Around 25 years ago, I started leading a New Year’s Walk. Initially it was for a small group of friends, brought together by shared experiences on expedition with Operation Raleigh, but it has grown to encompass so many more. Adventurers from over 25 years of international travel, family, fellow speakers, school friends, neighbours, friends of friends etc. all turn up to walk, eat, drink and talk. I have never run the event as a route march, because to me, this is much more than a walk. It’s an important occasion for people to meet socially and enjoy a day in the hills.
We’ve all heard of Social Networking, but there is also Netwalking. Here, people in business walk together to discuss opportunities and talk shop. It’s not really mu cup of tea. When you’re in the outdoors, you should clear your mind from the stresses of work, and embrace nature, fresh air and friendship. People work long and testing hours, and many suffer mental issues along the way. The outdoors have been proven as one of the best remedies to this unnecessary strain. I’ve been saved more than once by an empty hillside acting as a mental sponge. Life is more important than pleasing the boss, so get outside and breathe the air..!
Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I love the outdoors and have swathes of field, moor and mountain within easy reach of my home. I also enjoy the organising, which to many, seems all too much. It’s a wonderful excuse to get outside and carry out extensive pub testing. I always have a pub stop, halfway round the walk, and in 25 years I’ve never used the same pub twice. I find this a great place for casual and open conversation. You might be surprised to know how hard it is to find a decent pub in the Derbyshire countryside who will accept 30+ walkers in boots, with dogs, who wish to eat. I’ve been turned away more times than I can remember, but also welcomed with open arms. I walk every route beforehand, ensuring the day is enjoyable and achievable (if at times a little muddy). All this work is preparation – something we need to do every day in our lives. I wonder how many people would lead a group on an overseas trip, without a reconnaissance..? Cutting edge expedition work is one thing, but what many people see as an amazing experience into the unknown, is often a trail blazed many times before, and well-tested.
It’s easy to get distracted by work and family life, but I find the best families use the outdoors as a wonderful place for fitness, education and something very wonderful indeed – opening eyes. The benefit youngsters receive from being outside is immeasurable. Being close to nature helps children learn important life lessons, and allows them an escape from the digital world. As a child I suffered catarrh. My mum took me to the doctor who prescribed the best medicine when he said “Get him outside Mrs Vardy..!” Fresh air did more for me than all the drugs in the world. Perhaps this is why I have always preferred being outside than in. I grew out of my coughing at 21 (or so the Doctor said), and I’ve never looked back.
Losing my toes made a huge difference to my walking life. You need a great deal of patience to allow a full recovery of your feet, before you head outside. It’s so tempting to go too far, to early, but I’ve paced myself over the years. My feet still ache, they still bleed and they still need medical care, but I’m not stopping. At times I need company, at times I need solitude, but the hills allow such beauty to enter my soul.
I’m not a man for New Year’s resolutions. Already I can see swathes of gym memberships going to waste, diets on hold and running shoes gaining dust. I don’t need a watch, app or SATNAV to tell me how many calories I’ve burned or steps I’ve taken. I’ll just keep walking…