Days out by train with a Devon and Cornwall Railcard

It’s no secret that regional train travel in the UK is cheaper than longer distance travel. Especially if your journey necessitates you travelling though certain cities.

But exploring your local area can be great fun.

In June 2023, GWR became the first train company to take their regional railcard digital. I applied for mine online, and now have a Devon and Cornwall Railcard stored safely on my phone.

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Afternoon tea in Devon – near a train station

From train to scone in five minutes.

Sounds great doesn’t it. And let’s face it, when the British seaside weather is playing up, what better way to while away the afternoon than with a traditional afternoon tea.

We’ve discovered that even the best afternoon tea tastes more delicious when you arrive in style by train. No traffic queues, no parking hassle, just a comfy seat and perhaps a book to read.

So sit back and enjoy the view; we’ve got the low-down on the best Devon afternoon teas you can enjoy just a short stroll from their nearest train station.

How’s that for a car-free treat?

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Outdooractive or OS Maps. Which app is best for walking route planning?

There’s a walk out there to suit all my moods. Whether I want to stroll along the coast path, stride across Dartmoor or find a quiet spot for wild camping, all I need is a map to find the best walking route.

Navigation apps can make life easier

I’ve been planning walking routes for a long time now and before the days of navigation apps, we had to measure all the distances (sometimes with string), work out the height gain (by counting contour lines), and calculate section times in our heads.

I’m still proud of my ability to write (and rewrite) a traditional route card but it is a time consuming process.

So these days I often use a route-planning app to speed things up.

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UK watersports centres you can get to by train

Outdoor adventures by train aren’t just possible, they’re great fun. To help me live a more sustainable life, I’ve been researching train adventures for the the last two years now, and I’ve discovered that travelling to my adventure destination by train adds to rather than detracts from my outdoor experience.

Because I can see so much outdoors from the train window. 

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5 fun ways to use your route-planning app

It’s no secret that I think the best route-planning app is OS Maps but whichever map app you choose, you’ll be pleased to hear these clever geographical gizmos aren’t just useful for planning walks, runs and cycle rides.

Route planning apps can also be a whole lot of fun.

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Beer walks by train – craft beer in Cheltenham

The pundits (and brewery statistics) suggest craft beer sales are still struggling in post-pandemic UK but visit Cheltenham and you might be inclined to disagree.

Especially if you visit by train.

Walk just 150 metres from Cheltenham Spa train station and you’ll find yourself at the gates of the fabulously funky Deya brewery and taproom. But Deya isn’t the only first-class craft beer venue Cheltenham has to offer the budding ale pundit. This Regency town has all the ingredients for one of the best craft beer walks you’ll find in the UK, and all within walking distance from the train station.

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Breaking news! You don’t need a changing robe for outdoor swimming.

It might be a shock, for anyone who has recently visited a UK lido, beach or riverbank, to hear that outdoor swimming is entirely possible without a changing robe.

Scandalous I know!

Sea swimming skies, Fi Darby

As my toes are ably demonstrating above, when it comes to swimming, all you really need is some water.

But the pull of the change or drying robe is strong. So strong that the number of manufacturers supplying them appears to increase daily.

‘The best swim robes: 20 options.’ (220 Triathlon)’

’13 best changing robes.’ (Glamour Magazine)

Which must surely be contributing to the 140 million pounds worth of clothing sent each year to UK landfill.

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Sustainable outdoor knitwear. How long will my new Finisterre jumper last?

Just before Christmas I was gifted a merino wool outdoor jumper by Cornish fashion-sustainability pioneers Finisterre. My mission was to try it out, and share my findings on my social media channels.

I loved the jumper and it suited my outdoor lifestyle so it got a really positive review.

How long should a jumper last?

A few weeks on, the jumper has been everywhere with me, and is clearly a piece I’m going to get a lot of wear out of.

So much so, it’s given me an idea for an experiment in sustainability.

Reading the comprehensive environmental impact information on the Finisterre website, I became interested in the idea that, from its start to its end, I could trace the whole life of my jumper.

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The A-Z of train adventures for 2024

Have you started planning your 2024 holidays yet? I know I have. In the darker days of December and January, travel can seem a world away but a few bright photos and a couple of maps can help while away the winter (or encourage us to embrace it).

Train travel will continue to gain popularity in 2024

One of the biggest trends for holidays in 2024 is train travel. Something I’m thrilled about, not just because I really enjoy my own adventures by train, but also because ditching the car and plane for at least some of our adventures is one way we can all reduce our carbon footprints, help slow down climate change, and protect our planet and the creatures (including us) who live on it.

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Sustainable New Year Resolutions for Outdoor Adventurers

Last year’s new year resolution

I’m not really a new year’s resolution type of girl. Mainly because I don’t have a good success rate, but this year I did manage to complete (just about) the new year’s resolution (some might call it a challenge) I set in January 2023.

I didn’t shop in supermarkets for a whole year.

Foraged and dried apples

Not really an outdoor adventure resolution though Fi!

You’re right of course; although my supermarket-free challenge did take me outside (gardening and foraging for food) it sometime felt more like survival than adventure.

It was however, a green new year’s resolution.

With far less packaging, ultra processed food, and food miles, I’m convinced my carbon footprint for 2023 will have been lower than it has been for a long time.

You’ll have to head over to my supermarket-free page to find out why I decided to take such an unusual step.

Sustainable new year’s resolutions for outdoorists

As a freelance outdoor writer, instructor and (more recently) train adventurer, I do spend a lot of time outdoors.

Fi Darby

Full of this year’s success, I would like to find another resolution that would, not only reflect my outdoor lifestyle, but benefit the planet.

This is perhaps not altogether altruistic.

Because most of the sustainable decisions I make also seem to save me money.

Saving the planet one tent peg at a time

Bivvy camp, Fi Darby

Tent pegs, by the way, are very useful things. This was confirmed during a Dartmoor bivvy, when I had to use my spoon to hold my tarp out because I had left all my tent pegs at home.

Pay attention Fi!

Okay, so that was an aside. What we’re really here to do is help us all find ways to make sure our outdoor lifestyles have a positive rather than a negative effect on climate change.

Through (if you choose) the medium of a good old…

‘Good old acquaintance be forgot…’

Sorry. Couldn’t resist…

Through the medium of a good old new year’s resolution.

My top four green resolution ideas for outdoor lovers

Stop sniggering, I think you probably know what I mean by ‘outdoor lovers’.

1. Undertake an outdoor gear audit

Outdoor gear review writing, Fi Darby

We all know buying new outdoor gear is almost as good as getting outside and using it (sometimes better if it’s raining), but do we actually know how much kit we already have?

If your drawers are bursting, and things are falling off your hooks, it’s time to do something.

An outdoor gear audit won’t just help you understand what you already have, it will help you see which pieces of kit need repairing (mend them), which you don’t actually wear (take them to the charity shop), and which have lasted a long time (buy from that brand again)

All really useful stuff.

Whilst it won’t (hopefully) take you all year to conduct your outdoor gear audit, if you spend the rest of the year looking after your old gear instead of longing for new gear, you’ll be saving the planet a CO or 2 (see what I did there!)

2. Aim for low packaging expeditions

Dinner, Dartmoor wild camp, Fi Darby

If that sounds like an excuse to carry a half empty rucksack, it’s not. But expedition food often isn’t the most planet friendly scran you can buy.

It can be very tasty though!

Whether you’re tucking into your Pot Noodle (other bullet-pea-based meals are available) or cooking up a gourmet stir fry from supermarket ingredients, the chances are your food choices will involve more packaging when you’re out camping than they do at home.

But with a little forethought, they don’t have to.

One choice is to buy expedition meals with eco-friendly packaging. For example Firepot have a range that comes in compostable (much better than biodegradable) packaging. They also use locally-sourced food to make their dishes.

But preparing your own expedition food can be very satisfying, often costs less, and is almost certainly more healthy.

Here are a few ideas I’ve been trying this year.

And yes, being on expedition without using supermarkets was sometimes tricky.

  1. Savoury flapjack – great substitute for sandwiches, even tasty when it has been reduced to crumbs. I adjust this savoury flapjack recipe according to what I have available.
  2. Homemade noodle bags – fine rice noodles, finely chopped fresh veg, and seasoning, in a reusable bag like these silicon ones from Moonmoon (brilliant). Just add boiling water when you need it.
  3. Boiled eggs – Okay so that’s not a new idea but by boiling four eggs for breakfast and saving two for lunch, you’ll be saving gas and time. If you’re not fussy, you can used the boiled water to make couscous but I wouldn’t recommend it for tea.

3. Choose brands for their eco-credentials not their popularity

FInisterre swimsuit, Fi Darby

It’s rare now to find an outdoor gear website without a sustainability page but how often do you actually read what they’re saying?

Greenwashing is perhaps less rife in the outdoor sector than it is elsewhere but you do have to be careful. These days a bit of recycled material here and there doesn’t really cut the sustainability mustard.

Here are a few tips on what sustainability features you might like to look out for from your outdoor gear brands.

  1. Brands that take some interest in what happens to their products after they’ve been sold. For example Alpkit offers a repair and wash service and Patagonia and North Face  take responsibility for the whole product lifecycle of their kit by offering end-of-life returns (that’s the jacket’s life, not yours!)
  2. Certified B Corporations (B Corp). Brands that achieve this designation have to meet high standards of social and environmental performance. The certification process is rigorous and brands have to qualify in a wide range of areas. Examples of B Corp outdoor brands include Patagonia, Alpkit and Finisterre.
  3. Brands that are clearly making the effort to change in a combination of ways. For example, if they’re upping the amounts of recycled materials they use, at the same time as switching away from forever chemicals, whilst also giving you information on how they look after their (usually overseas) workforce, they’re probably taking sustainability seriously.

4. Try at least one outdoor adventure by public transport.

West Highland Line Winter, Fi Darby

When I decided to try adventuring by train at the start of 2022, I was worried about missing out on great locations and experiences.

But the opposite has happened.

I’ve discovered that you can get off the train at any station and make your own adventure.

All you need is a map.

And sometimes a tent (if you’re wild camping on Dartmoor by train), and sometimes a bivvy bag (if you fancy a solo beach bivvy by train), and sometimes a hint of bravery (if you’re planning on sleeping in a crypt).

I use the OS Maps app because it gives me access to detailed mapping for the whole of the UK and offers the best information on public rights of way and access land.

As well as important things like Danger Areas and bogs.

How to plan a route with OS Maps.

My favourite thing about train adventures is that you often end up exploring where other people don’t go.

Which means you can avoid the crowds.

As well as the parking hassles and motorway queues.

An eco-friendly outdoor lifestyle for 2024

So there you have it. My ideas to help you choose an outdoor 2024 that will be as good for the planet as it is for you.

You probably have some better ones.

And I’d love to hear about them. Why not follow me on Instagram (Fi Darby Freelance @fidarby) and let me know what you’re thinking. My ways might not be your ways.

But together we can make a difference.