Making a fuss

Suffragetter at Barnaby Parade - part of Barnaby Festival 2018, Macclesfield
Getting into the swing…..Suffragettes at Barnaby Parade

The idea of making a fuss is an anathema to me. And I’m certainly not a parade or protest kind of person – making a fuss in public, in a crowd. I don’t think so.

It was a surprise even to me, then, to find myself gathering in a car park with a mixed bunch of nearly 100 suffragettes, some in full Edwardian, and some, like me, in a random selection of violet, green and white. This wasn’t a protest march, it was a cheery community parade for Macclesfield’s regular Barnaby Festival, but nonetheless I was uneasy as I greeted friends, adjusted costumes and waited to set off. This really isn’t my kind of thing, and I might have made my excuses if something hadn’t happened the day before to strengthen my resolve.

Miller's Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire
Miller’s Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire

Escaping the festival frazzle, the green quiet of a walk from Litton, in the Peak District, was a moment to push my mind into a more expansive space where history has clicked forward century by century, and nature rolls on in the patterns of new life, old life, compost.

The ramsons are over but you still get a faint whiff of their rotting garlicky smell in the woods, and the champion and ox eye daisy are rampant this year. A mandarin duck dips in and out of the leafy shallows with her impossibly tiny chicks and the craggy limestone battlements stand where they’ve stood for millennia.

Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts - and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.
Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts – and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.

And then, one of those moments of enchantment – the well dressing at Cressbrook.

Prompted by signs, we eventually found the dressed well tucked away in a little common space next to a community garden and accessed by footpaths. They’d themed it ‘Women hold Up Half the World’ in memory of a member of the community.

The notes that accompanied the dressing enjoined us to consider that “Women have given, and continue to give, as much as men, and their potential, contribution and voices need to be recognised if nations and communities are to flourish”. It encouraged us to think about how we can further that potential today, recognising that while some of us work under a relatively clear blue sky, many hold up the sky in much, much tougher circumstances, and yet they do so, and yet they continue.

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” Cressbrook Well Dressing, Derbyshire, 2018

Coming 100 years after some women finally received the vote, and especially when there’s still so much to do, a bit of public parading suddenly seemed like a small thing.

And having done it, I learned something else too. Walking shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers; singing a traditional suffragette song; shouting out “No. More. Unequal Pay!” just out of sync with the others and thinking about how far we’ve come, I found myself welling up. Not once, but several times. Awkward. But something about standing together, walking in the footsteps of brave and angry women, shouting out for change, was a profound and moving experience, even when it was a bit of fun.

So, I think I get it. Marching, protesting. Even if I’m well aware that dressing up in an unusual colour scheme and waving a banner is a considerable gloss on what the suffragettes felt they had to do. I’m noticing that recently people are marching again on a scale they haven’t done for some time in the UK. For the NHS, against Trump, against austerity, and even in Macclesfield later this month there’ll be our first Pride event. Of course the effectiveness of protests can be endlessly debated, and they achieve many different things varying from community fun to vicious confrontations, and everything in between. But one person’s nuisance is another person’s justice, and sometimes you have to stand with other people in order to be heard. A crowd will never be an easy place for me to be, but sometimes, I do see, you have to be prepared to make a fuss.

Suffragette banner
“Same Stuff, Different Century” Suffragette banner ready for action

Here’s the walk at Litton if you want to give it a go. The Well Dressing at Cressbrook took place in June.

Walking and life or business coaching are partners made in heaven. Walking helps you think. Coaching helps you think. Natural Thinking brings the two together to help people sort stuff out and make things happen. Plus, summer is a great time to review and reassess where you’re going and what you want to do. Want to give it a try? Check it out here

Making stuff happen with group coaching walks

White Nancy from Oakenbank Lane, near Rainow
White Nancy from Oakenbank Lane, near Rainow

I have to admit that when it comes down to it, I can be a bit of an avoider of groups. I lean, in general, towards one to one interactions and very small gatherings.

Having said that, I am not a loner. There are groups that I positively enjoy and seek out. Some are light and energising, and some are rich and complex, and as you might expect, some have a good dose of annoyingness mixed in. Groups can be hard work, frustrating and stifling, but also warm, inclusive and accepting. And there’s not usually a clear, binary division between the two. I’ve come to know that my life is richer for the groups that I am a part of.

Anyway, I’m saying all that because I discovered a wonderful thing about coaching small groups of people, and I have built these experiences into my occasional ‘Making Stuff Happen’ group coaching walks – one of which is coming up in July. Check it out here.

One to one coaching in the outdoors is a wonderful thing. You have the undivided attention of a professional to listen to your goals and gently and almost invisibly structure the conversation to help you work towards these things. And all the time, the outer landscape has a way of reflecting your inner landscape back to you, offering the wider view, a new perspective and a steadying rhythm.

But coaching in a small group also has a kind of magic. In this case, though, the structure must be clearly visible. There has to be a well defined framework to help a group of people who may not know each other come together, and to provide the pegs to hang their questions on.

Waterfall at Walkmill farm, Ingersley Vale, near Bollington, Cheshire
Waterfall at Walkmill farm, Ingersley Vale, near Bollington, Cheshire

It works by pairing people up to explore an opening question, then each pair is changed and the next question asked. At the start, some basic active listening skills are reviewed so that everyone can tune in their listening ear. There are formal and informal moments to enjoy the landscape and give it a chance to impact on your thinking. And a good deal of laughter and lightness too – even when serious issues are discussed.

You may not have the one to one attention and invisible structure of a highly trained coach, but you do gain a supportive network and a variety of experience that brings a bit of ‘otherness’ into the mix. Plus there’s the sense of all working together – even if that is on very different things. It’s amazing how quickly this creates a rich, honest and potentially transformative space.

People I know have used these sessions as an introduction to coaching – as a way to get to know me as a coach and to make a start on articulating and shaping their goals. They may go on to book a one to one session, but equally, a group session may be enough to get started on moving forward and making things happen.

So, if you’d like to give it a try, I’d love to see you there!

Making Stuff Happen Group Coaching Walk

Tuesday July 3rd, 10:00-12:30, Rainow, near Macclesfield
£30

Click here to book

 

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

 

Blencathra as a metaphor for your life and career

Me: Stand on there and I can take a picture of you for my website….

My sister, mother of three, family law solicitor, seeker-out and destroyer of bullshit: I can see Blencathra!

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Lingmore Fell, Cumbria. Looking towards the Langdale Pikes and Harrison Stickle (Blencathra is a long way off to the right)

Me: OK, so look over there and think about Blencathra as a metaphor for your life and career….

Picture taken, and we begin to pick our way down the hill. A few seconds pass.

My sister: Blencathra as a metaphor for my life and career?
Me: I thought I got off lightly….

The landscape has an astonishing capacity to inspire us. Remarkable places like the Lakeland Fells especially so. Seeing the snow-speckled saddle of Blencathra shining away in the distance from Lingmore Fell is an uplifting sight, that’s for sure. But a metaphor for your life and career? Making forced comparisons between our inner mind and aspects of the outer landscape puts us (ahem) on shaky ground.

But, here’s the thing; our inner and out landscape do reflect one another. You can see it in the everyday language we use. We might find ourselves on shaky ground, as we did a moment ago on Blencathra. We might seek a clear view or engage in some blue sky thinking. We could be plodding along, moving mountains, or not be able to see the wood for the trees….. Daily conversation is peppered with images and ideas from landscape and the way we experience it, which is surprising for people who live mainly in towns and cities. And if we bring the landscape into everyday life, it follows that we bring everyday life into the landscape. Whether our spirit soars in lofty mountain grandeur or sinks during a rainy riverside trudge depends as much on our inner thoughts and feelings was it does on the actual environment and conditions. There’s a local hill that gives me a fabulous birdseye view of the town where I live. My desire for a little perspective on my life is overlaid onto an actual perspective of the place where it’s lived.

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Macclesfield emerging from a misty cheshire plain, seen from Teggs Nose Country Park

So back to Blencathra. You might, when you are out walking, ask yourself if there is anything in the landscape that really speaks to you. Describe what you see. That description will reflect your emotional response as well as your descriptive powers. Is there anything that you can see that helps you to visualise where you want to be in life? Or that reflects your current reality?

I remember a coaching session when someone was describing how they wanted things to flow – a rigid routine wouldn’t work. They needed to allow for obstacles and adjustments in everyday life, but keep moving forwards nonetheless. We noticed we were standing by a stream. Holding that metaphor in your mind can be a useful way to carry the coaching session forward into when you are back in everyday life. But I don’t think that you should force it. That way lies Blencathra as a metaphor for your life and career.

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Walking and coaching; a magic pairing

The gigantic half cup of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank sets its open rim to the sky in the distance. Today there’s a low dark mist that blends with the trees on the plain, making the dish look like it’s floating on a murky, blue green sea. Beyond are the welsh hills – I can’t normally see that far, about 60 miles. The natural Rorschach test of Tegg’s Nose and Bottoms Reservoir look like a butterfly today. A quirk of the air quality and humidity means sometimes I can almost pick out the sheep on the hill at Rivington Pike just 30 miles North Eastish, and sometimes I can’t see beyond, well, my nose.

butterfly 1230 x 400
What do you see today? Tegg’s Nose and Bottoms Reservoirs from Tegg’s Nose Country Park

Up here, a different drama unfolds every day. I’m not quite sure if what I see depends entirely on the weather and conditions, or whether I’m miserable, satisfied, muddled or elated. There’s a deep conversation going on between my inner and outer landscape that often directs fresh light onto my daily preoccupations and shifts things a little. However I feel when I go up there, I feel like a different person when I get back.

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Another day, another story. This time rather a murky one. Looking out over the Cheshire Plain. The Lovell Telescope is in there somewhere

This is something that many of us know from experience: there’s something about a walk that boosts the mood, settles the mind, gets creative juices going and puts things into perspective.

Artists and writers have waxed lyrical about this for centuries, and continue to do so, and scientific studies back this up. The data is robust and well established on the benefits of exercise to thinking, as well as giving lots of other health benefits too. But what’s the difference between walking in nature and walking on a pavement? Is is just a cultural one? Perhaps partly because we feel we need to build a case for nature’s value as it becomes increasingly threatened, there are more and more solid, scientifically proven connections emerging around being in nature and green space and how we think, feel and relate to one another. Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix is a rigorous but readable review of the work happening in this area.

That’s all well and good, and very ‘internal’, but walking has made social, practical change too.

Getting out into the open to hear someone speak about ideas that were difficult to explore in more socially patrolled spaces was a common practice in 18th and 19th Century Britain. The spiritual, the starving, the unrepresented, the poor and the just plain angry have gathered and walked to demand change.

Manchester_from_Kersal_Moor_William_Wylde_(1857)
William Wyld, 1852, Manchester from Kersal Moor. later rendered as an engraving entitled Cottonopolis by Edward Goodall. Kersal Moor was a signficant open air meeting place

But it’s not just that lots of people speak more loudly and emphatically than one, or that they might be prevented from meeting in spaces owned by their masters. There’s something about the value of collectively visualising new ways to live which might be easier to imagine in the open air away from the dominant structures of the day.

One thing, then, we can be really sure of is that walking helps us think. This is how Natural Thinking came about – a conviction that investing time in walking and talking and thinking things through can sort stuff out and make stuff happen, and even sometimes work a kind of magic on our personal and professional lives. And that in turn can result in positive personal and social change.

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Chilly up there – a snowy walk looking out towards Shuttlingloe, and Danebower Hollow, just along from the Cat and Fiddle pub

Coaching, put simply, is helping people to think brilliantly. It springs from the idea – and the experience of good coaches – that the key to change is not in the head of the expert, or hidden in some book or on the lips of some guru, but inside each one of us. It has its origins in sports coaching. The American sports coach Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis, Golf etc.) noticed that his charges achieved more when he asked them to pay attention to their own experience rather than when he told them what to do. These ideas were swiftly picked up and applied to business, career development and personal change.

Natural Thinking is built on the idea that walking helps you think; coaching helps you think. It brings the two together and puts them to work on our jobs, our lives, our communities and our boxes. It aims for change, and even (whisper it, because I don’t make rash promises) for making the world a better place.

Come on board and discover what you can do

Resources on walking, thinking and social change

  • Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit
  • The Art of Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit
  • The Nature Fix, Florence Williams
  • Ramble On, Sinclair Mackay. Explores many of the ways that walking and social change have worked together.
  • Psychogeogrpahy, Merlin Coverley
  • Walking with Plato, Gary Hayden
  • Walking through Spring, Graham Hoyland
  • Walking Artists Network
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An evening walk. Looking up to Tegg’s Nose Country Park from the track between Tegg’s Nose reservoir and Bottoms Reservoir