Many city-dwellers assume they’ll have to travel to live adventurously. This is an excuse. And a poor one.
Adventure doesn’t have to happen in far flung corners of the globe. It’s about doing something new, that makes you feel alive, and gives you a tale to tell in the office the next day. And all ideally without any permanent scars.
With that in mind, look at the city not as an obstacle but as an asset. Cities are vast, diverse and complicated landscapes. Look at what they’ve got, not what they lack.
It’s time to embrace the urban adventure, starting with this list of tips put together by real-life action man and explorer, Andy Torbet. Do them, change them, ignore them and come up with your own. But don’t waste too much time trying to create the perfect plan. It never happens. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of ‘good enough’. Make a simple plan, don’t overthink it, and get out there.
From storm drains and underground rivers to abandoned factories and catacombs, this activity involves discovering the lost and hidden parts of a city.
An urban explorer has to be careful about the trespass laws and be aware of any dangers inherent in the site (e.g. loose masonry, flooding, asbestos). Or you can target more sedate, staffed places and ask to look ‘behind the scenes’.
Many staff will welcome the opportunity and be grateful of the interest. You’ll see a side of your city’s most famous landmarks and tourist traps that very few witness, whether its the machinery in bowels of moving bridges, a network of empty tunnels below a sports stadium or a mass of artefacts not on show in a museum. Trust me: if you ask, you get.
The road less travelled
When travelling through cities I’ll normally walk. It’s healthier, often faster, and you can choose your own route. I try and avoid the crowds, mainly for my own sanity, by using the smaller, side streets that run roughly parallel to major thoroughfares. Not only will I arrive less stressed but I’ll often see architecture, shops, pubs and curios that most people will miss.
Try walking more to work next week and change your route each day. And look up. You’d be surprised how interesting the world gets 10 feet off the ground.
Take to the water
Most of our towns and cities have grown up around at least one river, usually more. Whether you have a quick paddle at lunch, on a Saturday morning to de-stress, or use it as part of your commute, get on the water.
For the beginners, sit-on-top kayaks or stand-up paddle boards are great. You can even get inflatable pack-rafts that are very safe and stable and, as the name suggests, pack up to be carried. Just think of how smug you can be, with your boat in a bag on your back, asking your colleagues how they enjoyed their journey to work this morning.
The end of the line
Pick a mode of transport — tube, tram, water-taxi, train or bus. Anything which has a fixed route you can’t influence. Then jump on and ride it to the end of the line and see what’s there. If you can’t decide what to do, walk to the station nearest your home or work and take the next transport that pulls in.
But don’t always restrict yourself to the end of the line. That’s the plan but plans can be flexible. Gaze out of the window and really look at what’s passing you by. If you see something of interest, get off.
Every city had green spaces. Some have lots. Greater London contains about 45% Green Space. 3000 parks, two National Nature Reserves and a tree over 2,000 years old. Other cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh likewise do very well for Green Space.
If you want trees and nature to be the wallpaper to your adventure rather than bricks and mortar, it still doesn’t mean you have to leave the city. Whether it’s swimming, canoeing, tree climbing, wild camping (there may be local by-laws here so check and follow…or just be covert and respectful), running, mountain biking, off-road skateboarding, birdwatching or wildlife photography, getting into nature does not always require a long drive the country.
And I mean properly skip it, not just sitting at your desk doing more work. What could you really do with that hour? How about a swim in the rivers, lakes and ponds that pepper our cities, a fast session in the many indoor climbing walls that have popped up in the last 10 years, or, in cities like Glasgow, Manchester and London, you can actually go ice-climbing on your lunch-break.
There are often pop-up activities too like zip-wires in the summertime parks of our urban areas.
Straight line route
In 2013 I decided to work out the longest distance you could walk in a straight line in the UK without crossing a road. It’s almost exactly 80km and required a torturous route across rivers, bogs, thickly forested blocks and the least sensible routes up some big hills.
So, how about taking as straight a line as possible from home to work? This may involve swimming, paddling, jumping fences or walking through parks ‘off-path’. Just try not to get arrested.
Britain is not that big. The absolute furthest you can be from the sea in the UK is 74 miles. And every town and city has a train and bus station…and roads. Which means you can reach one of Britain’s 15 National Parks in less than two hours from any city in the UK.
If we include Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and national or local nature reserves, you’re less than an hour away, often much less. So as the days get warmer and longer take a short train/bus/car ride after work and have an evening of walking, climbing or whatever takes your fancy, a night of wild camping, an early, bracing dip in a river to wash and breakfast on the ride back to work.
Make a tribe
My final piece of advice is to join a club. It’s easier to come with ideas, inspiration and mad things to do when there’s more than one brain working on it. It’s easier to motivate yourself, as well as harder to find an excuse to back down, when you’ve committed to something with others. It’s also a lot more fun.
Every city will have multiple climbing, caving, diving, biking, wild swimming, walking, etc, etc clubs. Maybe it’s something you used to do years ago before ‘life’ got in the way, maybe it’s something you always wanted to try. Join a club. Or create one.
And after you casually (and smugly) mention to your work colleagues that, since you saw them yesterday, you watched the sunrise from a tent atop a mountain, some will want to join you. Start out as a beginner and become the leader.
Now check out the best walking boots to go on your next adventure with…