Great tips from the organisers of the inaugural South West Outdoor Festival on how to find adventure in South West England … all year round.
You’re never too old to climb a tree, and certainly not when you can clamber right up into the high green canopy of the forest that traces the River Heddon from the hills of Exmoor to the shore of the Celtic Sea, scoring a squirrel’s eye view of the valley below.
Tree climbing (National Trust)
The National Trust offers tree-climbing adventures at their properties all through the year. Climbers wear harnesses and are safely secured by ropes, but this is not an adventure for the faint of heart or those nervous of heights.
If you prefer to keep your feet on terra firma during the festival, other walk-up experiences include archery, and knife- and axe-throwing.
In November 2011, Exmoor National Park was the first place in Europe granted International Dark Sky Reserve status by the International Dark Sky Association. Not only was the incredible stargazing potential of the area recognised, it was also protected. Dark Sky status ensures lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution.
Milky Way (Dreamstime)
During the South West Outdoor Festival, experts will be on hand to talk you through the heavens, night and day. Once the valley is plunged into darkness, stargazers will be pointing out the planets and solar systems visible from the northern hemisphere. Throughout the rest of the year, the Exmoor National Park hosts a variety of stargazing events, including hilltop hikes into the inky darkness.
The South West Outdoor Festival, like the area it celebrates, is a participatory event. There are a whole host of organised activities or races to take part it. Various trail running and mountain biking challenges are on offer, all going across stunning terrain. If you’re looking for a real challenge, why not take part in the duathlon, that includes both.
Competitive running in the Heddon Valley (Jim Wileman)
If you’d prefer to do something non-competitive, there are plenty of small group adventures on offer. Try stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, coasteering, wild swimming (sea or river), rafting or rock climbing, or learn how you can continue to enjoy these activities in the south west throughout the rest of the year.
Inspiration comes in many forms. At the South West Outdoor Festival, it comes in the form of ‘outdoor ambassadors’, people who have done extraordinary things and are happy to tell you how you can too, including people like TV presenter and expedition leader Monty Halls and Wanderlust editor and extreme sleeper Phoebe Smith.
Monty Hall (Matt Austin)
You’ll also meet endurance and adventure athletes, such as ocean rower, Everest summiteer and around-the-world cyclist James Ketchell and international adventure racer Tobias Mews. More importantly, you’ll meet people who know and breathe the south west year-in, year-out, and who can introduce you to its hidden charms and little-known corners.
Heddon Valley is a legendary spot for walking, but strolling in the company of experts makes the experience all the more rewarding. Join a National Trust ranger and explore a sensational section of Britain’s most epic long distance trail, the South West Coast Path, or go on a photography walk along the river with a professional snapper and learn how to improve your wildlife and nature image-capturing.
Walking the South West Coast path (Steve Haywood)
Alternatively, head to the festival Slow Zone, where you can join an outdoor yoga session, learn more about the art of ‘slow adventuring’ and barefoot walking, and master many bushcraft skills under expert supervision.
On the Sunday, sample a wild food foraging walk with an Exmoor Park ranger and edible flora expert, then use what you’ve scrumped from Mother Nature’s garden during a campfire cooking session. It's all free and all useful when you come back to south west England in search of your own adventure.
The inaugural South West Outdoor Festival will be held in Heddon Valley in North Devon, between 23-25 September, 2016. For the full program of events and activities,as well as information about weekend and day tickets, please visit the festival website.
Main image: Rock hopping in the Heddon Valley (Jim Wileman)