule. It’s been a frighteningly quiet start to the year in terms of adventures—primarily because, here in the UK, we are still under a ‘stay at home’ order. As a result, I have been staying at home—not the most adventurous of places, unless you count my daring habit of wearing the same shirt four days running.

My single day of adventure this year was a cheeky visit to the New Forest for an afternoon of drawing. I didn’t want to have nothing to report, but, to be honest, I’m not even sure it counts as adventurous under my own definition:

Did I spend a significant chunk of the day outside on an adventure?

It did feel significant, but maybe that was because I hadn’t been further than five miles from my house in months. If I’m stuck on 99 come 31 December, I’ll count it.

Positivity

April is looking much more optimistic. The ban on staying overnight somewhere fun in the UK is lifted on 12 April and so on 12 April, all being well, I will go to Dartmoor for a week of walking—possibly even with friends!

This kind of excitement has been unheard of since December, so I am indeed excited. I’m following Dartmoor with my first weekend of outdoor instructing work and then immediately going into a five-day bushcraft course.

Without wanting to tempt fate, I spent a happy five minutes sketching out how this year might look, if I were to meet my goal of 100 Days of Adventure:

  • April: 12 (already booked!)
  • May and June: 12 each
  • July and August: 20 each (hopefully cycle touring)
  • September: 12
  • October, November and December: 4 each

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that everything will go pear-shaped and we’ll spend the next six months honing our indoor adventure game. But it’s also perfectly possible that, confined for so long, this could be our greatest year of adventure ever.

If you’re hoping to be more adventurous this year, I’d love to know—how are you getting on? Anything planned for unlockdown?

100 Days of Adventure

As you know by now, I love this time of year because of the artificial opportunity for self-reflection and, above all, STATS. One of the difficulties of STATS, however, is making sure that the thing you are measuring is a genuine correlate of the thing that is actually important.

For example, it’s easy for me to throw out a STAT like, ‘Last year I spent 2,117 hours on my computer’, but does that shockingly high number actually tell me anything shocking about how I spend my time? Only maybe.

I do a lot of things on my computer and, although some of my screentime is complete garbage and makes me hate myself, some of it is actually very important to me—like writing you this letter.

So yesterday I struck upon another metric that was relatively easy to collect from my diary and directly measures something that is extremely important to me. In many ways, it’s the equal and opposite to my existing measure of time spent in front of screens. Ready?

Introducing: Days Outside on Adventures (DOA)

DOA is simple to calculate. Every day of the year gets a binary Y/N score: did I spend a significant chunk of the day outside on an adventure? Then you count the Ys and—voilà—you have your DOA score for that year.

SIDE NOTE: ‘Outside’ is deliberately wide open because I’m a firm believer that adventure can be found anywhere. ‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ are both deliberately relative because DOA is a simple binary measure that should work for everyone.

‘An adventure’ for an experienced touring cyclist will look very different to ‘an adventure’ for someone who’s never camped before. Likewise, ‘a significant chunk of the day’ could be a very different timespan for a freelancer with no dependents, compared to someone with a 9-5 job and two kids. The point of DOA is not competition between adventurers, but a measure of outdoor adventure against your past and future selves.

Oh, and, yes, I am aware that DOA also stands for Dead On Arrival, a definition only metaphorically compatible with the very best adventures.

DOA 2020

In 2020, my DOA score was 67. To give you an idea of what qualifies as adventure for me, those 67 DOAs included:

This was about 18 percent of my days in the three months pre-Covid and, happily, about 18 percent of my days in the nine months post-Covid. Hopefully that proves that days of adventure aren’t impossible to find, even in a pandemic world. We just have to choose our moments carefully.

67 days also compares favourably with 2019, when my DOA score was approximately 56. I say ‘approximately’ because these things are difficult to measure in retrospect and, depending on my definition, I could easily add many of the 50 days that I spent travelling in Italy and Greece.

DOA 2021

However you measure them, I would like more of them. In fact, I would like a lot more of them. How many more? I hear you ask. Do you really expect me to be that silly?

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s the utter absurdity of ever expecting plans to turn out how you imagined.

So here goes nothing!

In 2021, I would like to have 100 days of adventure. If you like, that could be a slogan: 100 Days of Adventure.

I’m going to stop writing now, before I get carried away and do something silly like buy the domain name or design a logo.

I hope that your 2021 is ram-packed with days of adventure— and I hope too that our adventures intersect, or that we can at least share stories with each other.

The Next Challenge grant winners


For the past few years, I’ve contributed to The Next Challenge grant to help ordinary folks go on extraordinary adventures. The grant is run by adventurer and accountant Tim Moss and every year I’m flabbergasted by the audacity of the dozen or so winners.

People like Katie Marston, a swimming teacher from Cumbria, who is using the grant to embark on a ‘leave no trace’ adventure: paddleboarding across nine lakes and hiking the land between.

The grant is an annual reminder that everyone’s adventure is just over the threshold.

On which note: Alastair Humphreys recently started a newsletter that’s got me very excited. The Working Adventurer is his attempt to answer your — our questions.

In the first edition — ‘What on earth is an adventurer and why should anyone care?’ — Al is typically honest about his vision for the newsletter:

I’m uncertain, for now, quite what direction all this all might go — that depends on the questions you ask. But in the same way that curiosity, serendipity, momentum and adventure show up once you dare yourself to get out of the front door and have a look around, I decided to just get started and give this a go.

Exactly.

Subscribe to The Working Adventurer here; ask Al a question here.

The Next Challenge Grant: Applications for Adventure Now Open

For the past two years, I’ve supported The Next Challenge Grant, a wonderfully simple idea to crowdsource donations from people like me so that impecunious adventure-newbies can take on the kind of challenges that I’ve been so lucky to enjoy over the years.

My £200 donation – enough to fund one adventurous grantee – is dedicated to my nan. This is the dedication I wrote on the grant’s donor page:

My first big adventure, cycling 4,000 miles around the coast of Great Britain, was only possible thanks to support from my nan. She’d absolutely love The Next Challenge Expedition Grant so now it’s my turn to help you find your own awesome adventure. As nan used to say: Do it while you can!

This rest of this post was written by Tim Moss, the founder of the grant. Read on for the incredible stories of some astonishingly imaginative adventures made possible thanks to donations from the general public, people like you and me.

5 years, 60 adventures funded

Here’s a look back over five years of the Next Challenge Grant and the 60 adventurers that have won it…

We’ve had plenty of running expeditions like George Shelton running the Isle of Man ‘TT’ route, Dan Keeley running a thousand miles from Italy to England, Tina Page running the UK Three Peaks and Amanda McDonnell running across the Channel Islands.

Mike Creighton is running between all of the UK’s national parks as I write, while Ruth Thomas is preparing to run the Thames Path and Valerie Rachel is preparing to run the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Cycling’s been just as popular. Mikey Bartley rode up the legendary Alpe d’Huez eight times in a row, Dylan Haskin went round Costa Rica on a beach cruiser (sounds cool, looked brutal), Megan Cumberlidge bikepacked the GR247 and Geraint Hill explored “Everyman’s rights” in Scandinavia.

Karl Booth pedalled 2,500 miles to the top of Europe, off-road and then declined to accept any money from the grant. He said that he got so much sponsorship after telling people he’d won a Next Challenge Grant that he didn’t need the cash and I should give it to someone else. Legend.

Paddle sports have featured too. Graham Clarke tackled the Shannon on a home-made raft, Val Ismaili kayaked through Kosovo and Albania on the Drin, Anna Blackwell kayaked from the UK to the Black Sea, Jo Laird paddled the longest lakes in England, Scotland and Wales, Joanne McCallum paddled the longest lake in North Ireland, and Emily Fitzherbert and her daughter Lua paddle-boarding every lake in the Lake District.

There have been a few trips that combine sports too, like Heather Jones’ Welsh Three Peaks by bike (which ended in a snow-covered bivouac), Hajo Spathe’s home-made IronMan triathlon in the Rockie Mountains and Ed March-Shawcross’s triathlon around Arran.

We’ve let youth do it, with teenagers walking the Tour du Mont Blanc, canoeing the Rivey Spey, cycling across Europe, cycling across Jamaica, walking all of the UK’s National Trails, hiking from the Lakes to the Dales, and crossing a desert island.

We’ve had some really creative ideas, like Carmen Bran camping out for 100 nights in a year (around finishing a PhD), Oli Warlow climbing up and cycling between every route in the Classic Rock guide book, Nick Stanton cycling the length of the Berlin Wall on a hired bike, Joshua Powell running a marathon at Marathon (in ancient Greek armour) and Kate Symonds-Joy cycling to the northernmost point in the UK to perform a one woman opera in a lighthouse (!).

There are also plans to cycle the Netherlands in search of new food technologies, explore the worst-selling Ordnance Survey map, trek around Scotland with a pony and complete swimming escapes from the UK’s three prison islands.

Despite the grant being aimed primarily at smaller challenges, some expeditions have just been straight-up epic, like Jenny Tough running across the Kyrgyz Tien-Shan mountain range, Thommo Hart walking the length of South Africa barefoot and Elise Downing running five thousand miles around the UK (five thousand!). Plus, Sam Hewings is walking a couple of thousand miles along Britain’s watershed right now.

We’ve had expeditions all across the world too, with bikepacking in the Philippines, a circumnavigation of Gotland, a planned walk up Mount Cameroon, a father and young daughters walking in the Indian Western Ghats, a winter hike along the Great Wall, a trek along Ukraine’s Tendrivska Spit, Robin Lewis walking Japan’s tsunami-affected coastline, walking the length of New Zealand and a crossing of the Kolyma mountain range in the Russian Far East.

But we’ve also had plenty of trips closer to home, like Nate Freeman’s wonderfully simple walk to work (25 miles each way), Kerry Anne Mairs’ five bothies with a five year old, Bex Band taking a kick-scooter around the London Loop, Ben & Jude tackling the Caledonian canal in an inflatable boat, and Emily Woodhouse battling up every tor in Dartmoor.

The stories from these adventures would be enough on their own but the fact that they come from “normal people” who have been part-funded by “normal people” somehow makes them feel even better.

2020 grant applications now open

Applications for the 2020 Next Challenge Grant are now open. The deadline is Sunday 5th January. Read more and apply here.

It is open to people all over the world, of any age, nationality or background. Expedition experience is not necessary and, in fact, the grant is aimed squarely at those who are new to the adventure world and “don’t normally do this sort of thing”.

So if you’ve had a look at trips above and thought “I’m not the kind of person that does stuff like that”, then you need to apply.

The application only takes five minutes and – because Tim only has a small readership and typically makes 10 or more awards – the odds of success are high.

What are you waiting for? What is the worst that could happen?

Click here to apply

Click here to donate

Always take the swim

It seems hard to believe it today, as I dry myself off in the sun after a swim in the Bay of Naples, but in 2011 I managed to cycle around the whole coast of Britain without once going for a swim in the sea, or in any of the dozens of rivers, lakes and streams that I passed.*

It was this realisation that led me to the maxim that I carry around the world’s waters with me: Always take the swim.

Myriad are the times that I have really hated the idea of jumping into a river or lake, but zero are the number of times that I’ve regretted doing so.

When faced with a wild swimming opportunity, my brain does something silly and the combined efforts of willpower and desire are not enough to get me into the water.

I need automatic thinking – and I’ve come across enough other people in the same metaphorical boat to believe that many could benefit from this humble maxim.

Always take the swim.

Whenever there is an opportunity to swim, you should take that opportunity. And you’d be amazed how many opportunities there are in your day-to-day life.

Seas, oceans, rivers, streams, burns, fountains, lakes, ponds. The water is waiting.

Don’t let excuses get in the way. Your brain, for some reptilian reason, will furnish you with dozens of excuses ripe to fit any occasion. You must ignore them and instead trust and follow the maxim.

Always take the swim.

Not having your bathers is no excuse. I have taken swims naked and in my boxer shorts when nakedness is scorned.

Not having a towel is no excuse. On days like today, I dry in the sun, on less clement days I have dried myself with a t-shirt – or simply shaken myself down and put on my clothes still wet. It’s never that long before I have the chance to find a towel or a change of clothes. And I have still never regretted taking a swim.

Cold water is no excuse – although it is a very good reason to be cautious. Cold water makes for the most invigorating swims. Cold water should make your maxim yet more urgent.

But beware: enter the water slowly, and make sure you are confident about warming up again afterwards. It doesn’t take much (and you still don’t need a towel) – just run up and down on the shore until you’re warm again. Then put your layers back on.

Poor weather is no excuse. This overlaps with cold water, but I would hasten to add that there is no more joyful swim than that taken in pouring rain. How perverse, how apt!

Even better: high winds equal high surf and vastly more pleasurable sea swimming. Although, please be careful and watch out for rip tides.

Not having time is no excuse. Whoever said a swim has to take a long time? There aren’t many places in the world that are a long way from a water course – almost by definition. Humans need water, so settlements rise up along their route.

When I am in Bournemouth, blessed with a 10km shoreline, I calculate that the minimum viable swim (out to beyond my depth, plus three head dunking dives) takes exactly 13 minutes, from fully dressed at my desk, into the sea, and back. I defy anyone unable to find 13 minutes in their day for a swim.

Not being near the sea is no excuse. For some reason, rivers and streams are usually excluded from most people’s acceptable notions of outdoor swimming. This is madness for I find that they are the most rewarding.

The sea is relentless and – dare I say – a little dull sometimes. The river is never short of interest, from the sludgy coolness of the mud shore, to the abundant wildlife that coos and chuckles from the treeline. Plus there is the eternal pleasure of striking out upstream until exhaustion, before drifting back to base on the current.

If you have never thought of taking a river swim, I urge you to take one today. Be not afeared of cleanliness. If you are worried (and in the UK), check the government’s designated bathing water website or the Environment Agency Water Quality Archive for wilder swims.

I have swum now in rivers all over Europe and never once contracted ringworm.

I dread to think how many swims I missed out on during my round Britain cycle, but I am glad in a way that it has brought me to my fool-proof maxim. I cannot turn back the clock, but I can try to convince you to always take the swim.

May the tides be with you!


* Full disclosure: I washed myself once at a friend’s local watering hole in a river near Bath, and I also got my feet wet in the North Sea at John O’Groats. Up to my ankles. Doesn’t count.

The Next Challenge Grant Winners Announced!

When it comes to awards, I’m not just a taker (Hold on, we really still haven’t won?) – I’m a giver too.

I help fund The Next Challenge Grant, an annual bursary for adventures chosen and administered by adventurer (and accountant) Tim Moss.

This year’s grant winners have just been announced and they’re a terrific bunch of adventurers who I’m proud to help out.

My personal favourites: Mark Holmes who’s making swimming escapes from the UK’s three prison islands, and Sue Manning who’s walking around Scotland with a pack pony.

I particularly wanted to help The Next Challenge Grant because my first big adventure, cycling 4,000 miles around the coast of Great Britain, was only possible thanks to support from my nan.

One of the last things she said to me before she died was ‘Do it while you can!’ She’d have loved to help out these intrepid adventurers.