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It's November 2020 and, for the second time this year, we are being told to stay home and take our exercise locally. For many outdoor people, particularly those who live any distance from the hills, it can be a hard restriction to live by. But here is a question for you, how well do you know your local area?

Have you ever taken the time to properly explore all the hidden corners and paths to who knows where?




For as long as I can remember I've needed to look around before I can settle anywhere. On a family

holiday I'm seldom in the accommodation for more than thirty minutes before the urge to “have a bit of an

explore” becomes unbearable and I pull on a jacket and shoes. Having lived in my current home for the

last 15 years I thought I knew everything worth knowing about the area around me. It took the first lock

down to show me how wrong I was.


Initially my discoveries were very close to home, unexpected paths through park, forest and farmland,

which, as the restrictions on the amount of time I could exercise were lifted, allowed me to move out of

the town where I live often without seeing another person. By the time I could return to work my

explorations by foot and mountain bike had revealed the best bluebell wood I have ever seen, a small

hidden lake surrounded by wild flowers and an unrecorded rock face with a dozen new climbs (no I'm not

telling you where!) amongst many other unexpected delights. I had also pieced together a 100km route

from my back door to the nearest MTB trail centre and back which is well over 95% off-road (if you then

include the actual MTB trails and some of the optional loops the total distance is easily over 100 miles, I

haven't yet found the energy to ride the whole thing!).


The experience has definitely changed our behaviour as a family. Where once we would automatically

jump in the car to drive out to the Peaks whenever we were looking for fresh air, now, at least sometimes,

the local option wins. Until you go looking you never really know what you will find, here are a few tips

to help get you going.


Start with the map



Like so many other adventures the best place to start is with a map. If you don't already own the Ordnance

Survey map of your area then there are various ways to get hold of one, you can of course buy it or

subscribe to the OS website which does bring certain benefits, but they are also available to look at for

free on Bing Maps (you just need to change the map option from road to Ordnance Survey and then zoom

in sufficiently to view the OS 1:50k and then 1:25k mapping data).


Below is a section of map that I have chosen pretty much at random. It isn't somewhere I know and as far

as I can remember have never visited but there are lots of points which grab my interest, a few of which I

have marked.


It generally makes sense to start by looking for the public rights of way (green dashed lines on the 1:25k

maps) to see what opportunities they present.


In this case there are several bridleways (the slightly longer dashes) which in the bottom right corner

(point 6) join national cycle route number 52 on what looks like a disused train line. Maybe this is a

potential start point to a long off road adventure?


I always try to make walks circular wherever possible simply because I don't like to retrace my steps and I

also avoid roads unless there really is no other choice. As first glance there are a few options on this small

section of map but there are also a few hints I would investigate further. The towing path that is

mentioned (point 3) isn't marked as as a right of way on the map and may in fact no longer be there but if

it is it could provide a very useful link between other public rights of way.


Grey dotted lines (some of which I have circled in point 2) indicate a path on the ground that there is no

recorded legal right of way along. In the particular case I suspect the tracks I have circled are part of the

old quarry workings and may be surrounded by barbed wire and keep out signs in which case I would do

exactly that. Sometimes however these grey lines record a route that is obviously heavily used by the

public and present no problems to you walking along despite the lack of legal access arrangements. Again

until you actually go and take a look you won't know but if in doubt maybe look for another route and if

asked to leave then do so courteously.


Depending on where you live in the country you may also find that you have easy access to disused rail

tracks. Over the years several of these have been changed into official walking and cycling routes which

aren't always accurately recorded on the maps.


Try to find potential points of interest, the moat and icehouse spinney (points 4 and 5) both sparked my

curiosity. Is the moat now a home to wildlife? Is the icehouse still there, hidden somewhere in the woods?

In this case neither of the features are on a public right of way so it may well be the case that I can't get

close to either of them but there are footpaths that take me close enough to investigate the possibilities.

Once you have a few ideas of potential routes and possible points of interest it's time to do a bit more

digging.


Spend some time researching


A little bit of time on the internet can often shed light on your plans and sometimes send you off in new

directions.


Start by Googling any of the points of interest you have identified, you will often find out enough to let

you know whether or not it is worth a visit. Occasionally you will find something you weren't even

looking for. While looking for information on a particular local nature reserve I came across an account of

someone walking along a disused train line to get there. According to my map there was no public right of

way and, in fact, it still showed the tracks as being in place. Two more minutes of searching and I

discovered that the whole section had received a European grant to turn it into an official cycle route that

suddenly removed nearly 20 miles of road riding from a mountain bike loop I was trying to create. It was

within a few miles of my home and I had no idea it was there.


The satellite view on Google maps can be incredibly useful to tell if a path is well used or not

(particularly useful for those grey dashed lines).


If you are a climber then take a quick look on UKClimbing.com (under Directory – Find Crag) to see if

there are any recorded venues along your proposed route. It's an (almost) exhaustive list which includes

disused railway bridges and old quarries amongst the more traditional rock faces. Point 1 on the section of

map I have included is a disused quarry which, as a climber myself, I would certainly go and take a look

at. Quarries are often fenced off, unpleasant and potentially extremely dangerous places in which case I

would personally avoid them but just occasionally you may come across an old, open quarry that is

returning to nature and provides enough clean rock for an enjoyable route or two.


Be a bit more childish


For the kind of small scale adventure I am proposing this is probably the single most important piece of

advice. Children have a great advantage over adults in that they can have an adventure practically

anywhere. You are not going to discover an unmapped mountain range or a new rock climbing

destination by walking out of your back door but, if you keep an open mind, you may be surprised and

delighted by what you do find. For us the small treasures included chain-saw carved insects and aliens,

massive tree roots that worked as a climbing frame to dodge above hip deep mud, deer, metre long grass

snakes, archaeological remains, sparkling streams and private wooded glades.


Non of what we found is going to change the tourist map of the UK but in my experience time spent

outside with family and friends is never wasted and many of us need a little adventure now more than

ever.










Author: Pure Outdoor Senior Instructor, Gavin

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