I’m A #GetOutside Champion!

GetOutside

The 2018/19 Get Outside Champions team!

So something exciting happened to me earlier this year…

At the start of 2018 I was lucky enough to be chosen to become one of Ordnance Survey’s #GetOutside Champions, a team of ambassadors tasked with inspiring others to spend more time outdoors.

Did you know that the average child today spends less time outside than a prison inmate?
This is a ticking time bomb health-wise; the children of today are expected to have shorter lifespans than their parents. Also, how can we expect them to appreciate and protect nature when they have little knowledge or experience of it?
These are just two of the many reasons why the #GetOutside initiative has been created.

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Cheese!

 

At our first get-together the team list read like a who’s who of British adventurers.
It included names such as…

-Ben Fogle, TV presenter and adventurer.
-Mel Nicholls, Paralympic medallist and endurance wheelchair racer.
-Dwayne Fields, TV presenter and the first black Briton to reach the North Pole.
-Sean Conway, endurance adventurer and the first person to swim, cycle and run the length of Great Britain.

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Our Everest experts

There are folk who have climbed Everest (multiple times!), world record breakers, book writers, TV personalities, photographers, filmmakers and charity founders.

How on earth did I manage to slip in there? Was there a mistake?!

That’s what ran through my head at the big launch event in the New Forest.
I remember being sat at a table with Sarah Outen MBE and being a bit starstruck.
Sarah completed her round-the-world circumnavigation in 2015 and was the first woman and youngest person to row the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Like many of the other Champions, I’ve followed her on social media and for a number of years she’s been a bit of a hero of mine. Getting to meet her in person felt surreal.

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Table of dreams: Medals, MBE’s, world record holders… but most of all, simply wonderful people!¬† (I still can’t believe I got to hang out with this lot!)

As we listened to our introduction talk I glanced around the room. I could almost feel the sparks of energy coming off this crowd of 60 inspiring, highly-motivated, extraordinary people. It was exciting.
And terrifying.

Don’t they know I’m a fraudster!

I don’t have the skills or expertise to be sitting amongst this lot!
I’m not an athlete or sportsperson or record breaker, I’ve never scaled a mountain or rowed an ocean, I’m fairly new to proper map reading and I get wheezy when I climb hills.
I enjoy bumbling around outside, soaking up the joys of nature and a gorgeous view. I just love being outdoors.

Just chillin’ by the sea

But that’s where I fit in…
This is EXACTLY why I’m a #GetOutside champion.

Whilst I’ll always feel like a bit of an imposter next to the likes of Sarah or Ben, I’m here to prove that you don’t have to be super fit or especially sporty to enjoy time spent outside.

IF I CAN DO IT ANYONE CAN.
(Excuse the capital letters but this really needs to be shouted from the rooftops! Say it again folks!)

This is a vital part of the #GetOutside campaign.
Alongside the professional mountain climbers and endurance athletes we have Champions who are veterans, people with various disabilities, people from different backgrounds, asthmatics, families with kids and even a couple of four-legged companions.
There are a number of us who use the great outdoors as a tool to help our mental health.
Our aim is to show that anyone, whatever your ability or fitness, can enjoy time spent outside.

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All different ages, backgrounds, abilities and sizes (and all slightly silly!)

For me it’s all about getting close to nature, exploring this beautiful and weird natural world around us. It’s about curiosity and learning.
I firmly believe that one of the keys to being happy is to find joy in the smallest things… an unusual cloud… a spot of unexpected colour… even just a bee having a scratch!
Once you start noticing those things you’re able to start appreciating these little bursts of happiness more often.

It’s all about the little things

All this may sound flippant but it’s rooted in something important.
It’s been medically proven that time spent outside is good for people suffering from depression or other mental health issues.
When life gets stressful or if I’ve had some bad news I find it soothing to take a break, go for a walk or sleep out under the stars. It helps me to clear my mind.
Fellow Champion, Eli Greenacre, talks about the benefits of getting outside for mental health better than I ever could. Check out her story here

As a self-confessed tree-hugger I also think it’s incredibly important to spend time in nature to fully realise how valuable it is. When you see how varied and interesting wildlife and the natural landscape is you’re naturally more inclined to want to protect it.

So here I was, sitting in a conference room amongst the most inspiring group of people I’ve ever met; all ready to spend the next few years encouraging as many people as we can to spend time outdoors.
And do you know what? Their energy was infectious.

Getting to know each other by causing general chaos during orienteering!

Whatever I’m going to do for Ordnance Survey, it’s nothing compared to what I get out of it…

-I hadn’t expected to spend an evening round a table with a group of new friends, laughing so hard that my sides still ached as I packed up my stuff and drove home.
-I hadn’t expected to chat to Anna Humphries aka ‘Mountain Girl’ about the wonders of the moon or enjoy a few too many drams of whisky between ruggedly-bearded adventurers, David Wilson and Sean Conway (#adventurehangover)

Sian Anna Lewis and I wondered whether we could get an honorary membership to the exclusive Adventure Beard Club with David Wilson and Sean Conway

-I hadn’t expected to giggle uncontrollably with two absolute heroes, Sarah Outen and Mel Nicholls, and for them to continue to bring sparkle and smiles into my days whenever I need it (and even when I don’t!)
-I hadn’t expected to come away from the launch event grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
-And I really hadn’t expected to come away feeling like I was involved in something that is truly special.

Over two days we laughed, cried, discussed, messed around and then laughed some more. I genuinely feel like I’ve become part of a family.
Now that I’m part of the Champions team I feel like I’ve got a whole army of encouragement behind me. They send me advice if I’m uncertain and messages of motivation and support if I’m feeling down.
I feel ridiculously lucky!

 

A Sunday stroll that turned into a boggy ramble! (And a rare photo of Mel before all the mud splatters!)

Now I’m excited to see what lies ahead.
I’ve already had great support from the OS team with a trip that I’ve recently completed and I can’t wait to represent the brand at Countryfile Live this August (come and say hello!)

I’m feeling absolutely, tremendously, brilliantly inspired.
Now it’s my job to try and pass some of that inspiration on to you!

Woohoo! They even put up a picture of Skye at the launch event!

New Moons & New Starts…

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Insert cheesy caption about changing tides here…

Is it just me or did January seem to last for about eight weeks?!

Not that I mind January…

Tucked in between the island weather warnings we are treated to vivid blue skies with sparkling sunshine and a clarity to the air that we don’t see in warmer months; happy breaths of respite amidst the seemingly-endless days of sleet and overcast skies.

I’m often cold but I’m happy in the knowledge that I’m only going to get warmer from now on (I know spring has sprung when I finally regain feeling in my toes. A few weeks to go yet…)

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Clear blue winter skies and the Trotternish Ridge all to myself!

The days are getting longer…
When I visit nearby bothies and tourist spots I have them all to myself (I can wake up and brush my teeth in my pants and wellies looking like a scruffy urchin without scaring anyone -yay!)
In my garden, tiny green spears precede buttery-coloured crocus buds and the pearls of new snowdrops.

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Hullo little friend!

Well, with all that said, I think January is pretty bloody lovely, actually!

I think the reason why it’s felt so long for me is that so much has happened.
Huge things, both good and bad, made for an exhaustingly busy month…

Unfortunately, Rob and I parted ways after almost two years together. Although it’s always sad when these things end, there are no hard feelings between us and we’ll always have fond memories of our time together. Although we realised that we look at life in completely opposite ways I’ll always appreciate the how we got each other through such an extraordinary first year together!

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Back to kissing frogs!

It’s strange being single again though, a weird mix of oh-bugger-here-we-are-again-I’m-too-old-for-this and lovely freedom. I’m not saying finding a partner on Skye is hard but it’s probably easier to teach quantum physics to adolescent piglets…
Suppose I’ll just have to get my own Valentines present this year.

On top of this I travelled back to the South of England to help Mum move house.
Despite being in my 30’s I still count the family home as ‘home home’, even though I’m very much a Skye-girl now (I’ll always be an ‘incomer’ but hopefully I can also be ‘a local’!)

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Bye bye, Meadowview Cottage!

 

 

Some good news has been that my painting sales have been busier than they’ve ever been before (whoopee!) but the real big, red cherry on the cake is this…
I’m now an Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion!

Okay, fair enough, if you don’t follow outdoorsy/adventure social media then you probably don’t know what that is (although you’d have to be living on the moon to have not come across Ordnance Survey before).

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Woohoo, I’m a #GetOutside Champion… They even put up a picture of North Skye to make me feel at home… ūüėČ

To put it simply, I’ve joined a team of 60 of some the most inspiring and exciting adventurers in the UK today. For the launch event in the New Forest I got to meet fellow Champions including Ben Fogle, Shaun Conway, Sarah Outing MBE and a whole crowd of ridiculously awesome humans (and no, I’m not quite sure how I got in there either..!)

I won’t go into too much detail as I’ll write a new post about it later this week but it’s a great honour and, after an overwhelming January, it’s just what I needed to kickstart an awesome 2018.

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The 2018/19 Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champions (I’m the one in the middle who can’t quite believe she got in there!)

One of the many inspiring people I met at the #GetOutside launch event was Anna Humphries, a mountain leader, Bear Grylls instructor and generally all-round kickass superwoman. I was lucky enough to be sat next to her at the launch dinner.
Whilst we ate we talked about the rare event of the supermoon, blood moon and blue moon all coinciding at the same time. Amongst her many talents, Anna is fantastically knowledgeable about the universe. She explained about energies and planets and how, after many folk experienced difficulties over winter, good things are set to align this year because of these celestial events.
Now I’m a sceptic with most things but she explained this in such a scientific and rational way… it really made sense.

It’s been quite a turbulent month for me but, you know what, I feel deep down that Anna is right… 2018 is gonna be a good year.
I’m excited already…

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Bring it 2018, I’ve got a new jumper and a cup of tea and I’m ready for ya!

A ‘Girl Friday’ Adventure: 40 days and 40 nights in the wild

Noisy neighbours…

I moved from London to Skye seeking peace, wilderness and a life closer to nature.
I found one of those things but the rest wasn’t quite what I expected…

On this funny old island I discovered new friends, hundreds of things to do and a diverse, vibrant community.
I was definitely closer to nature but my calendar has never been busier!

I fell head-over-heels in love with my new home here yet I’m still searching for that peace. I haven’t quite got there yet.
The desire to find a certain type of solitude with nothing but the hills or sea for company pulls at me like a little fishhook caught in the back of my mind.

The peace and calm of the cold white sands of Scarista, Harris

 

So in 2015 I set about on a plan that would help me find it…

A solo expedition to an uninhabited island far out at sea; somewhere remote, wild and windswept.
No human contact, no electricity, no entertainment such as books or sketchpads. I’d be completely alone… wildlife and the landscape would be my only company.
It would be a kind of Castaway or Girl Friday experience, only without the sand or the sunshine!

Sleeping under the stars just outside Inverness (hopefully I’ll be doing this without the injured-ankle support boot on my island adventure!)

I located my temporary home; a set of windswept islands about 40 minutes away from the nearest harbour. Their owner was incredibly kind and accommodating, if a little bemused by my requests.
Shortly after I’d secured my stay I was lucky enough to win a grant from Tim Moss’ brilliant Next Challenge and a big bundle of kit from Lyon Outdoors. It doesn’t seem like an unusual adventure so I was heartened to see that people were interested.

There’s a surprising amount of planning involved to be able to exist in such a pared-back way…
What safety measures do I need to put in place in case I fall and break an ankle? How do I get there?
Do I bring food supplies or do I exist on shellfish and seaweed?

The adverts launching Eden on Channel 4. The photos show the beautiful scenery of Ardnamurchan

 

But when the opportunity to take part in Eden popped up in the middle of all this planning it was hard to turn down…
I temporarily postponed my solo trip.
The islands would always be there, this Eden project would not.
Besides, a year spent off-grid in the woods sounded like the perfect halfway stepping stone to my island adventure.

Now Eden has finished… I’m out and settling back into reality after Reality TV and, excitingly for me, my Girl Friday trip is back on!
At the beginning of next year I’ll be hopping on a boat and setting up camp as these feathered friends begin to arrive for the nesting season…

 

Atlantic puffins (photo by inhabitat.com)

Spending a year off-grid in Ardnamurchan wasn’t exactly the immersive close-to-nature experience that I had expected.
In fact, it was more community-focused than I had ever imagined and it often felt like a constant battle to persuade certain people to respect the environment in which we were living.

Now my island trip is back on the only community I’ll be interacting with is the thousands of seabirds that flutter onto the rocky cliffs each spring. They may turn out to be incredibly stinky neighbours but I can’t wait!

Never say no to an adventure

We’re probably all a bit fatigued with inspirational quotes at the moment. They’re posted in Facebook and Instagram, plastered over T-shirts and cushions…

‘Never let go of your dreams’

‘Be your own inspiration’

‘Believe in yourself’

Let’s face it, they get pretty annoying after a while.
But sometimes you find a motto in life that deserves to be celebrated. Something to repeat to yourself whenever you’re faced with a choice. Something that even deserves to be written over an over-edited picture of a pretty landscape and made into an annoying inspirational quote…

Mine is to ‘never say no to an adventure’.

Life is short and this has served me well so far so I’m keeping it.

And it’s something I’ve listened to recently… This week I packed up my little cottage in the North End of Skye and moved out.
I’ve had plenty of adventures there that I still need to write about, WILL definitely write about. Just not yet, because, in the meantime, I’m off on another adventure.

It’s not the end of my Skye journey or even my life on Skye but it’s the end of my life in that house and a little pause in proceedings.
I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to write about when I get back (it won’t be long) but, right now, it’s time for adventures…

xxx

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Skiing at the Nevis Range

My favourite winter warmer!

A most effective winter warmer

Sometimes I think that the most apt way to describe my new home is that it’s a playground for people who love being in nature.
If you’re into anything outdoorsy there’s so much to do here; walking, climbing, swimming, sailing, diving… and in winter, skiing.

There are no snowsports on Skye unless you fancy lugging your skis up a hill and praying that you don’t hit a boulder or a bog on your way down. However, there are lots of ‘proper’ resorts just a couple of hours drive away such as the Cairngorms, Glencoe or Glenshee.

The Nevis Range is my closest resort, about a three hour journey from the North of Skye, just on the edge of Fort William.
I adore skiing; every time I step outside onto snow, breathe in the icy air and hear that familiar crunch I get a yearning to be on the piste. It’s a weird craving but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling it.
So, when I noticed a couple of empty days on my calendar I decided to grab the chance and take myself off for a day or two to Nevis.

Driving into the Nevis resort

Driving into the Nevis resort

To get a full day on the slopes I decided to check into my hostel the evening before. I’d booked a night at the Glen Nevis climbers’ hostel owned by SYHA.

I’d just like to say a bit about the SYHA organisation because I think they’re fantastic.

I used them almost every night when I travelled round Scotland in 2013; scrimping a bit on my accommodation meant that I was able to splash out on Michelin-starred restaurants without worrying about costs.
But then, it wasn’t really scrimping at all…
Okay, so they’re not exactly luxurious, they are hostels of course, but each facility is clean and well-equipped, they’re in some incredible locations and their staff are fantastic sources of local knowledge. Whilst some of their buildings are, others are old converted schoolhouses, loch-side hunting lodges or even UNESCO Heritage Sites. I really can’t recommend them highly enough.

Glen Nevis hostel, basic but comfortable

Glen Nevis hostel, basic but comfortable (photo by hostelworld.com)

I had a bit of admin to do before leaving Skye which meant that it was dark by the time I crossed the bridge. This wasn’t a problem until I neared the Cluanie dam where the roads wind around the hillsides over the deep, half-frozen lochs below. Suddenly the clear night sky turned white and I was in the middle of a blizzard. Within minutes the tarmac was covered in inches of snow and, despite crawling at a snails pace, I found I could barely control the car.

I was just over halfway to Nevis; do I turn back, continue forward or pull over and stop altogether? I continued on with my shoulders up round my ears, muscles rock-solid with tension. I tried as hard as I could to forget the stories I’d read in the local paper before Christmas about people veering off the road and drowning in the lochs below. I kept my windows wound down just in case.
Driving at 15-20 mph I thought it would take me all night to get there. A couple of times I pulled over to let another car overtake only to find them further down the road having skidded off to the side. As I noticed the drivers talking furiously on their mobiles and I thought of the tortoise and the hare!

Not ideal...

The start of a blizzard. Uh oh…

It took about 5 hours in total to reach Glen Nevis, 20 minutes of which were spent trying to excavate myself from a snowdrift I had slid into on a corner (it’s amazing the superhuman powers that a bit of panic seems to bestow)

Whilst I was excited to go skiing, I hadn’t quite intended for it to be on four wheels…

The Nevis Range was particularly busy on Sunday because they had a special anniversary offer on. It was a bargainous ¬£12.50 for a day pass, apparently the same price they were sold for in the 80’s. With equipment hire it still came to less than ¬£35 for the whole day.
This meant that there were more visitors than usual but to be honest it wasn’t any more crowded than an average day in any European or American resort. It must also mean that on quiet days, weekdays perhaps, you can have the pistes almost to yourself.

Whilst there isn’t the atmosphere or scale of a large Alpine resort, it was surprisingly good skiing. Though when the signs at the top of the lifts say to watch out for natural hazards they really aren’t kidding -I had to narrowly swerve more than one massive water hole on my way down.

Perhaps this isn’t¬†great place for anyone partially sighted!

I mentioned this to a local instructor I shared a T-bar with, a hairy young guy that smelled strongly of woodsmoke. He laughed and said that the odd tumble down a hole or over a rock is what made the area more interesting. That’s one way to look at it I suppose!

Looking down onto Fort William and out towards Eigg

Looking down onto Fort William and out towards Eigg

I was lucky enough to have chosen to ski on a bluebird day and the views over Fort William were extraordinary. It was so clear that every now and again you could even see the island of Eigg in the far distance.
You can tell it’s not a wealthy resort, the visitors are mostly locals, but what it lacks in shininess it more than makes up for with the landscape.

I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures; one for my Grandpa who’s currently recovering from his third hip replacement (this is a replacement replacement, he doesn’t have three legs!). He skiied in Scotland back in his army days so I was thinking of him twofold up there.

The other was for my friends at Whalefest who are drumming up support for a campaign by asking for #Whalefie pictures (basically selfies with some kind of cetacean, please get involved as it’s for a great cause!)
I got a few funny looks pretending to kiss a sparkly whale Christmas decoration at the top of a mountain!

Get well soon, Gramps! xxx

Get well soon, Gramps! xxx

A whale weirdo!

Pucker up Moby! 

Whilst I’ve enjoyed my own company for most of my adventures up here, I think I’ve finally found something which I think would have been better with friends. Yes, being alone is a chance to really concentrate on technique but there’s something about having a laugh with a group of mates that makes skiing extra fun. It wasn’t ‘not fun’ it just wasn’t ‘as fun’.

That said, I did make a few friends on the gondola and chair lifts up; a couple of sea kayak instructors from Wales became my lift buddies for the morning. I also learned here what most 7 year-old know to be true, that sharing a packet of Love Hearts can do wonders for popularity!

Wind-blown snow-covered fences, a sign that not every day up here is quite so calm

Wind-blown snow-covered fences, a sign that not every day up here is quite so gentle

Still, the end of the day came too quickly, though the sunset cast a beautiful soft mauve light over the emptying mountainside. I treated myself to a hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream whilst I watched it and waited for the gondola queues to shorten.

Too exhausted to face another night-time blizzard I checked in for another night at the hostel. I fell asleep fully-clothed and face down on the bed where I had an incredible dream about being a record-breaking winter Olympian.
Unfortunately I think it’s going to take more than one day here at Nevis to get to that..!

Up, Up and Away!

The week before I planned to leave for Skye was probably¬†the busiest I’ve had all year. A multitude of family birthdays, work meetings and social events meant that some days were literally planned down to the hour. Getting everything done and everyone seen before I left meant that packing was pushed to the wayside until the day before I was due to go.
Luckily, not knowing where I’d be or what I needed meant that it didn’t take long to pack up the car. Anything I’d forgotten could be sent on or bought later.

I planned two days for driving as I can barely drive for an hour without getting sleepy:
Leg 1: Chiddingfold to New Lanark, 7 /12 hours.
Leg 2: New Lanark to Skye via Fort William, 5 1/2 hours.

There’s something quite satisfying about driving straight North, an easy route, no map, but really there’s nothing exciting to say about a 7 hour journey up the M6…
Apart from one moment when I passed through the Lake District and the sun began to set. Some characteristically moody¬†song by London Grammar came on the radio as the pelting rain began to let up. A deep amber light washed across the landscape and a rainbow appeared above the carriageway. It was a bit silly but it was a beautiful moment. It hadn’t hit me until then that I was embarking on quite a big adventure.

It was dark by the time I got to my overnight stop, the working village of New Lanark. It’s an incredible place, an old cotton mill settlement that’s now a UNESCO Heritage Site.
I was booked into the New Lanark youth hostel, one of many fantastic places run by the SYHA. When I travelled across Scotland last September I chose to stay in hostels so that I could afford to splash out on Michelin meals and special experiences. I may have paid pennies for a bed but many of these hostels were simply amazing buildings to stay in; an old schoolhouse, a hunting lodge and a climbers cabin are just a few of the properties they run. New Lanark is definitely up there with their most interesting:

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA)

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA website)

 

I was up early the next day to travel through the Trossachs to Fort William. Yesterday’s drive was dull and grey but this one took me through dramatic scenery, along lochs and through glens. I had to work hard to concentrate on the road when my eyes wanted to follow the sweeping slopes of the hills up into the clouds. Driving through Glencoe and then the Great Glen is surely the most wonderful way to be introduced to the Highlands and Islands.

 

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

 
After a couple of hours I’m driving over the bridge to Skye from the Kyle of Lochalsh. The island welcomes me with characteristic grey drizzle, a moody hello. It takes an hour to drive to the main town of Portree and I scope out every business and road sign in case it comes in handy later. The signposts and caravans gradually give way to greenery and rocky coastlines as I push further North until I arrive at the harbour. So, this is home.