GO Activities Go Kayaking

There’s something about the Lake District that makes you hungry. Signs to Appleby, Scotch Corner, and of course the horizon littered by sheep and cows.

Luckily, when I was invited by Distant Horizons , a new supplier for GO Activities, to take come see them,  I was also offered lunch by the lake. I couldn’t drive quickly enough.

I show off my paddling skills in Ullswater

Distant Horizons was started in 1993, and the MD Jason Beverley who I met has been involved in outdoor activities for 25 years.

On meeting him, his enthusiasm for the outdoor was clear. Wearing Petzl and Mountain Hardwear gear he greeted me from a bona fide country house/office conversion, complete with 30 acres of land, farm dog (okay, a spaniel) and the pre requisite Land Rover.

I got out in my waterproofs after the drive and prepared to be popped into another small enclosed space- a tandem sea kayak for my day with Jason.

Jason reassured me after I asked ‘how cold is the water’ and ‘how likely is it I’ll capsize’ that I wouldn’t fall off the kayak ,and should it capsize (which was unlikely) he could rescue me in a jiffy.

I’d like to say that kayaking is all a chip off the old block, and that at the weekend I like nothing more than climbing, bouldering and extreme horse riding, but in reality, I represent a great portion of the UK that is alien to most of the outdoors. Having grown up away from hills, trees or much farmland, my outdoor skills are limited to say the least and the idea of just ‘hopping in a kayak’ or ‘booking a surfing weekend’ is naturally daunting.

I nervously explained this at my job interview, and as I prepared to be shunned, I was informed that I could in fact be a benefit. For every keen ghyll scrambler (a hobby involving leaping into cold water, feet first) there’s an Elaine who spends weekends shopping, looking over at the climbers, walkers and people with hobbies, just wondering what it’s like.

The idea of GO Activities is to make getting into the outdoors accessible, so even if you’re the type of person who would rather have a cup of tea and watch other people climb/scramble/capsize in cold UK waters, you get a choice to learn what these things are, and then to book an adventure!

Jason the MD shows me around

With this in mind, GO Outdoors’s  mantra of  ‘fun and adventure in the outdoors’ was repeated to myself in the mirror before setting off the Penrith over the wet Snakes Pass from Sheffield.

Welcomed with tea and allowed to use the on site facilities (which are gorgeous) and a after tickle with the farm dog, it was then time to see the boats! All the boats are made by Wilderness Systems in the USA and vary from 12 tandem sea kayaks 16 single seater kayaks, 8 sit on tops, and 16 open top or ‘Canadian style’ canoes. “ We can get 60 people out on the water at once- and that’s quite a sight!” Exclaims Jason. With a staff ratio of 1 to 5, the training is certainly impressive.

Jason also showed me around the rest of the area which includes 30 acres of land, a dedicated climbing, abseiling and dry tooling wall, a space for indoor archery and even circus training skills (more on this later). As a group you are met on site, rather than having to drive to a lake, where you will meet your team and be kitted out in your gear- Distant Horizons offer all the gear, from fleeces and waterproofs to wellies, hats and gloves. You can come prepared though with gear from GO Outdoors- I was wearing my Craghoppers Kiwi Stretch trousers, a North Ridge Pumori jacket and North Ridge Firefly e-Vent boots.

So onto the lake itself. Ullswater is beautiful, or it least it was once I arrived- I must have brought the weather with me. Kitted out in my waterproofs and wellies I was taught how to use the paddle and shown how the kayak works. Then I made my way into the boat, a graceful manoeuvre based on putting my bum on the side and sliding in with a thud (although the padded seat, plus 3 layers of clothing and my Hi Gear Overtrousers did keep me unharmed.)

With Jason in the back, we paddled Ullswater which is 7.5 miles each way, taking in sights like Helvellyn, Catseye Cam and the Sharrow Bay hotel where Nicole Kidman has stayed, as well as spending time looking for pike, swans, ducks and the deer that wander on the lakeside.

I asked Jason about his hobbies, which include, but aren’t limited to: telemark skiing, potholing, abseiling, as well as mountain climbs in the Himalayas, climbing in Thailand and more. It’s clear that Jason is a man who loves adventure and is really living his dream. He remembers being 10 years old, off on a ski trip with school to Cairngorm, and watching as big ‘bearded men climbers with tartan shirts’ wandering off into the mountains for winter climbing adventures. He knew at 10 that he wanted to work in the outdoors and nothing else.

I asked if he was scared of anything, after the idea of sleeping in a snow hole made me cold by proxy and ask him for gloves. “Not really.” Was the short answer. Jason told me about how he has worked hard to ensure all the kit is the best (even avoiding the company name to branded on the gear to avoid being ostentatious), and that his staff are well paid and happy. He is also keen to stress that the experiences Distant Horizons provide are  “for anyone, complete beginners to experts.” His passion is similar to ours ensuring the outdoors is open to anyone.

“My least favourite thing to hear is ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘lucky you, getting to do that’ or ‘I wish I could do that..’ you have the ability, you just need the inspiration. That’s why I like working with groups and doing team building out here, you can give someone a small mind shift and show them they are capable. We get people who have never jumped into open water doing lakeside cliff jumps really enjoying it.”

I saw the cliff, which wasn’t too daunting, but did look a bit cold. Luckily, before I was goaded to leap, it was time for a picnic. We moored up and Jason cooked lunch of soup and tea, as well as an array of fruit, crisps, cakes, chocolates, drinks and sandwiches. Jason told me that for larger groups, BBQ’s can be brought, but for our needs, it was out with the Trangia for the real experience.

A leisurely lunch!

As I wolfed down a millionaire shortbread and watched ramblers walk by and saw one of the oldest steam boats in the world trawl past us on the sun dappled lake I asked Jason what his plans for the future are.

Enthused about so many elements, it’s clear that Jason is a big people person. He told me about a group of circus skills trainers he had stay last year who he intends to get back to help teach groups. He is also running an adventure challenge, a race that combines orienteering, kayaking or even biking for groups. He plans to offer stop over tours for the Summer and Easter holiday where groups who have never even slept outdoors can spend a day kayaking, can moor up in a bivvi camp and can catch and cook fresh fish, before sleeping in the wilderness and heading home across the lake the next day.

Distant Horizons are also part of other events like the 3 lakes, a day of paddling Coniston water, Ullswater and Windermere, or training people before events, as well as taking people on trips to Nepal. They are also involved in offering activities for the Ullswater festival, and lake clean ups so Ullswater stays clean for locals.

After lunch it’s time to head back. As I paddle in shore, using my finest, newly learnt techniques, a local on a boat shouts ‘nice paddling!’ ‘Thank you!’ I say, chuffed with a grin and a flip of my hair.

‘She’s trying her best’ says Jason at the same time.

Oh. It looks like I might need a little more practice….



What is Via Ferrata?

What Is…. Via Ferrata? Sometimes spelt with capitals like God, or Monday, Via Ferrata is name that doesn’t really lend itself to revealing what it is. Via, is fine, but Ferrata? Immediately Ferrets and Frittatas spring to mind. Mine at least.

So the one sentence explanation. A multi pitch rock climbing route meaning ‘road of iron’ , this is a popular activity outside of the UK, and involves  clipping yourself on to pre laid hooks, stemples and climbing ladders instead of using ropes, karabiners and other trad climbing gear in order to reach a summit.

The Lingo:

You are going on a Via Ferrata route. Context – “ Me and big Dave are off Via Ferrata.”

Or in the plural – “I climb via ferratas, in the Dolomites mostly.”

What are the Dolomites and why does everyone mention them when talking about Via Ferrata?

Sometimes climbing gear is described as suitabke for Via Ferrata or for the Dolomites.

Simply, the Dolomites are a set of hostile Alpine, snow covered mountains that were fought from between Austria and Italy in 1915 to 1917.

The high peaks made excellent site points and the Dolomites were amended with ladders and ropes to help make ascending quicker.

These are the first ever Via Ferrata and they are still climb-able, with the addition of new iron and steel ladders that can be used for extra holding power.

Why climb Via Ferrata?

As they are already pre-laid, all you need to do is climb a Via Ferrata route.  You can get down and up the mountain quicker, and it isn’t as tricky as scrambling or trad climbing. I asked Tom Livingstone, a climber taking his ML awards why he also enjoys Via Ferrata routes.

“It’s a safer terrain really and it takes down that level of anger. It wasn’t originally designed for leisure climbers obviously, but with the addition of solid rungs, you can climb quite safely and reach the summit with less resk.”

Where are the UK Via Ferrata Routes?

The Lake District has Honister, How Stean Gorge, and there is also the Elie Chainwalk in Fife.

What do you wear for Via Ferrata?

It depends where you go but it tends to be nice and warm so you need your climbing specific gear on, your approach shoes (which are lighter and stiffer than normal climbing boots) as well as a climbing helmet, a harness and lanyards.

Have you been on a via ferrata route? What have your experiences been?