The benefits of spending time outdoors are well known. It can boost vitamin D levels, improve our mental wellbeing, help us sleep better – and even enhance our creativity and problem-solving abilities. However, if you’re bored of your regular walking or cycling route, and fancy learning something new, then you might be wondering how else you can make the most of the Great Outdoors.
To help you get inspired, we’ve collected a list of 6 skilled activities that you can learn outside while having some fun at the same time.
1. Take up whittling
Whittling is a simple form of wood carving that, at its most basic level, only involves a knife and a piece of wood. With these, you can carve whatever you please: bowls, spoons, figurines, and chess pieces are popular among the whittling community.
Besides being an enjoyable activity that exercises your creativity and coordination, whittling is considered to have a wide variety of therapeutic benefits. Research conducted by Simon Fraser University found that whittling helps with mindfulness, reduces stress, and encourages positive emotions. Plus, whittling will leave you with a tangible result, making it a highly rewarding way to spend your time. Your creations can also make unique and personal gifts for your loved ones, or decorative additions to your home or garden.
Although whittling doesn’t necessarily need to be learned or practiced outside, working with natural materials is a great way to connect with nature, and carving outside only increases this connection. You can also collect your own wood on nature walks and hikes. However, most modern whittlers opt to buy softwood blocks that are specially selected for whittling. Amazon also has plenty of varieties of softwood that can be delivered to your door the very next day.
If you don’t know where to start, the web is full of great resources such as Make from Wood and Best Wood Carving, which have comprehensive advice and tutorials for beginners so that you can get straight down to creating your masterpieces. Alternatively, why not check our beginner’s guide to carpentry? Or browse the selection of wood carving courses on the learning section of our site?
2. Paint landscapes outdoors
We are incredibly lucky to have an abundance of natural beauty to enjoy here in the UK – from sun-stained countryside and enchanting forests, to sprawling coastlines and awe-inspiring mountains. Wherever you live in the UK, there’s undoubtedly a beautiful natural scene for you to soak up, so why not consider putting brush to canvas, and painting what you see? Painting landscapes outside (or ‘plein air’ as it’s referred to in the art world) offers you the unique experience of not only engaging with nature physically, but creatively as well.
Landscape painting is a skilful, yet enjoyable activity that encourages you to live in the present moment and notice the smallest details in the world around you. You could even consider going on ‘painting trips’, where you combine your artistic skills with a nature walk or hike.
Painting from a real-life scene (rather than a second-hand source, like a photograph) can also help you to really hone your talent because it presents extra challenges, such as the changing light and weather. These challenges force you to adapt and plan, but they can also inspire you artistically.
To get started, all you need is paint, water, brushes, paper and a portable easel. However, for a more comprehensive guide on all the equipment you might need for your plein air landscape painting trip, take a look at this checklist from Liveabout. And for some help getting started, consider having a look at this guide from Outdoor Painter.
For even more help on learning the craft of landscape painting, you might want to check out our beginner’s guide to painting. Alternatively, you could try one of the landscape painting courses (or more general painting courses) that we have available on site.
3. Become an angler
Angling (a method of fishing with a rod and a line) is a popular pastime in the UK. In fact, 102,000 people participated in angling in England in 2019. Between canals, lakes, reservoirs, rivers and, of course, the ocean, everyone in the UK is only a stone’s throw away from a fishable body of water.
Not only is angling a fun activity, but it is also an excellent excuse to get out amongst nature and observe wildlife (Kingfishers are always a popular sight amongst anglers). Angling is also deeply meditative, and offers a chance to practice patience, perseverance and mindfulness.
There are many types of angling, but here are two that are popular in the UK:
- Coarse fishing – Coarse fishing is the most popular type of fishing in the UK. It’s practised on freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs and canals. Coarse fishing involves returning fish safely and unharmed to the water after you have caught them.
- Sea fishing – Sea fishing is pretty self-explanatory. In coastal waters, you can fish for species such as mackerel, bass and cod.
Though the pure enjoyment of catching fish can be traced back hundreds of years and remains a popular activity, concern is growing over the UK’s key fish populations – with haddock, mackerel and langoustines being the only species left that are in healthy state. Therefore, it’s important for anglers to be as environmentally conscious as possible, not only to preserve the health of the UK’s fish populations, but of the wider environment. Many anglers develop a love and respect for aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and inherit the responsibility of protecting them. For instance, anglers are often the first to report environmental issues that need addressing such as incidents of pollution.
Fishing responsibly involves using tackle that is biodegradable and will cause minimal harm to fish. You will also need to make sure to practice proper bank-side etiquette such as leaving no trace of your presence and treating fish with great care if they are to be returned to their habitat. For guides on eco-friendly fishing, you might want to check out this article from Angling Direct.
Or, if you’re new to angling and you’re looking to get started, then consider taking a look at Go Outdoors’ guide to fishing for beginners. You could also think about joining the Angling Trust where you can get access to up-to-date news, information and advice about angling and related topics.
4. Learn some bushcraft skills
Bushcraft is not so much a singular skill, but the practice and implementation of a set of skills – ones that serve to increase your comfort when finding yourself in the ‘bush’ or the ‘wild’. There’s no definitive list of skills that fall under the umbrella of bushcraft, but here are some popular ones:
- Shelter construction
- Fire building
- Finding water
- Plant identification and foraging
- First aid
While many people may call these ‘survival skills’, ‘survival’ and ‘bushcraft’ are slightly different practices. The main distinction is that people learn them for completely different reasons.
People learn survival skills in preparation for a time when they might need them to sustain life in a natural environment that’s cut off from civilisation. Whereas, people usually engage in the art of bushcraft as a recreational activity: to connect with nature, take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and perhaps even reflect on how dependent we’ve become on the comforts of modernity and technology.
To start learning some bushcraft skills, check out this article from Bushcraft Buddy, or this beginners guide from BushcraftInfo. You don’t need to go out into the wilderness to begin your bushcraft journey. Instead, you can practice some of the skills at home or in your garden. Once you’ve got your head around some of the essential basic skills, then you can organise a camping trip or a hike to put your skills to the test.
5. Take up kayaking or canoeing
If you’re interested in learning a new skill that’ll take you on a journey through nature, then why not consider kayaking or canoeing? Kayaking and canoeing are pretty similar activities. They both involve paddling a waterborne vessel. However, the vessels, gear and technique that you use in each activity are slightly different.
Canoes are usually open-top vessels in which the paddler either kneels or sits on a small seat. When canoeing, you use a single-bladed paddle.
Kayaking on the other hand involves using a closed-top vessel in which the paddler sits with their legs outstretched forward. When kayaking, you use a double-bladed paddle.
You can kayak and canoe pretty much anywhere that there’s a sizable body of water, as long as you have permission from the owner, that is. Here in the UK, you are never very far from a canal, river, reservoir, lake or ocean.
Kayaking and canoeing are not only great ways to experience nature, but they’re also great ways to stay fit. Better Health tells us that both activities improve your cardiovascular fitness and increase your muscle strength. They’re also low impact activities, which – compared to other high impact physical activities – can reduce your risk of injury, as well as joint and tissue wear and tear.
If you want to get involved in kayaking or canoeing, the best way to learn the proper techniques, as well as any relevant safety information, is to join a paddling club. You can search for clubs near you here.
6. Learn how to create a wildlife-friendly garden
We all love to get out of the house and be amongst nature every now and then, and one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects is the wildlife we can observe. However, with continued urbanisation, agriculture, pollution and climate change, the Natural History Museum tells us that 41% of the UK’s animal species have declined since the 1970s, and that hundreds of species are at risk of disappearing altogether.
One way you can help with the conservation of our animal species, as well as enjoy the benefits of observing wildlife at home, is to learn how to create a wildlife-friendly garden. Here are a few relatively easy and inexpensive ways to make your garden more wildlife-friendly:
- Create a pond – Pretty much any body of water will provide some sort of value to animals in your garden, from being a source of drinking water for birds and mammals, to providing a small habitat for amphibians and snails. Making a pond can be as simple as using a buried bucket, or you might want to create a larger pond, complete with pond plants and other accessories. For comprehensive instruction on how to build a pond in your garden, take a look at this step-by-step guide from the RSPB.
- Plant trees and shrubs – Planting trees and shrubs can be a simple way to help conserve wildlife and help attract animals to your garden, as they provide all kinds of species with shelter and food.
- Create animal houses and hotels – You can create a wide range of homes in your garden for animals such as hedgehogs, birds and bees from wood or old containers. Animal houses and hotels give animals protection from predators and places to breed, which can help fight against the decline in numbers of species. For help on how to build your own animal homes, check out the RSPB’s guide to building a bird box, and the Woodland Trust’s guide on how to build a bee hotel.
- Make a compost heap – Composting is a way that we can mimic and accelerate the natural process of decomposition. This can help to reduce the amount of waste our households produce and create nutrient-rich food for our gardens. However, by making a compost heap or pile, we can also provide a refuge and feeding area for animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and insects.
Whether you’re an outdoorsy person by nature and want to add a new skill to your repertoire, or you’re simply looking for a new and fun way to get your regular fix of fresh air, then hopefully this list has some inspiration for you.
For more ideas on outdoor activities, consider checking out our article 10 fun outdoor activities to try today. Or, if you’re looking to improve your connection to the natural world around you, then you might want to have a look at 32 ways to connect with nature and feel inspired.