In my imagination, which is transmitted via the rowing machine, I am rowing down to Cornwall. We won’t get there this spring, to meet up with our climbing club friends as we had planned. It’s a warm sunny spring day as I set off from Langstone Harbour at the end of the road. I have already been to the corner shop to forage for the basic of the food cupboard that have run out, or will do in the next day. I pick up the last box of eggs and feel guilty. I locate the last small loaf of bread. They are well stocked with mushrooms and have just had a delivery of carrots and broccoli, but there’s no cheese or meat in any form. I climb on to the rowing machine and set off.
Today my pace is slightly faster than on yesterday’s practice paddle. It must be the superb conditions. I head along Southsea Front. The sea is flat. The conditions are almost idyllic – turquoise waters, cloudless sky, no swell, and a slight current. It’s just coming up to high tide which should push me on towards the entrance to the harbour. It’s an amazing stretch of water full of history – the remains of the submarine barrier; the beautifully restored and elegant South Parade Pier (shown on the home page); Spitbank Fort; Southsea Castle from which the sinking Mary Rose was viewed; and the Square Tower, Round Tower and hot walls, which fortified the seaward side of the old town of Portsmouth. It was from the hot walls that the crew would be transported out to The Victory. And, now I’m remembering how my great aunt said that her uncle used to venture out dressed as a woman to avoid the pressgangs. At first I thought this was a bit of fiction, but when I worked out the dates., I realised that there could have been some truth in the story.
I finally ‘put in’ to work out how to restock the Baileys which is running out. How can I cosset myself with a coffee or hot chocolate laced with this luscious cream if I completely run out of supplies?
I’m now thinking that it is time to stay indoors. It would be so easy to become a carrier of virus. I was thinking that I had prepared well. The store cupboard is restocked with enough to survive for one to two weeks. We could do with some eggs, fresh vegetables and fruit and bread flour and yeast, but we can mange without these. (We had run the store cupboard down when work was being done on the kitchen) However, I’m now realising that I haven’t thought about reading material . I am well stocked online and on my shelves with reading to support my more academic writing but it is the lighter reading materials that I am low on. I know I can read things online but this isn’t conducive to reading in the bath and in bed. I had left my watercolour brushes in India, so I’ve ordered some more online.
How am I viewing the weeks a head? A few weeks ago, my initial reaction had been of resentment that I was being targeted as an over 70. I was being stereotyped. That feeling is still simmering, under the surface, but for the well being of others I can understand the need to reduce face-to-face interactions. I’m planning on setting myself a timetables so that I don’t become more of a couch potato than I already am, and I can keep some track on the passing time.
I get “cabin fever” when I am stuck indoors for long periods. I feel claustrophobic, that I must get out. Often my mother and I would be walking along the beach in the early hours. However, I am appalled at the numbers of people flocking to the beaches or hills. Many rural areas are imploring people not to consider self-isolating there and putting a strain on stretched resources (BBC News), apart from not considering that they could also be spreading the virus, so I’m planning to stay fixed and try to row (on the machine) the equivalent of from Portsmouth to Penzance, as the crow flies. This might help me to reflect on an imaginary journey, in the same ways that I would have been reflecting on now cancelled trips to the Orkneys and Cornwall.
My other major concern is that the two of us will fall out. We are used to the luxury of having our own space. we can still do this in the house, but it will still be a pressure. I’m hoping that having a plan and targets will help me, Wish me luck!.
I was in my late 20s. I was fit. I had climbed in the Alps and wintered in Scotland’s Cairngorms. I had been caving for ten years mainly on the Mendips but also in Yorkshire and South Wales. I was on expedition to Grotte Casteret, near Gavarnie, in the Pyrenees. This photo was taken just by the Refuge de la Brèche de Roland on the way back down to the minibus. I was becoming interested in the historical aspects of places, travellers and explorers.
I was a reluctant outdoor leader/ instructor, preferring to act as a back up, rather than lead. I had the experience and expertise to take responsibility and was beginning to gather a plethora of certificates, evidencing my abilities. I was beginning to develop an interest in the variety of approaches and strands of outdoor learning.
The Grotte Casteret expedition stands out because I was travelling in a group I did not know particularly well and I was forced to change my role in a group. I had made assumptions that fellow group members were technically competent for the terrain, and that I could be a happy follower. However, when, to avoid a wired path, they had descended a glacier, I became concerned. This meant that they had to ascend a wall of the glacier and cross the bergschrund to reach the cave. I had the skills and experience and pushed myself to the fore. I coached them in using an ice axe, sorted out a crossing point from the glacier to the rocks and set up the safety ropes, belaying people across the gap and over the loose moraine. I had take on a leadership role as my confidence in my technical and group work skills became apparent to the rest of the group.
This was pivotal in re-thinking my career away from teaching to a career in which I could share my enthusiasm for the outdoors. I became a youth worker, with the luxury of developing outdoor activities with the young people and fellow youth workers.
I was in my late 40s. I was fit. I had spent numerous winters in Scotland. I continued to cave regularly. I had an interest in sea kayaking, mainly off the coasts of Hampshire, Dorset and Cornwall and on numerous occasions had pushed myself well outside my comfort zone. I had also developed a passion for cross-country skiing, spending time each year in North America, Scandinavia, Scotland or the Alps. I was on a expedition to Stok Kangri, in Ladakh. My travels were drawing me to an interest in the impact the culture of the place on activity. I had evolved into an outdoor leader / instructor taking young people and adults caving and hill walking. My real enthusiasm was for working with groups of women who had not had the opportunity to experience being in the outdoors, questioning issues related to access and equality.
The Stok Kangri expedition came at another time of change. I was the only woman in a group of people I had walked and climber with for twenty years. It had become a friendship group. We recognized that we had been in some tricky situations and an ethic of mutual care. Here, I was outside my comfort zone. I struggled with the altitude and dehydration. as well as the physical challenge. For the first time ever, I “hit the wall”. I felt that the guides and sherpas saw me, a middle-aged woman, as a bit of an oddity. I was certainly not slender and rippling with muscles. For the first time, I seriously began to question my levels of fitness. However, I loved being in the mountains and observing everyday life – the ways in which spiritual and ecological connections with the landscape seemed to permeate all activities, from the positioning of toilets to the blessing of food. Outdoor activity was not in a silo. The potential breadth of outdoor learning that was striking me. I also recognized the privilege of being amongst a group of tried and tested friends.
On my return, I embarked on a course in magazine journalism. Our first assignment was to write an article about a fellow student. I was “outed” as a middle-aged extreme sportswoman. The thought of being seen as an extreme sportswoman challenged my self-concept. As a result of the expedition and the course, I developed my self-employment to encompass writing with outdoor learning and to focus on challenging stereotypes.
I was in my late 60s. The ravages of long descents with ludicrous rucsacs and the impact of injuries were taking their toll. I had become interested in photography and painting and making aesthetic responses to place. Here, I was just outside Disco Bay, Greenland. A Greenlandic guide had entreated us to understand how rising temperatures were impacting on the ecology of his landscape. We had previously visited a summer school where local children and Danish incomers were experiencing aspects of the indigenous culture of the place, in the hope that it would not die out. I hoped I was becoming a possible catalyst for change, both on a personal level through my art and talking about what had prompted it, and more widely through my writing and speaking at events.
The Greenland trip was one of the first times that I had become clearer about the ultimate purpose of outdoor learning. It is so much more than making a superficial connection with the environment. It has direct links with the future of our planet and the sustainable use of our resources. Instead of talking about development, why do we not consider consolidation, and a slower more reflective and responsive pace of life?
I continue to challenge stereotypes. I am interested in how our relationships with the environment may change as we become older. For me, being connected to the outdoors is as important as it ever was. It is who I am. It is more than a part of my self-concept. Being an outdoor person is my entirety. It permeates my total life.
Passionate about the outdoors, I continue as a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition assessor. This gives me an opportunity to spend time alone in nature, as I wait for the next group to arrive. Being alone in nature is important to me. It is my thinking and marvelling space.
…. And I am still bemused that some friends continue to see me as an extreme sportswoman, even if now slightly battered and tarnished and awaiting artificial joints!
A winter break in Scotland. Mists melt into clear skies and still waters. The sun is low over the horizon. Liquid gold waves kiss the rocks and dissolve onto the shore. A pathway of sunlight leads to the hidden.
Short daylight hours mean that as in one direction the dawn sun rises behind masts, in the other a full moon sinks behind the house fronting the bay at Garlieston. There is silence. No wind singing in the rigging. No cries from wheeling gulls.
The fisherman, entrapped for ever in bronze, watches for the return of the fleet. The fishing grounds are empty. A time for reflection on what once was, as thoughts turn to the future. A time for New Year resolutions.
We have often travelled to Canada. We’ve skied many times in the Rockies and Quebec. We’ve camped in the Rockies and British Columbia. We’ve ‘done’ the Inside Passage on the Ferries. We’ve had a fleeting drive around Nova Scotia, so we were convinced that we knew what to expect.
Listen in to a very brief description of the start of our journey.
Poor visibility accompanied us on our journey from Calgary to Kananaskis.
Finding breakfast involved ploughing our through the snowy woods.
We should have paid extra for underground car parking – but we are Brits! We don’t do things like that! The car was buried – at least digging out the car warmed us up.
I picture the literature review as a map, with interconnecting routes and discoveries of new landscapes as I explore new pathways and notice new vistas. Exciting!
I am struggling with clarifying my research question, which will then frame my reading. I have talked with a colleague which was very useful as she was able to draw out my main themes. My next task is to do a spider diagram in an attempt to refine my ideas.
Here, I will be recording my developing research writings. These are part retrospective and part looking to the future.
After a life time in outdoor learning, I am eager to pass on some of my insights, and just as interested in developing my ideas and thoughts. I have been greatly influenced by colleagues here in the UK and with my involvement in the institute for Outdoor Learning, and by the many academics and practitioners I have met through the European Outdoor Education Network.
Almost twenty years ago, I was fortunate to gain a Winston Churchill Fellowship and to travel to Australia, exploring connections with nature. I have also travelled on a number of occasions in Canada, my mother’s birthplace, and taken the opportunity to explore informal learning opportunities. Recently, I have had the privilege of exploring ideas when vacationing in South India.
My current interests are concerned with:
how does being an ‘outdoor’ person affect the ways in which we adapt to being older and possibly less physically mobile?
what role do photography and other aesthetic approaches affect our connections with the outdoors and the non-human?
are there any lessons to be learnt for the outdoor learning curriculum?
A term I am frequently coming across is ‘healthy ageing’.
It is easy to rush around, grabbing photographs and missing the wonder of the changing dance of light on the surrounding slopes and watery surfaces. I am standing in a favourite spot. Most of the time I am alone. A curious young motorcyclist comes and asks for ‘photograph’. His brief presence adds to the mood of the moment.
The early evening breeze rustles and whispers through the palms; birds seem unfazed by my close proximity; dragonflies pause from their flights. This is the photographer’s golden hour not only because of the magic of the changing soft light, but also because of these special moments in nature.
Many years ago I was flicking through a magazine and came upon an article about Andy Worhol’s swimming pool collection. I was mesmerised by the translucent turquoise; the patterns and ripples that transformed reality into an organic and abstract work of art. I have since been drawn to the liquid art of The Jubilee Pool in Penzance, now thankfully restored. When in India, I have the privilege of watching and recording the transient magic of the Cardamom House Pool. These are just a few examples of images that have been captured and give me pleasure.
Previously, I have designed four ‘portholes’, which I exhibited at Tuppenny Barn, as part of the Emsworth Arts Trail.
Many will know that I spend a lot of time each year at Cardamom House, in the foot hills of the Western Ghats. This is in Tamil Nadu, a drier state than Kerala. The sunsets can be spectacular; the birds and flowers exotic.
We are visited by many artists and some of my inspirations come from looking at their work. Some come armed with sketchbooks and notepads, others give us their website addresses. They challenge me to see through new eyes. They challenge me to take risks. They challenge me to work in different media.
My experiments have mixed results. I am learning all the time.