Great British adventures (without getting lost in the wilderness)
16 November 2018
City life can be suffocating and it’s easy to forget that there’s a green world not far away from the bustle of shopping centres and public transport. It’s a fact that Alex Middleton, a 27-year-old with a passion for outdoor adventure and travel, was well aware of when he co-founded Vespucci Adventures, which launched in March this year and is named after 15th-century explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who took part in the early voyages to the New World.
Vespucci Adventures has more modest goals, but hopes to make a big impact with its downloadable, tried-and-tested maps and guides that allow people to head off on their own with a route and expert advice to follow. Walking, cycling, canoeing and outdoor swimming are all catered for. Ultimately, the app aims to encourage people to switch off their smartphones and head outdoors. ‘You don’t need to row across the Atlantic or climb Everest, it can just be a day’s walk or cycling to really just reset you,’ says Middleton.
The company, which Middleton set up with co-founder Peter Bristowe, splits its main offerings into Signature Adventures, the company’s premium offering, and Impulse Adventures, ideal for young professionals wanting to head off on a whim. All trips are easily accessible from London via train. Signature Adventures see the app user pay for a map and guidebook, with Impulse Adventure digital guides free to download.
Sceptics may wonder what Vespucci Adventures offers that Google doesn’t, but Middleton has an answer. ‘If you type into Google ‘walks outside London’ you’re going to get bombarded with millions of Google search results, but you don’t know what’s trusted and what’s paid for — so we want to become the trusted source of this kind of information.’
See below for a selection of adventures for when you’re feeling impulsive…
Flow River, Flow!
A day spent canoeing down the historic stretch of the Thames in Windsor is a great way to switch off, or on, whichever way you prefer to look at it. The row involves a 7.5km walk, and over four hours on the river, passing through four locks. Vespucci Adventures ‘recommend bringing a picnic, it keeps the costs down and heightens the sense of adventure’, though it also points out some of the better riverside pubs for those in need of refreshment.
Kentish Wild Swimming
Wild swimming in south England’s River Medway is surely a great way to refresh both mind and body. What’s great about this adventure, however, is that it’s not just about getting wet and wild. The trip involves walking 13km over three hours, with the opportunity to visit the magnificent 700-year-old Hever Castle, Chiddingstone Castle or Penshurst Place, with lunch options for the latter. ‘The walking is gentle and satisfying, passing through small rural villages and skirting along riverbanks,’ says Middleton.
The Devil’s Backyard
This adventure is far less scary than it sounds, but it is impressive. Venturing to Surrey via a short train ride from Waterloo and Clapham Junction, you’ll hopefully be invigorated by a 15km walk over four hours, before arriving at a view over Devil’s Punch Bowl, a natural amphitheatre which, due to its natural diversity, is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Take a breath and marvel at what’s on your London doorstep.
The curator of this adventure, Peter Bristowe, says this tour is ‘a perfect example of a Vespucci Impulse Adventure,’ while suggesting the day be topped off with a drink at the Station Hotel before heading back home.
Dark Night Skies
When you live in a light-polluted city like London it’s fair to say that nights of stargazing are few and far between. But venture to the South Downs for an Impulse night adventure and you can enjoy clear skies and views of the Milky Way, following a pleasant two-hour hike. ‘On a good, dry cold night thousands of stars will shine surrounded by the familiar constellations of Ursa Major (the plough), Cassiopeia and during winter, Orion,’ says curator Dan Oakley, who recommends bringing along a pair of binoculars.
Guests can stay overnight at Upper Parsonage Farm, a B&B offering bed and breakfast, self-catering or camping on its well-tended lawns.
The Poet’s Stone
Swapping city life for this rural Hampshire paradise will really help you discover the joy of our ‘green and pleasant land’. An 11km, three-hour walk through woodlands will make you feel like you’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and popped out into a fairytale. It’s a great escape for the literary-minded: The Poet’s Stone, a memorial to late and local poet Edward Thomas, sits partway through the journey.
‘This is one of my favourite walks in the country,’ says tour curator Will Purkhardt. ‘The view of 50 miles atop ‘The Shoulder of Mutton’ hill is stunning, looking west across the beautiful Sussex rolling hills and the South Downs.’