GetOutside Champion: Mel Nicholls
Paralympian, outdoors lover and life adventurer.
The freedom, if not the desire, to explore the planet has been a long time coming for women. The playing field is a lot more even now than when the first female pioneers of mountaineering and derring-do were on the scene, yet when I am out hiking, in the line-up or on a climbing wall I often find myself in a very male-dominated world. I reckon it’s time we changed that.
I hear again and again from women who would love to try surfing, go hiking or travel alone but feel they lack the confidence to get out and give those things a go. Perhaps because there’s still an old perception of adventure as an extreme pursuit, a tough club open only to the hardiest grizzled explorer. Not true!
Luckily, there are more and more inspiring female role models in adventure. My social media feeds are full of photos of women of all ages and backgrounds enjoying wild places across Britain and beyond, which makes me so happy and inspired.
When I attended the launch of 2018-19’s Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champions, I was chuffed to see a room full of women and men of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. Some of those women had achieved epic feats, such as rowing around the world (the courageous Sarah Outen) or competing for Great Britain as a Paralympian (awe-inspiring cyclist Mel Nicholls) to name just two. Others were more interested in shouting about the amazing benefits of any quality time spent outdoors, whether that’s a weekend hiking in a national park or trying a new outdoor sport such as canoeing.
I think the main barriers for women who’d like to get outside are often perceived, and sometimes exaggerated, dangers - I've heard from lots of girls who feel too nervous to wild camp or go trail running, for example. I totally understand those feelings, but the more time I spend outside, the more I think that life's too short to let fear hold you back from the things you'd love to do. I can think of no better people to ask for some advice and inspiring words than some of my fellow OS champions – here’s what they had to say.
“There is this odd idea that outdoor hobbies are the domain of white bearded males, super attractive model-like women and those with loads of spare cash and no ‘proper’ job, mortgage or family. But the outdoors is actually the most inclusive place in the world. There are no membership rules, no joining fee, no pre-determined criteria. It really is for everyone. And there are outdoorsy activities out there for you, whatever your likes and dislikes, finances, fitness and skills happen to be. Put on some shoes (or don’t), put on a coat (or don’t), grab a map (always wise) and go. Come and join us!” - Zoe Homes
“Outside, you can be you. There are no barriers, and the natural world around you does not judge or tell you who or what you should be. Outside is free. My advice to every woman would be – pull on your brave boots, take that step, be free to be your adventure” – Mel Nicholls
“Look after yourself by making sure you do the things you enjoy. If it makes you happy then everything else will follow; skills and experience will come. The best thing you can do is start.” – Emma Cusworth
“Learning how to map read has been the biggest thing that’s changed my relationship with the outdoors. It’s given me confidence to explore wild places on my own and not be reliant on other people for my safety. Walking clubs are a great place to start if you want to learn skills and gain confidence.” – Emily Thompson
My advice? Take small steps to grow your confidence. There's no need to go on a remote wild camp or hike up Ben Nevis on your first weekend outside. There's a lot of help available if you feel unsure about giving a new sport or adventure a go: sign up for a beginner's course, find a female-only club or go out with an instructor or a guide to gain that first bit of confidence.
In Zoe’s words: time to come join us!
OS GetOutside Champion Sian Anna Lewis is a travel and outdoors writer and editor of The Girl Outdoors blog.
Sian’s new book, The Girl Outdoors, is a beginner-friendly bible for all women looking for information and inspiration to get out in the great outdoors, get fit, get healthy and have fun, and covers everything from wild swimming and camping to solo travel and active sport.
It's not about tough expeditions - it is about being your own have-a-go heroine, embracing new experiences and the simple, low-key pleasures of camping, walking and exploring. It’s out on April 5th, published by Bloomsbury, and is available to pre-order here.
For more adventure inspiration, discover Britain's Top 100 favourite walks as seen on ITV.
Sian is an award-winning travel and outdoors journalist who writes for titles including The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile Magazine and Coast.
She is also the editor of Active Traveller magazine. Her work as an adventurous writer has taken her around the world in the name of a good story, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, conquering mountains in Africa and learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help in Thailand.
That said, her favourite days outdoors are usually spent camping or hiking in Britain’s wild corners, fuelled by Kendal Mint Cake.
You can find out more about Sian here.