"Since becoming a member of the London Explorers Connect club, I’ve discovered all kinds of different activities and places to visit
With dusk approaching, the woods are deserted except for some noisy birds and a faint rustle in the undergrowth. It feels a million miles away from the central London office I left only an hour ago. Suddenly, from the direction of the rustling bushes an excited voice shouts “I’ve found it, it’s over here!”
It’s not your average way for a Londoner to spend a Wednesday evening, but with time and money in short supply I’ve been keen to try and find some smaller adventures, closer to home. Since becoming a member of the London Explorers Connect club, I’ve discovered all kinds of different activities and places to visit that fit into a weekend, a day or even an evening, as well as people keen to share them.
It’s tempting after a tiring day at work to slink home to a comfortable sofa, but I find getting outside is invigorating and always puts me in a good mood. Couple that with something fun or interesting to energise my brain cells and you have a winning combination, which is how I stumbled across the idea of orienteering.
Whilst London is blessed with a lot of green spaces for a big city, it’s hard to escape the traffic, noise and crowds. Hampstead Heath isn’t a park I’ve explored that much as I live at the opposite end of the city, but it’s one of the few easy to get to parks that has a genuine ‘countryside’ feel (Richmond is another one; the deer, cattle grids and heathland reminiscent of my childhood home in the New Forest). Keen for an excuse to visit, I was excited to discover that there is a permanent orienteering course in place on Hampstead Heath and a free, downloadable map (and app) to help you find your way from point to point.
In my mind, orienteering inspires images of either lycra-clad runners sprinting around the woods or reluctant school children being instructed to have fun, so I was keen to take a more relaxed ‘have-a-go’ approach, dust off my rusty map reading skills and try and find at least one of the points on the map.
So, after setting up an event on the EC Facebook group, I found myself roaming through the undergrowth with a couple of fellow ECers, looking for a small red and white plaque on a post. That’s probably not what comes to mind when you think of treasure, but it felt like a treasure hunt nonetheless. In the end, we managed a respectable number of finds; more than my pessimistic estimate of one, but with enough left undiscovered for another go. We explored parts of the Heath that few people probably see, forging our own paths in our quest for our ‘treasure’ and leaving the main tracks behind. Although it was a nice summer’s evening we were often on our own, which in London is priceless!
So, what’s next? Well, we could certainly go back to Hampstead to tick off the ones we didn’t get to, but there are also a couple of other permanent courses in the city to explore. You won’t be finding me dashing about the woods in lycra, but it definitely beats an evening on the sofa.
Words by Olivia Prutz