By Rebecca Miles – 16th February 2021
If you’re in the market for an adventure you’ll be pleased to hear you don’t need to trek to the most remote parts of the land for an experience worth writing home about.
The UK’s towns and cities are bursting with activities to get the blood pumping and explore nature, and there’s a slew of places across the country offering brilliant urban outdoor adventures.
While they’re all temporarily closed during lockdown, once they reopen these outdoor centres are just the thing city dwellers will need after being cooped up for most of the winter.
Suitable for nearly all ages, whether it’s mountain biking in London (yes, really), or abseiling in Portsmouth, or white water rafting in Cardiff, these outdoor activities are on our doorsteps and are ideal for letting off some steam and escaping the every day.
The activities we’ve included here are just a few of our favourites, and are largely based outdoors (as we’re thinking they’ll be more likely to open up ahead of indoor centres).
But if you’re reading this when lockdowns are just a distant memory, then by all means consider all the fabulous indoor urban adventures too, such as the Total Ninja inflatable course in Manchester, or the Inflata Nation centres across the country, or the indoor snow domes at Hemel Hempstead, Leeds Castleford, Glasgow and Milton Keynes, or the ZAPspace trampoline park in east London, or the Ghetto Golf indoor golf course in Newcastle. The list is long…!
Here is our Girl About round up of the best urban outdoor adventures, including some personal picks from the Blog Squad – where will you discover first?
One of the UK’s first large-scale urban regeneration projects, following the closure of the Manchester Docks, Salford Quays is a water baby’s heaven. Pretty much every water sport going is available in this stretch of the Manchester Ship Canal, based in and around the Helly Hansen Watersports Centre.
Recommended by Sarah, Girl About Manchester, you can take your pick from open water swimming, single- and double-handed dinghy sailing, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking and wakeboarding, in the Salford Wake Park.
And don’t worry if you’re just starting out – all the kit you might need is available to hire from the centre – you just need to bring your swimmers, and children as young as eight years old can have a go. The centre is also accessible for those with additional needs.
Cycling is the new golf, and nowhere does that ring more true than at the Leeds Urban Bike Park, built upon a former council-run golf course to the south of the city centre. Found opposite a housing estate, this mountain biking trails centre has real purpose.
Run by Cycle Pathway CIC, a not-for-profit company set up to manage the nature park, it aims to be accessible to anyone who wants to get into riding, and also offer experienced riders somewhere new to ride.
It achieves both those by being free to use – it makes its money from its on-site bike hire, shop and cafe – and by having a BMX track, a pump track, plus green, blue and red trails. The trails wiggle and squeeze themselves around the natural bowl and are full of obstacles, banks and berms.
It’s even suitable for young children – the hire shop has balance bikes available to rent, ideal for playing on the BMX and pump track.
If you have a head for heights and a taste for thrills, abseiling down Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower needs to be on your wish list.
The stunning 170-metre tower dominates Portsmouth Harbour and you could simply ascend to The Cloud, its restaurant and viewing platform at 100 metres, for a meal and to take in the views, OR you could take the adrenalin-fuelled option and abseil off the side. Ali, our adventurous Girl About the Lake District, chose the latter and LOVED it!
It’s definitely worth taking your time, enjoying the sensation of weightlessness and soaking up the views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight while you do so.
Available for people aged 14 and over, prices start from £100 per person per abseil.
It’s hard to imagine but among the dual carriageways of the A12, the Hackney marshes and an Asda superstore in east London lies a world-class bike park – the Lee Valley VeloPark is where you’ll find most of the cycling facilities created for the London 2012 Olympics.
First up is the iconic velodrome building, which is now open to the public for track sessions, and even children as young as two can learn to ride their balance bikes under its hallowed roof.
Then outside there’s the BMX track, with its rollers and jumps, while the closed road circuit snakes through the park.
But then most surprising of all are the blue, red and black mountain bike trails wiggling among it all, alongside underpasses and across flyovers. Admittedly, the actual 2012 Olympic mountain biking took place out at Hadleigh Farm in Essex, but for a city centre location, the cross country trails here are a great introduction to off-road biking.
Pay to play sessions start from £5, age and heigh restrictions apply.
Just a short walk from the bars and restaurants of central Bristol lies the Avon Gorge, often called the best city crag in the world. The gorge slices through Bristol, with the River Avon as its scalpel at its base, and offers climbs for everyone from novices to accomplished experts.
We love the route that ends by the ice cream van in Clifton, but don’t fall into the trap of assuming that because these climbs are in the middle of a city they’re going to be easier than elsewhere. Routes range from about 10 metres to over 30, and there are plenty of unusual crags and multi-pitch routes.
If you’re new to all this book a guide from the Adventurous Activity Company to safely show you the (literal) ropes.
There is A LOT going on at Cardiff’s International White Water centre at Cardiff Bay – and as the name suggests, it all revolves around getting wet in the white water.
Ride the rapids and soak up the thrills and spills in your choice of activity – white water rafting, white water tubing, hot dogging (white water kayaking), mini rafts (that you control), gorge walking and river boarding are all available, and some can even be safely adapted to accommodate families with children as young as six.
Depending on your personal drench-o-meter happiness scale, if you want to really up the ante, book in on a Friday evening when they turn the pumps up to maximum flow. Expect the fastest and most extreme white water rafting this side of a city centre.
A family white-water rafting two-hour session is £30 per person.
Just behind Aberdeen’s Esplanade overlooking the North Sea is Transition Extreme, a modern social enterprise that generates a lot of adrenalin.
Outside, there’s the high ropes course complete with an aerial assault course 12 metres off the ground and a gladiator challenge involving enough poles, tyres and nets to impress Jet and Wolf. Or take a leap of faith to the trapeze bar with a teammate.
Inside, there’s a HUGE climbing wall and a GIANT skatepark – this place really does live up to its extreme name. But the best thing about is its inclusivity – it’s open to all and sessions start from £7.50.
For the ultimate urban adventure, head to Birmingham’s NEC where, among the exhibition halls and car parks, you’ll find Bear Grylls Adventure, the indoor/outdoor activity centre set up by the former SAS soldier, adventurer and TV presenter.
Not a man to do things by half, there 10 epic experiences to try here, including diving with sharks to free-fall flying in the wind tunnel, while outside, there’s Europe’s tallest high ropes course, with 36 obstacles to navigate 65ft above ground.
Tickets start from £20 for a climbing, archery or shooting session, and most activities are suitable for children aged eight and over.
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