“Can you be there in 30 minutes?”
It’s the kind of message that spells adventures.
It was late one weekday afternoon in this recent hot spell. The sun was bright. The sky a brilliant blue. And my desk suddenly seemed very unappealing.
Because the mini-adventure being suggested was something I’d never done: swimming – properly swimming – in a Devon river.
No contest. 30 minutes later we were here: toes tickled by sun-warmed grass beside a river that flowed through dappled shade.
Feet in neoprene socks scrambled down the bank, sharp stones dug into toes. Inching in was squealingly cold. Then it’s ‘oh what the heck’ (or words to that effect) and a deep breath and a step and a plunge and: ‘whoosh!’ – cold water gasps and puffs.
Then water-borne conversations about flow and eddies and learning to swim – generations of Devonians have sketched their first strokes in this water. And chats about using the water flow to perfect swimming technique – it’s a natural resistance pool.
Next we were exploring a mini-island, discovering another stretch of water, and playing in a swoosh – the section of current that propels you downriver faster than you can swim, to deposit you safely on a sloping bank.
Blissfully cool. Sunlight glinting on water. Squeals from playing children. Youngsters jumping in.
This is something to value – friends who can unlock new experiences and places.
People, sensations, wild spaces. Playing, learning, enjoying.
A grin-inducing way to GetOutside.
The practical stuff:
I was lucky, a friend knew just where and how to swim. If you don’t, do your research carefully – nationally the Outdoor Swimming Society is a good place to start.
Devon & Cornwall Wild Swimming provides sound regional advice.
While Ordnance Survey maps will help get you wherever you need to go.
Tempted by the idea of a classic foreign train ride? What about those trips closer to home …
Why ride the UK rails?
Perhaps it’s because so many of us commute by rail. Or perhaps it’s because British train trips don’t somehow feel exotic – whatever the reason, you might not take a long UK rail journey for fun. But ever since a cross-Europe jaunt, I’ve hankered for a long-distance British train trip. Something to get your traveller’s teeth into.
Where to go?
So when plotting an adventure in the snows of the Cairngorms, I plumped not for the plane or an epic drive, but to ride the rails. All the way from Plymouth to Edinburgh (around 8 hours) aboard CrossCountry trains, and then onto Aviemore (3 more hours) the next day. It was partly inspired by this article in Telegraph Travel: The 50 Greatest Train Journeys on Earth – Aberdeen to Penzance is number 22.
The first section was familiar – from Plymouth through Devon’s hummocky hills to the scenic, edge-of-shore stretch at Dawlish. I always love this section (although I normally want to get off and swim); when heading west it signals heading home.
After Exeter came the route up to Bristol Temple Meads. No getting out here – I was in for the long haul. In fact, once aboard your biggest responsibility is remembering to get off. And knowing you don’t have to get off for six more hours is actually very relaxing.
The Long Haul
Those next six hours had a sense of sight-seeing as seat-viewing, of being static yet moving, of the country being rolled out for you to see. Station architecture became interesting: barrel roofs at Bristol and Darlington; ornate Victoriana at Burton upon Trent; subterranean modernity at Birmingham New Street.
There are fragments and fleeting, flitting images. Graffiti tags intrigue. Fields, factories, housing estates, trees and power lines speed past. Bridges, cathedrals and terraces glide by – glimpsed and gone. Your mind is free to be both idle and curious (houseboats – who lives on houseboats?!). This odd way of seeing Britain is strangely compelling; incomplete visits that make you want to return.
Passengers come and passengers go. They help each other with bags. The crew makes sure a disabled woman has everything she needs. There’s free wi-fi; I get heaps of work done. The sun comes out at York. It gets misty. Accents shift. Another crew change. Around Newcastle the sun gleams low on the horizon. By Alnmouth it’s pretty much set, which means glimpsing Dunbar in the dark. Finally, eight hours after starting, I emerge at gracious Edinburgh. It sparkles in the floodlights.
The Return Leg
And now? After three days hiking with friends in the snowy hills of the Cairngorms, of being wind-blasted, tested and awed by that environment – I’m chugging along that Dawlish stretch by moonlight. I’m coming home.
This journey from Plymouth to Edinburgh was courtesy of CrossCountry
Here’s where they run: