Exploring close to home
Updated: Jan 19
Like many people over the past few months, I’ve been exploring places close to home. From stepping out of my front door and going on local hikes I’ve discovered hidden footpaths leading the way to ancient woodland, secret streams and rarely used tracks.
I’m not pretending that it’s all sunshine and roses. There have been days when I’ve been upset and frustrated by cancelled adventures, closely followed by wracking guilt that I was so lucky to even have them on the cards in the first place. Enjoying being outside and taking a break from all of the terrible things happening in the world can also make me feel guilty or ignorant at times – why should I be enjoying myself when so many dreadful things are happening? Having said that, I do think taking some time to be outdoors and refresh yourself is so important, so you can come back and face making positive changes in the world (including the outdoors) with renewed determination.
Exploring close to home has been an absolute gift in this time, and it’s given me the chance to have a good old ponder about the constants that exploring the outdoors and hiking bring, wherever you might be doing it. From gaining different perspectives and discovering new places, to feeling connected to nature and making you feel great, I think I’ve managed to boil it down to just one thing – that exploring the outdoors feels like freedom, no matter where you are. Doing it close to home doesn’t have to make it any less.
Gaining different perspectives
When it comes to why I hike and explore the outdoors, gaining different perspectives and other ways of seeing the world and life is high up on the list. Exploring close to home can really shift the way you see a place you know so well. By discovering all of these new footpaths, my mind has created a map of how all of my area connects and it’s helped me to make better sense of the local history. I’ve walked past farms and houses I didn’t know were there, each of them a little window into someone else’s life.
I also find being in the outdoors really puts things into perspective, offering a real sense of freedom. When I’ve stood on top of a mountain and been reminded of how teeny tiny we all are, I've felt a curious feeling of how everything and yet nothing seems to matter at the same time. Everything intensifies. Hopes and dreams seem to become exciting and possible. Worries and fears become tangible, but then often float away on the wind. Being outside can offer a sense of lucidity and perspective that nowhere else can - you ponder on past decisions and look to the future with renewed clarity. As the outdoor journalist James Edward Mills so beautifully puts in his book The Adventure Gap:
'Mountains are like a three-dimensional relief map of the human spirit that illustrates the heights of our aspirations and the depths of our despair. As we travel into them, struggling through the uncertain ether of danger and enduring the cold and limb-numbing fatigue, we can't help but reflect on our lives, the decisions we've made and where we might be today if we'd taken a different path. The mountain experience affects not only our reflections on the past, but also influences the way we think about the future. It allows us to realign our priorities and consider life from a new perspective'.
Unless you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, you might not be climbing them close to home. Nevertheless, while perhaps smaller in scale, adventures on your doorstep have the potential of creating such feelings of perspective and freedom.
Discovering new places
Of course, entering unchartered territory and exploring new places is high up on any outdoor-lover's list. That tingly feeling of venturing somewhere completely new is hard to beat – you are excited, full of anticipation and perhaps a little nervous.
This feeling is often multiplied when you are somewhere far away, but I’ve found finding places you’ve never been to before surprisingly easy while staying close to home. Before lockdown, I would have said I knew the area that I grew up in pretty well, but in the past couple of months I’ve walked down paths and tracks I’ve obliviously walked past so many times before.
The key to finding these is, perhaps unsurprisingly, just sitting down with a map. Those little green public footpath dashes hold so many secrets and yet are so plain to see. Once you know what to look for, the map metamorphoses - roads blur into insignificance and the green dashes leap out, beckoning you across new fields and hidden ways waiting for you to explore.
Feeling connected to nature
It doesn’t take much more than a few days hiking or camping to remind us that we are all truly part of nature and nature is all around us. I like to be reminded of this - it motivates me to be good to the environment, and reminds me of how powerful nature can be in helping us to feel good.
You can totally immerse yourself in your surroundings in an almost meditative way by paying attention to every little detail – that tiny beautiful flower, the sound of a bird’s wings as it comes into land, the smell of damp earth as you tread across the woodland floor. And the best part is you don’t have to stroll far from your front door to soak it all up and feel free.
I think of keeping fit as an added bonus of hiking and exploring the outdoors. However, it would be a bit silly to ignore it, as being fit definitely plays a huge role in helping you feel good and gives you the freedom to challenge yourself in so many new ways.
It really doesn’t matter where you are to feel this benefit – endorphins don’t discriminate and you can get that juicy hit wherever you are. That feeling you get when you’ve hiked a long way or reached the top of a massive hill takes some beating.
Bonuses of exploring close to home
While exploring far-flung places and going on epic adventures to new places is definitely incredibly exciting and super special, I don’t want exploring close to home to seem like it’s second best to going further afield. There are so many added bonuses of exploring the outdoors in your local area.
Firstly, you’ll be the best tour guide ever when you next have people to stay, taking them off the beaten track to hidden gems and showing off why your area is the best. It also lets you gain a new appreciation and pride about where you might live, by findings its best bits and things it has that make it truly unique.
But most of all, you can still get the feel-good and freedom of exploring the outdoors even if you are just a few miles from home. You can have a day of adventuring, challenging yourself and discovering new places, and be back in time for tea!
If you fancy exploring, I’ve put together a little guide to planning a walk close to home. If you do end up going on a walk close to home and have a great time I would genuinely love to have a chat about it. In fact, even if it was terrible I'd like to hear about it, so please give me a shout!