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!

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Hallo Harry

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Me and ma pal at sunset overlooking Uig Bay

We have a new addition to the household this month; a quiet and strange wee beastie with beady eyes and a snappy appetite.

Little Harry is the latest in a long string of family rescue dogs. Mum does a lot to help rehoming charities and shelters but unfortunately she’s a terrible fosterer.
By that I don’t mean that she’s bad at looking after them. It’s quite the opposite… once we’ve got to know them she finds it too hard to give them away!

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Tuppence, our first ever rescue dog, came to us in a terrible state but she eventually perked up and here she is enjoying Staffin Beach

Most of the dogs settle into the family easily (I firmly believe rescue dogs know when they’ve landed on their feet) but old Harry was a bit different.

He has something called Cushing’s disease caused by a tumor near his brain. As a result he’s a pot-bellied, scruffy little thing who walks with a rolling, bulldog-like gait because he finds it painful to move.
He is also short-tempered.

Our other dogs weren’t keen on this snappy newcomer and so, with their comfort as my excuse, I whisked him up to Skye with me. Rob, Harry and I are now three.

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Sniffing out a catshark in front of the Cuillins (about 2 seconds before Harry pounced on it and I had to wrestle the dead fish from his jaws…)

It’s a joy to have a wee buddy around to keep you company, especially working from home.
Not that he’s like a normal dog. He isn’t particularly interactive, he doesn’t make noise and he very rarely wags his crooked little tail.
Ah, and he also doesn’t like walking.

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Harry prefers to experience the Great Outdoors lying down

As anyone who reads this knows, I’m fond of a wander. Living amidst such incredible scenery here on Skye, who couldn’t be?

With his sore muscles, it isn’t fair to force Harry to walk long distances. How do I get in a day’s rambling or camping with a dog that won’t budge?

After some Googling*, rummaging in the cupboards and a bit of snipping and sewing I had a solution…
The Carry Harry™ prototype!

Okay, so it’s only an old rucksack that I’ve cut up and padded out but it’s just a tester. (Other potential names could be the Pup-oose or Doggy Bag but maybe not the Harry Carry as it sounds a bit like Hari-Kiri!)

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Rain sweeping over the Trotternish Ridge from the Quiraing

We gave the carrier it’s first trial at the Quiraing.
At this time of year it’s a completely different place to the summer; no cars or crowds. It seemed even quieter than usual but I suspect that may have had something to do with the unrelenting rain.

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Even through the mist and drizzle the Quiraing never fails to be spectacular; I had a wonderful walk.
I think Harry was less impressed.

It turns out that, on top of walking, Harry also dislikes rain and heights.

Here, on an island comprising mostly of rain and heights.

It’s a good job he’s cute.

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First test (don’t worry, he’s not too cold! Harry did have a fleece on but didn’t like it)

So the Carry Harry is still undergoing development and I’m continuing my search online for the comfiest purpose-built carriers (if anyone has any tips let me know!)

With the beginnings of Storm Caroline howling around the house, Harry is even less keen to go outside (he got blown over in the garden earlier). We’ve got the fire on and our walking stuff drying next to it.
For now, we’re staying in.

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I’m comfy enough right here, thank you.

***

*I’ve actually switched search engines to Ecosia, an organisation that plants a tree for every search you make. It’s just as good as Google but you’re helping to save the world by doing something you’d be doing anyway.
It sounds like a scam but it’s completely legit so there’s no reason not to make the switch. Check them out here: Ecosia Search Engine

It’s good to be home…

 

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Rehabbing and retoxing in luxury at Kinloch Lodge back on the Isle of Skye -from one extreme to another! (And check out those mega roots!)

Aaaaand… she’s back!

As a couple of eagle-eyed readers have noticed, I’ve spent the last year living off-grid in the wilds of Scotland as part of the Channel 4 Eden programme (see more here).
It was a hell of a ride… There were soaring highs, unbearable lows and everything in-between. I’ve learnt a lot: good, bad, muddy…

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Who’s that funny face there in the middle?! 

It’s been a crazy, surreal 12 months away and I’m now spending the next few weeks gently readjusting back to ‘normal’ life. After such a long period of time away from family, friends, technology and the media the ‘outside world’ feels pretty overwhelming!
Because of that, I’m trying to limit screen time whilst I ease back into things. I can’t say much about the programme until it’s all finished but I’ll write a bit about my real-world rehab/readjustment on here once I’m a bit more settled.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a handful of mini-insights into what it’s been like over the last week…

  • My reaction on seeing a child for the first time in a year: “That person over there is really small!”
  • …first horse: “That thing is huuuuge! Have they always been that big?!”
  • First time seeing Skye Bridge again: It was overwhelming to see home again. Got misty eyes for my Misty Isle!

Oh, and a couple more things….

1. Always take things with a wee crunch of sea salt.

2. To that question that everyone keeps asking… Yes, I did bring home a special souvenir from Eden. He seems to be fitting into Skye life rather well 😉

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Hmm…

 

Alpkit: Go nice places, do good things

I was thinking this morning about all the things I’ve been up to over the past year that I’ve still yet to write about… foraging missions… whale rescue training… trips to Applecross, Harris, Glasgow, Edinburgh…
Then it occurred to me that I’d never shared the video made for Alpkit by Dom Bush who came to stay last August (blog post here)

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Cumbria-based kit-makers Alpkit don’t just make fantastic products (their filoment jacket is probably the warmest, lightest thing I own) -they also have a really great ethos and attitude.
The company motto is ‘Go nice places, Do good things’ and they have a really dynamic and refreshing approach to how a business interacts with its customers. It’s a brand I’m really chuffed to have been involved with and highly recommend (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that).
You can see the adventures they get up to on their Facebook page here.

Dom Bush of Land and Sky Media is a fantastic award-winning filmmaker and it was great to have the chance to be filmed by him. Please ignore me and my lispy ramblings and just enjoy his beautiful camera skills…

To see more videos by Dom for Alpkit check out the Screenroom section of the Alpkit website here. The one about fell-runner Nicky Spinks is amazing -she’s a superwoman!
As well as a catalogue of their products they’ve got lots of interesting blog posts to inspire you to try out your own adventures.

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A leaving note…

Not the M25

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As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I work two days a week at the Skyeworks Gallery down in Portree.
There’s a lot of things I enjoy about working there but one of the things I least expected was the commute.

Originally I had looked at living only just outside of Portree; I didn’t know if the roads on Skye would be treacherous in winter so I thought that was the sensible option.
Of course, falling in love with my funny little house sent the sensible option flying out of the window (although I’ve since found out that the warm, salty sea air here prevents it from getting too icy here anyway)

So, twice a week I drive 45 minutes down the Trotternish Peninsula to work and 45 mins back

…And I love it.

Rush hour

Slow moo-ving traffic

No journey is ever the same.
Morning rush hour on the A855 is when the young farmer walks his characterfully shaggy ‘coos’ down the middle of the road.
Stubborn, wild-eyed sheep threaten to make me late most mornings. Once in a while my journey is blocked by the solid figure of Charlie the bull.
Sometimes I’m greeted by the collie at the end of my road who runs alongside the car as far as it can. At other times I find myself swerving around the chickens, turkeys, ducks and bunnies who congregate at the bottom of my hill.
I usually see a couple of birds of prey perched on posts as I pass the croft cottages and if I’m lucky I’ll spot a sea eagle or two circling over the clifftops just past Staffin.

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

On a particularly busy day I might even see some people too.
I like the way the other drivers thank you here, not just a finger lifted from the steering wheel or a solemn nod, you’re more likely to get a proper wave and a grin. Of course, you get the grumpy ones too, and the bewildered tourists, but I enjoy sharing a “Good Morning” smile with the postman, the bus driver, the farmers on their quad bikes…
If it sounds a little like living in an unusually cheery children’s TV show, Postman Pat or Balamory, you’d pretty much be right.

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

Whilst all this is lovely the really incredible thing about my commute is the landscape.
My journey takes me past some of the most famous sights of Skye; the Quiraing, Kilt Rock and the Old Man Of Storr. The spectacular views seem to look brand new every day under different lights and weathers.
Sometimes the tops of the hills are spookily encased in mist with a dark, stormy background. At other times the jagged rocks look like they’re on fire from the neon-red sun setting behind them. When the light has been soft, almost misty, I’ve felt as if I’m driving through an old painting come to life, like that bit in Mary Poppins where the jump into the chalk drawings.

Heading home past The Old Man Of Storr

Heading home past Loch Fada and The Old Man Of Storr

Even something as basic as the road itself is fun. There’s a straight-ish bit over little hills where I like to put my foot down and you can feel your stomach lurch over every drop, fairground-style. Then there’s the flat, open bit along the cliff where you feel like you’re flying along the top of the world.
My favourite part of the journey is where, from going parallel to the coast, the road bends to the right so you face straight out towards the open sea. At the same time the tarmac also curves downwards, disappearing from sight. It gives the impression that you’re about to drive off a cliff and plummet straight into the water hundreds of feet below, Thelma and Louise-style.
The first time I drove it it made my pulse quicken like at the top of a roller coaster before the drop. Even though I pass this way every day I still get that little buzz of exhiliration as I speed towards the waves.

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Could I ever had imagined that I’d enjoy a commute enough to be inspired to write over 600 words about it? Not likely.

Yet with my favourite music on I’m reminded why I moved to Skye every time I make this journey; here’s something that should be ordinary but instead it’s extraordinary. 45 distracting minutes to ease me in or out of the working day.

As Graham, one of my new friends, put it, “If you ever get bored of that drive then it’s probably time to move on from here.”

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan

Here Be Dinosaurs!

10431480_557529586303_1990130117751215851_nI make no secret of the fact that I can be a bit of a geek. Two of my favourite ‘geeky’ subjects include geology and wildlife, things which are both in abundance on Skye.
Put these both together and you get something else, something that this island is also well-known for…
fossils.

Alongside the usual ammonites and belemnites there is some more unusual, charismatic evidence of a prehistoric era; the Staffin dinosaur footprints.

With Staffin being only ten minutes away from my new home I couldn’t wait for my chance to see these famous fossils. A couple of days after moving in I waited for the late low tide then set off for the beach.

The dark sands of Staffin Beach

The black and white sands of Staffin Beach at low tide

Pulling up in the car park above the beach I looked down over the boulders and scanned the rocks below.
Luckily I’m familiar with the appearance of fossilised sea bed and I spotted the section of tell-tale yellowish ripples from the rocks above before I’d even got down to the beach.
I raced down to them and searched…

“Oh WOW!”
I couldn’t help exclaiming out loud.
It was ridiculous, the most unrealistic-looking thing.
A huge, great big footprint that looked like cartoon or prop from a B-movie. Had someone been filming the next Jurassic Park and forgotten to take one of the set pieces home?
If it looks unreal in my photos believe me, it was more incredible in real life.

Looking down at 165 million years.  (The erosion between the three toes makes this look even more cartoonish!)

Looking down at 165 million years.
(The erosion between the toes is what makes it look more ‘cartoonish’)


A few steps further and I came across more. Three-toed, of all different sizes pointing in all different directions.
Seeing them reminded me of something I’d read online that said the prints looked like the dinosaurs were playing a game of Twister. It’s a pretty apt description!

Looking back 165 million years!

Three toes indicates that this was some kind of raptor. It’s thought that they might be from a Coelophysis, a fast-running carnivore of about 2-3 metres long.

I was surprised to find that, unlike other important sites in the UK, these rocks aren’t protected and sectioned-off. In fact, they’re barely marked at all bar a small diagram on the sign in the car park.
Because of this (plus factors such as the tides and shifting sands) a lot of people arrive and leave having never found them.

-In fact, when I brought the Ranger family to see them they had been completely covered by a thick blanket of sand that would have been impossible to dig through. That time they were not to be seen.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have found them either if I hadn’t already known a little about the rocks to look for.

Vicious looking claw-prints

Vicious looking claw-prints

When I posted a photo of my wellies being dwarfed by a print on Facebook one of my friends was incredulous. It couldn’t be real, surely?
His reasoning that they couldn’t have withstood millions of years of erosion was a fair point. However, as they were only discovered in 2002 (by local B&B owner, Cathie Booth), they haven’t actually been exposed for that long.
You can read more about the discovery here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2210169.stm

Are there mini dinosaurs here too?! A reminder of the progress of evolution...

Are there mini dinosaurs here too?! A three-toed reminder of the progress of evolution…

Soon enough they’ll disappear again properly, permanently eroded by the moving tide and feet of visitors. Maybe the rocks behind them will give way to reveal more, maybe they wont. I suppose this is just our short space of time where we can look back at prints made in another, far-away short space of time.
Geeky or not, I think that’s pretty frickin cool.

I wonder what else is hiding in the rocks at Staffin beach...

I wonder what else is hiding in the rocks at Staffin beach…

Coral Beach

Skye is a walkers paradise and when I decided to move here I promised myself to try to get out exploring at least every other day. I hadn’t got much of a chance in my first couple of days, then when I found myself with a little more time the wind and the rain had set in.
However, I’ve quickly learned that the weather here is unpredictable (if I waited for sunshine I might be waiting all day/week/month) so I put on my wellies and set off to a place that I like so much I probably wouldn’t even notice the drizzle.

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Woolworths

On my way out of Portree I stumbled upon some kind of sheep sale. I pulled up to investigate.
Turns out that someone with blonde Heidi plaits and a sparkly turqoise jumper stands out a bit at a livestock sale. I thrust my hands in my pockets and sauntered around trying to look casual but I doubt I was fooling anyone. Inconspicuous I was not.
So I didn’t stay for too long, which was good because there was a pen of really small, cute little sheep that I’d happily have taken home. Ten more minutes and I may have gone home with thirty-odd new pets.

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Sheepless, I was on my way to Coral Beach in Claigan, North of Dunvegan. I’d visited here on my first trip to Skye last year and had been entranced by the white sand studded with black rocks.

The sand is actually made from something called maerl which is a coralline red algae (basically a seaweed which has a hard body like a coral). It’s a creamy white colour like Carribean sand but it’s much coarser and it’s full of shells because maerl beds are fantastically nurturing little ecosystems.

Sand at Coral Beach

Sand at Coral Beach

As you can imagine, it’s a treasure trove for someone who loves shells and other natural artefacts. On this trip it wasn’t long before my pockets were rattling with lots of tiny mother-of-pearl snail shells.

I was talking to friends recently about bad habits in people who are passionate about conservation. One of my friends, a vegan, admitted he uses too many plastic bags. One of my bad habits is shell collecting, something which seems harmless enough but the removal of shells by hundreds of people collectively can make a substantial impact on wildlife habitats (homeless hermit crabs, for instance).

My other bad habit, in case you were wondering, is using glitter with abandon. It’s well recognised as a troublesome microplastic within the marine conservation community but I hope that I do enough other good deeds to offset a little sparkle now and again…

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

I’m not sure what to do with my haul yet. When I lived in Spain over the summer I made a shell crown with the ones I found there (many of you will recognise it from my Facebook/Twitter avatars). Maybe I’ll make a British or a Skye version. The lustre of the white shells against the indigo of a mussel shell could look quite striking…

Colourful sands and seaweeds

Colourful sands and seaweeds

One of the more remarkable things about Skye is that the colours here seem to be pumped up. It’s like everything has been slightly over-saturated by a real-life photo editor. I don’t know whether it’s the light, if it’s just that I’m looking harder, or even if I’m just high on the extra oxygen in the air up here!
The photo above is just some sand and seaweed but the colours struck me as I picked my way through the rocks. Not just the varied shades and colour but also the textures too. I can see why it’s an artist’s paradise up here.

Swirling sea grass

Swirling sea grass, mesmerising in the lapping of the waves

One of the most beautiful things about coral beach is that there’s so much to look at here. There are birds to listen to, rockpools to peer into, seaweed to pick through…
So many tiny things that you only notice if you take the time to look.

NOTE: I hope that no-one will mind me going a bit soppy with some tinpot philosophising here… The thing is that our experiences are so intertwined with our feelings at the time that it doesn’t make sense to just write factual points and leave out everything else.

I realised as I was picking my way through the debris of the high tide line that I was smiling to myself (I naturally settle into a frown so this isn’t a common thing). I couldn’t be happier. Just wandering about, finding things, having time to breathe in the fresh air.
This isn’t exactly an unconscious thing. Over the last few years I’ve taught myself to start noticing little things and to find joy from them. I think it started after the break-up of a long-term relationship where I had the chance to find my own character and interests again.
I’ve learnt to find joy especially in things that occur naturally (which is probably tied in to why I’m so ferociously protective over the environment). It’s almost like trying to go back to a childlike state where you find awe and wonder in all these new things. It might be natural like an iridescent beetle landing on your hand or it might be people-related, like sharing a hello with the old lady in the post office, that kind of stuff.
But it’s an incredible thing because when you start getting enjoyment from the small things in life it increases the amount of happiness you experience every day. That’s pretty incredible. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Water above and below

Water above and below. Rubbish weather in beautiful colours

Unfortunately all the internal sunshine in the world can’t affect the real weather and all of a sudden the wind picked up and the skies got dark. Time to head home.

A faceful of wind and rain!

A wind and rain selfie!

Again with the colours!
As I passed the pebble beach I couldn’t help but take a snap of the stripes made by the red seaweed against the black rock and the blue sea against the tweedy-coloured shoreline.

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

It wasn’t a long walk back to the car, maybe about 20 mins, but by the time I got there I might have well been swimming. I’d forgotten that when Skye does rain it REALLY does rain, like one of those rainforest showers.

When I reached the car park I had to literally squeeze the water off my legs and empty my wellies. A Chinese family in the people carrier next to me gave me apologetic smiles as they watched me flailing around ineffectively. Eventually I gave up trying to get drier and slopped into the car. I made the sound that wet washing does if you drop it when getting it out to dry. I didn’t care, I was still smiling.

You had one job, wellies!

You had one job, wellies!