Adventure & Tech

This idea that technology is bad, that GPS is cheating, that outdoors aides make you less of an outdoorsy type – these ideas need to die. They’re steeped in the past, they’re unhelpful and they don’t encourage anybody to discover our beautiful outdoor spaces.

Ordnance Survey have a wonderful initiative called #GetOutside. There aren’t many hashtags I rally around on social media and I’m pretty picky about the causes I support, but #GetOutside is one that I love. I can’t sum it up any better than Ordnance Survey’s own Nick Giles:

“The GetOutside initiative is core to OS’s aims to help more people to GetOutside more often, it is about inspiring adventures, enabling experiences and helping make memories. It’s already encouraging people to re-engage with the outdoors and showing that it is enjoyable, accessible and safe for all ages and abilities.


We all know the statistics. The shocking levels of obesity and inactivity within Great Britain, even amongst children. A sedentary lifestyle is easy, and it’s winning, and we’re seeing the effects of that on people’s mental and physical health. We appreciate people have busy lives and responsibilities, and that finding the time is not always easy, but we can all incorporate getting outside into our daily routines.”

I read a post last night shared (and presumably endorsed, but I’m making an assumption that may be incorrect) by one of the #GetOutside Champions. That article kept me up last night. It royally pissed me off.

I’m not going to name who wrote the article other than to say it wasn’t the person who shared it, nor am I going to link to it. All too often on social media a difference of opinion becomes personal despite each person having good intentions and seeing merit in each other’s ideas, so I’m going to talk about why I disagree with the theme. Mine will become another blog post floating in the ether that likely garners less than 1% of the views of the article I disagree with. If I had any social savvy or cared about clicks and likes, I’d probably link to it, create a discussion and, in the midst of my burgeoning popularity, people would forget that it’s ideas that should be challenged and not the people who hold them.

That shared blog post loftily stated that if you don’t use paper maps and instead use technology, you’re not a real outdoorsy-type. It went on to say that GPS devices are for ‘children and amateurs’.


We need to lose this rhetoric otherwise a new generation of ‘children and amateurs’ won’t be encouraged to find out what our National Parks are like because they’ll be too worried about running into some holier-than-thou rambler with a ‘pocketable’ laminated map the size of a tablecloth in their hands, and a rehearsed lecture ready to go whenever the audience arises. Please don’t turn outdoor communities into an echo chamber where only real outdoors types post photos of themselves in places inferior city-dwelling types mustn’t tread; where the enlightened few can raise a pint of filtered bog water to each other before they bed down in an outcrop of heather having woven a mosquito net out of nothing but wild grass and wishes.

Don’t wear your outdoors skills like a badge of honour that puts you on a pedestal. Unless, of course, you’re doing DofE or in the Scouts or something; they’re pretty big on badges. Use your skills to inspire the intrepid and curious people who want to learn more. Don’t tell them they’re doing it wrong when they’ve only just started.

I wrote a post challenging the idea that paper maps are essential in all circumstances – it was surprisingly popular and got a lot of support, but I’m reluctant to repeat myself. I want, instead, to look at the other side of things. This idea that technology is bad, that GPS is cheating, that outdoors aides make you less of an outdoorsy type – these ideas need to die. They’re steeped in the past, they’re unhelpful and they don’t encourage anybody to discover our beautiful outdoor spaces. You know who’s going to be wandering our National Parks in 50-100 years? It won’t be you and me, it’ll be the younger generations we encourage to love the parks and their children. Stop demeaning them and making them feel like they’re not doing it right. In my view, we need to show them why there’s so much to love in the outdoors and the skills and knowledge will come later once the enthusiasm and thirst for more takes its hold. Let’s not put unnecessary barriers in their way.

My friend, Rob, is a driving instructor. He’s one of the best driving instructors in the county and is exceptionally talented at providing courses for people with learning difficulties or special needs. I know a similar argument has been happening for decades with (especially older) drivers bemoaning the use of in-car tech such as sat navs. I wanted to get Rob’s opinion on this because there’s an undeniable parallel between navigational tech in the car and orienteering tech in the outdoors – we’re just a long way behind. His response was so perfect, I’m going to post it in full:

Tech can help to reduce cognitive overload allowing a better focus on the true task in hand. In the context of driving, true driving is about what happens outside the window (judgement, assessment, interaction…) not the physical aspect of body movements – reducing the physical load allows greater brain processing on the true skills of driving. We shouldn’t be clinging onto 19th century tech for the sake of nostalgia when we have a better way. Even pen and paper is a tech which allows us to reduce cognitive overload, storing information outside the brain – at the time of its invention this was frowned upon. Even weather forecasting was frowned upon initially, anything new is seen as cheating or heresy.

I asked him to weigh in on how this might translate into the paper maps/GPS debate:

[The idea that analogue is better than digital] is very narrow-minded and works on the basis that we all perceive information the same way. We are a diverse species and our brains all work very differently, some can process paper maps well and that’s fantastic for them. Others will struggle, so a different form of processing should be sought and this is where technology can be wonderful as it provides alternative means to make sense of the same information. A map/satnav or any tech is simply an interface between ‘reality’ and the brain – we should each find what works for us best. I imagine that a lot of individuals with dyslexia/dyspraxia/Irlens Syndrome would struggle with map reading due to the perception issues – it would be insulting and crude to imply that they are lesser because of this. Technology can provide different means to access the same information allowing for the sheer diversity of brain types existent in the human race. Use whatever is necessary to make sense and enjoyment from the world around you. Technology is fantastic for this and it’s insulting that those who benefit are mocked by those who use a different style despite the fact they are using their own crutch (a map).

I may as well stop writing here. Rob said everything I wanted to say and managed to say it in a more eloquent way than I could.

When I wrote Is there still a place in your backpack for paper maps?, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’! I pretty much always have a paper map and compass in my bag for backup. I don’t think the arguments for using paper maps exclusively over technology such as phones and GPS stand up to scrutiny anymore, but I think map-reading and orienteering skills are incredibly helpful skills to have. Useful, yes. Pre-requisites, no.

If you’re the kind of person that blindly follows your sat nav along roads that you’re not supposed to be on and have routinely had to swerve to miss things like lakes after following a line on a screen, you should probably stay inside. A paper map isn’t going to solve your problems and Mountain Rescue have it hard enough as it is.

If, like me, you’re in love with that intersection between technology and the outdoors, I have good news. The Ordnance Survey app is very good and they’ve recently released a series of OS GPS devices which I hear are also very good reasonable. I haven’t tried one of those, but if I ever do I’ll report back. It really does encourage me to see that Ordnance Survey’s #GetOutside initiative and their Champions are having such a positive effect and that the company is striving to instil passion for the outdoors in the next generation. I just wish all ramblers were as forward-thinking.

You can follow Ordnance Survey on Twitter here, on Instagram here, and find out more about their #GetOutside initiative here. If you want to follow a few of my favourite #GetOutside Champions, who all make the outdoors both accessible and enjoyable, you can’t do much better than these three:

Kate Jamieson: Blog | Twitter | Instagram

Zoe Homes: Blog | Twitter | Instagram

Potty Adventures: Blog | Twitter | InstagramYouTube


Time to Talk

The voice in my head is an asshole.

Go Green to Beat the Blues

A few months ago, I spent two days with Mental Health First Aid England to become a qualified Mental Health First Aider. Those are two of the most valuable days I’ve spent anywhere.

Mental Health First Aiders are a point of contact if you, or someone you are concerned about, is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. We’re not therapists or psychiatrists, but we can give you initial support and signpost you to appropriate help if it’s required.

It’s easy to forget that everyone has mental health – it’s more of a continuum than an absolute – and you can quickly find yourself on either end of the scale.

But what is good mental health? Well, the World Health Organisation defines it as:

“A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

In all honestly, I’m more inclined to the deep end of the pool. Depression and anxiety have been around for me for such a long time that they’ve become dependable companions. I have a proclivity for rumination. I tend to see the risks in situations more than the positive outcomes. I’m endlessly self-critical.

In short, the voice in my head is an asshole.

There are two things that have helped me immeasurably when it comes to living with myself – “wherever you go, there you are”. The first is meditation. The second is hill walking.

While this website isn’t about meditation, I’d have just as many good things to say and could talk to you about it at length. It’s been transformational for me, a paradigm shift unlike any other, and if you’d like to find out more it would be my pleasure to have a chat about it with you.

This blog, however, is about walking. Happily, hill walking has been shown to have wonderful benefits for mental health. Remember, we’re not saying it’s going to solve all the problems, but it might be one factor in improving your position on the mental health continuum.

Long Live the Proleteriat!

2018 can feel a little like 1984 sometimes, can’t it? I don’t mean new episodes of Miami Vice and movies like Footloose, Karate Kid, Gremlins and Ghostbusters storming the Box Office. I mean more like George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare.

We all have the unenviable stress and pressure of wage slavery, which many of us attempt to self-medicate through post-work drinks, endlessly scrolling through social media without really knowing why, and wishing there was a more effective way of getting every milligram of caffeine into our sleep-deprived bodies.

The good news is that there’s a much cheaper and more natural remedy. Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), conducted by Dr Valerie Gladwell at the University of Essex, demonstrated the power of the great outdoors to improve both physiological and psychological wellbeing:

“The value of nature has long been considered to be advantageous to human health. Early examples of this come in the form of urban parks established by wealthy philanthropists during the 19th century, and in the gardens incorporated into hospital designs. Our research supports this, demonstrating an association between improved health outcomes and engagement with surrounding ‘green space’.”

The research showed that just looking at slides of natural scenes could improve response and recovery from stressful tasks and that a simple walk in a green place led to better sleep the following night. Conversely, looking at city scenes had no such effect (therefore vindicating my aversion to London and proving once and for all that I’m not just miserable – London is scientifically awful).

I must admit, I was incredibly surprised to find just how much Ordnance Survey have done to promote healthy behaviours like these. Their challenge to us: what could you do with an hour a day? That’s all you need to get started and see benefits. One hour outside a day. What’s more, their apps for iOS and Android have a Greenspace map layer to help you easily identify parks and other local greenspaces.

You don’t have to walk for miles to feel the benefits. You don’t even have to go near hills. But imagine, if one our a day outside can do so much to benefit your mental health, how much better would regularly getting out into your closest National Park be? There are loads of them.

Another study showed that as little as 80 minutes of hill walking may reduce the risk of early death by around 10%. If you don’t have hills on your doorstep, make that 120 minutes of brisk walking around your local greenspace.

Of course, we’re here to talk about mental health and while reducing your risk of death by 10% is a noble cause, the quality of your life matters just as much as the longevity of it. The study mentioned above by the University of Essex showed that over 71% of participants felt less depressed after the country walk compared to 22% who reported an increase in feelings of depression after an urban walk.

It’s wonderful to see MIND, the mental health charity, still championing their green agenda. People have been advocating that we should all ‘get outside a bit more’ for as long as I can remember, but championing the great outdoors as a therapy in its own right is nothing but good news. Ecotherapy involves getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental wellbeing – it’s not just good advice, it’s a clinically valid treatment option for GPs when assisting patients with mental ill health.

For the Men

Finally, for the men. I know, because I’m one of you, that it’s difficult to talk about mental health. You’re supposed to embody strength, dominate positions of power, and be the hunter-gatherer (this is what we call grocery shopping in my house). You’re supposed to balance that with being the strong and silent type, whilst showing no weakness. You can’t openly talk about mental health or stress online without a keyboard warrior branding you a ‘triggered snowflake’ and looking your best buddy in the eyes over a nice hot chocolate is just going to be dreadful.

And that’s why you should get outside with your mates. There are no keyboard warriors out there. If you’ve got a Jetboil, you can even keep the hot chocolate. You and your mates can just have a stroll and a chat… sometimes that chat can be about PlayStation games and Netflix, but other times it might give you the opportunity to actually help someone. Men are far more comfortable talking to each other when there’s something else to address. If you sit us facing each other and make us talk, we’ll forget how to use words. Put us in a car, both facing forward, or walking through some terrific scenery and navigating puddles of cow excrement, and it’s an entirely different story.

You could even turn walking into Walking+. The Peak District is renowned as a great place to go wreck hunting. Many aircraft wreck sites dating back to World War II can still be found on remote hillsides and moorlands. With a decent GPS and a bit of outdoors savvy, you can find yourself seeking out Lancaster, Dakota, Sabre, Gladiator, Meteor and Superfortress. All the while, you can start that conversation with your mate with three very simple words: “How’s it going?”

Facts About Mental Health

  • The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey show the total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases.
  • British firms are losing on average 27.5 days of productive time per employee each year because of sickness, according to a report from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace.
  • Women are more likely than men to report that their stress levels are on the rise.
  • The Centre for Mental Health calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health alone, costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum.
  • Mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost and costs £30 billion each year, more than for any other illness.



A Beginner’s Guide to Hill Walking

Hot on the heels of our moderately successful post ‘Hill Walking: A Manifesto for Londoners’, we’re proud to bring you ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Hill Walking’.

It all started the day you got off the bus one stop early and walked home. You felt good. You felt fit. You got some air in your lungs. This new you loves walking!

Now you walk to and from Tesco Express instead of getting in the car. You even went for a walk around the park on Saturday and quite liked it. Maybe all those people traipsing around the countryside at the weekend aren’t retired, boring and a little bit vegan. Maybe they’re like you: young, dynamic, full of beans and loving life.*

*Author’s note: Many of them are young, dynamic, full of beans and loving life. If you know me and you’re thinking “that doesn’t describe you at all, Mark, you’re in your mid-30s and really quite cynical”, then please don’t let one exception to the rule diminish your newfound enthusiasm.

If this all sounds a bit like you and you don’t know where to start, it’s been incredibly serendipitous that you’ve found this article.

Walking around the UK National Parks is my favourite thing to do. I’m particularly fond of the Peak District, but there are special places in my heart for the Brecon Beacons, Cotswolds, Lake District and basically anywhere in Scotland. You get to be outside, see some incredible scenery, spend some decent time with your mates away from a screen, and take in a lungful or two of fresh, country air. What’s more, it’s free! Actually, it’s not free. People keep saying it’s free, but everything below costs some money. But once you’ve spent that money, it’s mostly free!

Allow me to be your guide into the wonderful world of hill walking…

Walking Boots

These are the most important things you’re going to buy before you set off into the hills. There are so many boots available that it can be daunting, but you can quickly discard 80% of the options. Heading up Kinder Scout on the weekend? You’re not going to need ski boots or alpine boots. It gets rainy and boggy up there, so you can probably discard the lightweight approach shoes as well. This leaves you with proper walking boots to choose from. I tend to go for waterproof ones that cover and support my ankles, because history tells me I’ll mistake a 6-inch deep puddle of cow shit for solid terrain on every walk. Choose wisely.

Now you’ve picked a pair you want to try on, turn your attention to the weird ramp thing in the store that looks a little like someone built a zen garden bridge over a tiny shed roof. Put some boots on, pretend you’re in a playground made just for you – your own little miniature mountain range of felt – and have a good old go on it.

Your inclination at this point is going to be the same as when the hairdresser shows you the back of your head or when the waiter asks you to try the wine. You’ll go through the motions and nod like you understand why you came here in the first place, but it’s all a bit of a mystery. Let me be the one to let you in on the secret…

When you’re approaching the ramp and during your arduous ascent of Mount Felt, notice what your heel is doing inside the boot. There should be a little movement. Not much, but a little. A heel that doesn’t move beckons the Coming of Blisters and Misery. A heel that moves too much beckons your boot being left stuck in cow shit while you hop around a farm track trying to keep your balance. Nobody wants to end up hiking home in footwear accidentally made from wattle and daub. Summit the top of the ramp. Survey the view. Now, walk down it and concentrate on your toes. As you descend, you don’t want your toes to hit the front of the boots. Why? Well, why would you? It sounds like a terrible way to live.

Even if you’ve found a pair of boots that you love, be that annoying customer who wants to try on another two pairs by different brands. This is like speed dating with footwear. Choose the wrong ones and it’s going to cost you money and ruin your day. Get the right ones and you’ll love them until they’re old and baggy and you fancy something new. See? Just like dating, but with boots.


If the Inuit apocryphally have 50 words for snow (they don’t), then the British must have at least 7 or 8 words for rain. When I first started walking, I skimped on waterproof jackets because they were expensive – I regretted it. More recently, I’ve upped my waterproof game to include ExPed dry sacks after I walked through a cloud for three hours. My waterproofs couldn’t cope with the deluge and my phone finally died a soggy death after being subjected to 360-degree rain and a waterfall going the wrong way.

The British weather can change in minutes and you can easily find yourself exposed to the elements with very few options for shelter. A good waterproof jacket, over-trousers and dry sacks will make sure you and your equipment get home safely. Dry sacks might seem like a luxury, but even if your rucksack has one of those integrated raincovers, you’ll soon discover that they’re universally crap. There’s no misery quite like being wet and cold while you’re walking, let alone on the drive home. Trust me on this – after you’ve bought boots, this is where you need to put your money.

Walking Poles

Some people love to use walking poles because they can really help with balance and spread impact, especially on slopes. Other people say that they make you look like a bit of a tit. Those people are judgemental. Get yourself some poles if that’s what you want to do.


I always take a headlamp walking with me in winter, just in case I don’t make it around the walk before the sun sets. I’m also a massive fan of night walks, which bring an entirely different, majestic, awe-inspiring peacefulness to hill walking that I don’t think enough walkers experience. I’ve had a few headlamps over the years, but I currently use a Petzl REACTIK which I love. At the very least take a torch with you if there’s a chance you’ll get caught out by nightfall, but the joy of shining a light from your forehead is one that can’t be described sufficiently with words.

If you do get a headlamp, remember this: all your life you’ve been taught to look at people when they talk to you. If you’re wearing a headlamp, don’t do that. Your forehead has 220 lumens beaming out of it. How much is 220 lumens? Enough that you won’t have any friends left if you keep looking at them with the thing turned on.


Do you know how many times I’ve been 4 miles into a 9 mile walk, my phone battery has died and, all of a sudden, I’m without the ViewRanger route I’d been relying on to get me home? Never. Not once. I always carry a battery pack with me whenever I’m outdoors and I always carry a map and a compass. I haven’t needed to use a paper map to get me home safely in 5 years, but it goes into the bag with the same assurance as the waterproofs and headlamp. Maybe I’ll never need it, but it’ll be there if I do.

You don’t want to be the lone walker sat weeping into your Camelbak reservoir harvesting tears for when you’ll need them to stave off dehydration in 3 days time. Get a map and learn how to read it. I shan’t explain how to use a map and compass here because:

  1. It’s already a very long article, isn’t it?
  2. It would require me to draw diagrams and I’m just not that confident in my ability to do it justice. I’m much more adept at tracing.
  3. Ordnance Survey have done a bloody good job of explaining it here. They even sell compasses. Compi? Compasses/compi. Whatever. Get one.

And that is all you need to get started! All that’s left is for you to point yourself in the direction of one of our astonishingly beautiful National Parks, find a decent pub for the way home, and get outside!

I hope you love it as much as I do. You never know, next time it might be me you walk past in the Peak District as you raise your hand and say “Walker ahoy!” just as all walkers do when they pass each other.

Do they really say that?

Surely not.

But everything else in the article seemed so helpful…

Maybe you should practice it in front of a mirror just in case.

“Walker ahoy!”


The Dragon’s Back

In a quiet distant corner of the Dove Valley, a dragon has lain sleeping for millions of years.

In a quiet distant corner of the Dove Valley, a dragon has lain sleeping for millions of years…

Continue reading “The Dragon’s Back”