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Over the Horizon…


The quest to see what is ‘Over the Horizon’ has intrigued man for millennia.  The desire to explore the world has led to much of it being extensively mapped, with people like Magellan, Carstensz and Cook being fine examples, but for centuries, the physical horizon was as far as we could see.  For example, if you are 5’7” it would be just under 3 miles, whereas from the summit of Everest you can see over 200.  This is why for centuries man has sought high ground.  Defences always needed long distance views to see an enemy coming, and explorers want the best viewpoint into the unknown that they can get.  This fact remained unchanged until the onset of the Telegraph and the Radio.  Suddenly you didn’t need a semaphore or signal fires to communicate over distance.  Within years, messages could be sent around the world, pushing the horizon far from view.  But there is another horizon – limit of a person’s knowledge, experience or interest.

Since I was a child I have quested to look over the horizon.  I wanted to see what was around the corner, why things worked the way they did, where in the world things were and when things happened.  My mother would never buy me new toy cars, because I spent all my time taking them apart, to find how they were constructed or worked.  I was forever taking things to pieces and have to thank my parents for their interest in DIY, which allowed me to enquire, build and create.  Not everything works first time, but by trial, error and experience, we can open our eyes to our creative styles.

During my education I went to a very progressive secondary school.  Belper High School (sounds posh, but believe me it wasn’t), had Outdoor Pursuits (OP) as part of the curriculum.  Here we would go abseiling, pot holing, climbing, canoeing and sailing in the school day to expand our horizons.  We would get wet, filthy and cold, all in the name of education and it was wonderful.  It opened hundreds of teenagers eyes to a world of fear, learning, screaming and laughing.

To be able to open the eyes of a child is magical, but to go through life remembering what that magic felt like, is imperative.  To feel the wonder of the first buds of spring, the returning of migrating birds, and beautiful sunrise or sunset, are some of the things which have inspired me for many years.  This became particularly apparent when I could walk again after suffering frostbite, back in 1999.  During the spring of 2000, I gained more ability to walk and ventured into the woodlands of my childhood to see the beautiful bluebells.  20 years before I had played ‘War’ with my friends, firing toy guns, and falling to the ground mortally wounded, before heading home for tea and buns.  Some in this age of political correctness might find my childhood offensive, but we were boys and we acted like boys.  We ran around, screamed and shouted, got covered in nettle stings and splattered in dirt.  Years later I lay surrounded by bluebells in full flower.  My sense of smell had been badly damaged, but their scent was enough to bring back those childhood days.  The wind whistled through the trees as woodpeckers rattled away at their woodwork, and a solitary hare bounded by.  It was enough to bring me to tears, and I have returned every year without fail, to look through the eyes of my childhood again.

Many people know me for my international exploits, but I travel and adventure in the UK too.  I love scrambling in Wales, canoeing in Scotland and wandering around in my VW Camper.  You don’t need to head off to the Andes or Himalayas to have a great adventure.  Cooking mussels in a beach fire on the Highland coast is a beautiful and peaceful experience, as is staring down the hills of my native Derbyshire.  We can experience as many horizons, and perhaps more in our own country, but many choose to dismiss them in favour of a Base Camp Trek or the like.

The benefit of looking over the horizon is the knowledge that you gain.  Frostbite is a terrible in jury, but last year in Nepal, my previous experience allowed me to make the right choice, at the right time.  I retreated from Himlung with a foot frighteningly cold.  Experience had taught me when to stop and understand that discretion really is the better part of valour.  I have no regrets for heading home…

Many mountaineers climb to stand on the summit for dawn.  It is a moment of rebirth and reward, before the inevitable journey home.  This horizon can be seen as the start of life, just as a sunset can be seen as the end.  I’ve always thought that time is irrelevant, provided the sun rises, and then sets.  The first day this doesn’t happen, we’ll have more that timekeeping to worry about..!  One day, we will all look into that final sunset, and hopefully we will be able to reflect on a life lived to the full, with family and friends, wonderful experiences and knowledge passed onto the next generation.  Our bodies may be old, but I hope that we can still look through the eyes of a child…

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