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Buxton Adventure Festival speaker Alastair Humphreys and organiser Matt Heason discuss microadventures

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 January 2016

Around the campfire  Photo: Alastair Humphreys

Around the campfire Photo: Alastair Humphreys

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Ahead of Buxton Adventure Festival, Lissa Cook talks to speaker Alastair Humphreys and Festival Director Matt Heason about what a microadventure is and why we should all try one

Alastair HumphreysAlastair Humphreys

Alastair Humphreys is an adventurer, blogger and author. As well as expeditions such as cycling round the world, walking across India and rowing the Atlantic, Alastair was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his pioneering work on the concept of ‘microadventures’.

What is a microadventure?

Alastair (A): A microadventure is an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple and short, with the spirit and benefits of a big adventure. People often ask how it’s different from a walk. To my mind it has to be overnight which significantly adds to the experience.

Matt (M): Whilst I appreciate Al’s definition requiring that you have to stay out overnight, I think it’s harder to do with young children so I’m a bit more relaxed with my definition.

On a microadventure  Photo: Matt HeasonOn a microadventure Photo: Matt Heason

Have you always made the most of what’s on your doorstep?

A: No. I grew up reading about great expeditions around the world. For me adventure was far, far away. Britain was a bit small and squashed and boring. So it’s required a conscious effort to start discovering my own country.

M: The Peak District’s proximity to so many urban centres makes it a perfect playground for a microadventure. Even people in big cities like Sheffield and Manchester aren’t far from small pockets of wilderness. Arguably it’s the spiritual home of the microadventure because the Kinder Mass Trespass marked the beginning of our right to roam.

On a microadventure  Photo: Matt HeasonOn a microadventure Photo: Matt Heason

What was the turning point for you?

A: I walked a lap of the M25. I was curious about this 24 hour stream of traffic. It was a bit stupid and fun but it was only on that journey that I realised I had found most of the ingredients I was looking for in a round-the-world journey in one week in suburbia. That was when I decided to commit to a year of microadventures, trying to make myself more like a traveller in my own country.

What are your best memories of microadventures?

A: Probably that M25 trip. I remember sleeping in a wood 50 metres from the motorway with traffic roaring, snow on the ground and that snowy, orange glow in the sky. The only footprints were those of rabbits and foxes and it felt wild and adventurous, even though I was right next to a motorway.

Camping in the snow  Photo: Alastair HumphreysCamping in the snow Photo: Alastair Humphreys

Another was taking a group of office workers from Milton Keynes to cycle from their offices and sleep in bivvy bags in a field by a canal. We woke to a beautiful, frosty morning with the noisy train to London going past, hopefully making the commuters jealous of us.

M: I live in Grindleford and last year after a barbecue the skies were clear so I grabbed the bare minimum of stuff, drove up onto the moors and walked about a mile to a small reservoir high up in the peat bogs for a swim. It was the warmest water I’ve ever swum in, in this country. In the morning I woke with the sun and photographed a stunning sky reflected on the water’s surface and was back home by 8am for breakfast.

A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of needing to be fit to go on an adventure

A: I used to say, ‘You can do it, just get fit enough. Stop complaining.’ Now I think it’s more helpful to acknowledge people’s limitations. If you like the idea of a microadventure but think the idea of climbing a hill is too much for you, then find a river. Do something within your capabilities and perhaps be more ambitious next time. Having said that, I do think just about anyone can make it to the top of a hill in the Peak District and it’s worth it.

What stops more people from doing it?

A: It’s the unknown and overcoming inertia. It’s more effort than sitting in front of the TV. Make your first adventure simple. Sleep out in the garden. It’s something we loved as children but neglect to try as an adult. You get the moon and the stars, the birdsong and the sunrise – all without too much effort.

The key issues are weather, creepy crawlies, going to the loo, the fear of an axe murderer and the legality side. I get asked surprisingly often, ‘What if a slug goes in my ear?’ There’s no doubt that it’s more fun if the weather is nice so postpone if the forecast is bad. However, with a bivvy bag, a plastic tarpaulin and a couple of bungees to make a little basha (a lean-to shelter), you’re actually as dry and as toasty under that as you are in a tent. My answer to the toilet question is go before you set out. As for axe murderers, I still get nervous when I’m out somewhere in the dark on my own – we just have that inbuilt fear of the dark, plus we have all watched too many horror movies. You need to think about it rationally and if it’s worrying you, then go with a few friends at first so you can laugh about your fear of the dark rather than build it up.

M: I’ve wild camped in the Peak District for years. It’s always with a little trepidation as I am aware that you’re not strictly allowed, but to date I’ve never had a cross word with anybody about it. The secret is to arrive late, leave early, leave no trace, and choose out of the way locations. We held a birthday party for a friend of my boys in a cave recently. We went up to recce it and cleared up a load of rubbish other people had left. With a large tarp, lots of sleeping mattresses, bags and blankets, it made a very comfortable nest. We made hot chocolate in a Kelly Kettle and ate marshmallows while singing songs and telling stories. The sound of all those bodies sleeping in the cave was almost prehistoric, an echo from our distant past and something to experience.

People always fear the worst. What’s the worst that’s happened to you?

A: I forgot my beer bottle opener!

You can hear Alastair talk at Buxton Adventure Festival at 7.30pm on 21st January. Also on the bill is blind adrenaline junkie Dean Dunbar, a screening of Alastair’s film ‘The Empty Quarter’ and a presentation of photography by acclaimed Sheffield photographer and mountaineer, Ian Parnell. For tickets go to www.buxtonadventurefestival.co.uk; Alastair’s Book on Microadventures is available at www.alastairhumphreys.com/books/microadventures/

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