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Man down!

This week has been an emotional roller coaster and I think it is true to say that the world seems to be having a collective mental breakdown. I don’t know if it is the full moon, combined with Winter solstice or if the ridiculous political pantomime we have going on in the UK is just sending everyone over the edge. My children have cried approx. 500 times this week. Twice, the adults in my Forest school sessions have broke down in floods. I have a number of friends reaching out for help. I too felt utter helplessness last weekend. The world can feel overwhelming.

I think there is a reason, why throughout history, we have a big celebration right in middle of winter. We need it to get though the bleak season. We have evolved to over think everything, but animals can actually point us back in the direction of listening to our instincts. At this time of year, birds fly south. “Bugger this for a game of marbles!” they think. The flightless mammals build a den, get a load of food in and sleep it out till April. The deciduous trees drop everything and going into suspended animation. No more work till spring. Nice idea nature.

Snail and babies hiding under a log till it’s warm.

But most of us cannot do all those things. What we can do is slow down. We can appreciate the last bird song of the season. We can plan to meet friends and reconnect with some good nurturing autumnal food. This week I made smores with my Friday Forest school group. One of the parents said her daughter was looking forward to it all week. Next week I will plan a fire pit feast and a mindful walk in the local park and we can all hug it out around the flames.

When a beautiful lady cried at my adult session, I brought her a hot coffee and let her spill her heart. Then we went out as a group hunting fungus. We found a fairy den and inside were hundreds of coral fungi growing. I told a story about doing my scuba diving training at this time of year in Devon and being amazed by swimming through a kelp forest. Even under the sea, the plants go all the rainbow colours in Autumn. That spurred others to tell stories and we walked and talked and laughed.

And yes, dear friends, that is a picture of me with some cone fungi on my boobs. Because sometimes adventure is the answer to your problems, and sometimes having a laugh is. No one could resist laughing at my rendition of Madonna’s “Like a virgin.”

Last week I was selected as one of the top adventure blogs in the UK. https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_adventure_blogs/ Which is wonderful and fabulous and helps me in my mission to connect people with wild places.

But this week I was reminded that it is our connections to each other and not the places we go that make us happy.

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Loving nature and nurturing love

Getting away on a “mini break” can be an absolute relationship saver. No one feels truly connected to their partner while discussing taxes, Brexit or the fact that fridge needs cleaning out. But this is also true of our friendships. Every once in a while we need to do something in the wilderness with people who are important to us. To experience something special and unique together.

Last week I started working as an adhoc, outdoor instructor. I felt like a little bit of a fraud, given that even though I have run numerous obstacle races and triathlons, and even though I seem to have amounted a ridiculous amount of activity qualifications (Scuba diving, sailing, Forest school, outdoor first aid) I had not really “coached” anyone else before. I have an exceptionally high pain threshold (Childbirth was my proof) and I don’t really feel the cold. I am an animal when it comes to mud and water, I will do literally anything. During one particular race, we had to go through barbed wire and underwater obstacles. But encouraging others to do these nutty things, is a whole different matter.

The lovely guy in charge put me on a technical and fairly high risk obstacle. In my head I completed a “dynamic” risk assessment: Drowning, concussion, shock, heart attack. The weather was pretty horrid and us instructors were all clad in our best wet weather gear.

At one point, the man who runs the event said “last year I had four squaddies manning this one. They literally stood in the water and shouted at people till they did it.” Well, that’s totally not my style, I thought. Over the walkie talkie I could hear someone requesting an urgent medic on another stage. I tried to stay focused on my task. I could hear that a group of lady medics in matching black tee shirts were going round. Each stage reported their arrival. When they finally got to me, they felt like old friends.

“You can definitely do this!” I said to them. “Over the big, under the small.” They looked at me, slightly broken and said “What?!?!? put out heads right under?”

“You have come this far. You are going to be so proud when you have completed this. I am right here if you need me. “

“I wish I could take a photo, one lady said.”

“I will take a photo” I said, like an idiot, realising that I did not know them to send it their way.

“Find me on facebook.” She said. So I took this brilliant picture.

Bristol Dental Specialists

To the Bristol Dental Specialists: I salute you. Keep taking risks, challenging yourselves and nurturing the sisterhood! You guys were fab!

The rest of my week was spent with my family in the forest of Dean, seeking new places to explore. We walked through cascading golden leaves, stomped through gushing streams and walked up steep old drover lanes. Time spent together in nature is never time wasted. And we even found a hedgehog! Something I have not seen (even as road kill) for 25 years. My hubby and I were convinced the son had found a dead one, but no, there he was just roaming around. It felt like we had found a fairy or a unicorn, the stuff of magic.

And if the great British weather is a bit inclement, well, just make sure you end the day in one of our bloody brilliant pubs. A glass of wine and a log fire will surely cure all ills in the world. Chin, chin.

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Wild Women Escapes – Mountain

Let me drive you from Bristol, take you up a waterfall, across moors, up two peaks and around a lake. At the second peak I will cook fresh bacon butties washed down with G&T. This is a chance to challenge yourself to do something new, or maybe rekindle a love of the wild. We will go at a pace that suits everyone and all support each other. Come and escape for a day.

How to find your tribe

Being a woman adventurer requires a special kind of tenacity. My experience is that it takes years to find your tribe. These are a special group of peeps who can cover your ass in every possible eventuality when you find yourself up a creek, lost on a mountain or just laughing your head off on a beach having not brought a swim costume.

Here are the top seven personalities you find on an adventure. I bet you can recognise all your mates in this list, and if you don’t you need to fill that void.

#The Matriarch

This is the friend who you call when you are probably struggling with some life decisions. You know they have some great but gentle advice to help you sift through the rubble. You go on a walk, make sure there are regular pit stops, and accept that you are going to get some tough love but by the end you have put the world to rights.

#The philosopher

This is probably someone you have known for a VERY long time. They have an uncanny ability to turn their hand to everything and probably have multiple qualifications in everything known to humanity. You know that even when you are talking verbal diarrhoea, they will gently find a way to find zen and wisdom in the random rantings of a camping night. Nothing is bad, only good, as {add quote here} said. You bloody love their company.

#Partner in crime

AKA the one who always gets you in trouble. I distinctly remember calling said friend out of the blue saying “I am on my way to yours. I have a bottle of wine.” She took a long hard drag of her cigarette and replied “Bring two.” I remember one time waking up in a house I had no recollection of ever entering. Another time with one of my “partners” we broke into a party in central Paris, and broke out with hand fulls of Mangos from a kitchen window in the basement. There is a picture of her on a red vintage moped which neither of us have any idea why. We were tailed by men on that trip, but told them we had no time to mess about, we had an important photo shoot tomorrow!

#The dare devil

Oh the fun we’ve had! Sometimes I make sure there is someone else about just to make sure we don’t end up in A&E. My best story involves a fated trip to one of the best surfing beaches in Europe. I am not a very experience surfer. My friend is. She briefed me on the correct entry, explained how to ride the waves, and warned me of the hazards of this reef surf. In panic, I did none of the above, and appeared an hour later with both legs dripping in blood. One time we completed a 10k obstacle race. Another time an off road triathlon. I should probably be dead. Cheers for the good times!!

#The witchy one

You probably have a friend who grew up in the country and has an amazing amount of lost knowledge. This friend decorates my hair with wild flowers, pulls leaves out of waterfalls for me to eat and has a herbal remedy for every ailment. I have friends who are qualified doctors, but it is this friend I call when the kids are ill. She has a sixth sense.

#The starry eyed wanderer

This is probably someone you met while out on an adventure. She has probably lived in multiple countries, had multiple professions and has an incredibly calm nature. Nothing phases this friend. A favourite story of my Dad’s is him meeting up with his. They were on a beach. His friend had no phone, but he is pretty sure they go to this small festival every year, so he turns up in hope. One time, she had a disagreement with her partner, so she said “That’s it! I’m off. ” and waded out into the sea, fully clothed. She just stayed there until finally he roamed off having felt a little stupid.

#The eternal child

This one can be the most dangerous. For mine, we have till this day made sure that we have never been drunk at the same time. We just don’t trust ourselves. We have NO inhibitions. And that is while we are sober. We are loud, gregarious, hedonistic, spontaneous, and totally lack remorse. We love life. We love people. We love to laugh. You go out with this type of friend for a pint of milk and wake up in Mexico.

So forget the seven people you meet in heaven. It’s too late then. Make sure the seven people you share your piece of heaven with are worth the time spent. Here’s to the tribes! May yours be forever full of fun, laughter and magic.

Re-wilding a woman

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A micro adventure is a journey you go on which is less than two hours from home, allows you to explore somewhere new and bring you joy. These three things are the core of my new career and it is about reconnecting people to nature. The other two things I feel passionately about are fuelling your body with food that has soul and building communities.

This week I took my first group of women on the first “wild women escape”. The idea of these events is to get women to have some time out of their busy and normally stressful lives and reconnect with an inspiring and often unknown stunning location. This trip was all about waterfalls, wild swimming and walking. I prepared 3 lobsters from my local fish mongers, packed two bottles of prosecco and a range of tasty tapas foods for the arrival. I had my 6 first volunteers to try out my business idea and was nervous as hell.

The concept was quite simple. I plan, drive, lead a walk, cook food and take you home again. You can just relax, enjoy the experience, eat the food make some new friends and talk, walk and laugh. On the way home, I am not going to be offended if you sleep on the drive home, having exerted yourself from the five mile hike and the wilds swim to the waterfall.

I could not tell you why, but for some reason I was really anxious. The weather had been absolutely glorious in the few weeks leading up to the trip. Then, a few days before, lightening storms were forecast. I was wracked with a crisis of confidence. “No one will come.” my internal monologue was telling me. “This whole thing was a ridiculous idea. You live in the UK, you idiot, where it rains for 80% of the year. You can’t run a business which is so seasonal. It’s not going to work.” I actuality, all of the participants came! I was so eternally grateful. “You have to be braver.” I told myself after.

I lit the BBQ and smeared the halved lobsters with garlic butter. The ladies enjoyed the prosecco and olives and bread and snacks which the lobster cooked. When I brought it over to the table, it looked like a sight to behold. We feasted and chatted. One of the ladies had just got engaged, one had just announced being pregnant and the next day was my birthday. We had so much positivity to share and so much to celebrate. We were uninterrupted by impetuous children, undistracted by the pull of house chores and unencumbered by workplace to do lists.

For two and a half miles, we walked along the Eidir trail to a glorious pub bathed in dappled sunshine. The path required you to watch your feet and was moderately challenging which warmed us up and required our focus and attention. All around us was ancient woodland filled with Oak and Hazel and Beech and the river flowed by sometimes in torrents which took your breath away and sometimes in calm, rippling pools.

There are about 6 waterfalls on this walk (depending on you definition), four of which are named on the map. Each one sings a different song, each has a different character. At one point, a lady pulled some medowsweet from the bank and a fern and decorated my hair for no reason. At many points, women talked about how they would love to come back and share this lovely place with their family. Your walking partner changed along the route and we all got to make new friends.

The last waterfall is probably the most spectacular, and has a deep lagoon below. This was the place I chose for our wild swim. We had seen very few people along the paths and we were alone for a quick change into swim gear. The water was icy! But it has been well documented in recent years as to the mental health and physical benefits of cold water swimming. The usual human reaction is the yelp, scream and laugh. Two of us decided to just go for it and I am sure our laughter could be heard for miles. I have a lasting image of one lady in my mind who waded round to the far side of the waterfall with a new found friend and she stood fully under the full force of the river cascading down. The look on her face was pure unadulterated joy! I knew that she had been having a difficult time of late, and just to see her let it all go and do something magical, was a pleasure like no other. I had achieved my aim.

And so to new beginnings. Be they scary, daring, challenging and emotional. Let’s take them on together.

Where have all the women gone?

Why is adventure and outdoor activity a male dominated thing?

This week I completed my first Triathlon. I was aiming to do one before I turned 30. That then became 40. With 18 months left to go, I signed up to a short distance off road event. It seemed like a good idea back in January. I thought it would make me ring fence time for exercise. Instead, followed three months of flu followed by 2 months of excessive work load. In truth, the main motivation for having ago (with very limited training) was the fact it had cost so much. I felt guilty.

I arrived the night before and slept in my friend’s camper. The lake was beautiful and it seemed like a pleasant idea to go on a mountain bike ride the next day. Hell! The run after through the forest would be fantastic.

The next morning, the dark clouds loomed ominously over the hills and a strong head wind was going to make the paddle back “challenging.” I’d fixed a puncture on my bike the day before but it had been a ‘ghost’ puncture. No split on the valve. No thorns in the rubber. Was everyone going to laugh at my cheap paddle board and my 20 year old bike?

As we set out on the paddle boards, I felt nerves running through my veins. The leg out was not so bad. “The way back is really hard!” Called a guy. On the way back I was deafened by the wind. I paddled, steadily, only to discover I was going backwards, rather than forwards. Eventually, I ended up banked on the far shore. A speed boat pulled up, “I can tow you, but it would be game over for the race.” Nooooooooo. I screamed silently to myself. I pushed off from the shore. I would have to rapidly improve my technique. I should have looked this up on YouTube last night, I thought to myself.

You are going to have to work this out. I told myself. What no one else could hear, thanks to the wind, was me screaming and shouting to myself . “Come on! Come on!” I urged as I paddled. I was going to have to go round the perimeter of the lake. Eventually I made it back exhilarated, but I must have paddled 5k rather than 3.

Cycling is something I have always loved. But this bike ride was a beast. 15k with 300 meter of ascent. It was technical and there were plenty of opportunities to break a collar bone. Half way round I joined a group of 5 ladies with matching red tops. “You are welcome to join us.” One said. We are helping each other and we plan to cross the finish line together. Each time we passed another lady, we all yelled words of encouragement. “You can do this!” Another time a lady clapped me as I passed in the opposite direction. The men said nothing, either to each other, nor to us women.

At the finish line, I let the red vested ladies all pass in front of me, holding hands and smiling. Their families were all happy and congratulatory. I felt proud. I had not been defeated by this monumental challenge. And I felt proud to be female.

All the things I like to be tend to be “boys” pass times. My profession is dominated by men. When I did my degree, it was 10:1 men to women. The bottom layer of teaching is woman heavy. But of 15 senior leaders, only two are women. Where are all the women?

My next adventure was to take the boys sand surfing in Cornwall. I love the times we go camping. We reconnected, we laughed, we cooked together and played football and ate chocolate.

Upon my return, I opened an email from the triathlon event. Dear reader….a woman had come first place. Not me, incidentally, I had come 47th. But I was so proud of that anonymous lady. Welcome to the sisterhood. To the strong women, may we know the, may we be them, may we raise them.

Education rebellion

Why children need to be taken into the wild

Running through Wild garlic flowers and woodlands

Our children are growing up in a digital age which we have no experience of. They are guinea pigs for smart phones and 24/7 media. I am trying hard not to be the bastard parent who won’t let them have any of this stuff but I am failing miserably. My boys are 7 and nearly 9. Because I have worked with teenagers for 16 years, I have some strong opinions about the impact of “screen time.” Firstly, 4 out of 5 training sessions for work last year were on the rising child mental health crisis. I had workshops on mindfulness and dealing with grief and talking about self harm. The government has really pushed the agenda on rising anxiety and depression in childhood. But I feel we are looking at putting a sticking plaster on a problem, rather than asking why the problem is there in the first place.

My family when the boys were 2 and 4

Last week we went camping with my Dad, my cousin and her children. It was pretty full on with 5 kids from age 3 to 13. We were staying on a simple campsite on Hayling Island. My kids love being outdoors, understanding they can go off, climb trees, have fights, play games, make friends and collect dead crabs. (Don’t ask. The small one has some unusual ideas). Their cousins were not sure what to do when you don’t have WiFi, well apart from the 3 year old. He roamed around barely eating he was so excited. Trying to rewild a teenager is much more of a challenge. She seemed to speak a different language which consisted of text speak and American acronyms. FOMO?

I love my cousin to death. We laughed, we cooked, we gazed at the fire. There is nothing like two women watching their kids wade into the sea up to their knees and think “why?” We literally told them there were no spare clothes. And then proceed to watch them get drenched up to their elbows. We stayed up looking in awe at the starry sky. We made up fire side tales. We ended every day with salty hair and rosey cheeks and clothes bathed in wood smoke. We ate a LOT of cheese. Because calories consumed outdoors just don’t count. Kids toasting marshmallows after dark don’t count as bedtime pudding.

Fire. An essential element to a micro adventure.

We have taken our two boys into the wild from the week they were born. By the time little one was three, they could cope with a 5 mile walk thanks to a carefully constructed tale (lie). In your pocket hide 10 foil wrapped chocolate coins and tell them about the forest/ beach/ river goblins. These goblins hide treats for children, but they run away if they hear moaning or whining. Tell them that the goblins don’t really like people, so you have to go far from the car parks. When your kids start to flag, say “ooooohhhh. This looks like goblin territory. See if you can find goblin chocolate.” I recon, I have got my two to run the next 3 miles looking for the foil in tree trunks, under stones etc. …you’re welcome.

But let me come back to rewilding. Yes, it is a word. It is a very necessary word. Eventually, after three days and sunshine, and laughter, and fires the teenager relaxed. She slept better than she had done for a long time. She enjoyed playing croquet more than anyone. Pleasure we all got from scrabble was silly. Our hair was messy and wild. And in the middle of the night we walked barefoot in the dew to the toilets, amazed by how much shadow was cast by moonlight. No torch was necessary.

Brunch on the beach

We made our own rules and we made them as fun as we could make them.