Get Outside!! That’s the message I’m shouting. It just so happens this is also the message of a very special band of people. Within it, a tribe of 60-strong, energy-bursting, story-telling individuals, wide-eyed excitement brimming and smiles to match. And for two days in January, this newly formed clan were brought together, by equally passionate outdoors championing, and all the benefits thereof, creators of this wonderful and life-changing initiative. Who are Ordnance Survey.
From every corner and coast of Britain, many different backgrounds, guys, girls, families, young and young at heart, walkers, runners, cyclists, scout leaders, mountaineers and mountain leaders, climbers, instructors, wilderness teachers and survivalists, record breaking round the world-ers! kick-ass adventurers, conservationists and environmental warriors, most of us arriving not knowing each other, and all brought together by our passion and belief for inspiring, supporting and empowering everyone to get outside and reap the rewards to health, happiness and the world around us.
We are the Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champions.
OK, we needed a bit of practise, on three.. “Camera’s over here guys”
So 60 champions, all dressed to impress in our Craghoppers champion branded jackets, all eagerly awaiting the launch of the 2018 OS GetOutside Champions and the adventures that await us.
In 2015, Ordnance Survey first launched the GetOutside campaign to urge people off the sofa, to ditch the car and to enjoy the outdoors, and what is beyond our doorsteps. Ordnance Survey’s social initiative aims to make the outdoors enjoyable, accessible and safe to all. Since its birth in 2015, the campaign has continued to grow, gaining further momentum in recognition for the impact it is having in Great Britain. With 60 new and returning champions, all passionate and enthusiastic about the outdoors, we commit to help tackling the rising levels of inactivity in the UK and to educate and encourage everyone to look after our parks, green spaces, countryside, mountains and coasts, for the next generation of outdoor lovers and adventurers. We continue to champion for more people to get outside more often.
I find it so sad to hear the reality that as a nation, we have stopped moving. Progress with digital technology, gaming, smartphones and easily obtainable gadgets, does not always mean progress. Taking a quote from OS’s website; Nick Giles, Managing Director of Ordnance Survey Leisure, says: “At Ordnance Survey, we firmly believe that an active outdoor lifestyle can help you live longer, stay younger and enjoy life more. Being active is scientifically proven to benefit both health and well-being, and we make no apologies for encouraging more people to reap the benefits of this. The outdoors is good for the body and great for the mind, and we currently have a real problem in this country with sedentary living. It’s a huge worry when surveys reveal that children spend less time outside than prison inmates; instead spending an average of over 6 hours a day in front of a screen. The list of ailments and conditions derived from being inactive is both shocking and scary.” It is OS’s and my own belief that encouraging more people to get active and get outside, an already stressed and stretched NHS and pressured society can be helped and in time be reduced.
I am passionate about health and well-being, it is important to me as an athlete, as someone with a disability, but most importantly as a human being who wants to feel the best they can, do the most they can and be the best they can, and it is vital as a nation to keep moving forward and encourage and support each other to care and to act now, for us, for our families and our children and for the future of Great Britain.
It is no secret my passion is outside. I have always loved being outside, fresh air, every weather, mud, sun, puddles and snow drifts. As a child I would spend every moment I could outside. I’d often be off on my bike with my friends, we had no idea where we were heading but that was why it was so great. When it wasn’t the bike I was off all day on my horse, meeting up with friends, taking picnics and stopping for a can of coke at the pub (one for me and one for the horse), We’d spend our summer days riding bareback through the ford and having water fights from our horses. We’d get soaked from rain, miles from home and have to trot home with sodden saddles and jodhpurs, to get to the back door and my mum make me strip in the utility and chuck everything straight in the washing machine before I took one step in the house. I built dens and nature gardens, we pretended fallen trees were horses and made mazes out of cut grass in the back fields. We played rounders in the fields with our dogs as the catchers, they were far too good at that though and it always took forever to get the ball back off them. I watched TV, Blue Peter and Biker Grove, but that was when mum had called us in or someone had been hit with a boomerang or fallen off the wall at the front of our house we were balancing along. I guess we were doing Parkour even before Parkour was a thing. Of course we got into scrapes, but that’s what being kids is about, and I still have so many wonderful memories of those times and the stories that go with them. I couldn’t tell you what happened in Biker Grove, except for the time PJ got blinded by Duncan while Paint-balling. I was put off Paint-balling for life after that.
Now I’m all grown up (apparently) I make sure I spend just as much time outside. My life hasn’t differed that much, I still go out on my bike with no idea where I’m heading, though nowadays I do take a map with me. I’m lucky to make what I love doing my career while I can, but I know even if I wasn’t doing sport for a career, my life would be outside, it always has been. It is where I feel free, in my mind and my body, I can breathe big air, I can hear the world around me, I can smell every season, the summer rain and the proper winter snow, I can feel the earth under my feet, my wheels and my crutches. Outside I feel strong, healthy and happy, where there are no confined walls, outside I am me, I am beyond barriers. In the UK we have so many incredible places to get outside. We have countryside, parks, green spaces, rolling hills and mountains, beautiful beaches, forest and coast. Nowhere is far from somewhere wonderful and often we don’t know what magic lies just beyond our doorsteps. All this is what children of today will remember, the trips made and adventures had and memories made. The same goes for everyone, we can all gain so much for getting outside and I do believe for everyone, it IS possible.
Through my own adventures and time outside I aim to showcase the beauty that’s on our doorstep, Great Britain, and give an insight into getting outside with a disability and explore accessible Britain. As a female role-model I hope to empower girls and women to plan that adventure, take that hike, get on their bikes, and I want to show that getting outside, that adventure however big or small, is beyond barriers. Whatever those barriers may be, let’s break them down and GetOutside together.
So that is who we are, and this is our mission. Every champion with their own story, their own reason for applying to be an OS GetOutside Champion and wanting to do their bit for our incredible little island and its family isles. It was amazing to hear just how many people applied to come on board, people who care for our future and are committed to change. I firmly believe good actions are like ripples in a pond or butterfly wings, the effects are infinite, and I believe we can all make a difference.
Our crew really are an incredible lot with a few familiar faces. Ben Fogle, Kenton Cool and Sean Conway all return as ambassadors, each with adventure, mountaineering, tales of extreme and ultra-endurance CVs that have already gone down in the history books, and then to welcome in the newbie, Me! I’ve known Sean a little, since a crazy night in Cheltenham, cycling one summer’s eve with a small group of equally crazies, ending with being carried on my bike, Grecian style, up a steep grassy hill so that we could cook marshmallows on a campfire in the dark overlooking the town below. You may have briefly seen this on the telebox or hanging around the British Cycling webpage. Kenton I have seen and listened to talk once before, he has climbed Everest more times than I have Snowdon, and is about to take on this epic challenge for another time. This is where Ben comes in, alongside Kenton and Victoria Pendleton – Olympian and ex GB cyclist, the trio will embark on attempting to summit mount Everest in the spring of this year. I had not met Ben before but have been a big fan of his work and follower from his early days on Castaway 2000. I do enjoy watching his channel 5 show ‘New Lives in the Wild’, when I’m not outside myself, I love learning about how others have made their lives off grid and back to nature and their reasons for it. It was really great to finally get to chat with Ben, who we found out thanks to Kenton’s cheeky double act banter, was a big fan of scarves, as am I. I was in fact wearing my favourite scarf that day (pink of course), and while Kenton placed bets on what colour scarf Ben might be wearing as he makes his Everest summit, I did offer him mine to which I could see he was tempted. I’m really honoured to be amongst such outstanding individuals and part of something really incredible. I certainly don’t feel I have the qualifications to be alongside these true inspirational and certified real-life action heroes, but I do know I share the same passion and commitment to making a difference and showing that there is always a way.
Our first day of the launch involved meeting all the other champions and getting to know one another, fuelled by lots of tea and coffee and sneaky trips outside of the glorious New Forest hotel that was our base. It was a beautiful building for sure, but get 60 outdoorsy folk in a room for longer than a couple of hours when the sun is glinting through the windows, it was only going to be a matter of time before we had our first escapee. I admit I was one of those, in fairness I went to get a hairbrush from my car in between sessions as knew we had media duties to do, and 5am was a long time ago when I left my house to drive south so I had to try and look presentable. But only to find once outside I could not get back to where I was meant to be as camera crews had barricaded doors shut and my only way in. It was gorgeous outside so I was quite happy, and eventually we used the time wisely and jumped in to get the official OS GetOutside Champion head shot papped.
Once that was done, a few of us found our way back in round the back of the hotel, I was all for using a window, sadly the door was open. A few more media interviews and learning more about OS maps and all the awesome information we have literally at our fingertips with the OS maps app as well as our trusty Explorer and Landranger paper maps, which just so happen to be totally on brand in pink and orange. It was always meant to be. Next was an orienteering challenge for the team while I hung out with a fluffy microphone and talked about my reasons for supporting and being involved in GetOutside. This time also gave me chance to find my room, put the kettle on, (always the first job arriving in a hotel room) and finish planning my talk, as for that evening, I was one of two pre-dinner speakers. The other being ultra endurance man, world record holder for the longest triathlon in the world and mighty ginger bearded, Sean Conway. No pressure there then! And although my hair often resembles the wild women of the moors, his ginger beard I cannot compete with. Thankfully.
A few hours later we were all reunited ready for dinner, everyone in their smart clothes, I even had my ‘best’ crutches for the occasion. My lovely sponsors, Pink Sky, held a unicorn themed pink and orange tea party fundraiser for two new sets of crutches. My current ones have seen as much as the world as me and are looking and feeling a little worse for wear. My new smart crutches had been designed by the Pink Sky team, I’d given them a free rein and they certainly did not disappoint. Pink and orange √ Dolly flag √ secret pink unicorn √ All the important things.
Once everyone had joined their tables, it was speaker time. I was kindly introduced by the CEO of OS and with my funky new crutches and matching bling-ed up converse I began my story and shared my love for getting outside and what it means to join such an inspirational bunch of outdoor role models who are active in celebrating and championing Britain’s great outdoors.
Once my bit was done, it was Sean to take centre stage, recounting his tales of running Britain, cycling the world and swimming up the west coast of England, and over to Ireland, because, well why not.. before continuing his way up to the most northern point of the UK, his ingenious cultivated jellyfish protection, again the beard, and his latest monumental achievement of the world’s longest triathlon around Britain. Sean is the type of adventurer most people would call utterly crazy. To me, his rawness of his adventures, in a way the simplicity, his beyond doubt belief that whatever challenge he sets, the ability to rise above doubters and nay sayers, is what I can understand most and admire most.
I do love speaking about the whirlwind journey I am on but I was happy to take my seat with my table and listen to Sean speak with such expression and humour, and listen to daring deeds of everyone on the table around me. Now I could really relax, not to mention I was very aware everyone was getting exceptionally hungry after their team challenge and I was not going to be the one to get between their hunger and the delicious food that began wafting into the room.
The night was full of laughter and stories, new friends made and hilarious confessions etched in our memories. I shared a table with an awesome lot of characters. One in particular a true hero of mine, Sarah Outen. Sarah solo rowed, cycled and kayaked around the world, humble in her epic physical and very much mental achievements, Sarah is the greatest of role models, demonstrating complete mental and physical strength, belief and dogged determination and bravery, as a woman and as an example of the possibilities of being human. I didn’t expect Sarah to be so down to earth, both sharing similarities for some of the simple things in life, learning the go-to ice cream flavour of the first woman and youngest person to row solo across the Indian ocean is not how I’d imagined any conversation to go, should I had ever got the chance to chat. Neither would it be talk of kayaking together now we realised we are practically neighbours. But as meeting your idols go, it surpassed any expectations and can’t wait to continue ice cream chats, next time maybe on the water. Katie Tunn too had an interesting story, as did every single person in that room, some I didn’t get round to chatting with but will make sure next time, wherever that is, I do. Katie’s story fascinated me, a London girl, she left the bright lights of the big city for a very different one of remoteness and raw beauty of the Hebrides on the Isle of Skye. Katie is an artist and lover of the sea and I really do understand her pull to somewhere wild and free, where creativity has no end, no air conditioned white walled offices, no 24 hour traffic jam constricting the city with its fumes and high blood pressured drivers and passengers. Katie had taken island life to the next level when, for one year she lived with a small group of people on the west coast of Scotland, completely cut off from any contact with the rest of world and totally self sufficient for everything from food to a bed, where she would call home for the 12 months. I remember thinking the concept of this experiment would be something I would love to do, the idea of living remotely, off the land, away from our hectic lives, for a time would be both fascinating and of personal learning. I admired the people who started this project although personally I quickly learned, Eden does not always mean paradise, and I completely empathised with Katie’s self-survival, more from our own species that the harsh wilds of nature, and for her taking comfort surrounded by the animals, away from the darker side of human contact. I have so much respect for Katie, it can be hard to be resilient and show strength and positivity when facing tough times, and to do this in the most extreme environments, on your own, whether physically alone or not, that is courage. Two quite different life-stories in both Sarah and Katie, both equally ass-kicking examples of the female spirit. Not only that, but Katie has quite the awesome taste in Skye knitwear, proudly rocking the sheep woolly jumper and bobble hat during our walk the next morning.
As a few champions championed into the night in the bar, I began counting my own sheep. In the morning we were heading out for a champions walk.
Morning came, the sun was up and everyone congregated outside, eager for a mini GetOutside adventure. All were dressed for every weather, some champion’s dogs had joined too as we headed to the New Forest.
I had my off-road attachment on my wheelchair, I knew it was going to be wet and muddy, I also knew I’d probably need a bit of a hand at times, something I’m not usually happy at accepting, and It wasn’t long before I had to ask for my first push, sooner than I would have liked but necessary as we climbed a steeper gravel track and the path began to get decidedly ‘off track’. It was fantastic to be out with so many awesome people, each as excited as the next about the forest around us.
Some jumped, climbed trees, some ran, everyone snapping photos of everyone and everything, we all stopped for group pictures and moments were caught of splash landings and muddy faces.
The hero of my day was my new teammate Andy. Andy quickly came to my assistance early on and remained my adventure buddy for the majority of the walk. Our planned gravel tracks turned into forest swamp-lands and it wasn’t long before I was up to my casters in mud. Though let me make this clear, there’s mud and there’s mud. The deeper it got, the bigger the crossing we had to make, the more Andy and I relished our challenge. I was doing everything I could to push through the sludge, my entire arms were covered in thick wet gloopy mud. It was brilliant.
Of course I embraced my inner warrior and drew my fingers across either side of my face, painting battle stripes Rambo style, it just felt right.
This only empowered our sense of adventure and even when faced with the seemingly impossible mud swamps off of the Never Ending Story, Andy ploughed through full pelt. One stream where I was completely on board with this line of approach until seeing at the very last minute its depth was much greater that I’d anticipated, resulting in me simply putting up my hands and screeching, as if on a roller coaster and bracing for impact. To my surprise we made it! Though not from any help from me.
Other vast waterlogged mud seas required a bigger team approach, never one to admit defeat and surrounded by the same, my chair and I were carried through, by cleverly choreographed teamwork, at a pace of minimising handler sinkage and boots lost forever in the swamps of doom.
Another brilliant memory that came from the day was with Rory, our red shorts, cap backwards-wearing freestyle run, jump, leaper, lover of life. Known for his love of launching himself through trees and over ditches and any obstacle worthy of leaping, we had approached a rather wide banked stream. While we all took the path bridge over, Rory had this glint in his eye and soon we had all stopped for encouragement.
Some weren’t so sure this was doable, others had full belief, but all of us were fully supportive of Rory giving it a go, with cameras poised and a friendly jeers, Rory was eyeing up his jump pacing back and forth and carefully calculating his required trajectory. We all waited with bated breath. And we waited. It was one of those classic thunder stealing moments that followed, Rory was so focused on his challenge ahead, carefully planning his path, all of us, eyes fixed on Rory, willing him on. When out of nowhere at speed runs in Andy, a slight stumble then lift-off! He made it, just. Rory never saw it coming. Moment stolen, no one could have rehearsed that, pure comedy magic. And hats off to Andy for some serious acro skills! An adventure-man of many talents.
I had fully expected a great day in the forest with my new champion friends, but this mini-adventure of teamwork and camaraderie was something even better. I wasn’t sure I was going to be allowed back in the hotel looking as though I’d emerged from the depths of the swamp and I’m not sure my wheelchair will ever be right again. I did have to take it to the local car wash and jet wash the thick crusted coating of New Forest that encased every bit of my chair and wheels. But what an adventure we had and such wonderful memories made.
This certainly sums up what GetOutside is all about. Whether young or young at heart, runner, cyclist, walker or wheelchair user, weekend warrior, or lunchtime park seeker, horse rider or dog walker. Outside is for all. It is beyond barriers, it can be accessible for everyone. It gives so much and asks for little in return. Simply respect and staying safe.
Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.
I’ll be blogging lots more about GetOutside, what the champions are up to and my own projects, and where we will be supporting Ordnance Survey at various events and festivals throughout the summer. Keep an eye on my blog, new website and follow my social media channels along with all my fabulous fellow GetOutside champions by searching #GetOutside for awesome inspiration and top tips for making your own outdoors adventures around the UK. Go check out getoutside.uk for guides, advice, stories, routes and maps maps maps! And of course you’ll find out all about us champions and our passion for getting outside.
Just one last thing..
- Download OS maps from your app store for total digital access to all your navigation needs.
- Download OS locate for a handy and potentially life-saving locating tool.
- Go old school and always have a Landranger or Explorer paper map as back-up, these never run out of batteries.
What are you waiting for.. Fill up that flask, grab your maps, pull on your boots and let’s GetOutside
It’s time for an adventure