Microadventures in Devon

Whilst scanning an ‘on this day five years ago’ selection of shots on my phone, this photo popped up of a very excited 4-year-old version of Bean9 sitting on the front of MrJ’s paddleboard in Ras-Al-Khaimah.

My heart just melted; he looks so cute and little. It highlighted to me again just how short a time we have with these beautiful children. And it reminded me of a few quotes I’d read recently in Dan Kieran’s book The Idle Traveller, commenting on the work of psychologist Claudia Hammond in her book Time Warped: “The more we move away from our regular routine, and the more conscious we are of what we’re doing, the more slowly time seems to pass.” And so, “If you want your life to slow down and not race away from you, you have to live in the moment and engage with it completely. In doing so, your life really does become an adventure you can revel in, rather than a conveyor belt of routine that will rush you towards your very final breath.”

Wise words indeed!

To live in the moment, we need to actively engage the underused conscious parts of our mind – those needed for learning new skills and trying new activities or novel experiences. Exactly as Bean9 is doing on the paddle board above.

So much of our lives are lived and ruled by the routine-based, unconscious part of our brains (up to 95% of our cognitive activity is managed by the non-conscious mind), now that my children are older (and this is key!), I’m keen for our holidays together to be the opposite of this. Travel provides the perfect opportunity to pull ourselves out of a predictable routine and activate those conscious parts of our brain by experiencing new sights, sounds and activities – but only if we’re prepared to challenge ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I need the relaxation of an easy type of holiday where my unconscious mind is at play. This was particularly true when they were little – memories of the effort of taking two very small children for a holiday to Spain on my own are indelibly marked on my brain! But now, I can only manage one day of this style of break before I’m itching to get out the door and explore.

At the start of the year, I asked the children where they’d like to go on holiday. The place Bean9 wanted to go most in the world was Devon… so Devon we booked – maybe he predicted the Covid world that was to come! Clearly at home in England, none of the sights, smells, sounds or people were new to us. But, by incorporating a series of microadventures which challenged and stretched our boundaries, teaching us new skills and making full use of our conscious brain, we still experienced a type of travel that felt exciting and vibrant.

Bean11 was keen to write up the ten microadventures we managed to squeeze into our two-week trip, so without further ado, here’s what our conscious minds enjoyed!

By Bean11

1. Surfing:

Surfing was great fun, and a must do on our holiday list. Although the water was very cold, we didn’t feel it so much, as we were continually battling the waves to get out to the good surf. It was like being in a washing machine! You definitely need perseverance, as you will fall off, or get dragged under many, many times. You spend more time under the water than on it!

Good balance and strong core muscles are essential in this sport, as a slight lean too much either way could easily topple your board, and face plant you into the water. Amusing for the family watching on the shore, but not so funny for you!

Surfing teaches you to maintain your concentration. There will probably be a time when you finally manage to stand without falling off, get excited, and promptly topple into the water! Next time, you will be more careful. You will probably, by the end of your session, be able to keep your focus all the way to shore, while standing up!

Talking about being careful, that is another thing it teaches you. It takes a great deal of care to tentatively move your body up from a lying position to a crouched position and then slowly peel your hands off the sides of the board and hold them out in front of you, all whilst looking straight ahead. One tiny false move and you’re back in that sea! Each time you fall because you didn’t take enough care teaches you to be that much more cautious the next time.

Try surfing – I am sure you will enjoy it!

2. Coasteering:

Coasteering is another exciting water sport. It includes: swimming, rock scrambling, jumping, cave exploring and climbing along a rocky coastline. We were led along the coast of Crodye around Baggy Point by two instructors. We scrambled across the rocks, stopping now and then for a jump – some of these were very high but we did them all! The water was cccold, and we were grateful to scramble onto the rocks on the other side! Sometimes we swam for a bit before climbing back onto the rocks too.

Soon the tide began to go out, and we headed back, visiting new enormous slabs of rock which made little islands, trying different jumps, and even playing ‘The Animal Game’, which is played like this: one person calls out an animal as the person in front jumps into the air, and the jumper has to make the animal’s noise before they hit the water. This was a fun game, designed for testing quick thinking! I challenged Bean9 to make the sound of a rhino! One of our last jumps was a low one where you had to bellyflop – Bean 9 loved this one!

This cold way of going along a coast is great fun, and definitely worth a try! For this and the surfing experiences, we went with Surfing Croyde Bay, who were excellent. The instructors were highly trained, great fun and very safety conscious. Albie even found us some fresh samphire to eat on the way home and also recommended a nearby wakeboarding centre, something which sounded so fun, I knew it had to be our next microadventure!

Unfortunately, as we were all attempting the coasteering for the first time, we didn’t manage to get any photos, but if you’re interested, have a look at the images on this link of coasteerers along the North Devon coastline.

3. Wakeboarding:

Wakeboarding is a fun, and physically challenging water sport. It is done in a lake (we did ours at North Devon Wakepark), where you are pulled on a wakeboard by an overhead cable attached to a handle which you hold.

It really teaches resilience and patience- you will not (well, it’s very unlikely!) be able to stand up straight away, and you will fall, time and time again. But the ability to get back up and try again is a great skill, and try again you will do, if you are really determined to get it right. As well as being mentally challenging, it is physically hard too.

It also tests your balance – it is hard to stay upright on your board when it is being pulled very fast (it can go slowly though, at the beginning, or if you are struggling) – and it can cause giggles from  the side-lines when you begin to wobble around like a drunkard, or bellyflop into the water!

Yes – the lake might be carpeted on the bottom by poo, yes – you might be shaking from the icy cold by the end, yes – your hands might be hurting from having the handle yanked from your grasp, but it is all worth it when you finally manage a length of the lake without falling off, and with one hand behind you, or when you eventually execute the perfect turn! It feels amazing when you are standing upright, perfectly steady, with your board cutting through the water.

I hope you try wakeboarding; it was one of my favourite parts of the holiday!

4. A Falconry Experience:

Bean9 really wanted to have a falconry experience, as he loves birds. So, we fitted one into our holiday at Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre in the stunning Exmoor National Park.

We started off in the barn, flying owls from our gloved hands to one another. We flew lots of different owls, my favourite being a South American Chaco Owl, called Chac. It had such big, round eyes! One of the owls, a Barn Owl called Alba, flew into the rafters and wouldn’t come down, so our guide had to get help. While the owl was being coaxed down, we went outside to fly a much larger African Eagle Owl. It liked to hop along the ground, as well as to fly!

When we had flown all the owls, we flew a kestrel in the barn. Strangely, it didn’t seem to like going to Bean9! Maybe, it recognised that he was a boy, and different to the other three people in the room (our guide was a woman). This bird also flew into the rafters and wouldn’t come down, and we had to get help again! The other bird of prey we flew was a Harris Hawk named Elsa. This bird was very heavy, and somewhat scarier than the other birds we had flown. At one point, she flew into a group of chickens, and attacked one, pinning it to the ground… Elsa stood on the chicken with her head held high, victorious! It took a little effort to prize her off her conquest and our guide was told to fly her in another field.

Our experience finished with a look at all the other birds. One owl looked so strange, it seemed unrealistic, and it kept swaying around like it was drunk! Then, we were provided with refreshments, scones, and cake. A lovely finish to a fun experience!

Since we’d travelled a long way to the beautiful Exmoor National Park, we decided to explore a little more: we’d been recommended to visit Watersmeet and the Valley of the Rocks. The former involved a stroll along a tranquil river through gorgeous woodland, stopping every now and then to gaze at the waterfalls, collect strange-coloured rocks and dangle our feet into the crystal-clear water.

The latter was a breath-taking valley framed by the sea, with amazing rock formations around its top, overlooking what has to be the world’s coolest cricket pitch right in the centre! We had a great time climbing up to the top and scrambling over the rocks, but Mummy was a ‘little’ worried about some of the drops over the edge… We even saw a couple of mountain goats perched precariously on the steep hillsides.

Lynton & Lynmouth CC in the background – awesome pitch!

5. Bouldering:

What is bouldering? Bouldering is a type of climbing done on a wall with different coloured hand and foot grips with no safety equipment except for a thick, bouncy mat on the floor. There are six different coloured grips – yellow, orange, blue, red, black and white. The yellow routes are the easiest, then they get harder and harder, right through to the white routes, which only real agile experts can master. I say the yellow routes are the easiest, but that does not mean that they are easy. Even Daddy couldn’t complete some of them! Sometimes the routes are just climbing, but on other routes you have to swing yourself to a grip on an overhang, propel yourself up the wall, and even climb horizontally! We had our bouldering experience at Rock and Rapid Adventures in South Molton.

Spiderdaddy!

So, now for what you do. First, you find a route with grips of the colour of your level of experience. Then, you find the starting hand grips on your route. These are marked out by two silver discs by two of the grips on your route. If both your hands should start on the same grip, that grip is marked with both silver discs.

Once your hands are on the grip/s you can’t move them if any part of you is still on the floor. This can start you in some really bizarre, and difficult to move out of positions! You then climb up the wall using just the grips of your chosen colour as well as the wall if you need it. The top grip/s are marked out by silver discs like the starting ones, so as soon as you have reached these, you have successfully summited the route!

What an awkward position!

To get down, climb down to a sensible height using any grips you want (there are also extra grey grips next to some routes to help you climb down), then jump the last little bit, landing with your knees bent. To get down from a position when you are hanging, just let go and try to land on your feet. Whenever you have finished all the routes of one colour that you can manage, are finding the colour too easy (which I’m sure you won’t) or are feeling comfortable enough, just move on to a harder colour!

6. Sand Surfing:

Sand surfing is exactly as the name suggests – surfing on the sand rather than the sea! All you need is a bodyboard, and some good dunes – the steeper, the better. We picked up our bodyboard in Croyde and found some perfect dunes on Croyde Beach and Saunton Sands, although our favourites were in Croyde, hidden far back in amongst the mounds of sand.

How do you do it? It is quite simple really. Place your bodyboard on the top of the dune, smooth side down and, holding onto the leash (you can also strap the leash to your hand), leap onto the bodyboard with your weaker foot in front. Then enjoy the feeling of whizzing downwards with the sea air in your face! To change direction, just pull the leash that way and tilt your body. If you love speed, stand on the back of your bodyboard and pull up the front to go faster. If you’re not comfortable with standing on your board straight away, try lying on it first – gripping its edges – until you feel ready to try a surf standing up.

7. Beach Cricket:

Bean9 – our cricket fanatic – would happily play cricket all day every day if allowed. Thus, the stumps, bat and a few windballs were a key part of our packing! Over the course of the holiday, any opportunity he had to bring them out and practise his bowling and batting with Daddy, and occasionally Mummy and me, he took it! Saunton Sands was the ideal beach to play cricket, perfectly flat, super long, very empty, and although there were a lot of dogs there (off their leads) not one of them tried to chase the ball. It was fun to play it in a new and exciting setting. You can also add a few extra fielders into the game in the form of sandcastles!

Although technically not the beach, he even managed to fit some cricket practice in whilst waiting for our surfing lesson, in the grass-covered car park, and also along the road outside our cottage.

Enjoy trying your regular game in a not so regular place!

8. Biking 40 miles of the Tarka Trail:

The Tarka Trail is a 180-mile figure of eight route around North Devon. The route is that which Tarka the Otter travelled in Henry Williamson’s well-known novel. To make it a microadventure and push our limits, I chose to cycle 40 miles in total – further than we’ve ever cycled in a day before. We biked from Braunton, through Barnstaple, Bideford and on past Great Torrington where we stopped for a much-needed break and picnic lunch, before heading home again. It was a lovely cycle path, with cute railway stations and little cafes along the route. Along some of the way there were rivers, other parts had a view of the sea, but most of it was through wooded areas. We were exhausted by the end, but we chatted as we cycled: Bean9 mostly talked about cricket and I made up poems about the different countries we’d visited in my head!

This is a nice half or full day outing – but best for good weather!

9. Horse Riding:

Our horse ride with Woolacombe Riding Stables was only Bean9 and my third experience on horses. On this one hour guided hack across the beautiful Devon countryside, Bean9 and I had a chance to ride completely on our own (without being led by one of the girl helpers) for the first time, and to trot (a first experience as well, and a very exciting one!). Mummy and Daddy, as more experienced riders, (Mummy used to have a horse of her own when she was a child) had a chance to canter as well as trot! The views were also amazing – rolling green hills to one side, and Woolacombe Beach to the other. All in all, it was an incredibly fun experience, and we were sorry when it came to an end. We will be sure to book on again if we come back to Devon!

If you’re a more experienced rider looking for something completely new, there’s the option of a ride along the beach – something that’s high on Mummy’s bucket list!

10. Collecting Over Thirty Different Types of Shell:

Barricane Bay in Woolacombe is a lovely little cove. Its beach is covered with forty different shell types. So, when we visited, we set ourselves a challenge – to collect twenty different varieties of shell. Soon, we realised just how easy they were to find, and how numerous they were, and so instead of collecting twenty different shell kinds, we managed to find over thirty!

 Although when at first you look at the beach it seems covered by just broken shells, once you take a handful and sift them between your hands, beautiful complete shells appear. They were much prettier than any shells I have seen before. Many of them were tiny and very delicate.

Adventurous rock climbing at Barricane Beach

Other Trips:

Other than the above microadventures, there were several other fun trips in Devon too. One day, we took an educational trip to The Dartington Crystal Factory where we watched some professionals taking a hot substance from a furnace (later to become glass) and blowing it into the right shape. It was mesmerising to watch them at work – and all for free!

We also visited Quince Honey Farm where we listened to a fascinating bee talk where the presenter showed us the different parts a beehive and talked us through them. Honey ice cream and a box of honeycomb (the latter of which massively improved our breakfast toast for the rest of the holiday!) made the perfect finish to this excursion.

Finally, we had a go at some dry land sport at a Pitch & Putt place and a Crazy Golf Course, where Bean9 and I slowly improved our golf – there was hardly any familial competition at all!!!

So, all in all, plenty to keep our conscious minds occupied – fully present in our precious family time together.


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