Tag : adventure

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An Appeal for Patience

7th February 2021 update: The general advice in the below article is even more relevant than before. The incredibly sad situation resulting from a rescue attempt in the lake district (where a rescuer trying to reach a two campers in a storm has fallen, suffering life changing injuries), should serve a message that to engage in any unnecessarily risky activity just now could put more than just your life at risk. Not only do you pose the risk of infecting others with Covid-19, the risk to rescue teams still remains. Purely from public information, the two men have travelled over 100 miles to camp on a mountain top during a storm. Driving such a distance is illegal. Camping is not essential exercise (it’s sleeping). Overnight stays are illegal. Please please please, follow the rules, like them or not, they are essential for many.

This was an article I didn’t think was necessary. I started writing it during the heat of Lockdown 3 when people were testing the extent of the restrictions and the law. I started to wonder however whether people would be unable to resist the temptation to travel, spurred on by phenomenal snow conditions in Scotland, and the inability to travel abroad.
And alas, it has started with national news of a mountain rescue on Ben Nevis, with the victims 100 miles from home.

So my plea remains: patience.

Whilst 2020 was the year of unrivalled doom and misery for many people, it was also a year of firsts which seemed to somehow cushion the overwhelming blow of a global pandemic. The pandemic was only just underway, already with spiralling deaths and Covid-19 test kits from the health secretary’s ex-neighbour who runs a pub, however in the early stages, Covid-19 didn’t directly affect too many people. During this time, there was a paradigm shift in lifestyle and work-life balance for many people. Sure, Trump was still unfathomably at the helm, but no one had started started an insurrection to wrestle democracy from the people, yet.

It has surely not escaped anyone’s notice however, that 2021 is actively trying to wrestle the ‘worst year in a generation’ title from its predecessor.

We in the UK, remain in various stages of lockdown, retain the title for highest Covid deaths in Europe, and have all but relinquished our sanity by ending free movement across Europe for all but the lucky dual citizens. This truly is shaping up to be some year.

With so much going on in the world and very little in the way of positivity, it’s all too easy to give in to despair, disregard the ‘rules’ (we’ll touch on those shortly) and try to carry on as before. Ten months of lockdown in 2020 felt like the limit for many people, particularly when our Dear Leader had promised in no uncertain terms that Christmas would be saved. We all know how that ended.

My plea therefore is not to totally disregard our woefully incompetent government, but to continue doing the right thing, which is to listen to our medical leaders, the people who have spent their entire lives trying to understand what impact a pandemic would have on the population, and the people best placed to end the misery. Sadly, this simply means staying at home, taking some daily exercise if you can, and otherwise only leaving home for essentials such as food shopping and work.

Of course, one could have many grievances with how our government has handled this crisis. Indeed, in the time it’s taken me to write this, the UK has moved from ‘highest death toll in Europe’, to ‘highest death toll in the world. But in an effort to be specific, I focus upon the government’s lack of clarity which has led to much bending, uncertainty and breaking of the rules.

In France, much of lockdown has been characterised by the requirement for citizens to remain within 1km of their home, unless for exceptional reasons. Until recently, England’s lockdown rules were loose at best, and even now, the guidance is to generally stay ‘within your local area’.

What does this mean? If you live in Oxford, can you travel within Oxfordshire for exercise? Oxfordshire, a relatively small county, is 1,006 square miles.

Clearly, with such limited guidance from the government, and the ease in which the rules can be bent to meet our own interpretation, the key is to use common sense. Travelling from Hertfordshire to the Brecon Beacons, a journey of around 4 hours by car, is something that many would consider outside these rules, yet police have turned away drivers doing just that: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/29/police-in-brecon-beacons-turn-away-visitors-breaching-covid-restrictions

Whilst the Home Secretary Priti Patel might continue to defend her governments watertight rules, the reality is that many people are desperate to ‘escape’ what they see as home imprisonment, with particular reference to the Cummings Effect.

In essence, a popular view is that the government lost all moral authority to enforce a national lockdown when it failed to prosecute, or even reprimand the PM’s chief advisor when he admitted to breaking both national lockdown rules and the highway code on live TV.

And so this is the entire point of this article. To plead with those who are desperate to seek adventure, not to travel cross country, to do anything excessively dangerous, or to exercise beyond a few miles from your home, unless you clearly cannot. Unfortunately, the government has given you a perfectly reasonable excuse for bending the rules, but it’s in everyone’s interest to assess the morality of each trip we take.

So my plea for you is to look at the bigger picture, and be patient in these worrying and unsettling times, regardless of your views on the lockdown or the pandemic itself.

Why? Because any unnecessary travel puts lives unnecessarily at risk.

If you need an example of how a disease with only a 1% mortality rate can thwart an entire country, take a look at this excellent breakdown:

For us adventurous types in the UK, my appeal is to allow the health service to deal with the existing Covid-19 cases without adding to the statistics. This means avoiding all sources of Covid-19 at all costs, and equally importantly, making no unnecessary journeys. In 2019, there were 157,630 RTA’s, each one potentially adding to the burden of the NHS who are already at breaking point. Quite simply, Covid-19 is gradually bringing our healthcare system to its knees, so adding another inpatient to A&E due to a silly accident on your 2 hour drive to conquer a Welsh 3000’er in the winter is beyond immoral. Yet this keeps happening, with people marching to the mountains, and joining herds of other folk at the slightest drop of snow.

One thing people seem to forget is that none of the rescue services, from fire to mountain, are likely to have had their Covid vaccine yet, and so they share the same susceptibility as the people they are trying to rescue.

I am lucky. The readers of this blog are sensible, astute and possess an accurately dialled moral compass. Sadly, from various news articles, it is clear that not everyone follows the same wisdom as you, and so I urge you to educate others, and very politely call out those who are recklessly putting lives at risk for a few hours of guilty pleasure, if that guilty pleasure doesn’t start and end within a few miles of the home.

Something which the government has tried and failed to do, is to ensure everyone understands that we are in this together. Until the virus is under control, we will keep seeing lockdown after lockdown, and deaths continue to unnecessarily mount.

Why am I writing this? I don’t have any urge to call the police at the slightest hint my neighbours are packing for an adventure, but I do feel a responsibility as a lover of the UK outdoors, and outdoors in general.
As an OS ambassador, it’s my role to encourage people to Get Outside, yet that now comes with a socially distanced caveat for the time being.

Fortunately OS is doing a great job of managing the fine balance between getting people outside safely to keep everyone in tip-top mental health, but also encouraging people to stay local. If you don’t already use OS maps on your phone, I highly recommend you give them a go for just £1 for a month of OS Maps Online.

I take no pleasure in advising others to curtail their plans for now. Having had multiple trips, both for work and pleasure, cancelled due to the pandemic, I’m as eager as the next person to venture back out to the mountains, but I also acknowledge that my time for doing this hasn’t yet arrived. I don’t live a walkable distance from the big mountains, so for me it’s clear, I’ll keep sitting this one out, let the locals from Snowdonia, Cumbria and the Highlands enjoy some quiet time in the mountains, and wait until my unessential travel falls within the spirit of the law.

This is tough, I think once we realised that Christmas wasn’t “saved”, and the virus was starting to become uncontrollable in December 2020, most people knew that at least the start of 2021 would be especially difficult.
This is the perfect time to make plans for the summer, when it looks like the vaccine may give us an easing in the restrictions. It’s equally the perfect time to continue self-improvements, whether that is to start using OS Maps to plan new routes through familiar countryside, or to implement an effective nationwide track and trace system that you somehow failed to do in the first two lockdowns. (At least we now have airport testing 10 months into the pandemic..!)

To wrap this up, thank you to all of you who are doing your bit, sacrificing your winter travel plans in order that we may get through the next few months whilst not quite reaching worst case scenario.

As we well know, the mountains, our passions and pursuits will always be there when we emerge, but sadly many people will not get to enjoy that much deserved freedom. The death toll is a truly overwhelming number, 106,000 people in the UK at the time of writing. To put that into perspective, it’s 1.3 times the capacity of the London Olympic Stadium. A truly saddening reality that only gets worse with each daily update.

Perhaps the next time you’re out for a socially distanced, very local walk, take a moment to reflect on the reality of Covid in the UK, but also take comfort that your temporary avoidance of public places and all things social may limit the impact of this awful disease, so more can continue to enjoy our outdoor spaces, our mountains, parks and gardens, in the future.

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An Unadventurous Adventure

Here is something a little different, and perhaps a touch more accessible than my usual posts. On the 30th June 2018, people all across the UK had a wild night out (https://www.wildnightout.org/). This is my story of our unadventurous adventure.

With a busy few weeks scheduled between the European Alps and the Scottish Highlands, I didn’t have much time to plan a ‘proper’ adventure. But I still wanted to be part of the Wild Night Out for 2018, so with the constraints of time, we made the best of it and had one of the smallest adventures it’s possible to have in the UK! Hence, for those who are yet to sleep out in the ‘wild’ but would love the challenge to be in manageable territory, this might just be the inspiration for you.

On our journey, we headed for Newbury and then into the North Wessex Downs to a village called Fosbury. This area is full of charming quintessential English hamlets. Fosbury and Vernham Dean are the main places that the SatNav will recognise, but the actual start of the adventure is from Conholt Hill, 1.5km south of Fosbury. The map below shows all you need to know to start your adventure in the right place.

Ordnance Survey map of Fosbury Fort route

Driving along the Conholt Hill road from Fosbury for 100m, you come to a house (on the right), and an obvious parking place on the left (the rightmost purple dot on the map). One of the best features of this walk is that you park in Berkshire, but as soon as you start your adventure, you cross into Wiltshire, and so have conquered a county boarder after only a few steps!

From here the fun starts. Taking the very non-obvious footpath on the right hand side of the house, you start down a narrow track with a beautiful cottage and greenhouse to the right. The path narrows further as you walk beside a wall, and then 2 minutes after leaving the car, you emerge into wide open fields of *whatever the farmer has growing this year*. Whatever it is though, the vistas are stunning.

The entrance to the adventureThe cottage with the greenhouse

From here, the walk is simple; you trek up for 15 minutes via an obvious footpath with a forest on the right and fields to the left. After 15 minutes, you will reach your first, and only, navigational challenge. The forest bends around to the left, and there is a footpath either straight through the trees in front of you, or around to the left. Turn left, keeping the trees on your right and the top of the field on your left.

Fields of cornStunning skies and fields to Fosbury Fort

Five more minutes takes you to a very slight right hand turn, as the path (very obviously) takes you through a small leafy section of the forest. This path ends with a stile, and on crossing this, you enter the fields of Knolls Down, once home of Fosbury Fort. And this is your home for the evening!

The forest to the fortThe stile to Fosbury FortThe view back down from the forest

There is a little more climbing to get to the actual site of the fort, with a moat or two to be crossed, but these grassy fields are the perfect setting for a microadventure and really worth exploring. There is a main footpath running south down the middle of the fort, but this is easily avoided, and the slopes to the east away from the path give a great vantage point over the surrounding countryside. The area really is very wide and open, allowing you to explore the best place to lay down for the evening.

This Hill to Fosbury FortThe Fosbury Fort Moat

Thanks to some logistical challenges, our own exploration extended to finding the most suitable tree to sleep under. Thankfully these come very soon after reaching the fort, and the flat Serengeti style trees give great cover whilst still giving a superb view from your million start hotel.

Doing things a little differently

As for our little adventure, we didn’t manage to set out from the car until just after 10pm, meaning despite the full moon and general scorching summer temperatures, the relative darkness still made finding somewhere to sleep a challenge. We only had our iPhone torches for both the map (OS Mapping), and for lighting, but this only goes further to prove really anyone can take part in such an adventure.

We took one rucksack each and even though we we’re only 20 minutes downhill to the car, we had enough kit to make our stay as pleasant as possible. My bag contained one bivi bag, one very light sleeping bag, a sleeping mat,a makeshift basha, a bottle of water, and some snacks (obviously). Clearly there wouldn’t be much time for snacking in the evening, so we wandered up by the side of the forest, following the arrow on the map; all very easy stuff that even the least outdoor-literate person could achieve. On finding a perfect little tree, we set up camp (a 2 minute job at most if you have a bivi bag), and then settled down for the night with a log and my rucksack for a pillow.

After a completely uneventful night of a bliss 14 degrees, we awoke to yet another round of glorious sunshine and stunning views to keep us company whilst eating mini pain au chocolats and some cinnamon rolls; an altogether perfect antidote to a stressful week in the city.

Our camp, makeshift basha, bivi bags and viewThe view from our treetopThe microadventure view

And then we left without a trace, spending 30 minutes to trundle back to the car, soaking up the sunshine and getting down with nature. Perhaps the best part is since it starts getting light at 4am, you can lounge around in the morning, have a lazy breakfast, head back to the car and be back at home well in time for a second breakfast (and most of the countries first).

A few hours later, we were back on the bikes, soaking up the remainder of a glorious summers day. #bliss

A room with a view, microadventure, tree, bivi

*Regular updates of speed flying madness will resume in the next blog

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Why I Really Love To Run

I love sequels. I really love writing them. I haven’t yet found any reason to write a sequel to my book, but I definitely want to write a sequel to my last blog: Why I Love to Run. It was, well, a blog about running, why I love it and how simple it is to be precise. For this iteration however, I want to talk about on of the tools I use to get outside and make my experience much easier and far more rewarding, running facilitation, if you will. I’m mainly talking about Ordnance Survey’s mapping tool, which up until 2018 wasn’t something I was even aware of, let alone used. And that’s because I didn’t. I was quite happy going to Bing maps, selecting the region, and then changing the overlay to OS maps, which provided free mapping for the entire UK. Whilst this was a blissfully cheap way to access mapping, there are 3 downsides:

  1. Printing is just bad for the environment. The maps are poor quality, fragile, and even if you laminate, just not that effective. They’ll probably get wet, and then you don’t have a map.
  2. Accessing the maps on Bing prevents you from actually using mapping features such as plotting routes and getting a handle on how far and how high you’re going.
  3. The OS app, when used correctly (particularly when saving your key maps offline) is the perfect tool to finding out your actual location (so long as your phone GPS actually works.

This is one further downside which is the eventual end to the OS map availability on Bing Maps which is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for free online viewing.


Running Facilitation

So how can you facilitate your running? Running facilitation to me is all about making running easier, so you wake up, look at the bright sunshine (general drizzle if you live further north than Matlock?) put on your running shoes and go. Clearly you need to put on other clothes, maybe have a pre-run drink and a little warm-up, but you get the idea. I’m an online user. I like apps and devices that make life that little bit easier, because generally it means more time for fun and less faffing. So I use Strava and Garmin Connect, but in reality, these platforms, like TrainingPeaks, are there to track the activities you’ve already done. This is why I’ve quickly incorporated the OS mapping platform, particularly for my running needs.

For me, it’s the ability to quickly plot a route, with actually useful features such as snapping a route to a footpath/right of way (when in a National Park), and then having the option to either export this route, or simply use that most powerful of computing devices, my brain. When training, adding a bit of mental stress, such as actually remembering a route rather than just following a screen is incredibly beneficial, so I regularly create new routes, put my phone in my pocket, and then run by memory, only checking my location when at a crossroads (or when completely and utterly lost in the hill fog when high up on Pillar…).


A Surprising Feature

There is one added benefit to the OS mapping platform which I truly didn’t expect. It’s the ability to actually find out what’s on your doorstep. I’ve had easy access to Bing Maps for many years, but with a smart phone often making life much simpler, I’m now much more likely to get outside and instead of going on my usual route, taking out my phone and finding a new route right from the house. I’ve run on so many tracks recently which I’ve previously just run straight past because I didn’t know they existed, or how conveniently located they were.

A secondary feature which has some interesting applications is the ability to view your route in 3D; as I mentioned in a previous blog, this is very much a virtual agony prior to actually agonising over your route when you come to run it.


The GetOutside Mission

Part of the mission and vision of GetOutside is to make it much easier for the public to explore footpaths close to where they live, be that for running, or simply walking the dog. When you look at the availability of footpaths and bridleways, even in a city such as Birmingham, there are a surprising number which crisscross the urban landscape and provide great routes for getting outside.

I’m lucky enough to live in a relatively rural setting but only 5 miles from a city. This is great for weekend runs, but to my surprise, I have even found a running route to work which is in the centre of the city. Footpaths go almost unnoticed, especially in urban areas, but they really do provide a great method of routing through even the busiest areas.

In my previous blog, I talked about simplicity being the greatest asset to running. You simply put on your clothes and go. This is great if you know the area, but if you want to know what’s beyond your mind’s eye, utilise Ordnance Survey maps and find out what is truly on your doorstep, you may be quite surprised.



For those new to running, take a look at the maps surrounding where you live and look for the green lines which designate footpaths on a 1:25k scale map (on a 1:50k scale, the footpaths are red). Plot a route of between 4km and 8km depending on how ambitious you are, and then go for it. Take your phone, a Garmin, a print out, or even just a doodle on a piece of paper if you have none of the above, showing the important directions. If you can record your route and upload it back onto the site or a host such as Strava, you can much more easily tack your progress and then find new routes to try out next time. Don’t be stuck in a rut because the only route you know is the endless canal which forces you to spend hours of your week running along the same stretch of water. Use the tools, get excited by new routes, and then get out there and make the most of what we have here in the UK.

And just in case you’re super sceptical about finding a route because you live in a city, here are just a small sample of footpaths, highlighted purple, in the centre of deepest darkest London:

OS Map Running London

What’s your excuse?!

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Why I Love to Run

If you had asked me a two years ago whether I liked to run, I would have probably remarked that running is the activity you only do when you’re being chased. I did adventure running for two years in the build up to climbing Everest in 2012, but I still retain the ‘being chased’ quip. Perhaps this is some overly complex Orwellian metaphor about me wanting to run away from something in my past… I digress.

The point is, up until 2017, running wasn’t something I did. Running has always previously been something I would do in desperation, either to get fit for a big mountain, or to pass a fitness test, but running has never previously been something I did purely for the love; for ‘that’ enjoyment feeling all actual runners seem to get.

But I wasn’t unfit. Far from it, I used to relish in getting up at ungodly hours on a Saturday and Sunday to sit on a hard saddle for 100 miles with the local chain gang or middle-aged-men-in-lycra-gang. I raced for road racing teams in Scotland, and generally had a pretty enjoyable time of trying to keep pace with the back of the peloton, occasionally daring to venture to the front just to see what all the fuss was about before quickly deciding it didn’t seem like the place for me.

In all my years of keeping road cycling as my main training tool, I racked up countless miles. Well, actually according to Strava, it’s not quite as countless as I’d like it to be, but still, I was putting in the miles, 200 each week on a good summer, perhaps 250 if I was feeling overly strong. Not bad considering I used to work for 5 days out of 7 with a driving commute. But over all those miles, I started to feel weak. I started to feel like something was missing from my physicality, that I wasn’t quite as strong as I had once been. Perhaps pro road cyclists also get this feeling, but whilst my legs were strong with an FTP of around 5W/KG, I started to feel like a strong breeze could blow me over at any minute. And indeed they often did whilst topping out from winter climbs onto the Cairngorm plateau.

So I gradually petered down my cycling, and in the winter, started to get some running miles back under my belt. I gradually built up the miles and started to relish running up my local hill, just to get out there, simply to complete another run. I guess that’s how my buzz for cycling started. Strava made getting out fun, you could record your rides and like no social platform before it, actually track your progress against friends, locals, unknowns, and importantly yourself. This is the buzz I seemed to find again on taking up running, as an actual runner. I started to eagerly upload my route, not because I wanted to be the leader of any segments, but just to see where I had been on an actual map with distances put into grid-like perspective; a very simple pleasure.

As I got stronger, I started to run further, explore my area, and eventually started to do some more mountain runs, just like I had done before Everest, but this time with an even bigger and much longer lasting purpose than a single event. I was doing this for enjoyment. So why do I love to run? I only realised why I now love running so much quite recently. The past year has been an exploration for me; other runners will have their own reasons, but as I have become busier, with more goals and life targets, and the ceiling for what I feel like I can achieve continually moving higher as I achieve my goals, I realise the reason I love to run is for the opposite of all those things. It’s for the simplicity.

Even before going out on a bike ride, you need all your equipment, you probably need some nutrition to fuel your ride, particularly as rides over the winter months need to last upwards of 3 hours. If you didn’t do it the night before, you probably have a bit of maintenance to do, tyre pressures, oiling the chain, tightening the QR’s if you’ve driven out to a ride in the car. You then need to think about clothing; sure you’ll be exercising, but at the end of the day you’re sitting down so keeping warm is quite a priority, especially when the gritters start coming out and the horizontal rain turns positively slushy. You’re now ready, you get on your bike which surely totals over £5,000 when you’ve factored in frame, wheels and a power meter which no budding cyclist worth their road salt is found without. You’ve also got those bib shorts which somehow cost £120 on Wiggle, and that jersey that you magically picked up for £60 in a sale. Four hours later, you’ve burned the morning away and you’re now ready for a well-earned shower to thaw out those toes.

But running? I take out my £120 Inov8 shoes which I picked up on SportsPursuit for £60. I put on my clothes, perhaps £200 total when the compression socks, sunglasses and cheap Garmin are counted. I then stare around the room. Surely I need something else, I feel naked without a helmet, or some other form of protection. But no, there really is nothing else I need. I walk out the door, turn my watch on and start walking. I’m warm now, I start to run. I don’t need any nutrition, I only need to run for an hour, I run fast, I get warm, it’s mid-winter but I’m only running in a thin base layer and shorts. I’m home now, showered and stretched. It’s only two hours since I woke up and regardless of whether I intend to spend the next 12 hours jumping off mountains, making calls or laying prone on the sofa, I’m now ready for my day.

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But don’t get me wrong, I still love the bike…

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Flying Bannerdale Crags

Waking up early on a crisp April morning, we headed to Mungrisdale. The weather was calm, the wind was good. There were 4 Wainwrights to tick off and a flight of Bannerdale Crags’ easterly ridge, awaiting us through the unusual calm of a crisp spring morning. But would the weather hold for the 4 hour trip? The Lake District is notorious, both for its poor, generally non-flyable weather, and for it’s changeable conditions. You might wake up to glorious sunshine, but by the time you’ve packed your bags and spent an hour walking up the hill, the conditions change and you spend an impatient late morning sitting on the summit cairn in cloud waiting for the arrival of some blue sky and a hazy view of the landing zone. This is Lake District flying to me, countless days of carrying the wing to the top of the mountain only to carry it right back down again; too few days of airtime. Thank god for Swing’s light speed wings, and viva la Chamonix!

Bannerdale Crags OS Maps RoutwBannerdale Crags Flight Map Pan

So having used Ordnance Survey’s handy mapping programme (where you can virtually agonise over your route before actually agonising over it), we set off for our first Wainwright, Souther Fell, swiftly followed by Mungrisdale Common, then an even shorter hop across to Bannerdale Crags. I spied the easterly ridge which I was aiming to cruise down with the speed wing, but then we saw Bowscale fell on the horizon, another one to tick off the seemingly endless list. 139 down, 75 to go, we grumbled.

Bannderdale Crags East Ridge

The weather was set to be good all day, but I always remain sceptical until I’m running down the hill with my wing overhead, surrounded by blue skies. But amazingly, the weather had held. As those local to the Lake District know, this simply doesn’t happen. There must always be a period in Cumbria during each 24 hours where precipitation must be seen to fall, where the waters must be topped up, but not this day it seemed. Today was one of those rare days where the weather just got better, the wind got lighter, and on standing at the top of Bannerdale Crags in the early afternoon having essentially summited it twice within the hour, I was left with only the descent.

It’s quite hard to sum up what it feels like, having spent hours wandering round the fells, getting higher and higher until you’re finally in a position to fly. When you eventually get to the launch site, a small sense of euphoria comes over you, the sense that you made it to the good part, that it’s now time to say goodbye to the mountain tops and speed down with the long grass brushing against your legs as you hurdle past knolls and rocky intersections at well over 50mph.

So the flight itself? Well it wasn’t fully mind blowing, just a do-or-die launch, a rapid descent to cruise the ridge, followed by some carving turns down the face. The Lake District isn’t big, but when it delivers, you can’t fail to land amongst the sheep and heather with a big smile and a heart of adrenaline.

Video permalink: Ridge Speed Flying Line


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Getting Outside More

This post forms part 2 of my #GetOutside blog posts for early 2018. If you haven’t read the first one, you can do so using the link here.

If you’ve already read part 1 of this article, you’ll know that Ordnance Survey are continuing their GetOutside programme which has the simple overriding aim of increasing public participation in the outdoors. This is facilitated via increasing awareness of the tools already in existence, such as the country network of footpaths and bridleways, often starting only metres from home, and also education of the public, such as how to use a map to take you from local paths to mountain routes. The GetOutside ambassador scheme which I’m fortunate enough to be a part of is one way of disseminating this information and helping OS achieve it’s participation goals.

As previously discussed, the main group targeted by OS, and many other government backed organisations is the sedentary group. With over 20 million members across the UK at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, amongst many other ailments, this group of chronic inactivity is not a group you want to be active in…

So why does a physically inactive person remain that way? Of course, some prefer a sedentary lifestyle, but the data shows that most inactive individuals wish they were able to increase their activity levels, and crucially maintain that level throughout their life. Here are the five factors of chronic inactivity:

  1. Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.
  2. Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.
  3. Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.
  4. You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).
  5. Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.

os150000One of the largest culprits for individuals not being active outside is simply not knowing how to. You, being a sporty outdoors kind of guy or gal can look out your door and fine a microadventure close to your house. You probably even know how to read a map such as the one above (although over 60% of the UK population are unable to read maps). You may think therefore that getting outside is a simple case of finding the right map, locating your position, and then sticking to the nearest footpath. You probably then also take these skills for granted. How so? Well, because to the majority of the population, the image above is scary. It turns what they can see with their own eyes into a series of concentric rings, red blue and yellow lines, and the occasional funny symbol which seems to indicate the sale of half caravan-half teepee (or CarPee for short) somewhere over the white land. To you however, the above is a method of getting away from it all, because you know if you scramble up to 433198, you’ll probably get a good view of Ullswater on that rare occasion where the cloud is above 400m. To indicate my point, have a look at the chart below, and see if you can navigate around.

SkyVector__Flight_Planning___Aeronautical_Charts-4There really isn’t too much difference from the OS map. This chart still shows a plan view of the world, yet unless you’re a pilot, you will almost certainly lack the skills to make full use of this data.

So whilst you’re frustrated about the lack of ability in identifying the B class airspace above Los Angles, spare a thought for the UK’s 60% who are still struggling with the simple version.

The next point is why. Why bother getting outside? Do you even need to go outside? Probably not is the answer if you’re talking purely physiologically, however for maintenance of good mental health, getting outside is a key aspect. For most of us, 90% of time is spent indoors, maybe even more if your only time outside is from the house to the car, and from the car into the front door at work. We spend our days confined in boxes which whilst entirely survivable, is often not the most enjoyable way to spend time. The people discussed here are sedentary, and so are unlikely to stick to a rigorous gym programme which is often so demoralising. The key for this group is simply to walk outside, getting your foot on the first rung of the exercise ladder, often scary, but always a worthwhile prospect for those previously confined to the bed-sofa-office chair-sofa-bed.

Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.

Climbing Everest is a (really) big walk. It’s huge. It’s not often you go for a walking holiday for 10 weeks and gain almost 15,000m vertical height (in terms of cumulative total). But after all that, Everest is still just a walk. If you’ve climbed it twice, three times, ten times, you’ve enjoyed the big walk, just multiple times. Your climb of Everest (or any other mountain) actually only matters to you. No one else cares, or should care, UNLESS it inspires them to take their own challenge. In simple terms, the sedentary population by and large don’t care about the next big feat on Everest, because it is both meaningless to them, and instead of being inspiring, is oftentimes demoralising. Trying to pluck up the courage just to take one piece of exercise a week and avoid getting lost or feeling insecure outside is not going to be assisted by the knowledge that some young kid has just soloed up the Lhotse Face. For the sedentary person, this is not something they will ever consider in their grasp, it’s just too far from what they’re currently trying to do. Sure, one day that 0.01% will achieve the extraordinary, but the key with GetOutside is to help sedentary and low activity individuals achieve the ordinary – and then to define ordinary as meeting the minimum guidelines for activity, and also feeling confident to venture outside.

So the message here: definitely share tales of grandeur, it’s cool, and you will inspire people. But to inspire the inactive, you have to share grass routes experiences for inspiration, not a slideshow of the latest and greatest on the Nordwand.

Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.

You know the drill, you set yourself a big challenge for New Year, perhaps 100 push-ups every day for 30 days because you saw that YouTube video. You said, how hard can that be? So you get to work, but then suddenly realise that you can’t do more than two pushups on the first day, the second is the same story, and by the third, your shoulders hurt so much that you quit. Judging by my demographics, most of the people reading this blog could tackle the push-up challenge. But for the sedentary population, even one push-up is a big goal. Here’s the spiral: you’re inactive, you set yourself a target of 1,000 steps, you can only manage 200. You give up after day 3, just like the push-up challenge, but this time when you quit, you feel depressed at the inability to do something most people take for granted. You become less healthy by not meeting your target of even a small amount of exercise, and sadly, the spiral continues downward.

There’s not much that an outsider can do here unless they’re the one prescribing the treatment. What can be learned however is the message that setting goals too big is not just a recipe for acute failure, but a potential cause of something much worse. Missed goals are a leading cause of spiralling, the concept where your performance keeps dropping simply because you keep missing unrealistic goals. If your goal was a 100mph tennis serve, a missed goal may be mildly distressing, but to miss the goal of 10 minutes of exercise each week is potentially catastrophic to a sedentary individual.

The SMART adage of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely is always one to bear in mind; even if you were taught it in year 7 at school, it’s definitely a school lesson with real world applications; (think subprime lenders and less than achievable loan repayments, circa 2008…).

You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).

My favourite piece of encouragement delivered my many super duper motivational speakers. How many times have you heard a speaker advising that a 9-5 is overrated, and subsequently recommending that you should pack it all in now whilst you still have the energy, and take up a life of glorious self-brand promotion on social media so you can spend half your time living in a London pad whilst spending the other half being whisked away to the alps to capture some groundbreaking footage on the newest unbreakable, unsinkable (we’ve heard that one before…), unstoppable action gizmo? I take the view that this really isn’t needed. There are a few problems with not working whilst in the 20-60 age group, not least because while you’re not at work, the rest of the world in your time zone almost certainly is. And equally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a weekend warrior either. As Mallory once famously quoted, you don’t live to go to work, you do exactly the opposite (going to work because it’s there..).

MatthewDThornton Tent

A Kenyan marathon runner has a strange training regime, they do 4 hours vertical (running), and 20 hours horizontal (resting) every day. That’s what it takes to be an Olympic champion, but if you finish work at 5, you can easily get a couple of hours exercise done in the evenings, and even some on the commute into work. The point is, if you’re economical with time, there’s usually ample opportunity to keep fit, whilst also earning money, spending time during the day with (hopefully) nice people, and even some time in the evening to see the family. Again, this comes down to unattainable goals. For many, retiring at 35 to live in a bachelor pad will never be attainable, but for most of the rest, they wouldn’t really want that anyway. Work provides among other things friends and money, which are the two key ingredients missing from the wooded shack. At retirement, the instances of loneliness dramatically increase as many people go from 45 years of 9-5 usually with guaranteed coworkers to absolutely nothing and potentially no one. A recent report suggested that loneliness is actually more deadly than obesity. And despite the old adage that you can’t buy happiness, the wiser I get, the more I find this simply not true. Money creates opportunity, and with that happiness. Of course, there is much debate here, but in answer of the original question, it is generally accepted that the poor use of free time is what cripples sedentary individuals into chronic inactivity rather than their choice of honest profession.

Just to touch on that money part one last time, I’d like to take a quote from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (an immensely thought provoking read), and suggest that it is actually the volume of money, not the money itself, which often instigates this bad reputation: “Beyond the satiation level of income, you can buy more pleasurable experiences, but you will lose some of your ability to enjoy the less expensive ones.”

Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

So what’s my take? If I had 50 cents, I would say plan for your happiness, which invariably means planning fun into your life. Do you need to plan fun? Of course! It’s useless going to the gym if you don’t take the time to plan how you’re going to come across all those gainz (physical adaptations of the muscular and cardiovascular system to a gradual increase in work intensity, to you and me). So when you reach the weekend, or the time you’re not spending at work, why would you not also take the time to plan how your time will be fun, enjoyable, or something you’d like to repeat again?

Focusing on the most vulnerable, sedentary group, it’s clear that to address the prior four points, the activity constituting exercise outside has to be enjoyable. The whole point of venturing outside, at the start at least, is to enjoy the experience, so it’s foolish to prescribe presently inactive individuals an outside activity which is anything less than judiciously satisfying. This group of individuals, all 20+ million of them, need to be shown that the outside is far more enjoyable than sitting at a computer all day and then watching TV in the evening. It’s a case of carefully constructing a goal which is obtainable with only a little effort, and then allowing that success to spiral (upward) into something bigger. The other point I want to make is that with a landscape such as the UK, whilst it is understandably very challenging for many to explore initially, there are so many sights, so many walks and so many rambles, that the sedentary population, including the 80% of UK children aged 11-15 who spend in excess of 4 hours looking at a screen per day, may actually be prised away, should the outdoor kingdom of the UK continue to be made more accessible to every generation.

I would like to end this post with a further quote from Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. [Simply] can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?”


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Getting Outside

It came as quite a shock to me when Ordnance Survey (OS) mailed the other week to say I was one of their #GetOutside ambassadors for the next couple of years. Whilst I would like to think I’ve walked enough country footpaths (I still hold the record for the fastest (mostly) foot powered return climb of Ben Alder), run up enough UK hills and flown back down them to justify the selection, I don’t particularly feel like an average outdoor-goer able to inspire walkers to get climbing, and climbers to get flying. But perhaps that’s exactly the point. For me, I feel like (to paraphrase the Weasley Twins) my skill set lies askew of the average rambler, in who’s domain, I don’t feel most comfortable (walking 100 miles doesn’t yet fall in my fun category). I do big mountains with small wings, that’s my forte. In fact, the same week I was told about my GetOutside inclusion, I was in the midst of launching my next big expedition; #RidingGiants, a project which I really hope is beyond the means of the average hill goer, if only because I’m finding it so difficult.

But then I sat and listened to the speeches at our recent OS GetOutside launch event, and I realised that the target person of GetOutside isn’t actually the average hill walker in the middle of the spectrum, they’re not even Mr/Mrs average who are yet to take up a sufficient amount of exercise. The target of GetOutside, in my mind at least, is actually an outlier, right at the far end of the activity scale. In a future post, I would like to talk a little about some OS online features which I’m now discovering make getting outside easier, but I’ll save that for another post. I think for now, it’s so important for me to explain the person at the wrong end of activity; why they are the focus of GetOutside, and why they are perpetually stuck at that end of the spectrum.

Ultimately, it boils down to 5 factors that the GetOutside programme can address (and I will address in the next article):

  1. Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.
  2. Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.
  3. Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.
  4. You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).
  5. Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

Before addressing point 1 in the next article, take a look at this continuum:

Continuum of Activity

Firstly to clarify, the target group of people for GetOutside is NOT the active group from ‘average hill walker’ onward.

Secondly, what I want to highlight is that there is an often forgotten step between sedentary and an ‘average hill walker’/generic active person. That person is the average human, and they are the most difficult to define. Mr and Mrs average in the UK get little over 6 hours of sleep per night, eat only 3 servings of fruit/vegetables per day, drink less than half the recommended amount of water, and critically, undertake an average of only 1.5 sessions of exercise per week.

This is a poor assessment compared to many EU countries, however the key is that this group does undertake some exercise, which leads me to believe that if they wanted to get outside, they probably would (with a little encouragement). This group however is only the secondary target of GetOutside because sadly, there are more than 20 million people in the UK who are classed as physically inactive. Twenty million! Even more staggering, almost half (47%) of the adult population in the North West of England are sedentary.

The BHF 2017 Inactivity Report stated that the impact of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles is estimated to cost the economy £1.2 billion a year. To put that in perspective, this figure would allow the government to build over 17,000 new social homes, catering for an estimated 42,000 people; each year. As with many things on a national scale, the financial implications of inactivity are striking, and are the reason why programmes like GetOutside are just so important.

There was one figure however, quite different from the above, which drove me to write this article, and the one that follows. It concerns life expectancy, specifically that millennial children and generation z children (born 1995-2012) have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This is the first time in modern history that such a trend has occurred, and to put this in perspective, life expectancy in Britain has fallen so much that a million years of life could disappear by 2058. The reasons for such a trend are multifarious, however much blame can be attributed to the increase in sedentary behaviour as technology and other factors enable more time to be spent physically inactive.

All these figures are truly staggering, however the underlying problems have, at least on the surface, simple fixes. Once simple mechanisms and a change of culture are brought about (no mean feat!), the rewards will be truly staggering, and have positive ramifications which reach far beyond the pretty white sandy shores of the UK.

In the next part of this article, I will be answering the five aforementioned factors which traditionally prevent people getting outside, particularly those from the sedentary population. In the meantime, please venture outside, do something active, and pay forward an act of kindness by taking along somebody who wouldn’t ordinary brave the outside elements.

Please click here for part two: Getting Outside, More!