Just over 5.5 years ago, in November 2010, I moved to the UK in search of a more outdoors-oriented life than what I had previously in Israel. This has been mostly successful, and I have enjoyed walking in Britain, exploring an extremely interesting island that surprised me in many ways and made me the walker and backpacker I am today. This post is a little tribute to what I’ve learned, saw and gained from these 5.5 years of walking in Britain on the eve of leaving my life here and moving to the USA. To make sure it makes sense, here is a very quick backstory:
How I got here
I was born and raised in Israel and got bitten by the travelling, hiking and outdoors adventurism bug when I was somewhere in my twenties. After meeting my wife-to-be while in university and as we started looking to the future, I dreamt big and wanted to make it even bigger, so a move to another country made the most sense. We had a few options in mind but as English speakers and with my family roots in England, the UK was the winning country. When I came here I was trying to open my own outdoors store in London after working in retail for many years in Israel, but that was just as the UK started its “second dip” recession following the first one in 2007.
Since then jobs have come and gone; I have stayed in the outdoors industry, opened my own business and started this little site.
Fast forward 5.5 years from the move and we now have 2 kids, a need to explore someplace new and another round of big dreams so we are moving to the USA, my wife’s homeland. I’m hoping that this move will allow us even more time outdoors, exploring and enjoying the huge expanses of open land in North America.
That’s it, a very quick and short intro, so now to the good stuff:
The places I have Seen during 5.5 Years of Walking in Britain (or at least the memorable ones)
Britain is a pretty diverse country, but like most countries in the western world it has been highly developed: roads, houses, fields, farm animals and more take up the majority of the space on this island. It has been an awkward learning curve to accept the countryside as a place to go walking; to accept that I won’t always be getting wild and isolated areas. Once you do find the wilder parts though, they are truly stunning. The UK’s national parks have been my playground for years now and I have enjoyed them tremendously. Though very remote and expensive to get to for a Londoner with no car, once arriving to a national park you can simply start walking from the train station.
During my years of walking I have visited as many train stations as I did trails, and they are also a great and exciting part of trips here: from the half platform with no shelter to highly modern or extremely well preserved, there are many stations to enjoy. I think that being forced to use public transport (out of a lifestyle choice!) means that you get to see trips in a different way – for me it meant planning and committing to trips that, at times, I shouldn’t have. I have walked during storms (rain and snow), in unpredictably scorching hot days and when I was ill. There were times that I went walking only to be called home because of a sick child or to take part of the house’s upkeep. When I started I usually walked with my wife or with friends, transitioning over the years to almost exclusively solo adventures.
This blog is a big part of my walking experience and I have written about many of my trips here. Some of the highlights are:
Walking the Cape Wrath Trail – done twice (well, one and a half) and has been my personal obsession for 2.5 years now.
Section hiking the Pennine Way – I’ve section hiked the southern part of the Pennine Way over 3 weekends.
Camping with my daughter – twice! Once when she was a baby, with my wife and once just the two of us, a couple of weeks ago.
A sneaky weekend in Snowdonia with a visiting friend – it was really a fast and dirty visit to show my friend the highlights of Snowdonia in 24 hours.
Family and solo trip in the Lake District – we took a family trip to the Lake District for a long weekend, which I then extended by an extra 3 days for solo hiking while my wife and daughter went back home. It was a perfect way to maximize the return on extremely expensive train tickets and a way to enjoy both worlds in one Lake District visit.
Winter adventuring in the Peak District – this was a combination of refreshing my navigation skills prior to taking on the Cape Wrath Trail and a chance to learn how to deal with winter conditions in a more subtle way.
A long weekend in the Yorkshire Dales – though it was March, it was still winter on that trip and I had a chance to play with bivvying in winter conditions, and also practice dealing with short days and bitter winds.
The South Downs – the national park and the trail have been a regular destination for a range of microadventures, quick weekend breaks from work and even an attempt to walk it all in one go (I didn’t…)
Besides the adventures above that had some form of presence on this site, I had many trips that happened before I started writing – though they tended to be less frequent and more sporadic. The trips below were my introduction to fast hiking, ultrapacking, solo backpacking and all the great skills that are part of how I walk today, as a busy father to two. The biggest highlights are:
Offa’s Dyke – my wife and I planned a 10 day walk along the whole route but only managed half, due to my knee giving up. On this trip I learned that heavy hiking boots are bad for my knees, starting my move to trail running shoes for hill walking. I also learned that camping is not the same as wild camping and that both can sometimes be a challenge, especially in terms of water sourcing in the countryside. My first big trip in the UK, I was still attacking it as a trekking trip, not having yet learned about hill walking.
A long weekend in the North Pennines – again, dragging my wife along to do some hiking and trekking (yes, still there) and we got 3 days of constant rain, teaching us that the weather is always with you in the UK.
A couple’s long weekend in Dartmoor – my (and my wife’s) first introduction to free wild camping and giving us a glimpse to what the freedom of walking can be. Dartmoor is stunning and we had an amazing 3 days of sun, which made me fall in love with hill walking and give up on the trekking concept.
A weekend in the Brecon Beacons – going again to south Wales after Offa’s Dyke, we dragged a couple of friends with us to show them what we had learned about wild camping and had a first go at an unplanned, wet bivying experience. Based on a good weather forecast I made the stupid assumption that tents wouldn’t be needed, opting for mats and sleeping bags only – it was a wet night…..
Section hiking the Ridgeway – my inaugural series of trips (3 of them) to learn how to solo walk, camp and enjoy out of choice (and escaping a newborn at home for a bit). This series of trips was a big part of what led to the creation of Outdoors Father.
The main thing I’ve learned: walking has many forms
I had come to the UK from a world of international travellers, a world of tough trekkers and hikers, where gear is the ruler and every outing had to be an adventure. As I got older, wiser, more British and mainly time deprived, I have learned that in the UK, we walk. We don’t hike or backpack, there no treks or thru-hikes, there are trails and routes on which you walk. The highest mountains and Munros in the UK are all but hills, making any adventure seem the most casual of outings: I’m going out for a bit of hill walking over the weekend. What a great statement this is: “a bit of hill walking over the weekend” can be anything from climbing 10 peaks in a row to walking the Cape Wrath Trail to a stroll in the country side in your wellies – they are all hill walking activities.
It took me a while to adjust and for a some time I even found the idea of hill walking offensive, demeaning to the sort of activities I was doing. I wasn’t “hill walking” (use a mocking voice), I was trekking! But I soon learned the foolishness of such thinking, how hill walking is a great way of making outdoors activities approachable, casual and fun. In the last 5.5 years (well, maybe 4.5 since the adjustment) I’ve really enjoyed hill walking, taking it in all kinds of directions. I have learned to stroll the national trails, ultrapack and bivvy everywhere you shouldn’t. I have learned to walk fast and slow, to walk vertically (some call it scrambling or climbing…) and even teach my kids to do some hill walking.
If there is one thing I will take from my years in the UK, it is the joy of walking – from the adventurous to the casual hill walk – they are all appropriate.
What I will be taking with me from walking in the UK
5.5 years of doing something is pretty major, usually meaning you gather a range of things to take from it, from the physical to skills to memories and people. I will be taking my share, the obvious piles of gear made by many British brands that I never knew about to many, many memories from the British countryside, hills and mountains. But there are a few things I hold more dearly.
Friends – though I’m mainly a solo hiker now a days and I’m inherently not a very social person, I have picked up some friends on the local internet circles thanks to this site. I hope to keep those relationships as I move on to other places.
Skills- as I mentioned above, my many trips in the UK forced me to develop new skills and create this site with the idea to continue hill walking even after becoming a parent. I think that being here allowed me to make the best out of the limited time I had, demands of home and work while learning to enjoy trips that relied on public transportation in ways that are only possible in the UK.
Weather Proofness – if there is one thing I knew nothing about and the UK offers in bucket loads it is rain, storms and unpredictable weather. Coming from a hot and dry country I had no experience in backpacking, trekking or hiking in the rain but I learned quickly. The fact that I relied on public transportation meant that I sometimes went hill walking even when the weather was outright terrible, including in the round of great storms that flooded the UK last winter.
Humility – going back to the main thing I’ve learned (hill walking), I also learned with it some more humility when it comes to being outdoors. From respect to amazing climbers, runners and mountaineers I have met here, to respecting the weather and to what and how others enjoy the outdoors.
Plans for the future
We are moving to the USA but my walking days are not over – far from it – so Outdoors Father will still be up and running, albeit with a slightly different experience.
I do plan on visiting the UK for more trips, seeing more trails and places that I may have missed. I have some unfinished business here, too: finish my section hike on the Pennine Way, walking the northern part of Offa’s Dyke with my wife and walking the Cape Wrath Trail successfully in 8-10 days (it is possible!).
I hope you have enjoyed the information on this site so far and that you will continue to do so as I write about my adventures in North America.
Follow the future of Outdoors Father via the monthly newsletter