Magazine article Geographical

Adventure on Your Doorstep: Alastair Humphreys Is a Firm Advocate of the 'Micro-Adventure'-Scaled-Down Expeditions within Your Local Area. Here, He Describes the Kit That Aided Him on His Most Recent Trip: A Trek through the Wintry Urban and Rural Landscapes around the London Orbital Motorway, the M25

Magazine article Geographical

Adventure on Your Doorstep: Alastair Humphreys Is a Firm Advocate of the 'Micro-Adventure'-Scaled-Down Expeditions within Your Local Area. Here, He Describes the Kit That Aided Him on His Most Recent Trip: A Trek through the Wintry Urban and Rural Landscapes around the London Orbital Motorway, the M25

Article excerpt

Screwing up my face against the icy wind, I hauled the sledge through the white landscape. I was tired and cold. After all those years reading books and listening to lectures at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), I finally felt like Captain Scott.

But this wasn't the Antarctic; this was Hertfordshire. And my friend Rob Lilwall and I were attempting to walk a lap of the M25. We had taken on this 'expedition' to see whether it was possible to have an adventure close to home, rather than in one of the exotic places that usually grace the pages of Geographical.

By chance, we had set out in the coldest week in years, and snow lay thick on the ground; a Siberian suburban expedition. Somewhere around Junction 17, we had found a discarded sledge and we towed our rucksacks on it until it broke. Later, Rob found a shopping trolley and wheeled his pack in that.

MUCH-MALIGNED MOTORWAY

The much-maligned M25, the motorway that encircles London, is 190 kilometres long. Our plan was to walk as close to it as possible, from Junction 1 to Junction 31. We would walk through fields and towns, taking footpaths or small parallel roads if we came across them. We deliberately had no detailed plan and carried just one small-scale map of the whole motorway, rather than a series of large-scale maps. At night, we would sleep outside, in bivvy bags, and hope that we would occasionally find refuge under a bridge, in a barn or in the home of a kind stranger.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

There's nothing new about exploring your own country and travelling through it with the same curiosity with which you travel in foreign lands. During the 17th century, Celia Fiennes became the first recorded woman to travel through every English county. She described the part of Essex that we would walk through as 'full of woods ... a great flatt [sic] to the land full of watry [sic] ditches'. The noisy concreted sprawl around Dartford that we encountered as we began our walk was also very different in Fiennes's day, populated by 'cherry grounds that are of severall [sic] acres and runs quite down to the Thames'.

In recent years, I've thought a good deal about the purpose of adventure. I believe that adventures are about challenging yourself mentally, physically or culturally; about being curious and tackling something that daunts you or initially appears difficult; about encountering new people and cultures, and travelling with an open mind and curiosity. And if this is all true, then surely you can have an adventure anywhere--even if it's a short adventure on your doorstep, what I've come to call a micro-adventure.

UPLIFTING INSIGHT

We began putting my micro-adventure theory to the test in a grey, gridlocked dawn at Junction 1. It isn't very easy to walk a lap of the M25. Slip roads, flyovers and high fences all hampered our progress. We walked along pavements and through housing estates, following our noses across wasteland and over fences.

Over the next week, we negotiated our way through a variety of environments, some dull, ugly and depressing, others surprisingly beautiful, deserted and wild. We slept outdoors beneath a poncho strung between two trees. We encountered curious strangers who laughed at our ridiculous journey. We ate ketchup sandwiches in cold fields and hot chips in high-street takeaways.

One evening, we escaped from the cold into a pub. The landlady gave us brandy and the band dedicated These Boots are Made for Walking to us. A city trader finished his pint and said we could camp on his lawn.

At Junction 8 in Redhill, a kind couple invited us to sleep in their spare room. Someone following our progress on Twitter cycled out early one morning to intercept us and take us home for a fried breakfast.

Do something unusual and imaginative, and people generally respond kindly to you. To my surprise, walking the M25 turned out to be not only a tough physical challenge, but also an uplifting insight into my own country. …

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