New experiences on a peak-bagging trip to Ireland
Is your New Year's Resolution for 2019 to #GetOutside more? If not, then it should be. Spending time outside is amazing for both your physical and mental well-being.
I've been exploring the mountains and wild places of Britain for many years and have developed a few strategies for getting the most of my time in the great outdoors. I finally got around to compiling them into a list of handy tips - so here they are. Hopefully they might help make your 2019 adventures as epic as possible.
1. It's not a race
I used to rush around the countryside like a madman, eager to squeeze every last drop out of my precious time away from the concrete jungle. I'd try to summit every peak and run every mile possible in the hours available to me. And then - watching trekkers treat the GR20 in Corsica like an assault course to be completed against the clock - I had an epiphany.
The best part of being in the great outdoors is when you stay still.
Trust me, give it a try. Pick a picturesque spot, don't move and simply be quiet for 15 minutes or so. Listen to the sounds. Breath in the smells. Take in the views. It will give you a richer experience of the scenery and bring you closer to nature. Just be careful the relaxing effect doesn't send you to the land of nod.
Taking a quiet, still moment to enjoy the Lake District scenery
2. Turn off your phone
Escapism is one the real joys of the great outdoors. You can leave behind the hectic everyday life of 9 to 5, emails, meetings and household chores. And instead enter a better world of natural beauty and peaceful wilderness. A place where you can de-stress, self-reflect and live in the moment. Why would you risk ruining that?
Facebook notifications flashing up on your phone will simply distract you from appreciating the here and now. Work emails pinging into your inbox may reignite the pressures and worries of normal life. And, most importantly, it's healthy to kick the 21st century smartphone addiction for at least a few hours every week.
Getting back to the simple life in Snowdonia - with my phone switched off
After all, when you're in the great outdoors there are different priorities.
Who needs YouTube clips of cute cats when you can gaze upon snow-capped mountains? Why play Candy Crush when you can skim stones on a tarn like an excitable child? What's the point of checking an endless stream of social media updates when you can enjoy the silence and solitude of a wild landscape?
3. Variety is the spice of life
Don't get me wrong, I have a handful of favourite places that I love to visit time and time again for outdoor activities. These spots - like Hopegill Head in the Lake District - have a hold on me and I regularly return like an old friend visiting a dependable companion. But I think it's important not to slip into a monotonous routine with your adventures. Doing the same thing in the same place constantly will, eventually, get tedious.
Trying something new and going somewhere different can inject excitement into your expeditions.
I learnt that lesson when I first took up peak-bagging. For all of its cons, the process prompted me to explore new areas, expand my horizons and leave my comfort zone behind - and it was fantastic. I discovered new favourite places and renewed my lagging enthusiasm for outdoor adventure. I've never looked back.
I'm constantly off exploring mountains and forests for the first time, indulging in the thrill of the unknown, as well as sampling new activities. The variety has only heightened my love for the outdoors. Why not give something different a go?
4. Share the fun times
Enjoying adventures with friends
I often head into the great outdoors by myself, eager to be alone and quiet in the wilderness. But I fully understand such an approach is not for everyone. In fact, there is something awesome about sharing an outdoor adventure with others.
I spent four days a while ago walking the South Downs Way with my little brother Adam and an old friend Joe. The experience was infinitely better for their companionship. Sat around a glowing fire, we joked and laughed during our wild camping nights under the stars. Plodding along the chalk paths, we told stories and caught up with each other's lives. And feeling weary, we took long breaks and invented games to entertain ourselves.
The common experience - feeling the same highs and lows, facing the same adversities and taking on the same challenge as a team - brought us closer together. Banterous emails reminiscing about our adventure have continued for weeks after the trip and pay tribute to that bond we developed.
So next time you reach for your walking boots, who will you take with you?