The importance of cycling mini-adventures

Carlton Boyce / 05 March 2019

On your bike! Don't let a lack of time or money stop you having fun on a mini cycling adventure.



The mini-adventure movement has been gaining traction in recent years, fuelled by a society that seems to have more money than time and is desperate to escape the daily grind that constitutes too many of our lives.

The idea is simple: you embark on a mini-adventure that lasts, at most, a few days. It could be as simple as a bike ride through a local wood, stopping off for a picnic perhaps, or to visit a National Trust property, or as complex as a multi-day ride with overnights stops either wild camping or staying in a hotel or B&B.

The important thing is to get out there, and not let a lack of time or money stop you having fun on your bike!

The equipment you’ll need

The first thing you’ll need is your bike. The type of bike doesn’t matter; I’ve just read a hilarious account by Tim Moore in which he cycles a 9,000km route along the old iron Curtain on a small-wheeled, two-speed East German shopping bike. The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold is, as well as being very funny, hugely motivational. If Tim can travel that far riding something that is so inappropriate, neither you nor I need to buy another bike to have a mini-adventure on!

Of course, if you’re planning on wild camping then you’ll need a few extra bits and bobs (aside from the knowledge that it is technically illegal in England and Wales. Scotland, as well as most of the rest of Europe, takes a more enlightened view…) but the key is to use what you have rather than to pine after what you’d like. A bike makes a fine workhorse so your old Scouting tent will be fine, and domestic cutlery is okay, too.

If all else fails, plan to eat at a pub and then wobble your way gently to an isolated spot where you can sleep under the stars protected by nothing more than your sleeping bag. Mini-adventures are about spontaneity too, so if the weather forecast looks good, then it’s time to hit the road.

The cycling accessories you need

The plans you need to make

Plans only play a peripheral role in the sport of mini-adventures. You’ll need a rough idea of what you need to do, but keep it loose and go with the flow. That way you’ll be surprised at what happens; you might stop to enjoy the view, to talk to a stranger, paddle in a stream.

Living in the moment is something a lot of us struggle to do, but if you’ve set aside 48-hours in which to just amble along and have fun then you’ll find it much easier to switch off and appreciate the now. I used to obsess about having hotels booked in plenty of time, but a friend of mine is the absolute opposite. I’ve been on many a trip with him when we haven’t known where we’re going to be sleeping that night and you know what? We’ve never been stranded. We’ve even ended up in some real gems that I’d never have found online. (In the interests of full disclosure, I must point out that we’ve stayed in some pretty dreadful places too…)

Some thoughts on wild camping

The law doesn’t specifically ban wild camping, but then nor does it specifically permit it. As an offence, you’d be committing trespass, which is a civil offence and you’ll be okay if you move when you’re asked to move and don’t damage anything.

The key here is to be discreet and sensible. A lot of farmers will let you sleep wild on their land as long as you don’t make a mess. Or, if you’re brave enough, you can wait until the light is fading, slip into the night and find somewhere quiet to eat and sleep.

You won’t be leaving any trace that you’ve been there, which means no fires and taking every single scrap of litter away with you. As for using the loo, you should read How To Sh*t In The Woods by Kathleen Meyer, which is, as you might have guessed, the definitive guide of going for a Number Two in the wild. I’m not a fan of having to go to the loo in the wild, it has to be said, but it does get easier and less unpleasant as you gain experience.

Our favourite secret caravan pitches

Some ideas of what you could do on your mini cycling adventure

Having just told you not to plan things too carefully, I’m going to slightly contradict myself by suggesting that you have at least the idea of a plan.

So, if you’ve got a favourite author or band, why not explore the area that’s closest to their heart? Where they grew up, perhaps, or where they wrote their first hit novel or song. I’ve explored Asbury Park in New Jersey on a Bruce Springsteen pilgrimage, and London as a tribute to Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. In both cases I visited areas that I’d never have bothered with otherwise, and having a theme to the day seemed to make it more fun, more child-like, less sensible.

Alternatively, you could wend your way along a long-distance cycle path, or go from one Welsh castle to another. Or meander along the course of a river. Keep it slow and keep it flexible; racing to a destination is the antithesis of a mini-adventure.

If you’ve ever fancied a spot of downhill mountain biking there are plenty of places where you can hire a more rugged bike, and then spend the day whizzing downhill before being shuttled back to the top for an almost zero-effort adrenaline-filled day. There will be a choice of routes for you to take too, and no pressure to go faster than you are comfortable with; you just pick the route that matches your comfort level and let gravity do the rest!

If you’ve got a week to invest, then the Hebridean Way looks spectacular. The 185-mile route encompasses ten islands, two boat crossings, and six causeways and can be accomplished in four or five relatively easy days.

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

Some ideas of where you could go

Sustrans (a charity that aim to encourage people to walk and cycle wherever they can) has some great ideas for longer distance routes, but you really don’t want to aim to ride more than 35-50 miles in a day. You’re aiming for quality, not quantity. We’re old enough, and wise enough, not to need to brag any more, aren’t we?

If I look at North Wales, where I live, I see that I can ride the North Wales Coastal Route. The 105-mile route stretches from Holyhead on Anglesey to Chester in England, and Sustrans suggests that it’s a 2-3 day ride. So, I could catch the train from home to Holyhead, and then strike out towards home. When I reach Chester I can either continue to ride home, take an overnight city break there, or catch the train and be home in under an hour.

If wilderness riding isn’t your thing, you could take your bike to Cambridge or Oxford. Both are set up to deal with cyclists, and both are about as cycle-friendly as you’re ever going to find. You can whizz about on your bike, and lock them up while you explore the churches, colleges and quiet alleys that make these two cities such fascinating places to explore. Again, Sustrans can help with its City Adventures page if you’re looking for inspiration.

Don’t forget the evenings

Mini-adventures are about doing something different so if, like me, you normally check-in to your hotel in the late afternoon, why not try staying out a little later? Even the busiest tourist hot-spots thin out from tea-time onwards, leaving you free to explore without the pressure being surrounded by dozens of people complaining about bumping into you and your bike.

It also leaves you free to enjoy a bottle of wine over lunch before you find a shady tree to have a snooze; few things feel more decadent that a post-lunch nap and if you’re using a hotel or B&B as a base, then you’ve got the ideal excuse to retire for a couple of hours with your partner…

The little details turn an everyday ride into a mini-adventure. So, you might like to take a Kelly Kettle or a small camping stove with you to make a hot drink or even cook some freshly caught mackerel or trout. Even a humble fried egg sandwich tastes amazing if it’s freshly cooked and eaten in the wilderness.

Titanium cookware is expensive but ultra-light, but even a cheap camping cookset will be plenty good enough for a picnic like this. If you don’t fancy the faff of cooking, why not buy crusty bread, some decent cheese and an apple and enjoy an al fresco lunch in the French tradition?

Or set out when it’s frosty and snowy and everyone else is huddled by the fire; if you take care you’ll have an almost surreal cycling experience in a landscape transformed and made eerily quiet by a thick blanket of snow.

Cycling in the winter

The important thing to remember is that mini-adventures don’t need to cost anything, needn’t involve hours on the road to get there, and don’t need to last more than a few hours. It’s about getting out there, tiptoeing over your comfort zone, and having as much fun as you possibly can. If you’re laughing your head off and spending more time in the moment than you are recording it on your smartphone, then you’ve got the right idea!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.