In praise of a day in the woods & other microadventures

What did you do at the weekend? Or more challenging: what did you do after school? The same as you always do? Or something which makes your heart sing – either doing it, or remembering it? This post takes my family to a pub-crammed village famous for inspiring artist Stanley Spencer and Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame in Berkshire on a micro-adventure. Nothing too strenuous happened – you might just as easily call it a day trip. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

And so micro adventures were born.Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

The name appears to come from Alastair Humphries, see his website here.

But a micro adventure can just be going somewhere different, or going somewhere you know well and really exploring it in a different way.Instead of going on mega trips occasionally – he was 24 when he decided to ride around the world by bike (which took four years!) – he goes on little ones, often. I love this idea. I need my adventure quotient topped up, ideally outside. For me one exciting walk a week is enough, but I also try to keep bigger adventures on the go in case I lose inspiration. At the moment my family is finishing off the New River Walk (approx. 30miles from Hertfordshire to London along a stream that is neither new, nor a river). We just do a short stage when we fancy. I’m also planning to walk a lot more of the Thames Path.

The shelter we put up... view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

A shelter Nell and I put up while learning outdoor survival skills at Conkers in the National Forest – lighting a fire in the rain and then toasting marshmallows on it. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Alastair’s website is all kids in sleeping bags roughing it without tents – you can do that in a garden too, it doesn’t have to be a super glamorous overseas location. His current challenge is to get people to commit to spending one night a month under the stars for a year. It’s a lovely idea and you’d learn so much from it. I’m thinking about it… but rather suspect that I won’t.

Alastair is super creative (he funds his blog by asking people to shout him a coffee – the £2.50s add up and as a result he’s got a fab site). His adventures are incredibly varied and I am sure would be happy to spend a day climbing a tree to really develop a sense of what that particular oak is really like, and which little critters and birds visit it.

My micro-adventures tend to focus on taking the dog for a walk in the woods. There is nothing I like better. Although if you can throw in an art gallery and a nice cosy pub I’ll be extra happy. So visiting Cookham in Berkshire (the train from London goes to Maidenhead, then you change for the 10 min ride to Cookham) was perfect.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn't hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time 'moon walking' and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn’t hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time ‘moon walking’ and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

I followed a 7-mile walk through Quarry Wood and up steep Winter Hill then down a chalk hillside for a last one and a half mile stroll along the River Thames back to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer art gallery in the old Methodist church.

Cookham, or “village in heaven” as the crabby but talented Stanley Spencer called it. His art is full of portraits of the locals and local scenes. I love the way flowers twine themselves into his pictures and the majority are making Cookham the ultimate destination.

To improve a micro-adventure it helps if there are options for all your party. So my husband, Pete, went on the Stanley Spencer guided walk around the village, my teen daughter turned up late for a quick tour of the gallery and then met me and Pete in the pub. We stayed on for tapas and another cheeky drink while she took the earlier train back to London for a David Bowie tribute gig…

There are at least six pubs in Cookham, and all seemed to serve food (there’s also the Teapot Tea shop in the high street which had delicious looking cakes). We tried the lovely old Bel & the Dragon, an old coaching inn. But a glass of white wine cost £9!! So for the next round we went to the Old Swan Uppers where for £7.50 I got a half of good beer, an even better glass of wine and a packet of crisps. Both were dog friendly, and both had lovely staff and roaring fires. My family wanted to talk about Spencer – his art and wives. I managed that, and was also happy to talk over my route which had included a quick detour to see the house that Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame lived in while writing the book. Behind is Winter Hill’s thick wood (and beyond that Quarry Wood), both very obviously the model for his book’s scary Wild Wood – home of Badger and those evil weasels who go on to take over Toad Hall. The house is now a prep school, Herries.

Just being outside was incredibly reviving. When I got back into the warm I felt tired and content – happy to go along with my family’s suggestions. And the dog just lay down and slept. My plan this year is to keep a day a weekend as free as I can so that the micro-adventure habit can blossom. Perhaps what I like best about this plan is that anyone can come along, but it’s still fun if you’re the only one who wants to head outdoors.

  • Walk route was in Country Walks near London by Christopher Somerville. I used the 1994 edition, but this links to a much newer version. Somerville is my favourite walk guide -his routes are great because you don’t have to have your nose in the book. It does help if you can bring an OS map too though.
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2 Comments on “In praise of a day in the woods & other microadventures”


  1. Very nice post. Enjoyed a lot. Thanks


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