It’s easy to feel like the family festive walk is an ordeal that has to be suffered, rather than a pleasurable way to spend time outside.
But if you make it out you’ll reap the benefits – fresh air, a bit of time away from screens, and some gentle (or vigorous!) exercise can ease the strains of the holiday season. Instead of arguing or getting stressed, get outside instead! Here are my favourite ideas to beat the winter blues and transform a boring winter walk into a fun-filled mini-adventure:
Split into two teams – you can either lay two treasure hunts then swap, or take it in turns to be the question setters. Aim for 5-10 points that each have a clue or a prize hidden at them, and lead the hunters on to the next point. Some could be directions (‘Walk due east for 50 paces and find the rock that looks like a bear’), others could be more cryptic (‘from little acorns grow…. [answer: oak tree]), or personal (‘Search high and low at the place Jamie fell off the swing’). Don’t make it too difficult – you want the hunters to have fun, not get frustrated!
Use your smart phone to track your walk, and try to draw a shape or write a message with the route you take. This could be on streets around your house, or in the park, or even across a mountainside! Then take a snapshot of the screen and impress your friends and family with a festive message written by your feet!
No need to rush back because everyone’s feeling famished (it’s been at least 20 minutes since your last mince pie!). Pack up some turkey sandwiches or snacks, a flask of hot chocolate, soup or mulled wine, and head out for a picnic. If you’ve got some woodland to explore, you could even build a den first, to enjoy your outdoor feast from!
We’ve all seen happy hounds bounding after balls and running along trails chasing scents. Well, you don’t need a dog – or even have to like dogs – to inject some of that joy into your walk. Take turns throwing a tennis ball for each other – the others have to run after and ‘retrieve’ the ball back to the thrower. Throw it as high as you can, throw it as far as you can, throw it between you with one person playing piggy in the middle…the options are endless. You could even have a bag of sweets as ‘treats’ for the ‘dogs’ to earn!
There are lots of permanent orienteering courses (POCs) around the country – in rural areas as well as in urban parks and green spaces. Head to British Orienteering and use your postcode to find a course near you. Print out or download the free map, and then get hunting for the posts marked around the course. Some are easy, others are fiendish; many are accessible to wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
One person closes their eyes, and the other has to guide them along the next stretch of the walk. Carefully! The aim is to do it as well as possible, rather than walk people into trees and lampposts. It’s easiest to get a sense of where your leader is walking by holding on to their elbow or shoulder, rather than their hand. The person following can make an effort to tune in to what their senses are telling them, now they can’t see – what does the ground feel like under your feet? And what can you hear and smell?
Boring walk?! No Way! If you’ve got a group of people with different energy levels, set the high energy ‘tiggers’ a series of challenges to stop them getting bored. They can race between this tree and the next tree and back again; they have to wait behind for 60 seconds as the rest of the group carry on walking, then race to catch up; or everyone can have a walking race. If you break into a run, you’re disqualified! Timing these challenges will make them feel real. If there aren’t enough tiggers to race each other, then set them the challenge that they have to beat their own time. Most tiggers love a competition!
Even the most familiar area can feel totally alien in the dark! So make the most of the long nights, grab torches or headtorches and head out for a night walk. If your group is keen, you could even tell each other ghost stories as you go! Make sure little ones don’t get too scared – what can help is if they describe what they can see and hear and then together you can work out what it might be – the light of a street lamp, the call of an owl, or the trickle of a stream.
Use your walk as a chance to collect up some craft materials to make thank you cards for all those presents you’ve received! Seed heads, berries, stems bark and leaves can all make interesting patterns for printing, and if it’s been mild and dry in your area, you could even use leaves to create a collage.
Each member of the group decides on a ‘sport’. It could be hopping, standing on one leg, balancing on a tree log, speed walking, catching a ball – whatever is fun and achievable for the people in the ‘team’. You can have heats, finals and a winner’s trophy (made of twigs and leaves, or another mince pie!).
You don’t need to live near the sea, or wait for summer to have fun building castles. If you’re on the beach, all get involved in building the best fort ever. If you’re not near sand – have no fear! Embrace the mud and build a fort, with all the towers, banks, ditches and gatehouses you can manage. Winter is the perfect time to mess about and get muddy. Just make sure you wash your hands well before eating or drinking!
Aim for an hour outside every day, and make this the best holiday season ever. Take a picture and share the fun on facebook, twitter or instagram with the #GetOutside and #OneHourOutside hashtags.
Mary-Ann Ochota is a TV presenter and writer who is very used to getting outside for her work. Her qualifications in Archaeology and Anthropology have led to her involvement in previous television projects including Raised Wild for Animal Planet and Britain’s Secret Treasures for ITV.
In 2015, Mary-Ann combined her enthusiasm for adventuring and passion for educating others in a series of films about hill walking for the British Mountaineering Council (BMC).
Published in 2016, Mary-Ann’s book, Hidden Histories, teaches you all about the interesting archaeology and related history that you can find in Britain.
Mary-Ann is often joined on her trips, runs and explorations by Harpo, her (very cute) four-legged furry companion – who has also found himself having unexpected adventures of his own!
You can find out about Mary-Ann's adventures here.