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Getting Out More

Fun on top of High Stile, the Lake District, England

Even if you love the outdoors, it’s true to say that actually getting out can be a herculean task of time management, list juggling and inertia prodding.

Here are few things that help me to do it. They won’t be right for everyone, but I hope you can find something in here that helps you to get out more too. And please do share any tips that you have – the more perspectives, the richer the picture.

Roman racecourse Whaley Bridge
The ‘Roman racecourse’ at Whaley Bridge that turned out to be a figment of the Victorian imagination

Find walks that interest you

Have you driven past a footpath sign many times and wondered where it goes? Planning walks around your interests can enliven the whole thing with a sense of adventure or exploration. It can be very satisfying to walk all the public footpaths in a particular area – and mark them off as you go. Or investigate a local historical or geological feature. A friend and I had an adventure seeking out the ‘Roman racecourse’ at Whaley Bridge mentioned in J D Sainter’s 1878 book ’Scientific Rambles Around Macclesfield’ (available from Macclesfield Library). Turns out it’s not a Roman racecourse at all, but we had great fun finding it. Finding good walks is the subject of a whole article all to itself – coming up in the near future. Friends, maps, libraries, local groups can all help. But bear in mind that…

Parks count!

If you can’t easily get into the country, it is possible to divert from regular journeys to a park or even tree-lined street. I have two walks to the local shops that give me a dose of green when I need it. One is through a recreation ground and the other has a short section along a tree-lined track by a field.

Fun on top of High Stile, the Lake District, England
Walk with someone else. You can suss a walk out, and have some fun

Walk with someone else first up

A bit of time on your own can be so refreshing, and frankly, if we always had to wait until a suitable companion was available, we might never go. But if you’re not a confident map reader and navigator, or a little afraid of countryside challenges, persuade someone else to plan and take a walk with you, or to take you on one they know already. Next time you can walk it on your own.

Be prepared to go it alone – but check in with someone

Walking on your own is great for thinking things through, and it also means you’re free to go when and where it suits you. But you do need to be aware of any potential risks. A key thing is to tell someone where you’re going, when you’ve left and when you get back. And do it before you leave in case you don’t have a phone signal. Carry enough warm clothes to enable you to comfortably wait for help if you have to, and take a drink and a snack. The Ramblers society has some great tips on safety here.

Keep it regular

Knowing that you’re going out for a walk at a particular time each week helps to minimise the tussle between your desire to get out and your to do list. And on that note…..

Early morning from Teggs Nose Country Park, Macclesfield
A contemplative early morning from Teggs Nose Country Park, Macclesfield

Early mornings rock

I find it much harder to break off from what I’m doing in the middle of the day than to go out first thing before anything else has claimed my headspace. Indeed sometimes before I’m even awake.

Have a sweet suite

Develop a suite of walks that you know like the back of your hand. That way, you can get out there before you’ve been been able to give yourself a reason why you’re too busy. Have a variety to avoid getting bored. And trust me, the weather and season will make a cluster of well walked routes seem like a different drama every time.

Cows near Youlgreave, Derbyshire
Not my favourite thing…

Plan around your challenges and, erm, fears..

In my case, mud and cows. Well mainly cows. Make a note of where they are and minimise your exposure if you can. Start small and then it’s never that far just to go back. You can build up your resistance over time, and you’ll probably surprise yourself. In my case, I started to overcome my fear of cows when I started doing long distance walks. If found that faced with extending a long walk when I was tired, cows don’t seem so scary. Nor mud so intimidating now I come to think of it.

By the way, the Ramblers offers some smart advice on how to walk around livestock

Use paper AND tech

Some people claim that if you can’t use a map and a compass, you shouldn’t be out in the countryside. While heading out on three hour hike on the moors with just a phone map is downright silly, the maps and apps available for mobiles today can be a godsend to boost confidence and confirm that you’re on the right track. The great thing about a paper map is that you can’t break it by dropping it in a puddle, and its battery doesn’t go flat when it’s cold, or if you look at the screen too often. And they’re much better for planning. The great thing about the map on your phone is that you can zoom in to make it bigger, and that it will tell you where you actually are. Why not have both I say.

So those are my tips for getting out more.  Even on a day that’s grisly with rain, a bit of headspace and some different scenery can lift the mood and help to cast a more positive light on tricky issues or everyday gripes. And on a sunny day, the spirit can soar….

Worth every second of the time it takes to get out there.

How do you do it? I’d love to know what works best for you.

Fancy getting out more and thinking things through with a skilled coach?  Book a coaching walk here

 

Spring Walking, Spring offer…

Bluebells in the woods at Danebridge
Improbably mystical Bluebells in the woods near Danebridge

Oh goodness me, the spring!

When it gets going it’s an overload of fresh colour, frantic activity among the birds and beasties, and – at last – some dryer ground.

I saw this season’s first screaming school of Swifts in the Trough of Bowland last weekend, and in recent walks there’ve been sightings of Wheatears on the moor near Axe Edge, Lapwings in the Goyt Valley and a pair of Ravens doing backflips (genuinely, they do this when they’re enjoying the thermal air currents) near Windgather Rocks.

The bluebells are full on, the wild garlic is nearly over and the Red Campion is gearing up for a summer carnival.

In short, it’s a great time to be out there.

I’m offering a special 60% spring offer on 1-1 coaching walks for those of you who fancy combining this spring abundance with some deep thinking and positive action. You can take the session anytime as long as you book it by the end of May 2018.

To book, contact me – Victoria – at info@natural-thinking.co.uk, or call 01625 425049 and quote ’Spring walk’.

Want to know more about coaching and walking? Check out something about coaching and walking here. And there’s more about me and Natural Thinking here.

Quizzical landscapes, curious lives…

Chrome Hill near Buxton on a misty morning
Chrome Hill near Buxton on a misty morning

Some landscapes make you ask questions. There’s a spot between Buxton, Flash and Chrome Hill where I experience this intensely. From Axe Edge, I can see several long, sharp slivers of rock pointing up to the sky. Are they natural or chipped out of the rock by ancient humans? There’s lots of quarrying around here – it could be either. Sometimes mist settles in the dips and all you can see are the strange lumpy peaks poking up through a blanket of mist.

Looking at the map, it’s noticeable that the local pathways multiply in this area to become a tangled mass of tracks, footpaths, bridleways and byways. There are several 5-8 way junctions, and in one place four footpaths wind in parallel through a single narrow valley. The river Dove rises here, and near Tenterhill, far away from the road, there’s a robust stone packhorse bridge over the river, designed to take some heavy use that it doesn’t get now.

The packhorse bridge over the River Dove near Tenterhill, Buxton
The packhorse bridge over the river Dove near Tenterhill, Buxton

Here you start to see pale limestone crust the hillsides, rather than the darker millstone grit, and the land is arranged into narrow valleys and hidden ravines that can take you by surprise. Some of the house and farms seem suspended mid-renovation, but they are places full of recycled invention and creative husbandry. The other day we came across a pig in a cosy handmade shed, and some extraordinary bear-like sheep flourishing around Howe Green. And up near Dove Head, a memorial stands in what seems like the middle of nowhere commemorating the men and boys who lived and worked in communities on Brandside who died in the two World Wars.

The bear-sheep of Howe Green, near Buxton. Anyone know what breed these are?
The bear-sheep of Howe Green, near Buxton. Anyone know what breed these are?

The look and shape of the land is, of course, bound up with the people who used it in the past and the people who use it now as well as the ancient seas that lay down sediment, the ice that scraped it out and the human events that tore it apart and put it back together. Walking the land is more than a means to get fit or feel good – it’s a participation in a small way in a place formed from world shaking events and everyday human use, and as such I like to think that sometimes the thinking that happens in these amazing places works its way back into the world for practical good.

If you feel it’s a good time to do some work on how your own hopes and aspirations could leak out into the wider world, I’ve got a special 60% off spring offer on 1-1 coaching walks. Book by the end of May 2018 for a session that can take place any time this year.

To book, contact me – Victoria – at info@natural-thinking.co.uk, or call 01625 425049 and quote ’Spring walk’.

Are you fairly confident in your map reading skills and fancy exploring yourself? You can download of copy of the GPX file for this walk here.

The Story of the Walk

wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire
Meandering through wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire

All my walks have their own story. The route, the weather, the mud, the café, the companions, the cows (or hopefully not..), the copulating frogs, the wild garlic, the wood anemones, the lamb carcass 6 foot up in a tree (I know, ugh. I’m not sure what this says about our Cheshire buzzards). You know the kind of thing.

But there’s another story that is woven in with this one – the stuff I bring in my head. And with this stuff, I notice a pattern, a rough gathering together into a beginning, middle and end that echoes the unfolding of the walk.

The River Wye from Monsal Head
The river Wye from near Monsal Head. Each season tells a different story…

After I set off but before I get going, there’s a sense of meeting myself in that place. Are my feet comfy in these shoes, am I tired, grumpy or does my back ache? What have I got to do this week, who’s annoying me, what tricky interactions have I got to manage? Why can’t I get enthused about gardening these days and why am I avoiding painting and decorating the bathroom?

As the walk goes on there’s a kind of settling. My body gets used to the pace, I warm up, I adjust my shoes and get my hair out of my face. Many thoughts fall away and I’m absorbed in finding the way and a steady, gently paced examination of the things that have remained. Inner thoughts and outer experience are woven together, holding each other in a comfortable relationship. There may be special revelations, or maybe not. Often it’s about noticing the line of molehills in a field or a weird cloud formation as much as realising that I could approach a problem with my work in a different way.

As the walk draws to a close, thoughts turn to food, fireside, ice cream (delete according to season) or the drive home. Or what’s got to happen next. There’s a kind of line drawn under the space, maybe with a colon pointing to what’s next:

muddy path near Wincle, Macclesfield
Alas, the story of my walking often includes a chapter on mud…although carefully avoided for my coaching clients!

This is not to say that I come away from a walk with all the answers to my questions, but that the mishmash of worries, ideas, interests and just plain chaff is settled into a framework that allows me to hold it all there for a while while I think about what to do with it.

One of the things that I do as a coach is to create a space and a structure for my clients to examine their own thoughts and decide what’s important. Answers or advice are less important than creating a constructive, fruitful space full of the potential for brilliant thinking.

It’s my experience that a walk has many of these characteristics too, albeit in an informal way. This is the raison d’être for Natural Thinking, my coaching business. Working with a coach provides a respectful companion with a listening ear and a sheaf of techniques to enhance your thinking, and bringing this together with being outside is what I do.

wood anemones near Lyme Park, Cheshire
Wood anemones in flower, near Lyme Park in Cheshire

But the joy of walking is that it’s available for free to those who are inclined and able to get out in some way. A walk is a natural coach.

I bet those of you who walk regularly – and I know many of you do – have noticed this or something like it. I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’d like to share them.

Why I walk

Track at Rowarth, near New Mills, Derbyshire
Pulling out of Rowarth, near New Mills. Still very grumpy. An interesting old track..

I am deeply, madly, emphatically in love with walking. You might have gathered that from the website and blog so far. I tone this down because enthusiasts can be quite annoying, but it does energise and infuse all my coaching work with clients. So here’s three reasons why I walk. There’s way more reasons than three, but I’ve stopped there today because of the aforementioned annoyingness. I’ll tell you a few more in another post.

Kinder plateau from Lantern Pike
Kinder plateau viewed from Lantern Pike. Hard not to be impressed.

It’s a great transition into the working week

I walk often and at all sorts of different times of the day, but I have one walking appointment that I always, always keep. And that’s first thing on Monday morning.

On Monday mornings I am mind-crushingly grumpy. I love my job (or more accurately, jobs), but I still find that waking up on Monday morning is like being thrown out of an airplane, as I once heard it described. This gets better or worse sending on how much work I have on (and that’s another story…), but a few years ago I discovered that if I put my horrified disgruntled-ness on one side, threw on clothes and breakfast, and headed straight out into the early morning hills, I returned a different person. Everything was just the same – the work, the multiple jobs, the crammed headspace and organisational skills required for these. But I was able to look more calmly and constructively at them. Sometimes I could make changes, sometimes not, but it either case, I was in a better place to think it through. The science supports this of course, but this is how that science plays out in my life.

Combes Rocks
Bewitched. Coombes Rocks. A finger of dark rock flanked by curved valleys.

It shifts my perspective of where I am in the world, opens up new possibilities

We all have a map in our heads of the places that are important to us. And these mental maps differ in all sorts of ways from actual, accurate, written-down maps. For instance, Macclesfield in my head is much bigger than London, even though an actual map would tell you that was daft. But my Macclesfield is full of detail and texture that London does not have. I believe clever people call this psychogeography. When I first started to walk a lot around where I live, I found a strange thing happening. Places that seemed far apart in my mental map turned out to be quite close. I’d always thought of Buxton as a good drive away from Macclesfield, but walking regularly on the moors between them told me that in fact in some places they are only about seven miles apart, and more significantly, walking that seven miles somehow draws the two places together. My view of the world around me has become less fragmented. I don’t know why I find this delightful. Perhaps cars and trains do fragment our lives. But also it may be that if I can shift my perspective on the physical landscape around me, then perhaps it will open up the possibility of seeing other things in a different way. And I find that infinitely refreshing.

Manchester from Combes Rocks
Manchester from Coombes Rocks. The rain hasn’t done with me yet it seems..

It structures loneliness into solitude, which is an altogether more constructive state

At one time I found myself working on my own a lot. My contacts were mainly on the phone our my email – there were plenty of those – but mainly my workmates were virtual people. I was lonely.

This isn’t always an easy thing to change, and also, you know, I like my own company. But walking gave me some time during the week that was a positive, steadily paced time to do nothing much but just be alone in nature. It was a time marked for the presence of something – solitude – rather than its lack of people.

In have more people in my life now, but I still find solitude a constructive experience. It recharges the brain and the soul and makes me feel more like a proper human being in the world.

Robin Hood's Picking Rods, Derbyshire
Robin Hood’s Picking Rods. Honestly. Actually the remains of an 8th Century double cross. At least two more of these in the area.

So those are just some of the reasons why I walk, and why it has come to underpin my coaching work. For more reasons, including how the ‘story’ of the walk helps frame my thoughts; how each walk is a small confidence building adventure (especially if you are afraid of cows), and the pleasure of getting to know people while walking, stay tuned.

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In the meantime I’ve love to know why you walk…