With winter fast approaching, it can be tempting to bunker down and prepare to stay indoors for the next few months. But despite the short days and bad weather, it's important to stay active and get as much time outdoors as possible. Cycling is a great way to do this, although it can be challenging. Here are a few tips for winter cycling which may help...
Winter Cycling Gear
Bike racer and cycling blogger Juliete Elliott points out that your feet are often the first things to feel the cold when you're cycling. She recommends layering a decent pair of cycling shoes with either waterproof socks or some warming merino socks, as well as a pair of waterproof overshoes.
Invest some time to find a decent pair of gloves that will keep you warm, without impeding your movement.
Buy cycling-specific winter gear since this will have been designed with the shape and position of your body when it's on a bike in mind.
Dressing for winter cycling is all about layers. Start with a base layer of thermal bib tights and a wicking thermal vest or long sleeved top, then build from there. Remember you'll heat up as you cycle, so it's a good rule of thumb to dress so that you're slightly cool when you start the ride.
Winter Cycling Gear Essentials: waterproof jacket, thermal bib tights, thermal base layer top or vest, windproof sweater, overshoes, windproof gloves, and clear or lightly tinted glasses (to keep rain out of your eyes).
Winter Cycling Tips
Be sure to winter-proof your bike. Fit mudguards to prevent mud and water from puddles being splashed up your back, as this will not only ruin your clothes but can make you pretty cold too.
Remember your traction is limited on wet roads, so think ahead and stay safe. Brake before turning, and lean your bike, rather than your body, as this makes it easier to correct any potential skids. Remember that surfaces like metal, cobblestones, and paint can be very slick when wet, so watch out for them.
Have lights with you at all times. Gloomy and overcast days can be pretty dim, and with night setting in ever earlier you may be caught out in darkness. Get some small, bright LED lights and make sure they're fully charged before each ride.
Hone your skills, take care on wet or icy days, and be prepared. Cycling in winter is definitely more challenging, but it's great practice and can help make you a better cyclist. So get out there!
We’ve all heard of Leave No Trace. And it means exactly that - NO trace. Not, just a little bit, now and again. No trace, means no trace. And we say this for many good reasons.
We go in to nature to benefit from the scenery and the ‘raw’ experience we get from connecting with the natural occurring environment around us. If we don’t adhere to the Leave No Trace advice, then we change the very environment that we are making such an effort to immerse ourselves in. We are ruining our own experience, and that of others.
The Leave No Trace seven principles are:
(Leave no trace Center for outdoor ethics)
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
3. Dispose of waste properly
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize campfire impacts
6. Respect wildlife
7. Be considerate of other visitors
On a recent hiking day through the Mournes, I walked by one of my favourite areas, only to see it had been left in a mess. This breaks my heart as it ruins the beautiful views and proves a potential danger for humans and animals. All that rubbish, broken glass, sharp debris, and uncared for natural environment certainly didn’t add to my experience.
Granted, this was probably caused by people who don’t appreciate the environment as much as I do, however it can be easy for all of us to forget ourselves a little bit sometimes, so it’s certainly worth being mindful of the Leave No Trace advice.
Some top tips that we can all do to help adhere to this guidance can include the following easy steps.
1. Reduce the unnecessary items that we bring with us
We can reduce the risk of leaving a trace if we leave behind items that we don’t even need on our adventure. The main culprit is often packaging from food and newly bought items for your trip. Before you sling that bag over your shoulder, just do a quick check to see if you can take food out of pre-packaging, discard the cardboard packaging from your new batteries, or replace your plastic water bottle for a reusable one (empty ones don’t blow away as easily).
2. Take home all rubbish
It seems obvious but it is amazing how often this simple tip isn’t adhered to. Make sure you pop any litter in your bag securely to dispose of when you get home, especially plastic bags! (these become great kites when the wind picks up!). This also includes apple cores and banana skins – if they weren’t there when you arrived, then don’t leave them behind. They weren’t a natural part of that environment so they don’t belong there! Take them home with you and put them in the bin.
3. Don’t feed the wildlife
As cute and exciting as it might be, we shouldn’t be feeding wild animals in the great outdoors. Doing so can alter their health and their behaviour around humans. Be mindful that this doesn’t mean just actively feeding them to get that amazing photo for Facebook! Dropping old food or leaving access to bags with food in it overnight, can also attract wildlife to munch on your hiking goodies.
4. Before and after photos
We all love our photos, especially when out in nature. So, try to get in to the habit of checking your area before moving on, ensuring that you have lifted all your belonging, all your rubbish and it looks just as it did when you arrived and took that first ‘Whaow Moment’ photo.
5. The sounds of nature
The beautiful and natural sounds of the great outdoors really is something to behold and appreciate. However, it can hard to embrace this if there is loud music blasting from an iPhone as you trundle along, or from a portable speaker at a campsite (especially on an evening time!). Bear in mind that although you may be having a great time bopping away in your outdoor disco, the great outdoors is a shared space and others may be trying to have a different kind of experience.
So next time you hit those trails, remember the good old saying, ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’.
Ever the over-packer and over-planner, packing for a short city break was always one of my toughest challenges. Especially if I'm travelling with just hand luggage. But I've finally mastered the art, so I thought I'd share my top packing tips with you.
These are my top tips for packing light for your next trip, along with a few of my top city break essentials to help you plan...
A neatly packed case can fit a lot more in, so it's worth investing some time to do things properly. I use packing cubes, which are lightweight, fabric cubes with zippered openings, to neatly store and compress my clothes. This helps stop them getting wrinkled, and keeps them separate from the rest of my luggage – adding order to my case and creating extra space.
Organisation is Key
Create a city break checklist and get organised!
Decide on the outfits you want to take and only pack the things you need to create those outfits. Try to get inventive with clothing that can be used in more than one outfit. Choose a base tone or colour, and structure the rest of your outfits around it, so that everything can be easily mixed and matched.
Look up the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If it's set to be hot and sunny, don't waste space on a jumper or umbrella “just in case”. You can always buy an emergency poncho if your luck takes a turn for the worse! And if you're travelling in winter, wear your bulkier items on the plane, and pack a few lightweight layers to go under them in your luggage.
City Break Essentials
Assuming you're going to be away for a weekend, that's just two nights and three days. So, you only need to pack two evening outfits, and two daytime outfits – because you'll be wearing day one's outfit when you leave your house. If you're savvy, this also means you probably only need two pairs of shoes too.
Here's a city break checklist for a typical two night trip:
- One pair comfortable, lightweight walking shoes (I like Sketchers GoWalks)
- One pair smart evening wear shoes if needed
- One pair skinny jeans or one pair leggings – to be dressed up and down for day and night
- Two casual tops / two casual dresses / one of each
- Two dresses / two smart tops / one of each
- Undies for two days
- Swimwear if needed
- Travel Adaptor
- Overnight toiletries (remember most hotels provide a lot)
- Phone charger
- Small bag or foldable rucksack
- On the plane: one casual dress or long t-shirt, leggings, lightweight jacket
One last pro tip: try not to worry! I have a tendency to stress pack, and cram all kinds of “just in case” items into my luggage. But I try to remind myself that as long as I have my passport and phone on me, pretty much everything else can be bought or replaced. That thought certainly makes packing feel less stressful.
Whether spending time in nature is a new hobby for you, or whether you are a nature junkie, there are a few simple things that you can do to make your time outdoors more enjoyable.
1. Bring Water
It seems an obvious thing to say as we all know we should keep hydrated when we go on a walk, however many people forget to bring water with them. Perhaps you intended to set off for a quick dander but that pleasant walk can often turn in to a long exploration and therefore it’s important to have water to hand. There is nothing worse than feeling the effects of dehydration, and this can certainly ruin a very pleasant walk. So don’t get caught out!
2. Forget social media
We all love to share with our family and friends what we are getting up to and take pleasure in showing them the wonderful places and breath-taking views that we are lucky enough to encounter, however sometimes we can lose focus. Sometimes we may find ourselves documenting our time in nature for others who aren’t with us. Now and again it can be a good idea just to keep your phone in your pocket, forget about updating the rest of the world about that beautiful autumn tree or the roaring sea – they probably don’t appreciate it as much as you do anyway – so take a breath and just enjoy it for yourself. Embrace the moment for what it is. Your friends and family will experience their own connections with nature in their own time.
3. Bring layers
As we are all too familiar in Northern Ireland, the weather can change quite quickly and it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in one day. Therefore it’s worth bringing an extra couple of layers and a pair of gloves, especially if you are heading outdoors on an evening time at the moment as those cooler nights are certainly on the way. You will be grateful for the extra warmth and comfort if you want to stretch out that time in nature by just (another!) ten minutes.
4. Close your eyes
Undoubtedly it’s fantastic to watch the beauty of the great outdoors and let it hypnotise and mesmerize you, but now and again take some time to sit, or even better lie down, and close your eyes. Let the natural surroundings become more alive for you and let it wake up all your other senses. This can truly make your time in the great outdoors much more rich and rewarding.
Just as kindness breeds kindness, happiness is contagious. Even to yourself. So be mindful of your inner and outer feelings and appearance as you set off outdoors, and start your adventure with a broad smile on your face, and keep it there. You will be amazed at how much more relaxed and enjoyable your find your time exploring the world around you.
It’s no surprise to anyone that nature is good for us. There are oodles of research papers documenting the abundance of amazing benefits that the great outdoors has in store.
Some people are nature junkies (guilty!) and want to embrace its benefits at every opportunity. Others enjoy the great outdoors, but modern living prevents them from experiencing it as much as they’d like. While some others claim that nature simply isn’t for them – however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t, or shouldn’t, benefit from it without the need to go ‘wild’.
We can all reap amazing benefits from our natural world, no matter how small our encounters are. I believe the key to reaping useful benefits is the frequency of our interaction.
Camping and climbing mountains may not interest the majority, however introducing nature in to our everyday living can provide just as much value, if not more, to our overall health and well-being.
Nowadays it’s both somewhat easy, and difficult, to regularly immerse ourselves in the natural world. It is certainly more accessible than in recent years, however our patterns of living in this modern world can often pull us away from it.
One way to ensure a regular ‘nature fix’, is to be mindful of our day to day lives, create habits and introduce small changes, so we reconnect with nature in a very simple but frequent way.
We can start with what’s right on our doorstep (literally) and what we are in complete control of.
1. Our living spaces
With not too much effort we can bring nature into our everyday living by introducing natural materials in to our homes.
Sky, earth and water can surround us through wooden floors, fresh flowers and planting, flooding our rooms with natural light, including tokens of nature such as sea shells in the bathroom or paint a mural of an exotic beach or mysterious forest on a feature wall - even a simple fish tank, can help bring that feeling of nature in to a living space.
Creating the essence of nature through décor can be achieved with earthy greens and browns, vibrant blues and uplifting yellows, clean fresh whites and crisp stone greys. Nature excites all the senses, so playing soothing sounds of nature throughout your home can provide a calming environment. And remember, these beautiful sounds of nature CDs don’t have to be solely for bed time. Why not start your day off the right way by listening to it over breakfast?
Creating daily habits can be the most beneficial. Walking bare foot in your garden for a few minutes every day, can really help ground yourself and provide you with that vital few minutes of ‘you time’. A simple 5 minutes first thing in the morning and last things at night, can help you achieve calmness and clarity.
While you re-connect with nature, you dis-connect with unnecessary stresses. Fresh air is often undervalued and underestimated. We all have access to it, and no extra time in your day needs to be taken up to embrace it.
Every morning, why not throw the doors open wide and let the outside in! Flood your house with natural light and fresh air; it’s a great start to the day. Or each morning and night, establish the routine of taking just a few seconds to stop and really appreciate that sunrise and sunset. Everyone can spare a few minutes each day – so establish the habit of just taking a bit of time out from the rat race and really make those few minutes count.
Can you make a few small changes so you can frequently connect with nature and improve your lifestyle? Could you sit outside on your lunch breaks? Could you bring your laptop outdoors to work on? Can you have your breakfast in the garden? Can you create a ‘summer house’ in your garden to retreat in? Can you introduce a water feature in to your garden or home, to create a tranquil and therapeutic feature? Can you encourage wildlife in your garden so it enriches the time you spend in it? Can you walk a bit slower through the park, and remember to look around you a bit more? Can you put the mobile phone down and lay back to watch the clouds?
There are many ways in which we can experience everyday nature. Why not choose a few to introduce in to your life and see the benefits?
Justifiably, London is England's most visited city. But there's so much more to my country than the capital! There are lots of great day trips, especially to some of the smaller cities. Whether you're living in London, or a visitor from overseas, I can't urge you enough to get out and see what else England has to offer.
Here are four of my favourite cities within easy reach of London, to give you some great day trip ideas...
Time from London: 1 Hour by Train
Winchester is easily one of my favourite places in the UK. Just an hour from London you'll find the peace and quiet of a green and leafy city, that feels like a small town. Home to one of Britain's oldest high streets, Winchester is full of beautiful old buildings so this is one of the best British day trips for history lovers. Don't miss the round table in Winchester Castle, supposedly the one King Arthur and his knights once sat around.
Time from London: 1.5 Hours by Train
The UNESCO-protected Georgian skyline of Bath is one of the most beautiful sites in the South of England. With almost everything built from honey-coloured Bath stone, this is one picturesque little city. The famous Roman Baths are fascinating, while the nearby Thermae Bath Spa is a fantastic modern day equivalent. Follow in Jane Austen's footsteps as you explore the Georgian buildings around the city centre, and don't forget to stop for afternoon tea at one of the many teashops.
Time from London: 2 Hours by Train
Having recently visited York for the first time, I can say it's easily one of the best day trips from London. Home of the UK's first ghost tour and some seriously spooky stories, there's a lot of history in the town centre. Walk the centuries-old city walls, climb the tower at York Minster, and learn all about York's key role in the history of British chocolate at the York Chocolate Story.
Time from London: 1 Hour by Train
In just one hour you can be at the coast! Brighton is one of the most famous seaside towns in England, and in summer it's one of the most popular day trips from London. Explore the lanes for some quirky shops and galleries, hit the beach, and swing by a bar for some amazing live music before catching the last train back to London.