Getting into a new outdoor activity can be utterly life-changing. You may already be a fan – or even a devotee – of one or more of the five activities included here, but the benefits of trying something new can be extraordinary. Why not make 2020 the year you broaden your hobbies? You may never look back.
Little prepares you for the feeling you get when you first stand on top of one of the Lake District’s large fells, a Welsh mountain or a Peak District hill. It’s a combination of awe-striking views (if the weather is forgiving) and a great sense of achievement. So great, in fact, that it often leads to a lifetime of seeking out new mountains and routes, perhaps ticking off summits such as the 214 Lake District ‘Wainwrights’, or the 14 3,000-metre peaks of Snowdonia. Other hot spots include the Brecon Beacons, and the Peak District around the Hope Valley. YHA has plenty of hostels in all these areas and is often filled with hill walkers heading up the hills, rain or shine! Even better, you can walk between many of them: three prime examples are YHA Brecon Beacons to YHA Brecon Beacons Danywenallt, YHA Hathersage to YHA Eyam in the Peak District or YHA Buttermere to YHA Honister Hause in the Lake District.
The thrill of the downhill turn and the carving burn are what make people life-long fans of mountain biking.
Once you start, weekends begin to be dominated by mud-splattered lycra, new singletrack routes and well-deserved coffee and cake after the ride.
The best places to start are at dedicated mountain bike centres, such as Coed y Brenin in Snowdonia, BikePark Wales near the Brecon Beacons, or Swinley Bike Hub in Berkshire. You’ll be able to find bike and gear hire, as well as tuition and easy runs to build your confidence. Some of our more rural hostels are ideally located for getting into the wilderness, whether you’re looking for long days across mountains, blasts through a forest or downhill kicks. Many properties have cycle storage facilities, and some even have cycle repair, maintenance and cleaning stations. YHA Perranporth in Cornwall and YHA Snowdon Llanberis in north Wales are both well located for great trails. If you fancy tackling the Coast to Coast route, YHA Alston in the North Pennines is one of the most cyclist-friendly hostels along the route.
The sense of freedom that comes from off-road running is wonderous. There are few better ways to spend a couple of hours than taking to the trails across mountains or through forests, downland or just around the park. Trail running simply means running along off-road paths and routes rather than along the pavement, and it can be done anywhere and to any level. The benefits are evident from a health point of view, but most trail runners point to their pure love of being outside. It’s also easy to get into, you just need a pair of trail running shoes (they have more grip than road running shoes), a pair of shorts or leggings and you’re off.
Start simple on paths that you may know, and soon you’ll be poring over Ordnance Survey maps planning your running weekend getaway.
YHA Edale Activity Centre in the Peak District is one example of a hostel surrounded by numerous paths and trails, or for the more experienced, head to the fells of the Lake District around YHA Ennerdale or YHA Coniston Coppermines.
Road cycling’s popularity shows no signs of abating. Every British tour win or Olympic gold (fingers crossed) inspires a new generation to jump on a bike with curly handlebars. Even within road cycling, there are different disciplines, from short sprints to long-distance tours, and everything in between. One factor that most cyclists point to is the distances that can be covered through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. You don’t have to be a serious cyclist on a bike that weighs less than a teapot – as long as you have a well-maintained bike (or can hire one) and a helmet, you can begin exploring quiet roads, gentle trails and cycle paths.
The National Cycle Network on sustrans.org.uk is a great place to start and find routes for all levels and abilities.
Again, many of our hostels have bike storage facilities, repair and cleaning stations, and dry rooms, of course. YHA Helmsley in North Yorkshire is one pick for challenging routes, YHA Dartmoor is popular with cycling groups, and YHA Holmbury St Mary Surrey Hills, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is well-located for the cycling magnet that is Box Hill.
Granted, getting on the thing, for the uninitiated, may be as graceful as a particularly ungainly walrus hauling itself onto a precarious bit of ice, and the endpoint usually finishes with a slip, a splash and a surprisingly loud involuntary yelp, but the bit in between is pure bliss.
With the notable exceptions of getting on and getting off, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the more meditative activities to try this year.
Its popularity is exploding as more and more people realise just what a fantastic way it is to travel the waterways and coastlines of Britain. It’s at once muscle-defining, core-strengthening and utterly relaxing. Newbies should find the flattest bit of water – ideally a lake or a river – and always start with a guide who’ll teach safety. The sea (less predictable, stronger tides and currents) is more complicated. Fortunately, there are guides at activity centres across the country. Active Buzz on the idyllic Cuckmere Haven near YHA Eastbourne is a perfect location.