We had long ago passed the point of enjoyment. The canal tow path had disintegrated into a slippery muddy morass which saw our feet sliding treacherously towards the murky green water with every other step. Darkness had fallen some time before and we struggled to spot firmer ground on which to plant our feet in the wobbly light cast by our head torches. We were weary, uncommunicative and depleted after hours of walking, but in the part of my mind still capable of coherent thought I was still excited about our adventure.

I have always had an adventurous streak and yearned to explore as much of the world as possible, preferably on foot. More interested in the wild and mountainous parts of the world and willing to push my body to its limits, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some great hikes. However I have felt a sense of frustration that my lack of surplus money has excluded me from many of the trips I wanted to take. I thought that a hike only counted as a proper adventure if it took place somewhere remote and preferably unpronounceable.

Eventually I realised that there were plenty of lovely places near my home that were begging to be explored. I may not live in an area offering wild, remote trails or jagged mountain peaks, but I could still have some challenging and enjoyable experiences without involving a lot of expense or travelling far from home. It might even be fun.

Seeing how I could potentially satisfy my desire for outdoor adventures without spending lots of money or taking several weeks off work inspired me to think differently. Instead of spending hours leafing through trekking holiday brochures and sighing with frustration, I decided to focus on the adventures and expeditions I could afford. Taking inspiration from the famous quote by Arthur Ash, I resolved to start where I was, use what I had and do what I could, and looked for local experiences that would be challenging and meaningful but which would cost next to nothing.

Teaming up with an adventurous friend and inspired by the British Heart Foundation’s ‘walk to work’ week we hatched a plan to walk home from work- well, to her home- I live less then two miles away from the office, which doesn’t make for a challenging commute. We worked out that we could utilise the waterways of the River Trent from our work base at West Bridgford in Nottingham and then pick up the Trent and Mersey Canal to reach my friend’s home in South Derbyshire. Ten hours later we finally left the muddy canal path in the dark, having slithered through 26 miles to reach our objective. We were caked with mud and walking on stiff, exhausted legs but felt great about what we had achieved. The entire adventure had cost us a little petrol money (using two cars to shuttle us between the start and finish) and an egg cob each from a greasy spoon type café.

Walking home along the canal

Encouraged by our success I embarked on a little solo project. Inspired by an article I read about a guy who decided to run the route of the London Underground through the capital’s streets I looked for a similar challenge. My home city of Nottingham does not sadly have an underground system, but it does have one other form of transport recently re-introduced to its streets; trams.

The first tram line, opened in 2004, connects Nottingham’s train station with the former mining town of Hucknall to the north west of the city. I resolved to walk as close to the tram line as possible and to step on to the platform of each stop, an act that put me on the receiving end of a few strange looks. The route took me past Nottingham University and through the multicultural heart of Hyson Green before passing through the green parks around Bulwell, both once separate villages but long since swallowed up into Nottingham’s expanding suburbs. Several hours later, sweating in an unexpected April heat wave, I gratefully sipped a coffee in a Hucknall supermarket before boarding the tram back to the station.

Follow the tram!

Later that year, two shorter lines were opened up to the Clifton and Beeston areas of Nottingham and I walked these as well, a feat that made the local newspaper and saw me interviewed on the local radio. Objective completed at a cost of three tram tickets, coffee and ice cream.

My next ‘expedition’ was even more local; right on my doorstep in fact. The Nottingham to Grantham Canal runs straight past my house and for some time I had toyed with the idea of walking the length of it. So early one cold but clear February morning I walked out of my door, crossed the little footbridge onto the tow path and set off for Grantham, some 33 miles away.

The canal was completed in 1797 and was originally used to transport coal, stone and lime between Nottingham and Grantham. It thrived for some years before construction of the railway in the 19th century sealed its death knoll. By 1936 the canal had fallen into disuse and many of the lovely arched red brick bridges were flattened in favour of culverts. The Grantham Canal Society has restored a section of the canal with a view to eventually restoring the whole of the canal and creating a new link to the River Trent.

Grantham Canal

Sadly the original line of the canal has been well and truly severed by a wide new road, which I had to sprint across. After this the tow path meanders past the former colliery at Cotgrave then through the Vale of Belvoir with its gently rolling agricultural landscape and remnants of ridge and furrow in the fields sloping down to the banks of the canal. A well-kept memorial near Plungar commemorates the crew of a Lancaster Bomber who died when the plane crashed nearby during the Second World War.

At Woolsthorpe a full restoration of the flight of locks is underway, and this stretch of the canal is once again navigable. Approaching Grantham it is truncated by the huge embankment carrying the A1 and ends rather abruptly in the middle of a housing estate, adorned with plastic bottles and discarded supermarket trolleys, the original canal basin long ago lost to a car park. As I made my way to the train station for a cheap ticket back to Nottingham I appreciated the irony of utilising the transport that had brought about the canal’s demise.

I have plenty more local adventures planned. I intend to walk from home to my mother’s house in Leicestershire; I have no idea how far it is but I will get the map out and plot a cross country route. I am also playing with the idea of climbing the three highest points in Nottinghamshire. Okay, it won’t  be much of an expedition (I think that one of the highest points is on a road) but that’s not the point- it’s about getting out there and doing something different with a real objective in mind.

What’s your next local adventure?

I am sure not many of us are lucky enough to be able to go on huge epic treks all the time, so instead of feeling frustrated, focus on the adventures you can experience locally and cheaply. If you commute to work could you walk the route at a weekend, or walk home through the night? Do you have a transport network in your town such as a tram line or canal- if so, how about following the route from beginning to end? Can you walk to your parent’s house or a friend’s house?

Get a map and a notebook and get brainstorming. Your adventure could take a few hours or a few days, and can cost virtually nothing- I usually take a pack up lunch and snacks if I am walking but have been known to indulge in tea and cake and the odd ice cream.

Put down those expensive travel brochures, give your bank account a rest and start plotting your next local outdoors adventure.


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