I work in the financial services industry as a project manager and needed something very different to do to counterbalance what can be quite stressful times at work. Having enjoyed walking in my early twenties, but then let it lapse, I re-discovered it in 2005 when the IT department I worked in wanted to form a team to do the UK 3 Peaks Challenge. I threw myself into it, started accumulating lots of gear and subscriptions to Trail, Country Walking, TGO etc, and got into it so much that I’ve now twice taken extended breaks from work to spend more time walking.
The 3 Peaks was both a horrible experience and an uplifting one but laid the foundations for what I do today. Within a few months of doing it, my standard approach to dealing with stressful times at work was to escape to the hills, with the Lake District bearing the brunt of it.
In 2006, I started working my way through the list of Wainwrights, and in 2007 I started on the Nuttalls, running the two “projects” in parallel. At times, I’ve been very focussed on bagging these, but am now a lot more relaxed about it and try to see the lists now as merely a useful framework for planning my walking experiences. I do also keep track of how many Hewitts, Marilyns, Wainwright Outlying Fells etc. that I’ve done, although I currently have no definite plans to complete any of these other lists.
In 2008, I started walking the South West Coast Path. Although we started at one end of the path, it was very much only planned as a one-off at the time, but we’ve continued every year since and are now aiming to complete the path in around 10-11 years, walking a chunk of 4-7 days each year.
In 2011, I walked the Cumbria Way, my first long distance path in one go. I’m now completely sold on long-distance walking, and plan this to be the first of many, working up eventually, I hope, to the End to End.
Somewhere along the way I’ve also taken up watercolour painting and sketching, originally because I thought it would be good to capture the scenery in this way. I’ve struggled to find tuition that fits around my other activities and is aimed at the right level for me, and consequently, my progress has been slow and painting takes a pretty poor second to the actual walking. Gradually, though, my less embarrassing pictures will find their way onto my other blog, as well as being displayed on Paintmap.
I’ve found as I’ve gained experience and knowledge of the outdoors, that I’ve become a lot more independent, and usually plan my own routes from scratch rather than follow a route created by someone else. Indeed the route planning is a big part of the enjoyment. Gone too are the subscriptions to the leading outdoor magazines as I increasingly strike off on my own rather than follow the herd. Gear too is increasingly being bought from more niche sellers, rather than the big outdoor chains. You can blame me for the collapse of Blacks if you like – it’s a fair cop.
2012 turned out to be a big year for me, outdoors-wise. I begun wild camping and loved it so much that it’s now my default approach to accommodation on a trip. I also attended two meet-ups, finally meeting a whole load of people I interact with daily on Twitter. And I’ve started arranging to meet smaller groups of these people for ad hoc walks when our availability coincides. Particularly enjoyable was the “Dr Livingstone, I presume” moment when I met @munro277 on Wether Hill, and the late autumn trip to the Carneddau with @FlintyRich and @Leerockwell15.
After I first started a blog in 2007, during my first work break when I was attempting to climb all of the Hewitts in 3 months (quickly abandoned as unrealistic), I found I couldn’t keep it up, and the tools I was using didn’t really work for me, and hosted on my own website, were quite admin heavy.
I restarted my blog in 2011, having got to grips with WordPress and also now having the means to update it whilst away, using the WordPress Blackberry app. I now try to update it as I go, provided I can get a mobile phone signal or free WiFi connection.
After some issues with my web hosting, I took the decision to move my blog to a WordPress hosted site, which I’ve found much easier and which has much smoother integration with other social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. This is so much easier to use, that I’ve started eating into my backlog of posts that either never got written up or remained on scraps of paper.
How I Blog
Subject to mobile phone signal, I tweet my progress – not constantly, but when I reach a key landmark, experience something interesting, or stop for a rest. These tweets also serve the purpose of letting people at home know that I’m safe, and also help mitigate situations where I’m not able to phone home in the evening.
Whilst on a walk or a walking trip, I try to get the day’s walk written up on a draft post each night while it’s still fresh in the mind. Then, once I’ve returned home, I generally tidy up the posts from that trip, insert the pictures and pull the whole lot together into a single cross-referenced account, so that people don’t have to wade through the individual posts themselves. So if you are reading the posts as they are posted you may want to revisit later to see the finished product.
I try to include the stats for each walk, not because I’m a nerd (although that is true), but because I have the data, so might as well use it and make it available. Personally, I’m glad I save this data as it really does help in planning walks and in my ability to estimate distances and pace, both pre-walk and on the walk itself.
I use a GPS sports watch (a cheap but brilliant one from Decathlon), which records distance, height ascended and descended, time taken and attempts a calculation of the number of calories burned (one which looks very flattering). But it’s not much use for actual navigation as, being French, it doesn’t use the OSGB datum and converting latitude and longitude in the field is, to say the least, inconvenient. So it’s used purely as a data collection device and as altimeter (which I have to say is very good). Sometimes, I’m a little doubtful about the ascent and descent figures it records due to a big difference compared with the route marked using Anquet. An element of judgement usually comes in at this point. So I guess I’m saying, don’t rely on these figures for life and death calculations!
For tracking summits bagged, I use an extract of Crocker and Jackson’s Database of British Hills, pulled into Excel for analysis and ease of record-keeping. I then upload my summits log to hill-bagging.co.uk and to the Stats widget on this site where anyone can see them.
I usually make notes on my experiences of my overnight accommodation, and include these in my blog. In these I will focus on the things that are important to me – a good shower, a decent night’s sleep, and a good breakfast all at a reasonable price. I’ve chosen not to maintain a dedicated page for reviews of accommodation, simply because I’m not prepared to go to the effort of maintaining and updating these as the places themselves change and change hands, which I would need to do for them to be of continuing usefulness to readers.
I’ve experimented with Social Hiking, but have yet to fully take the plunge and track my walks live. This is largely because of battery concerns on my smartphone. But with plans to walk the Cambrian Way in 2013, it feels like the time to commit to using it as not only will this site allow me to share the walk with those that are interested, but it also provides a convenient way for those at home to get some reassurance that I’m ok, especially if I’m in an area of poor mobile phone coverage and can’t phone home every night.