I’ve always loved exploring.
Mum will tell you I was off out of the front door minutes after I learned to crawl. But although I’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing locations, for me exploration isn’t just about wild lonely places or long trips I have to wait for ages to happen.
Exploring is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Let me give you an example. Last week I wanted to meet a friend. She was travelling from the Midlands in a car, I was travelling from Devon on a train. I needed a mid-way location with a train station that wasn’t too far from the motorway and had some reasonable parking.
In other words, Bristol was out.
So I opted for Highbridge Station, the railway gateway to the holiday destination of Burnham-on-Sea. Known for its disappearing sea water, mud banks and hordes of holiday makers, Burnham isn’t everybody’s first choice.
But I saw the ordinariness of our destination as an explorer’s challenge.
Could I turn our visit to Burnham into an adventure by train? It was unlikely that a walk to the beach would be enough but I had recently been surprised by the light and landscapes at nearby Weston-Super-Mare so I was willing to give it a go.
It was time to unleash my inner explorer.
Take a look at my adventures by train pages to find out how successful my train exploring has been so far.
You can also find out exactly what happened when I discovered not one but four lighthouses at Burnham-on-Sea.
How to find interesting things in ordinary places
How would you approach the interesting-things challenge? Most people would probably head online and start asking Google but interesting things can lose their intrigue levels as more people write about them.
They can also be a tad busy when you visit them.
So how about guide books? Well I like those better than the internet but collecting guide books to all the ordinary places I like visiting would be expensive.
And guide books add weight to a rucksack.
No. My favourite method of finding interesting things when I go on my train adventures is to look at a map before I travel.
No I don’t have access to all the maps in the UK.
My paper map collection is massive but it doesn’t cover everywhere (give me a bit of time for that one!) But I do have a secret tool in my explorers kit.
It’s the online app OS Maps.
A reasonable annual subscription gives me access to maps of the whole of the UK as well as the ability to plan walking routes in some surprising worldwide locations such as Australia and New Zealand.
But closer to home, you might be surprised how much of interest there is to be found on an Ordnance Survey map. And how easy it is to plan walking routes from train stations.
Once you start looking, you’ll be itching to explore.
Map symbols and points of interest
I’m not going to show you all the map symbols I suggest. Mainly because the sooner you dive into your map legend (also available on the OS Maps app) the sooner you’ll find your own interesting explorations.
Here are ten ways maps can help you explore.
- Explore an urban environment on a national trail.
- Use contour lines to locate a hill to climb.
- Find public rights of way and plan a walking route.
- Explore freely on sections of the England Coast Path.
- Take a ferry trip as a foot passenger.
- Find your very own secret wild camping spot.
- Visit a visitor centre to get the very best local advice.
- Find a lonely beach on which to sleep.
- Pass under a bridge you would usually drive over.
- Discover lighthouses in unusual places.
Exploring for the climate-change era
Hunting for lighthouses in Burnham-on-Sea or sleeping on Dorset beaches might not sound as romantic as driving to the top of Europe in a campervan or hammocking in New Zealand but I seem to be as enjoying myself just as much as I did on those more carbon-heavy trips.
Making a few changes.
I’m not planning to let my passport lapse but let’s face it, we’re all aware now of the impact our travel choices have on both the places we visit and on communities all over the world.
If we can learn to find at least some of our travel satisfaction near to home, we will be helping to reduce some of the damage we have already created.
Try something different soon
I’m having a lot of fun doing exactly that and you can too. Head on over to my adventures by train pages to find out how.