UK Outdoors Show – Outdoors and Nature Ideas For Families
The Outdoors Show is one of these rare occasions where I feel entitled, if not downright required, to wear a fleece top and a sporty jacket in the city. Everywhere else in London, I’d get looks and that starts at home. At this show – it’s the uniform, baby! People come to look for outdoor adventures, tips from National Geographic photography experts, try a slack line, gawk over new bikes or see what’s going on in the boating department. I stuck to land activities and adventure holidays because that’s my field, dutifully taking cards and brochures until my messenger bag looked like I stuffed it with too many old phone books. It was heavy, man! What a delight it’ll be to recycle most of it after this piece. Before I do, here are some highlights in the active parent category.
Amongst classic tourism booths such as Maroc Nature, Visit Guernesey, Zillertat (Austria) or Tourism Authority of Thailand, I looked for organizations that catered specifically for families or would have fun family programs. This ruled out a bunch of university clubs or trekking outfitters that catered mostly to adults.
- Go Canoeing! Whether you’re looking for escape family tours or canoe trails where you discover the UK via waterways in the countryside and in cities, this web portal gathers a lot of info for the watery-minded.
- Explore Highland – I must live under the sign of the salmon this year because it’s another watery-minded travel organization. These people organize custom trips around the Scottish Highlands by sea kayak, canoe or kayak. They also organize kids kayaking courses and when I told them about my 7- and 9-year-olds they replied “yeah sure, no problem.” Doesn’t exploring Scottish castles by kayak sound unique?
- HF Holidays – what I liked about HF Holidays was the fact they offered “activity holidays” for families. Some of the activities described were family cycling, archery, caving or rock climbing. Exactly what my girls would like to do except they always complain they’d love to have friends their age. Given that HF Holidays provides lodging, food and activities, it seems like a great idea for parents who want their kids to have friends their age over the holidays.
- Farmstay UK – the name says it all. You stay on a farm, B&B-style or self-catered. I know my 7-year old would love that if the trip included a few chores on the farm and cooking. Hmm, I might see if they have anything along those lines.
- British Mountain Guides – this might in the “Vertical Limit” extreme for many but think about it. You’d like a unique experience on terrain that requires specific knowledge and specific equipment. That’s what mountain guides are for – to guide you through unfamiliar territory safely. Now that I know that a mountain guide costs upwards from 200 pounds per day (less than a family 4-pack at Disneyland, if I may), I’m seriously tempted to get quotes so my family can cross the Cairngorms Mountains in Scotland with a British mountain guide. Plus, we’ll get local anecdotes and tidbits about the flora along the trail. Again – why not?
Now the organizations and magazines that inspire you to get outside.
- Ramblers – in the UK, Ramblers is a charity that promotes walking. They organize events, publish Walk magazine and advocate for trails and accessibility. I became a member because I like to read about walking, I like to admire pretty pictures of other people hiking in the dark under a freezing rain to get a gorgeous shot of a snowy mountain at dawn, I know to know what routes would be fun to try with my girls.
- Royal Geographical Society – if I told you some of the explorers connected with this venerable institution are Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary, you would understand why I paid them a visit. I was dying to know how I could get my girls involved with their education department. Orientation courses maybe? Alas, they don’t offer any programs for children under the age of 14. I’m bummed and contacted them to discuss some ideas I had but they didn’t reply. Too bad. However, for parents who want to listen to modern explorers and thinkers, they offer popular explorer lectures and the Monday night ones are sometimes followed by supper. Now that‘s pretty cool.
- National Geographic Kids – absolutely great magazine for children who have an interest in wildlife, the inside scoop on habitats or news from around the world. They even have a craft page called “Make it” were my 7-year old spotted an owl pancake recipe that we’ll probably see very soon on the weekend breakfast menu.
- National Geographic Traveller publishes a Family issue each spring and fall. I bought the Spring 2013 copy and avidly read about snuba diving (a mix between scuba diving and snorkeling) in the Virgin Islands, zip-lining in north London, parent-friendly travel websites and holidays on a budget. I fantasized over holidays that cost an arm and a leg and wondered how great it would be to fly to an Antigua 5-star resort. Tons of ideas on places to go for parents.
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – my 9-year old is a born naturalist and loves all types of animals. Birds are part of her interests, though not as much as bugs but I don’t know of any Royal Society for the Protection of Bugs. So I signed her up for the RPSB as a young ornithologist (category 8-12) and she received a British Bird Guide (very handy with our binculars) as well as a subscription to a bi-monthly magazine with fun seasonal info on birds and nature. Also, we now have a booklet of RPSB reserves in the UK and planned our first outing based on advice I received at the Outdoors Show. Success! There were hundreds at birds at the first bird refuge we visited.
Outdoors Gear or Gadgets
- The Labyrinth Cave takes the cake for most eyebrow-raising installation. It’s a portable cave system. You read well. As in – a towable trailer with movable tunnels, connecting chambers and dead-ends. Definitely not for the claustrophobic but a fun idea regardless. It reminds me, in a way, of corn mazes at Halloween only this maze is pitch dark and requires some orientation skills. The inventor hopes it will prove as popular in county fairs as climbing walls. Hmm, we’ll see.
- Heat In A Click heat pads. Basically you squish a soft plastic pouch, there’s a chemical reaction inside and it warms up. Tada, no more cold hands! I can see that being useful during ski holidays. The best part? They’re re-usable. All the earlier generations of heat pads were single use. This one you can use as much as you want. My only gripe – plastic, plastic, plastic.
- Cycle Rainwear by Georgia in Dublin – you may have heard, it rains in Ireland. It rains and it’s windy. Since I bike every week even in rainy or windy weather, I was intrigued by the waterproof wrap-around skirts (with calf ties, yes ) that double as picnic blankets. Other designs include gaiters for rain called Leggits and adjusted rain jackets with accordion flaps in the back to accomodate backpacks. Interesting.
- Bobike bicycle child seats and windscreen – yeah, fancy. It’s just like on the photo at the top. A preschooler seat in the back, an infant seat in the front, a windscreen to protect mini-Me from the wind and a hardy cargo Bobox to store your essentials for the trip. Nifty!
I was looking forward to reporting back on swanky camping gadgets or fun outdoors clothing but none of the big brands were represented at the show (which for me was a disappointment). I guess I’ll have to consider doing the Outdoor Retailer show some day but I’ll wait for a sponsor to send me. Hear, hear!