My introduction to hiking maybe differs from some. Most people get into hobbies because of family influence/what you have grown up doing. I wish that was the case for me. I’m not going to hide the fact that I am a little bitter about my upbringing, and I don’t want to be the cliché that says mental health stems from nurture rather nature – but I am that cliché so why pretend to be anything different.
I grew up in Warrington, very flat, fairly poor and not in any immediate proximity to mountains or rolling countryside. My dad’s main hobby was going to the pub, my mum’s watching TV and my older sister was playing will dolls and makeup (things are still the same today, minus the dolls). From a young age I was always inquisitive and adventurous and a pretty big tomboy. I liked playing football and asked for a metal detector for my birthday. I used to walk round the empty field behind my house and search for all kinds of crap (I guess it comes as no surprise I ended up studying Archaeology at University). Regardless, my parents just couldn’t understand why I was so ‘outdoorsy’ and because no one in my family is/was, it was never ‘indulged’ or encouraged, I was considered more of a pest than anything. I always knew there was more to life even at a young age, but I was confined to TV dinners and weekends at the pub.
Don’t get me wrong, I am from the generation who knows what it was like to play outside/scrape your knees and knock on for your best friend, and that’s what kept me occupied. However, my first introduction to camping was in fact through my parents. It was more what we could afford rather than an outdoor adventure, we would go the Lake District, Ambleside/Windermere and wonder around the shops, I would gaze up to the mountains in awe, like they were Everest or something, unclimbable giants and though hill walking was only for the elite.
One year, I was 15/16 and we went back to the Lakes. A few days before I had walked into the local outdoors shop and bought myself a 15.00 pair of walking boots with the money I had made from my Saturday job. I didn’t think I would go hiking, I just wanted to blend in. Until….dun dun duuurrnn….2 days into the camping trip we went to Glenridding. I was wondering around the information centre and saw that there was a guided walk being advertised for the next day. I think my parents were glad to get rid of me. They happily dropped me off the next day, but I was told I was too young to go unsupervised, my heart completely sank. My dad desperately pleaded with them to take me so he didn’t have to take me for a walk himself (I sound like a dog). The guide looked at me and said ‘do you have walking boots and rucksack’, to which I showed off my 15.00 boots and the TotalFitness rucksack I stole of my mum and off I went. I can’t remember what mountain we climbed, in fact the thing I remember the most was how sociable and friendly everyone was. I also found out what spending 15.00 on boots really gets you. The first puddle of the walk and my feet were well and truly soaked. I didn’t care, it made me feel like I was a real hiker or something just because i came back wet and dirty.
It’s probably a really boring story, but for me it is probably one of my best memories from my teenage years, that one day changed everything for me. I no longer had to wonder what the mountains had to offer because I was in them, and they lived up to my expectation and surpassed them.
Unfortunately for my parents the walk had not satisfied my curiosity, it heightened it, and the next day I was so eager to go on another walk, I forced my dad into a walk around Aria Force, so he never did get out of it!
I went on a few trips with friends after that, chose to play rugby at university instead of joining the rambling society (i’m still not too sure why) and then my real adventures started at 21. There was a lot of learning on the go and a lot of getting lost.
I soon learnt key skills such as navigating, plotting routes and what kit was needed for long walks and camps. Clearly the learning didn’t come soon enough as one of my first camping trips I had walked 4 miles in the wrong direction along a busy road to where I thought was the campsite. I ended up spotting a police car at a café and he kindly gave me a lift to the campsite entrance (very embarrassing).
I guess the point to this story is that, I grew up thinking I was the odd one out in my family. They have always had the attitude ‘if its too hard don’t do it’, which is bonkers and not very encouraging. That was their advice when I said I wanted to go to university, and why I want to go hiking.
I am upset that I didn’t have amazing adventures to look back on as a kid, but it’s part of who I am, and I am making up for it now. I’m at home in the mountains, when I am feeling depressed it sorts me out. Everything that I have done which has been hard work has always been worth it. It’s fine to be different and carve out your own path, being the black sheep is amazing.