A Tale of three Norths
When you first start to map read or work with a compass, the one element that always causes most confusion is that of North! We should all know that the top of the map is North - but which one?
GetOutside Champions Jen & Sim Benson are endurance athletes, guidebook authors and passionate explorers of the great British outdoors - here's 5 amazing adventures they think you should try in 2019.
Named after Sir Hugo Munro, who first catalogued them in 1891, a Munro is a Scottish mountain higher than 3,000 feet (914.4 m). Munro bagging makes for some outstanding adventures and there are 282 different mountains to choose from, including the highest and most famous, Ben Nevis.
Last year we bagged Schiehallion, Ben More and Ben Lawers, with each one being special, challenging and enjoyable in its own way. Try basing yourself in one area and climbing all the nearby Munros; if you’re up for a long day out, the mighty South Glen Shiel ridge packs seven into around 17 miles of walking.
A word of warning: Never underestimate a Scottish mountain. Even when it’s warm and dry at sea level there could be serious weather on the summit, so go well prepared with plenty of warm kit and good navigation skills. If you’re up for an epic challenge you could try bagging all 282 Munros; the current record, held by fell runner Stephen Pyke, stands at just under 40 days.
Britain’s many islands – thought to number near to 5,000 depending on the tide – make for some truly outstanding adventures. Each one has its own character, often extending to its culture, landscape, flora and fauna, that can be quite distinct from the mainland. These differences give islands a real feeling of escape and staying on them even more so.
The National Trust’s Brownsea Island lies within busy Poole Harbour, yet its woodland and beaches feel secret, hidden and wild. Two National Trust cottages with glorious views straight out across the water are available as holiday lets and once the last day boat has left in the evening you have the place to yourself to explore. Look out for red squirrels and the resident peacocks.
Bryher, the smallest of the five inhabited Isles of Scilly, lies 28 miles off mainland Cornwall. A perfect size to explore on foot, and with regular ferries to the neighbouring islands, sleeping under canvas at Bryher Campsite makes the experience a real adventure.
Sleeping on an island gets even wilder in Scotland, where access laws allow you to camp almost anywhere. Try Eigg, Britain’s most eco-friendly island, or beautiful Mull with its stunning beaches and mountainous centre.
Exploring by kayak is a fantastic way to see a place from a completely new perspective. Even if you’ve never paddled before, booking onto a trip with a knowledgeable local guide to show you the basics means you can safely visit places unreachable on foot. One of the best things about kayaking is seeing wildlife in its natural habitat – we’ve seen otters, seals, dolphins and puffins, all seemingly unperturbed by our presence on the water.
The intricate coast of Arisaig, on the west coast of Scotland, lends itself perfectly to exploration by kayak and the friendly expert guides at Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre offer day, half-day and multi-day trips.
At the other end of the country, the Lizard Peninsula is another fantastic place to kayak, visiting this dramatic stretch of the south-west coast to weave through its network of caves, coves and inlets. Lizard Adventure works with the National Trust offering guided excursions with local expert instructors.
In contrast to wide fire roads and 4x4 tracks, singletrack trails are narrow and twisty, offering exhilarating and adventurous riding. Britain’s numerous dedicated mountain bike trail centres are a great place to start, with waymarked routes graded for all levels of rider and segregation between cyclists, vehicles and pedestrians for a more enjoyable and safer experience all round.
Coed-y-Brenin in southern Snowdonia was the country’s first dedicated mountain bike centre. Set in the depths of the forest park, routes range from the green Yr Afon trail, suitable for novices and families, to three different black trails for experienced riders.
Many of the Forestry Commission’s sites across Britain boast some excellent singletrack, along with cafes, bike hire, children’s playgrounds and more. Bedgebury Forest in Kent is a perfect escape from the busy south-east with a choice of family-friendly forest tracks or a red-graded trail for competent off-roaders, while the 7Stanes trail centres in southern Scotland offer varied, interesting and enjoyable riding.
Away from dedicated centres there’s a wealth of outstanding singletrack to be found in Britain’s wild places. Take a look on an OS map of your local area – in England and Wales you can ride on most bridleways and byways, while in Scotland access is less restricted. Check out our book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain, or Great Britain Mountain Biking by Tom Fenton & Andy McCandlish for lots of great route suggestions.
Swimming in open water – whether you’re feeling the pull of the waves in the sea, letting the current take you gently down a river or breaking the mirror-stillness of a lake – is always a real adventure and something everyone should experience at least once. The thrill of cold water on warm skin, the utter peace of submersion and the satisfying tingling glow that stays with you long after you’ve dried off all add to the addictive allure of wild swimming.
There are almost endless opportunities for a dip in the great British outdoors, too. Try Grasmere, Buttermere and Rydal Water in the Lake District; the River Dart in Devon; the ponds on Hampstead Heath and Frensham Common in the south-east; and Llyn Padarn in Wales. The Wild Swimming guidebooks and website are packed with inspiration and recommendations for great locations across Britain and beyond.
Deep, cold water isn’t without its dangers, but with a few precautions you can swim safely and enjoyably. Here are our top tips for staying safe:
Jen & Sim's new book 'The Adventurer's Guide to Britain' is out now.
It's an exciting, inspiring and informative guide to Britain with 150
featured adventures, arranged by geographical region, chosen for being
exhilarating, achievable and safe.