Survival Skills and Bushcraft Basics Guide

Bushcraft seems to be everywhere. From Bear to Ray Mears, watching celebs on TV can cause an interest in bushcraft courses. Bushcraft seems very Olde Worlde- untill your camping or you get lost on a walk. Then the skills can be lifesavers. Would you know what to eat and what not to – how to camp and where to walk without a compass, map, or even a light?  Why not make 2012 the year to stay safe and learn some skills?

I spoke to Jason Ingamels from  Woodland Ways about the basics of bushcraft, from how to navigate without a compass, what to eat, where to camp, how to keep mosquitoes away, how to start a fire in wet conditions and what to pack.

Why is bush craft so popular in your opinion?

There has been a huge amount of interest in Bushcraft & Survival Skills within the UK since the appearance on our TV screens of celebrities such as Ray Mears and Bear Gryll’s; highlighting a variety of different enjoyable skill sets. I believe these TV programs have made a wide part of the population take a look at their own lives and to start thinking about how they fit in to their natural environment. Modern humans lives are incredibly complicated, and I think the natural beauty of re-connecting with the skills of our ancestors plays a harmonious balancing act for our souls, this is where our courses at Woodland Ways Bushcraft & Survival come in.

How did you get into it?

I was inspired as a 9 year old child by a book that was given to me as a gift, it was Lofty Wisemans SAS Survival Handbook… as soon as I had this in my hands that was it, I was out building dens, learning fire lighting, tracking animals and I haven’t looked back since. I went through various training programs to teach professionally and now I run Woodland Ways, one of the busiest Bushcraft & Survival Schools in the UK.

Can the UK be dangerous?

Without a shadow of a doubt! Exposure to the elements can be a killer, which is why your immediate priority in a survival situation is shelter, and then if appropriate warmth. But looking beyond the basics there are plants out there that will kill you if digested.

What do you carry and what are your key items?

It sounds like a cliché but seriously your biggest asset is your brain, there is a certain psychology in understanding how to survive in the wild, and your knowledge should be the biggest help… it is unfortunate though that a little knowledge can be very dangerous, so it’s a good idea to get out there on a training course, have some fun and learn some skills. If you want to know the most important piece of equipment, I’d say a good knife. With this you have the ability to construct shelter, to fashion materials for fire and hence cook your food and make water safe to drink.

What about foraging for food, are there protected species that shouldn’t be touched?

It is vital in the UK to understand the legal framework of collecting flora. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier. Uproot is defined as to ‘dig up or otherwise remove the plant from the land on which it is growing’, whether or not it actually has roots. Legally the term ‘plant’ includes algae, lichens and fungi as well the true plants – mosses, liverworts and vascular plants.
Even plants growing wild are the legal property of somebody, and under the Theft Act, 1968, it is an offence to uproot plants for commercial purposes without authorisation.
Generally it is accepted to gather the four F’s, Flowers, Fruits, Foliage and Fungi where there are no local buy laws in place to prevent you.

Plants in protected areas

A variety of statutory designations are used for sites of high nature conservation interest, including National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in Britain Owners and occupiers may be prosecuted if they destroy plants growing in these sites or remove plant material, unless they have first consulted the statutory conservation agencies (English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland).
It is illegal to pick, uproot or remove plants if by-laws are in operation which forbid these activities, for example on Nature Reserves, Ministry of Defence property or National Trust land.
For example. It is now illegal to collect fungi in Epping Forest.
Protected Plants
Plants listed in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act are protected from intentional picking, uprooting or destruction without a license. Fortunately in doesn’t include many that are of interest to the forager.

ID of plants

The are over 160 native plants that are considered edible in some way shape or form, but there are also a large number of poisonous plants which can kill or make you seriously ill. The risk is even greater with fungi.
Sorrel can easily be mistaken for young Lords and Ladies! Cow Parsley with Hemlock, Hawthorn berries with Woody Nightshade! YOU MUST GET YOUR ID 110%. All guide books have limitations. No one image can depict a plant in all its infinite variety that results from;-stages of growth, genetic diversity, light and soil conditions etc. Illustrations tend to appear washed out and are subject to artistic license, whilst photographs tend to depict the whole plant in flower and therefore may not give sufficient close up detail of the leaf or other significant features. In plant identification often touch and smell are bought into play which may not be conveyed in a book. Attending a foraging course with a reputable company is the best way of starting.

Tolerance to plants

Anyone can react to even a plant that is listed as edible. I’ve even known someone allergic to Hawthorn! With some plants such as Hogweed a significant amount of people can have an adverse reaction and even some “edible” fungi commonly cause problems with a significant amount of people;- Chicken of the woods, Shaggy Parasol. Always start with a tiny amount to test your tolerance. Once you know you are ok to start gathering there are then some common sense decisions to make also, you should avoid;-the edges of arable fields unless you know the land owner and know they haven’t been sprayed.The edges of busy roads;- pollutants in vehicle exhausts, council spraying etc. Areas liable to flooding, especially where the water may have flowed through centres of population, industrial areas, pasture land or heavily farmed areas.

How can you navigate without a compass?

Navigating in the wilds without a compass is challenging but again, with some good knowledge the practical outdoorsman can calculate a bearing. This is very useful to have a constant understanding of your position within your landscape.
There are numerous ways that you can interpret the landscape, understand the sun, the moon or indeed the stars. Probably the easiest and most accurate is to use an analogue watch.
It is also most accurate if done between 6am and 6pm. Simply point the hour hand of your watch directly towards the sun and bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock. This will give you a North-South line and in the UK between 6am and 6pm the sun will be to the south of you. You need to ensure that you are on correct local time (GMT in the UK), if the clocks are changed for daylight saving like British Summertime you need to bisect the angle between the hour hand and 1 o’clock.
What are the best places to build camp in the wilderness?

I always advise our clients the key thing to consider is where are your resources, and build as close to these as possible. However there are certain areas you would avoid, such as hollows where cold air would sink, on flood plains, right next to water due to the insect risk, on large game trails etc but the most important thing if building a shelter in a woodland is to look up and ensure there is nothing likely to fall down on you.

Can you tell us what to eat and a little about foraging –  what about bugs- can they be eaten? 

Surprisingly food is actually usually very easy to come by… as long as we can get out of our modern day mindset on what constitutes food! For example in lowland UK the common earth worm is a wonderful source of protein. It is best to purge them and then quickly fry them, they taste not unlike a bit of bacon rind.

How do you start a fire – and what if it has been raining?

Always light fire by the easiest possible means… and start at the end. If you have to resort to rubbing two sticks together to get fire then there is no point in creating an ember if you have nothing to burn. So start off and gather your fuel, and then your kindling, and then your tinder. I teach c.14-16 different methods of getting fires going but as a general rule of thumb when we are lighting fires for real we rely on high grade sparks. This is because they are resistant to wind/rain, and will get lots of natural tinder’s going. If you’re working in very wet conditions you may need to dry your tinder by placing it inside your clothing to let your body heat dry it out, and also to split your fuel into the heart wood where it will be nice and dry.
What wildlife can you spot in the UK? What tips do you have?

My favourite mammal to watch is deer, and my favourite of those is watching Roe, they have so many characteristics that can throw the casual observer. If you want to get close I suggest learn the art of tracking, discovering the signs that are left by the species. Once you know they are in the area use track traps and barriers to find them. Once in site be aware of your shape, sound, smell, silhouette, shine… get yourself upwind and if the deer bolt and you loos sight head uphill, I bet you’ll be surprised you may just find them again!

What are the difficult skills that need to be taught? 

Truly the most difficult of skills has to be the ability to light fire… In any conditions. It may be that on a nice warm sunny day with plenty of material you’re fine… but how about in the freezing cold, when it has been pouring with rain for 12 hours… could you do it then?

How do you keep mosquitoes off you in the wilderness? 

In the UK try this one, take some Elder leaves (Sambucus Nigra), give them a real good scrunch up in your hands to release the juice, and then smear this on exposed areas… you’ll stink… but the mosquitoes won’t get you! (I should point out it is best to try this on a small area of skin to begin with to make sure that you are not allergic!)

Your 3 desert island items?

Wow, 3… that’s generous! I’d simply say my knife… however as I now have two luxury items I’d take something to shelter under and a fire steel…!

If you are interested in a bushcraft course – please click to see all of our Bushcraft Courses in The UK. 

Have you got any top tips for budding bushmen and women?

Ben Hatch’s Top Ten Tips For Travelling With Kids

Author Ben Hatch makes my boyfriend hate me, namely when I snort with laughter at his book “Are we nearly there yet” about, as the title says, “A family’s 8000 mile car journey around Britain’.

Going to the Pencil Museum to see the world’s largest pencil, having escapades with teaspoons that shouldn’t be read after a heavy dinner and the romance between married Dinah and Ben will keep you laughing if you love Britain and you love trying new activities. The book was made for us. Not literally. But you can buy it here. You will love it. Promise.

We asked Ben to write us a bespoke article to pass on his advice and hard earned wisdom asking the eternal question besides how socks go missing –

Just how DO you travel with kids? 

Enjoy!

Top Ten Tips For Travelling With Kids

1) Always carry treats. Travelling with children minus treats is like walking through a vampire-infested grave-yard after midnight without a wooden stake. You might survive, but why take the chance.

2) Enthuse your kids about where you’re going. Although never oversell the destination as we did visiting the Wensleydale Cheese Visitor Centre. On the strength of a Yorkshire Tourist Board leaflet featuring Wallace and Gromit sticking their thumbs up, we rashly promised life-size models of the cartoon characters wandering around. The only thing Wallace and Gromit related was a chalk outline of them on the café’s specials board. We’d driven two hours to a working cheese factory to show the kids the processes milling and tipping and for them to learn how Wensleydale cheese did in the last Nantwich International Cheese festival.

3) Not to have a sat-nav today is a bit like being a sailor in the 14th century trying to round the Cape of Good Hope without a nautical chart. It’s insane. Put it this way, if I had a choice – my brakes or the sat-nav? – I’d gladly drill a hole in the driver’s footwell and start using my feet to slow down. Having a sat-nav means brain cells required to remember to turn right or left at particular junctions are more usefully re-directed towards establishing just who in the back was the first to slap the other one round the face with the Corfe Castle activity sheet.

4) Adapt well-known children’s stories into tales involving your children themselves. You can do this by replacing the main character’s name in a classic fairytale with your child’s name so that for us it became, for instance, Phoebe and the Three Bears (‘And then Phoebe tried the medium-sized bowl of porridge…..’) or Hansel and Phoebe (‘And the wicked witch told Phoebe, I will eat your brother be he fat or thin.’). The thrill of an ego-centric toddler hearing themselves thrust into unlikely adventures involving beanstalks, glass slippers and evil witches buys valuable time to continue the argument with your wife about where you went wrong on the A41.

5) In-car Dvd players are a must. They’re available for under £100 but don’t buy the cheapest. We did and it kept disconnecting from the cigarette lighter and returning the film to the beginning. Consequently despite watching Finding Nemo 10 times during our 8,000 mile trip round Britain, our kids are still unaware Nemo was eventually reunited with his father.

6) Colouring-in books and pens provide a welcome distraction. Although be careful – our daughter, protesting about an arduously long drive through the Pennines after a day out at Ostrich World, once employed the toddler equivalent of self-harming with razors. She gothically drew all over her face and arms in black felt tip.

7) Forget I-spy. It’s over in seconds as there’s nothing consistent to see from a speeding car window except the road, others cars and the sky. Instead play I-don’t-Spy, as in ‘I don’t spy with my little eye something beginning with P,’ where the p is then capable of being anything in the known universe unobservable from your car. Our kids once spend two hours guessing the word Gnu.

8) Lie about how far it is. As a rule of thumb under 50 miles is “round the corner.” How far dad? “Round the corner.” Over 50 miles then divide how long it will take to get there by 4. Thus an hour becomes 15 minutes. You must divide by 4 again if this stills meets with disappointment. In fact, repeat this division by 4 until your child says, “It’s round the corner.”

9) Finally, if all else fails, and it will, we suggest turning Classic FM to maximum volume and kidding yourself you aren’t muffling the kids’ din with an even louder one, but that you’re actually educating them about Haydn.

10) Good luck.

The Importance Of Navigation

Carry a compass and don’t know how to use it? Carry a map and don’t really know how to read it? Could you find your way off the hill in poor weather in unfamiliar terrain in the dark if you’d wandered off the beaten track?

The importance of navigation skills have been highlighted today with Mountain Rescue in the news today for the work they do. Mountain Rescue work has increased in volume, and they fear that people aren’t prepared to handle the Winter conditions – and not just on mountains either- but hills.

Mountain Rescue is a volunteer led charity who do invaluable work saving lives – but to minimise the risk to them, as well as yourself, navigation skills have never been as important.
We interviewed Mike Park, OBE on his work with Mountain Rescue, who said that there was no such thing as a ‘typical rescue’.

“People fall off cliffs, jump from planes- and the floods were a problem too. The last floods in Cockermouth I was called at 9am one day and wasn’t back home for 5 and a half days! It’s that sort of environment. Mountain rescue is completely voluntary. Sometimes we can do a rescue and people say thing like ‘Why didn’t you come faster’ or they expect you to just pop out of a helicopter immediately, but you have to explain to them that you’ve been at home with your kids. Mountain Rescue is made up of volunteers with normal jobs and lives to lead around rescues.

It’s a big commitment. In the time I have worked for the Mountain rescue I have seen a dramatic increase in the amount if call outs per year. The workload increase had been dramatic! Last year we had about 80 call outs, whereas it was typically 70 or less in the last 5 years. We are busier in general. I would say that isn’t just because of diversity, although we are doing more rescues in urban environments, I genuinely think that the increase has instead come from having more people on the hills in general.

The key issue for Mike was that it’s not mountaineers who are experienced that need to be rescued.

“There’s no certain type of people that are out there needing to be rescued either, it’s just the sheer volume that’s increased what we do. I think there’s a chance of mishaps, especially when you haven’t been out in bad conditions before, but anyone is at risk. Mountain Rescue can be your first port of call if you are on the hills and injured.”

The important thing is to be prepared and to have a good sense of navigation.

A typical GO Activities Navigation Training Day will helps you understand:
• Maps, scales, grid system, grid references
• Concept of the three D’s – Direction, Distance and Detail
• The compass, different types, advantages and disadvantages, measuring and taking bearings, allowing for magnetic variation
• Pacing distances and timing distances, all measuring and calculations,
• Contours – the shape of the land – and interpreting map features

Don’t forget to do the basics before you leave too:

1) Carry a compass and know how to use it correctly
2) Carry a whistle which can be invaluable
3) Keep spare batteries on you whenever possible
4) Always pack more food and water than you think you will need
5) Keep an itinerary with someone of your planned movements if you head out alone
6) Wear warm clothing and carry appropriate gear (first aid kit, emergency blanket.)

To book a navigation training day with GO activities click here 

Do you have any other tips for mountaineers and hill walkers? Leave them in the comment box below!

GO Activities

Cycling For Cancer

If you get bored after 30 minutes on a stationary bike, or if you’re looking to put money behind a worthy cause, you have to give props to Chris Gruar, a 25 year old Australian who has lived here for the past year, working as an English teacher in a school in Leeds with an aim to cycle back to Australia over the next 2 years.

(Yes, you read that correctly.)

Taking a mammoth two years via Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, China, South East Asia and finally through to Australia from one short flight, Chris isn’t only cycling for fun, but for cancer, or specifically, to raise £10,000 for the cancer research charity The Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) via www.cycling4cancer.com

(Again, you read that correctly.)

With fundraising already underway for his departure in 4 months, Chris is planning to leave and is already getting ready for his biggest adventure yet. We spoke to Chris about how and why he is keen to do this.
Hi Chris- so firstly, why the cycle trip?

I love both travelling and cycling, so I decided to combine the two and go on a challenging and rewarding adventure across the world. The bicycle also gives me a lot of independence to experience the places I’m lucky enough to visit, as well as expose me to the diverse cultures between England and Australia. It’s really satisfying not relying on the tourist trail for transport, food and shelter.

Why have you chosen AICR in particular?

They are an international charity who chooses the best cancer research around the world. My family has also been directly affected by cancer so it is something that is very important to me.

Tell us about the challenge. Where will you be staying?

I will be completely unsupported throughout the 30 000km trip. All of my gear is squeezed into five bags which are attached to the bike. To keep costs down I will be stealth camping most evenings. I prepare my own meals with my multi-fuel stove, and keep clean with bucket showers or by washing in rivers or beaches. Hopefully I will be lucky enough to stay with locals along the way too. So far on my cycling trips I have slept in a Roman Bathhouse, in wheat and corn fields, next to rivers, on mountain tops, and by the beach.

This isn’t the first time you have done this it?

That’s right. While I was backpacking in Asia a few years ago I twice decided to get myself on a bicycle, and the rice fields of Bangladesh and volcanoes of Indonesia got me hooked on cycle-touring. Earlier this year I cycled about 500km of Northern England along the Hadrian’s Wall, The Lakes District and Yorkshire Dales. In summer I pedaled to Portugal which took me 34 days to cover the 2500km. I stayed over in hostels probably twice, so the rest was camping and being independent!

Have you always been so keen on adventure?

Not really. I think I just believe in experiencing the most out of life, especially on weekends and holidays. It definitely helps being a foreigner, knowing that I have only eighteen months in England to get out and explore the beauty of the countryside.

Have you tried GO Activities?

Since the launch of GO Activities I frequently visit the site with my friends to plan for the weekend. I find it really inspiring reading from other peoples experiences. I think it’s great for those lesser known activities like gorge or ghyll scrambling. Without the push to do more stuff I’d probably just go on cycling forever!

You spend a lot of time cycling out of the UK – what do you like about it here?

I love how close things are. In Australia everything is so spread out, but here you can jump on the train and in twenty minutes you can be surrounded by different landscapes and cultures! Living in Yorkshire I try to get out into The Peak District most weekends for walking, cycling, scrambling, caving or wild swimming. In Australia the roads (and drivers) are not as cycle friendly.

What about the accents here? Have you got used to them?

Oh yeah, because I teach English in Leeds I’m often left just stumped with what they are saying. There’s a lot of ‘I didn’t do owt’ to contend with! But the kids are just as bewildered, with my ‘thongs’, ‘textures’ and ‘mufti days’. I do feel sorry for my classes when they do miserable in the spelling test because of my pronunciation. I am getting there but… at the fish shop I now know what scraps are, and to order a ‘pop’ when I want a drink.

£10,000 is a lot to raise. How do you hope to go about it?

I think it’s a cause plenty of people are passionate about. The staff and pupils in my school have been absolutely fantastic so far, and together we are organising events over the coming months. While on the trip I will be able to raise money and awareness by talking in schools and contacting local radio and newspapers. By having a website I hope to maintain people’s interest throughout the journey.

So, I’m sure every girl will want to know what you are packing for a 2 year trip on the road. What’s in your pack?

(Laughs) I have a picture!

The Luggage!

What about challenges? Any fears of loneliness?

It’s going to be tough going, especially being by myself for such long periods. I hope I’m a strong enough person to get through the difficult times, and with plenty of books and music I should be able to stop my mind from getting the better of me!

I am actually hoping to have other cycle-tourers join me on route… so if you’re reading this and interested in coming along with your bike let me know!

What would you say to people who could only throw in a pound or so?

I know times are hard, but even a pound would make a huge difference. Just Giving makes it really easy to do, and you can read all about me and my journey on my website – www.cycling4cancer.com

So if you, by chance are on Chris’s route and want to meet up, or if you want to donate, you can head to his site here.

What’s the furthest you have cycled? Do you have any tips for Chris?

Comment below!

Interview With Al Humphries

Think adventure involves a passport, re mortgaging or explaining over the sound of their laughter to your boss just precisely why you need 6 months off to ‘find yourself’ in India?

Sounds like you need a microadventure instead.

Al Humphries first came to our attention after he gave a talk about his cycling tour. By tour- we mean around the world. Which took 4 years.

Al finds a friend who can keep up with his adventures

So obviously, we knew he wasn’t sane. But then he took 2011 as the year of the microadventure and decided to walk the M25.

“The basic rule was we had to walk where we could hear it. It took us through towns. Some beautiful places, some less beautiful ones!” Explains Al. “It took a week and we slept as we went. It was to make a point really, the M25 is a bit of a symbol of everything that’s wrong with modern life, so to find adventure and beauty in it was proof that you can do a microadventure anywhere.”

So what is the aim of microadventure? And what is acceptable as an ‘adventure’?

“I didn’t want to write a list of microadventures and have people copying what I did, adventure is personal. So mine might be a bit more flexible, but it could be anything. Sleeping in the wild instead of going home after work. Just having a bit of adventure in your life and not putting it back for another time- living for now. On my blog I’ve suggested river swimming, bivvying, camping out, entering a race, biking or just getting a  map and starting to walk. ”

So what is your background? Or how did you get into this?

After graduating from university I decided that I wanted to have a job out of no job, that is going on expeditions, talking at schools and lecturing, blogging. Social community is such a huge love of mine and the blog keeps me really happy and of course I manage to get about travelling and adventuring. I also write books on all my adventures which you can buy here.

Putting the M25 on the map..

What is your ‘specialist subject’ or passion? Obviously you were on a bike for a long time when you went around the world…

I was pretty much done with cycling after that! I’m a jack of all trades. I love pack rafting which is basically a dinghy for grown ups, you can just inflate in up and it’s a tough thing – I took one of those and crossed Iceland, the Marathon de Sables…I’ve done all sorts really but as I say this year was dedicated to staying in the UK with an aim of 12 microadventures.

Have you done them all?

I have done 10. I was saving the others to be done in a really grizzly, cold British Winter.

You’re either brave or mad.

I’m actually a bit of a wimp. I wouldn’t do  bungee jump for instance.

We saw this you wrote about yourself on your blog. 

“To my immodest glee a newspaper in Cape Town had labelled me an ‘intrepid young British adventurer.’ But on that first night at sea I was brought brutally back down to size as I hung over the side of the boat retching my guts out. Lasagne (“how on earth did I manage to fit so much inside myself?” I marvelled) reappeared with gusto, my eyes streamed and the damnable prospect of three weeks of this awfulness added to my misery. In my cycling clothes and shoes I was soaking wet and cold. Pride comes before a hurl.”

You must just have the skill of endurance rather than sea legs or the adrenaline bug! What sort of gear do you have with you at all times as an ‘intrepid young British adventurer’?

A thermarest. I think I’m getting a bit too old to have a bad night’s sleep!

Where do you live, and do you get out locally?

Well I live in Kent In Graves End so there’s not much adventure on my doorstep – but that’s where I practise what I preach, I get in the car or onto the train, and just get out for a weekend or an evening in the wild for an adventure to refresh my spirits.

What sort of feedback have you been getting?

I’ve been getting great feedback, from people who say that they didn’t think they would have time to go away. These are people who read outdoor blogs, but the gear but don’t think they can get away. It’s been really encouraging – people have been saying that they are buying Bivvy bags and that they are actually using them so that’s good.

Are you sponsored by anyone?

No not at all- although with all these bivvy bag sales maybe I should be!

Have you been on a microadventure? What’s local to you that you need to see?

You can read all about the Year of the Microadventure and get inspired by seeing Al’s blogs at http://www.alastairhumphreys.com

Interview With Matthew Dickinson

Matthew Dickinson, 26 is a former British orienteer and avid fell runner hailing from Sheffield, now living in the beautiful Christchurch, New Zealand –right next to the Southern Alps. A former member of the GO Outdoors web team, GO Activities were privileged enough to witness Matthew’s racing first hand- as well as his appetite for carbs and his constantly in motion feet and weekends of constant activity! A great advocate for GO Actvities and a previous runner for Great Britain, we grabbed him in his down time to talk about fell running and why being active is so great for the mind!

Hi Matt. Thanks for talking to us- can you describe what sort of things (in racing) that you’ve done?

Back in the UK I was member of Derwent Valley Orienteers and Dark Peak Fell Running Club.  While in Sheffield I ran for Great Britain in the Junior World Orienteering Championships and spent a lot of time in Sweden training and competing with an Orienteering and Ski Club in Västerås, just north of Stockholm.

I was ranked British number 1 Orienteer in 2005 and enjoyed success in many of the classic Fell Races in the Peak District from then until 2010 when I made the move to the other side of the world.

Now in New Zealand I’ve entered many trail, fell and orienteering races and am just gearing up to run the Kepler Challenge; a 60km mountain trail race deep in Fiordland in the South of New Zealand.

Why do you enjoy off road running so much?

I love racing in the fells and on the trails.  It’s so unattached to anything you do in the cities and towns, it’s basically like being free.  Nothing is better than racing through a deep peat bog, with the sun shining on your back, being chased down by a hungry pack of runners… where else can you get that kind of action?

With the Peak District merely minutes from Sheffield, it was the ideal place to go for an evening, a weekend, even a lunchtime run.  That and the whole host of climbs, walks and other outdoor activities – it pretty much is one of the best places to be in the UK, while having the city right next door for the other side of life (the working, shopping and eating part!)

When did you start?

I started orienteering when I was ‘knee high to a grasshopper’, probably about the age of 3 and got hooked instantly.  I only started fell running when I got into University in Sheffield, but already had 15 years of orienteering behind me with plenty of navigation skills under my belt.

What are your achievements?

My greatest achievements have been in orienteering, and my greatest achievement was back in 2005 as just a junior.  I was totally the underdog, actually probably the outsider to do anything in the selection races that season.  However, on the last selection race weekend I went for it.  Totally in the zone I managed to get 2 podium positions and bag a place to the Junior World Championships in 2005 where I represented Great Britain for the first time.  It was totally amazing, such a great feeling to have run for your country.

GO Activities offers a way to book days or weeks away learning things like orienteering, bushcraft skills, to ghyll scrambling, pot holing, trekking, or even bungee jumping- what other activities do you enjoy?

I really enjoy getting out on my mountain bike, and skiing is a lot of fun as well. Duathlons, kayaking, climbing- I really do anything that challenges me and gets me outside.

Where do you enjoy running?

Currently I’m living in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Here they’ve got volcanoes, mountains, rivers and trails that go on for miles and miles… it’s just to hard to resist.  Back in the Peak District, my usual jaunts were around the Burbage Valley, Stanage Edge, Win Hill and along the Mam Tor Ridge towards Kinder Peak.

What do you wear? Especially shoes?

Shoes are vital for any running, my favourites are Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s for racing as they are the only shoes that give amazing grip but have a minimal midsole which give you a heightened sense of what the ground is doing beneath you!  For training I like to run in Adidas Kanadias, they are well cushioned for trails and have some top notch grip too.

As for clothing, if it’s turning cold, I usually throw on a Helly Hansen Stripe Crew -really good at wicking sweat from the skin and warm enough for icy winds.  If it starts to rain, I usually throw on a lightweight waterproof like The North Face Diad Jacket or Haglofs Oz Pullover.  Shorts are simply the cheapest I can find, usually with an inner short (as its way more comfortable that way!)

Any advice for beginners?

The best way to get into it is to do it.  Find a local race and go for it – everyone in the fell running community is friendly and happy to help.  Get dirty and have a great time.

How do you start out without hurting yourself?

If you’re training for a race, don’t just jump into doing lots of distance on the fell or trails – even if you’re used to running on the roads, the fells are uneven and tough on ankles.  Slowly creep up the distance once you’ve got used to running off road, and buy some shoes with some good grip so you don’t slip too often!  Nothing worse than a face full of mud!

Is it harder than road running?

It’s totally different from road running, not necessarily harder.  It’ll use a lot of muscles you didn’t think you had to keep balanced on uneven surfaces.  But remember to stretch after the race to ensure you don’t stiffen up…  There’s also a lot more climbing involved in fell races and orienteering races than road races, be prepared to climb up mountains, hills and even cross rivers if you have to!

What are your favourite fell running routes in the UK?’ ‘

For Fell Running: Stanage Struggle is a classic Peak District Fell Race, usually held in September.
For Orienteering: The Jan Kjellstrom Festival, or Scottish 6 Days are the biggest and use the best areas that the UK can offer.

Do you recommend joining a running club?

To start with, I’d go along to a local event.  Try it and if you like it, join.  I can be cheaper for future events and there are some really friendly people around that you can join for runs near you!

Have you ever tried fell running? What were your thoughts? Comment below!

To find a local fell race in the peaks, try here

 You can read more about the Scottish 6 days here

Interview With Ben Fogle

An admission that you are interviewing Ben Fogle should come with a caution, especially if you work in the GO Activities headquarters.

Ben Fogle flusters the office.

Women started suggesting questions about marriage.

“He already has a wife.”

“Is he a mormon?”

“No.”

“But could he be?”

“I refuse to answer that.”

Men, meanwhile wanted to know where he got the literal balls to go naked in the sea, to fly all over the world doing all these fantastic adventures and to still have Kate Humble’s personal number in his mobile…

Back from California on a very stop gap trip home, I managed to grab Ben for a quick chat  after Daybreak and before his next flight before he headed off to the Checz Republic to fly a fighter jet, to ask him all about his life, how he got into the outdoors as a child, and what GO Activities adventures he could see himself doing.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Whereabouts are you now and what have you been up to? 

Not a problem. I’ve just got back from California where I have been recently for a film on a ‘Year of Adventure’ taking some massive challenges on which has been really great fun. Climbing the tallest trees, a 24 hour mountain bike race, diving between tectonic plates in Iceland, solo skydiving, paragliding.. It’s been brilliant.  I’ve also been diving with crocodiles in Botswana which has been great.

Sounds amazing! So you have been all over the world with your job since Castaway back in 2000. Kaiteur Falls, Kilimanjaro in Uganda, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Sahara the Arctic Circle the Andes, Chile to name but a few places.  What are you favourite place in the UK?

I am a huge fan of the National Parks so I love the lakes, the peaks, the Dales, Brecon Beacons, although we are a real coastal family so we love North Devon, and South Cornwall too.

You are a President of the campaign for National parks. We recently did a blog on Mosaic and how the National Parks seem inaccessible if you haven’t been brought up with them. Did you grow up going to the National Parks and why did you get involved with this campaign in particular?

They asked me to take the president role and it is something I am extremely proud of and I feel really passionate about. Mosaic is so important because it is an important campaign for anyone who loves the national parks. We have to encourage people to visit and enjoy them so that they are preserved and maintained, so it is brilliant that Mosaic is encouraging access.

Did you visit the National Parks often as a child and where you always ‘outdoorsy’?

In my book the Accidental Adventurer I go right back to my early childhood and in truth, I wasn’t really keen on the outdoors to start with, at least camping. I remember taking a trip with my Dad Bruce with my best friend Toby when I was 13 and we went to Algonquin Park in East Canada, which is a national park about the size of Wales, and we canoed through it, which was when it came to life for me and I loved it!

We are all aware of the problems with childhood obesity and the importance of being active, what are your thoughts on it?

I think that a sense of adventure is so important in children and the best way to do this is within the schools with field trips. I remember going to field trips to Dorset and seeing the costal landscapes as a child, camping and it really brought the outdoors to life for me.

I think that our government focuses far to much on academic achievements and if I was a politician I would be trying to really get children active, which is the route I carved a career out of.  Health and Safety is also something that gets in the way, but when times are harder economically, it really is a great time to get children involved in these activities.

People might also have seen you rowing 3000 miles, doing the Marathon De Sables the London Marathon and the Royal Parks Half marathon or having icicles dangle off your nose during your Arctic trip with James Cracknell.  What challenges have been your hardest, either physically or mentally?

I’m not a natural climber, so when I was up Casetlon Rock in Utah with a 500m sheer pinnacle drop, that was a little challenging. As well as that, the Moab 24 hour race was also about endurance and was hard going, physically.

Is there anything you veto or won’t do?

I love most things, ocean diving, sailing, swimming, kayaking, cycling, hiking, skiing- but things like a base jump or even a bungee I wouldn’t do. They aren’t really my thing I’m afraid!

GO Activities offers things like kayaking, the aforementioned bungee, trike trips, falconry days, ghyll scrambling, caving days- and these are great for stag dos. We wondered what your stag do was like before you married Marina a few years back?

I never had one! I know, that does sound quite sad doesn’t it? We joke that I have a raincheck on it. It was 5 years ago but I was filming right up to before the wedding- part of the sad life of a traveller! Maybe one day..

Well feel free to book through GO Activities.  We promise to avoid the bungee ropes! What about your children? Are they growing up with a sense of adventure?

Well my boy is, he seems confident and happy outdoors, but then he’s young enough that he’s happy in a city or the country! My daughter is a little too young to be active and get a sense of it yet but we are naturally an active family, we get out the park everyday and we are always out walking. I don’t want to be a pushy parent though so I will let them draw their own conclusions on it…

So what’s next on the agenda for you now?

Well after this I’m off to the Czech Republic to fly a fighter jet, which should be good, and then in the future I will be giving talks on my new book. Soon you can see my new show Diving with Crocodiles which was filmed in the Northern Territory of Botswana and was very scary, these are big 10m long beasts!

And what about your ambassador work with the WWE and Tusk?

Yes I have some projects in the pipeline with them, and also some more stuff with the BBC, but it’s all a bit secret for now I’m afraid!

And finally – what’s your number one must have piece of gear to take with you as an adventurer?

Definitely my Leatherman, the multi tool, which always comes in handy.

You can buy Ben’s book, The Accidental Adventurer via Benfogle.com today.

Elaine


Interview With National Trust

Nearly everyone will have had a trip to a National Trust house or garden when they grew up. But do you still go? Chances are, with recent news that they have reached 4 million members, you have been, or you at least know a member.

With over 300 historic houses, 250,000 hectares of land and 700 miles of coastline to tend to, the National  Trust are now planning on making this membership grow even more, with

more than 90 million people visiting the National Trust each year – 17 million to houses and gardens and around 75 million to coast and countryside, there is definitely a scope for more.

I spoke to Stephen Field at the National Trust about the news and how it has reached this epic number.

Sheffield Park, East Sussex by Geoff Caddick

Hi Stephen. Congratulations on making a 4 millionth member! What do you think is the reason for the steady increase?

We put it down to a few things really, firstly the tough climate with the recession means people are looking to do less expensive things and are keen to spend time with their families. We offer ‘simple pleasures’ really. The other thing is that we understand value for money and we offer good value for your membership fee, you only need to come a few times for it to be worth it. And the third would be that perhaps people are more aware of what we offer, that it’s not just stately homes, (although we get 17 million visits per year to them) and that we have areas all over the UK, with plenty of weird and wonderful places, beaches, gardens…coast sides.

 

Just who is making up this membership, is it young, old, families?

There is the stereotypical image of the pensioner, and they are indeed an important and valued part of our membership, but we also have a large amount of families as part of our membership, at least 55%. We are also hoping that this will grow with our future plans which are basically to ‘bring places to life’- so to avoid the idea of staid trips where things are roped off and where you can’t touch anything, we want to get people involved, whatever is appropriate for the place really, so things like apple pressing to make cider… There are plenty of options.

What about volunteers?  Are you still looking for help?

Always! Especially green volunteers for our outdoor areas. We have around 60,000 volunteers and they are crucial in what we do. The more volunteers, the more land we can open up to the public so it’s really important.  We are flexible too, so after an initial interview you could find yourself working as a costumed guide, a gardener, in recruitment, so it’s a great way if you can’t find work to keep your hand in as well in these harder times of the economic downturn.

What are your plans for the future?

We definitely want to expand our outdoor spaces with care so that they are even more accessible, and I can’t tell you much, but we are planning a scheme that will help people reconnect with nature, so promoting the outdoors and beauty spots in a special way…But I can’t tell you more than that, you just have to wait!

Interview With Alan Hinkes OBE

I have to admit I was a bit nervous about speaking to Alan Hinkes. An expert mountaineer who writes for Trail, who films documentaries, and who is also a  photographer, speaker, guide, walker, OBE owner, Yorkshire Man of the year and honorary Doctor, Citizen and Fellow, I wasn’t sure there was anything I could ask Alan that people don’t ask him everyday.

The first Briton to climb the world’s highest mountains, the 14 8000m peaks, all of which are in the ‘death zone’. With only another 12 people alive who have achieved this feat, Alan is part of a lucky few.

A straight talking Yorkshire man, I wanted to speak to Alan about the outdoors and what other activities he likes, as for a lifetime mountaineer, being outside and active is obviously something he loves.

So what have you been doing today as a typical day for Alan Hinkes OBE?

I was out in the hills today. Nice and grey, windy and I spent it scrambling. Now I’m back to Hawkshead just in time for the rain; last week was lovely and warm.

You’re still Yorkshire based then? (Alan grew up in Northallerton)

Yes still Yorkshire. I actually got awarded Yorkshire man of the year by Dalesman magazine this year which was very nice.

Did you get a statue you can keep in the loo to impress friends with?

Oh yes I got my ornament! I don’t keep it in the loo though!

 Your achievements are vast. Can you tell us about some of your recent achievements that people might not be aware of?

Most recently was last year when I did the highest point in all the counties in England, sponsored by Casio Pro-Trek for the charity Mountain Rescue. This was a great way to get out and whilst some of these aren’t particularly high, you get a sense that you are looking at some real beauty spots.

What’s your own preference then?

Oh definitely gnarly stuff. There are plenty of nice walks in the UK though. I think because I’m a Yorkshire man people expect me to say that it’s all about Yorkshire but actually, I find the lakes beautiful. Really nice. There’s also Wales. The Dales, the Moors. Plenty of great places.

Do you still get abroad?

Oh yes. I’m off to Nepal and Tibet soon and Bavaria for rock climbing, so yes, I still get out.

How did you get into the outdoors? Obviously we have the problem with obesity and so on, what would you say to that?

I started off at school and then it was a progression really to the Alps, the North Face of the Eiger, the Himalayas.

I think it’s really important to get kids outdoors. I was working with some PE students today with absolutely no experience of hill walking and all you need is a guide to get you out there at first. I’m a really big fan of walking. You don’t need to get out on 15 miles walks to get the health benefits, just a small walk at first. I think just being outside is beneficial.

I’m also involved in charitable work for Water Aid, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Mountain Rescue and stuff with the British Mountaineering Council, and any of these charities can help young people get involved.

What do you like to wear? Any brands?

I wear so much gear that I’m not really about brands in particular. You need to have a good waterproof, the right boots for the conditions really. Outdoor gear is so much better now than it has been. Of course there are the pieces that are made for fashion but the kit I wear is some of the best around.

Make sure you have the best kit you can afford – but don’t get bogged down by brands – best to spend time in the hills rather than shopping !

GO Activities is a way for people to book activities that they might not usually do. So what are your activities asides mountaineering?

Most of my activities are hill based – climbing, scrambling, Winter climbing/ice climbing, skiing, cycling/mountain biking, anything gnarly – well almost anything ! Potholing/caving and ghyll scrambling. Away from all that I’m also really keen on photography, I need to carry a camera most of the time  – to try and capture that elusive mountain image ! 

So what’s in the future for you?

Enjoying the hills – if you cut me in half it says mountaineer.

I spend time taking people out in the hills both adults and children. I often work with difficult young people, you can see how a hill experience can affect/help change their attitudes to society.  I’ve got a book coming out next year which is all about climbing the highest mountains  – the 14 8000m peaks.

We’ll be coming to your book signing then!

You’re more than welcome to.

Interview With Leave No Trace

‘Many outdoor providers pay lip service to being carbon neutral or green’ explains Ross Beese from TYF in Pembrokeshire, an activity provider who provide a variety of activities on the coast ‘but what we want to push is a real, measurable change.”

Ross is talking from TYF, an activity provider in St David’s, Pembrokeshire. Surrounded by seals and puffins (the area, that is, not Ross) the scenery is stunning and TYF provides the perfect place for coasteering, kayaking, climbing, surfing, rock pooling and more for schools, training and team building and stag dos. (“We tend to get the quieter ones” Says Ross, “Apart from the 80 school kids that were here the other week…” )

Ross is a local surfer, instructor and outdoor enthusiast from Pembrokeshire who moved to St David’s 7 years ago for the coast action, which is diverse, with flat and calm conditions for paddling in and stormy, adrenaline rushing waves for power jumping  and surfing.

TYF were the very first company to start providing coasteering as an activity back 26 years ago under the management of Andy Middleton, a keen scrambler who was the first to market the idea to beginners.  TYF  also started the very first kayak freestyle championships around the same times, a new event which is now taken part in all over the world, but started on the serene and beautiful Pembrokeshire coast.

TYF have a very strong green ethos which underpins everything they do, and they plan to go carbon neutral by 2025. They also give away 1% of their yearly sales to a initiative called 1% to the planet. Because they take their responsibilities as an outdoor provider very seriously, even if their day job of surfing, riding waves and heading out to the wall for a climb is not necessarily ‘serious’ I caught up with Ross to ask if being ‘carbon neutral’ was achievable for all sizes of companies.

Is it a pipe dream to ask that all activity providers change how they work or to give away 1% of their sales profits?

“Definitely not. As people who work in the outdoors we can see first hand the damage that can be caused to the coastline from the environment.  In Pembrokeshire the local activity providers have all come together to create a proper road map of how we can achieve environmental harmony in the local area, simple stuff like staying away from the animals and just common sense stuff that makes a difference. As for us at TYF, we give away 1% of our sales in the 1% for the planet scheme, but it’s not just about big businesses. We have freelance journalists who are giving the same away, all in an effort to do something.”

It’s clear that Ross and the team at TYF are the real deal and keen to actively pursue change for the environment. Rather than just donating money (over £6000 this year alone) the team are involved in a variety of projects like Hay On Earth, the Size of Wales Project (“The news always says ‘a rainforest the size of Wales was burnt down’ – we wanted to make the phrase ‘the size of Wales’ something positive) as well as getting involved in music and film events to raise money, all down to the gear they use.

“We are a big fan of Patagonia who are 1% members, and we make sure that our wetsuits, our kayaks, even our shoes are made from recycled plastics, no oils- we encourage surfing and enjoying local waves rather than flying abroad..There are plenty of ways to reduce your carbon output.”

What about the onsite Eco Camp- is it just a case of a solar panel and no TV?

“Well, we do have solar power, but the camp’s idea is that it can be reached by public transport, by bus or train. You don’t need a car either when you’re here, we can literally kayak anywhere we need to, or walk. We make a day of it, with a walk to the beach and a picnic, so it’s really accessible to anyone. It can fit up to 70 people. “

With real green credentials, TYF are offering sustainable services that will no doubt benefit them for years to come. By starting with their local area and by also getting involved on a larger scale, TYF will appeal to many outdoor users who want to ensure the longevity of their favourite area.

You can read about 1% for the planet hereHay on earth here, and The Size Of Wales Project here