New partnership with social enterprise Summit Clothing gets clean water to Nepal

Villages like Serabesi in Nepal will receive specialist water filters to help produce clean, safe drinking water

Villages like Serabesi in Nepal will receive specialist water filters to help produce clean, safe drinking water

I’m really into ethical clothing and ethical shopping. I know it costs a little more, but just think about the difference you’re making to someone’s life. That’s why I was thrilled to hear that Summit Clothing — a fresh new online social enterprise — was joining forces with Sawyer Europe (the sole distributor of Sawyer Water Filters), Onfire Adventure and Clear Sky Treks to invest in a water filter capable of filtering 5,000 litres of water a day and sending it to isolated areas of Nepal.

This is Summit Clothing’s first major social project since its start up in February, and with one tenth of the world’s population living without clean water, this unique partnership is fundamental to the values of this adventure gear specialist online store.

So how does it work? By purchasing Sawyer Europe’s SP128 Mini Filter from the website, you’ll be directly helping disadvantaged people on the other side of the world. For every 10 water filters sold by Summit Clothing, it will purchase a specialist water filter with the help of Sawyer Europe. This will produce 5,000 litres of clean, safe water every day. The filter will be directly transported to the small, isolated village of Sarabesi, Nepal, by two adventure trekking companies — UK-based company Onfire Adventure and Kathmandu-based expedition company Clear Sky Treks. The tiny village has a population of 150 and is over half an hour’s walk away from the nearest source of water — which by Western standards would never be considered clean.

You can use the SP128 Mini Filter to drink directly as a straw, attach it to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches or simply attach it to standard threaded bottles

You can use the SP128 Mini Filter to drink directly as a straw, attach it to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches or simply attach it to standard threaded bottles

Adventure sports enthusiast and founder of Summit Clothing, Keiran Hewkin, really wants to help those who need it most. “There are currently around 700 million people worldwide without access to clean water,” he says. “In our Western culture, it’s hard to imagine life without safe drinking water on demand, but there are many secluded areas on the globe where people live a constant struggle to find clean water.”

If you’re venturing on expeditions in the wilderness, carrying a water filter is a necessity — especially if you’re going to be drinking water from streams and lakes. The incredibly lightweight SP128 Mini Filter is not only really handy, but by buying one from Summit Clothing you’ll be contributing to similar filters for the remote mountain communities in Nepal. Do you need more reason to contribute to this amazing cause?

The villagers of Serabesi have to walk over half an hour to their nearest water source - and even then it's not clean

The villagers of Serabesi have to walk over half an hour to their nearest water source – and even then it’s not clean

The great news is that Sarabesi is only the first of many villages to receive these special filters. Having no access to clean water can be extremely dangerous and can lead to lots of diseases and infections, which is why Summit Clothing believes it’s crucial to help as many isolated communities as possible.

Social and environmental projects are at the core of Summit Clothing, and the social enterprise has a number of other positive schemes in the pipeline. It has also teamed up with local organisation iDID Adventure which enables young people from a variety of social backgrounds to get out there and partake in outdoor activities and adventure sports.

We need more organisations like this! Keep up the good work guys!

To find out more about Summit Clothing and their ethical range of outdoor gear, visit


7 things you need to know this National Walking Month

Because I’m a lover of being active and getting outdoors, I love initiatives like this — National Walking Month. Initiatives that encourage people to get outside for some exercise, leave the computer behind, and catch up with good friends. The world is full of bad media, so it’s really refreshing to see some good, wholesome news and marketing for a change. Just for you, here’s some inspiration to ring up your buddies, go grab those boots, and head out for an adventure…

1. Top 10 secret walks

Discover a secret cave behind Malham Waterfall, Yorkshire Dales (c) Paul Buckingham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Discover a secret cave behind Malham Waterfall, Yorkshire Dales (c) Paul Buckingham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

When the National Trust launched its Great British Walk last year, it revealed some beautifully enchanting ‘secret’ walks. Why are they secret? Because they can only be accessed by foot. Naturally. And before you go saying, “What’s so secret about the White Cliffs of Dover?”, have a look at the rest of the list. If you’re a gentle stroller who takes joy in history, old castles and wildflowers, you’ll find some real gems here. Enjoy!

2. How to find urban walking routes

Turns out a 6.4 mile slow circular walk from Trafalgar Square will burn  577 calories

Turns out a 6.4 mile slow circular walk from Trafalgar Square will burn 577 calories is a cool tool for finding new places to explore in and around city areas. The search function allows you to find circular walks, themed walks and walking events in most UK cities. Sadly it is missing a few important places like Oxford and Cardiff, but apart from that it’s a pretty good tool for finding new routes.

3. Turning your steps into energy

These new SolePower (c) insoles use the energy created from your steps to charge mobile devices

These new SolePower (c) insoles use the energy created from your steps to charge mobile devices

Normally the idea of walking is to escape the strain and stress of the day, escape technology. But this new shoe insole from SolePower enables you to take technology with you and make it last even longer. Handy for overnight hikers and the like, the gadget takes the energy you create from each step and uses it to charge mobile devices and can be cut to fit any shoe. Available later this year, the current version can fully charge a smartphone on a 15 mile hike, but the team is working on a version that will do the same in just 5 miles. If you want to know more, does a pretty good review.

4. Walking poles aren’t just for old people

Save your knees with trekking poles (c) BMC

Save your knees with trekking poles (c) BMC

If you’re more serious about walking — and you don’t already — consider using walking (or trekking) poles. You’d be surprised how much pressure your knees take on a long hike. Especially one with a lot of downhill. According to Professional Standards Officer for BAIML, Richard Ayres, poles take 20% of your bodyweight, helping dramatically reduce the impact on your knees and lower body. But there’s so much more to it than that. The BMC goes into a lot more detail about why you should use walking poles, how to improve your technique and what to look for in a good walking pole.

5. Animal tracking

A rare but majestic sight (c) Dougie Cunningham

Red deer – a rare but majestic sight (c) Dougie Cunningham

Being able to identify animal footprints is always a handy skill if you want to spot badgers, red deer or even Scottish wildcats. Apparently if you’re looking for red deer, keep your eye out for two evenly-shaped slot marks. They’ll be indented with slightly pointed tips. To find out more, The Great Outdoors has a pretty detailed article on learning to spot animal tracks. Would have been nice to see some actual footprint images though.

6. Some interesting walking stats

(c) Living Streets

Did you know there are 109 journeys between central London underground stations that are quicker to walk? (c) Living Streets

Pedestrian safety charity Living Streets put together this awesome infographic to show off the benefits of walking a little more. Apart from enjoying some funky illustrations, you could really learn something. You can see the whole infographic on Leeds Met Library’s Pinterest Wall.

7. How long your rubbish takes to decompose

From orange peels to cigarette butts, you'd be surprised how long our rubbish takes to disintegrate

From orange peels to cigarette butts, you’d be surprised how long our rubbish takes to disintegrate

And last but not least, remember if you take it onto the mountain (or wherever you’re walking), take it back with you. Here are some shocking facts about how long stuff takes to decompose. Who knew cigarette butts would take so long?

As for me… Despite a pretty busy month, we’re going on some Snowdonia walking adventures later this month. We’re gonna leave the path, find a bothy, drink steaming cups of tea and simply enjoy each other’s company without the distractions of life. I love it, escaping, hiding, exploring, discovering. I can’t wait. I’d love to hear what exciting exploits you’re getting up to this May. Send me some pics, would you?

Interview: Adventurer Ed Farrelly

Ed Farrelly, Khan Tengri expedition, 2012

In the back of a Russian heli after leaving Khan Tengri base camp at the end of expedition, 2012 (c) Ed Farrelly

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, but finally I’ve had the awesome privilege of interviewing 21-year-old adventurer and mountaineer Ed Farrelly! Why is he so awesome? Well in 2012 Ed ranked 6th in a list of the 20 most seasoned adventurers, explorers and expedition leaders in Men’s Fitness magazine. And currently, you’ll find he’s training for his next adventure — a solo expedition to climb Khan Tengri on the Kazak/Kyrgyz/China border this summer.

But adventuring is not all this young man does. He’s also studying for a politics and development degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In awe yet? Well let’s get on with it then… I’ve left this interview unedited, as his answers were pretty raw and real. So, enjoy!

What’s your very earliest memory of adventuring?

Well a relative took me up Tryfan when I was six, and as far as I’m concerned, from then on I was hooked. It’s actually quite funny, because a couple of weeks back Tryfan topped the polls in a survey done by Trail magazine, as the most loved peak in the UK! I reckon most will agree that it doesn’t take much to catch the adventure bug. I have also always had a personality that can never do things by halves, which I think plays a part in why it spiralled so much from there.

Who’s been your inspiration to get where you are today?

I don’t really have one single inspiration, it’s been more a sort of collection. I admire people like Bear Grylls who have been able to very successfully turn a passion into a career, but I also draw on guys like Messner, who had skill that was out of this world and without whom the sport would not have progressed. I’m a mere mortal in comparison to those lads.

Ed Farrelly, Amphu Lapcha Pass, Nepal, 2010

Amphu Lapcha Pass, Nepal (2010), two days after Ed had become the youngest person to summit Baruntse (7,129m)  (c) Ed Farrelly

What’s your next adventure and how are you preparing for it? What are you most and least looking forward to?

I’m heading off on the #solo2014 expedition to climb Khan Tengri on the Kazak – Kyrgyz – China border in summer 2014. It’s basically an attempt to become the youngest Briton to solo a mountain over 7,000m.

My prep so far has mainly revolved around running. I’m in the process of building myself up to a base fitness level from where I can then begin exercising a little more strategically. I run about 25 miles a week I guess.

I’m looking forward to the same thing I always do, seeing the mountain come into view for the first time and thinking, “Wow, what the hell am I doing here?!” The mental challenge is what it’s all about.

Why do you choose to work on your own sometimes? What do you love and hate about it?

I don’t always work alone. Indeed all of my big adventures so far have been as part of a team. For me, this is a new challenge and a very different one from previous. Operating solo is very mentally straining. I have no one to fall back on and every decision I make is my own. Ultimately if something goes wrong, the chances of help are far slimmer. In that respect, it’s very much a double edged sword, the rewards are bigger but so are the potential consequences. Either way, what I can be sure of, is that experiences in the past have shaped the way I view mountaineering and make me sure that I’m doing this for the right reasons. Whether summit or fail, it’s already a success.

What’s been the craziest/scariest thing you’ve done in your life so far?

Hmmm… That’s a really tough one, there have been quite a few strange experiences I’ve ended up in. I guess the No.1 that sticks out was Aconcagua in 2011. Tragically one of my team mates passed away on the mountain and I ended up in hospital with frostbite. It was a life changing experience to be a part of, and has completely shaped what I’ve done since. No one ever thinks they will end up as part of something like that, it’s unreal. Coming out of it I asked myself endlessly why I did a sport that was potentially fatal and it took me a long time to answer.

Do you still want to be doing this when you’re 70? 

I want to continue doing what inspires me and never settling for second best. Whether my body permits it, I guess that could involve climbing or maybe it’s just getting out of bed in the morning and taking the dog for a walk. Everyone has their limits. I strongly believe it’s more about pushing that than anything else. I think legacy is also really important. In the same way that we are inspired by those that come before us, we also have a responsibility to inspire the next generations.

Ed Farrelly, Amphu Lapcha, Nepal, 2010

Nepal in 2010 on the Amphu Lapcha – one of Ed’s favourite shots (c) Ed Farrelly

What advice would you offer females who aspire to do the stuff you do? Do they face different challenges to men?

I think it’s actually quite simple. If you have a long term goal, begin by coming up with an idea that will take you closer towards that, plan it and then execute it. If you take things one step at a time, it’s amazing how far you’ll get. Also in the process of execution you might well decide that your long term goal was wrong and change it. Adventure is all about trial and error and is very much an evolving concept, centred around the individual (it’s not wrong to change your mind).

I actually think that when it comes to adventuring, women and men face pretty much the same challenges. Mountaineering like most sports is meritocratic — people are judged on their performance. Also I think mentally women can be just as strong, if not stronger than men, and in that respect adventure sports can often advantage them. The obvious obstacle that does exist is in travelling, there are many parts of the globe where I know it is not safe for women to go it alone, so I guess in that respect there is work to be done!

Have you worked with any inspiring women in your life as an adventurer?

I saw a talk by Rebecca Stephens MBE a few years back, which really impressed me. Again, I thought it was great to see how someone could use their skills from past experiences and translate them into becoming a very successful adventurer. She had a plan and executed it.

If you weren’t an adventurer, what would you be? 

I would probably be a conventional sportsman. I need something physical and mentally challenging to focus on, otherwise I feel like there’s something missing. I guess that would be the next best thing to adventuring. Although it would still be no comparison!

Ed is sponsored by Rab, Adidas Eyewear, Edelrid and Scarpa. If you wantto find out more about this adventurous lad, check out his website ( or follow him on Twitter (@edfarrelly).

Have access laws ruined our hillsides?

Footpath in Glyders, Snowdonia, Wales (c) Margaux Smale

Access laws have meant an increase in footpaths like this one in the Glyders, Snowdonia (c) Margaux Smale

Acting editor of The Great Outdoors magazine reflects on how access laws, Benny Rothman and the British Mountaineering Council have been instrumental in the evolution of hillwalking.

Hillwalking has seen some major developments since communist activist Benny Rothman and his team trespassed Kinder Scout in a mission to bring walkers the freedom to roam, but acting editor of The Great Outdoors (TGO), Daniel Neilson, says the effects of increased hillwalking means our duty to protect the hills is greater than it has ever been.

Neilson has a long-standing passion for the great outdoors and with a background in adventure travel writing, the 36-year-old has seen first-hand the huge impact The Kinder Trespass has had on hillwalking, hillwalkers and the hills themselves across the UK.

Rothman’s trespass in 1932 may have caused a few unpleasant scuffles between those who simply wanted access to hills and those who owned the land, but it was the key moment in changing laws and opening up access to land in the UK.

“Hillwalking used to be quite a niche thing to do, but now it’s a mass market activity,” Neilson says. People certainly have become incredibly passionate about hillwalking. TGO’s loyal readership over the last 35 years is proof enough.

While we may have access to the mountains now, there are still a number of restrictions in England and Wales; wild camping being one of them. When it comes to access to wilderness, Scotland is one of the most progressive countries in the world says the Eastbourne-based editor.


Wild camping in Scotland (c) Margaux Smale

Wild camping is completely legal in Scotland (c) Margaux Smale

“Lots of people would like to see the same kind of freedom across the rest of the UK,” says Neilson. “In England and Wales you’re not supposed to wild camp without the landowner’s permission, although various National Parks, like Dartmoor accept it. In Snowdonia, if you arrive late and leave early and leave no trace, they won’t often know you’ve been there, and in the Lakes as long as you camp higher than the highest fence and away from the public highway you’re generally OK. But every time you’re supposed to get the land owner’s permission.”

A number of organisations have sprung up, working both to protect the mountains and to further promote the increasingly popular leisure pastime. Neilson identifies the Rambler’s Association, the National Parks Association and the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) as three such institutions.

However, the increasing footfall on UK hills and mountains, as well as the rise in charity challenges, such as the Three Peaks Challenge,  has resulted in increased path erosion; a concerning matter for dedicated hillwalkers.

“The problem of path erosion has caused National Parks and authorities, even charities to create quite solid walkways. Some don’t mind it, others absolutely loathe it. Over recent decades routes have become a lot more funnelled to go up certain mountains, like Scafell Pike and Snowdon,” Neilson says.



Hiking, path erosion, Scotland (c) Tom Doey

What do you think about the increase in solid footpaths like this one in Scotland? (c) Tom Doey

Cairns are also on the increase. “At the top of Scafell Pike they’re everywhere. Some people hate the fact they’re there and go and kick them down. When there’s one every 30 metres it does begin to feel like you’re on a highway,” Neilson admits.

But we can still help protect the hills we have been given the privilege of enjoying by following some basic guidelines. “The really obvious one is sticking to paths,” says Neilson. “People put those paths in for a reason and not sticking to them can lead to us losing lots of flora. It’s certainly happened in Snowdonia, paths seem to be getting ever wider.

“I’m also always amazed at how much litter I see. I think it’s just really simple things. Exploring other mountains and getting off the main trails is another way to increase your enjoyment, because you’re seeing something different and you’re not just following everyone else,” Neilson concludes.

If you're looking for more off-route walks, check out The Great Outdoors' Wild 
Walks and keep an eye out for my alternative route up Y Garn, Snowdonia in TGO's 
February issue out on 4 January 2014.

Training for a 100 kilometre walk

Karrimor boots by Margaux Smale (c)

You’re nearly there! Training for a long-distance walk can be challenging, but here are some tips and advice to help you finish with a smile.

Can you imagine anything better than 24 hours of pure uninterrupted bliss in the great outdoors? Did I mention it would involve walking 100 kilometres? There’s no denying it’s a long way, especially if all done in one go, but don’t knock it before you’ve given it some good consideration.

We all love being outside, appreciating the beauty of the natural world. But what if you want something a little more challenging than a gentle stroll along the Chilterns? Something more like an all day all night trek along Hadrian’s Wall Path or the coast of Cornwall.

Sure there will be some training and preparation involved, and you may find yourself doing something silly like singing Doe, a deer, a female deer to keep yourself awake in the darker hours of the walk, but you don’t have to be superman, or indeed Bear Grylls to conquer a challenge like this.

Sarah Liveing is a 52-year-old mother of three and recently completed her first 100km walk from London to Brighton. A keen adventurer, Liveing tries to walk 50-60 miles a week and has tackled a variety of challenges over the years, including climbing Kilimanjaro, jumping out of an aircraft and cycling from London to Paris. But she didn’t always used to be this fit.

Sarah Liveing walked her first 100km event this summer

Sarah Liveing walked her first 100km event this summer

“In January 2005 I weighed 18 stone and was very unhappy with how I looked, how I acted and what I was eating. I’d signed up to do the Breast Cancer MoonWalk in May 2005, and in preparation I began walking and changing the way I was eating. For the first time in my life I was able to get into my head space,” Liveing shares.

As exciting as an event like this can be, it is not to be taken lightly. Acting editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, Daniel Neilson, believes the key is to work on your endurance. You need to build yourself up to a stage where you can walk all day without any problems.

Adam Brockett, senior events manager for the British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton Trek, says, “It takes months of training to be able to get to the finish, but it’s so worthwhile when they see the sun come up as they reach Brighton.”

The British Heart Foundation runs an annual London to Brighton Trek  (c) Chenderson

The British Heart Foundation runs an annual London to Brighton Trek (c) Chenderson

It certainly is a worthwhile challenge, and if you’re raising money for charity, even more so. “It’s great to raise money, and I do seriously think that the build up to the event with fundraising is very good for motivating people to train and get fit,” says Neilson.

During training is a good time to trial any new clothing or equipment Neilson says. “You don’t want to be trying anything new out on the day. Tiny problems with gear – even a buckle you find annoying – will be magnified tenfold in an endurance event. Even things like energy gels can have adverse effects when used for the first time.”

One of the biggest challenges on such an event is walking and navigating through the night, so training is essential. Neilson advises taking three or four evenings to walk somewhere familiar in the dark to get used to it.

Neilson advises getting some night walking practice in

Neilson advises getting some night walking practice in (c) Chenderson

The battle of the mind is another big challenge and you’ll be surprised at the amount of time you have to think. Try some of Neilson’s tricks to keep your mind occupied. Make up silly lists – like the best ever festival line-up or your own top ten movie names. If you’re alone, don’t be afraid to sing or talk to yourself – it often helps clarify your thoughts, especially if you’re lost. Audio books are another great distraction.

In the dark hours of the night, Liveing too had to find a way of distracting herself. “I started singing Doe, a Deer from The Sound of Music to give me a good pace and I counted 123, 123, 123 to get a good rhythm. My grandfather used this method to keep himself going as he walked from Poland to Paris in 1917, escaping the ravages of the first world war,” she says. “I’ve used it before and it always works.”

While you’re out, don’t forget to take advantage of your beautiful surroundings. Snap some pictures to capture your journey or take a bird, flower or tree book, so you can learn about the countryside you’re walking through.

Finally, when things look hard and your feet ache, remember you’re doing this because you enjoy it. But also be aware it shouldn’t be a route march, it should be a fun, informative and enlightening walk. Neilson tries to make sure he does a little history research before a walk. “The South Downs are absolutely covered in Tumuli – ancient farmsteads and burial grounds up to 3000 years old,” he says. “If that doesn’t make it a little more interesting, I don’t know what would!”

World champion stunt rider Fiona Beale turns outdoor instructor

Fiona Beale on her Kawasaki KDX250(c)

A young Fiona taking her Kawasaki KDX250 for a practice spin in her back field‏ in Derby

Not many people can claim they could outjump the American daredevil stunt rider Evel Knievel, but Fiona Beale is one of them. A former world champion stunt rider, Fiona has changed tack somewhat and is currently working as a freelance outdoor education instructor in deepest darkest Wales.

The 42-year-old’s life journey has been far from ordinary and despite such a prestigious title, she is one of the friendliest and most down to earth women you may ever meet. She even holds an unbeaten world record for the longest female ramp jump.

The stunt rider’s love for motorbikes started at the tender age of two. “I asked my mum and dad for a motorbike, but they wouldn’t allow me. At three I asked again and wasn’t allowed because my friend had one and it blew up and badly burnt him. So I waited until I was 16 and then I got a motorbike. I was very patient!” Fiona jokes.

She was a natural. Although not a full-time occupation, Fiona rode all over England and Wales, and even did some racing in America. She still takes the opportunity to ride when she can.

Fiona Beale on her Honda CR250 (c)

Riding her Honda CR250 for James Dylan’s stunt team

But sadly the sport has its fair share of risks and Fiona is well aware of them. During her 15 odd years of riding, she has lost count of how many accidents she’s had and bones she’s broken. In fact the stunt that led to her world record for the longest female ramp jump of 190ft 2″ came at a pretty hefty price. After a 60mph jump over 12 articulated lorries at Donington Park on 14 August 1997, Fiona crashed as she overshot the down ramp and was seriously injured.

“I went too fast. I got the ramp right, just flew over the down ramp and landed on the flat. The shock of the landing snapped the throttle grip and my hand came off, which threw me off the bike. I broke my back in 13 places,” she shares. It was a critical combination of mechanical failure and speed.

The accident saw her homebound for three months. She even had to learn to walk again. “The only reason I was allowed home was because my mom put a bed on the bottom floor,” she says. “I was in and out of X-rays, in between TV interviews to see how I was doing. But I was determined to get better. Determination makes such a difference.”

Fiona enjoys life and knew if she wanted to carry on enjoying it, it was time to pull the plug. “I went back to bikes after the accident, and carried on for a bit. But I was so close to a wheelchair, so I stopped,” Fiona says. She doesn’t regret any of it though.

Fiona working hard in the Ogmore Slalum competition 2012 (C) Carl Palmer

Fiona working hard in the Ogmore Slalum competition 2012 (c) Carl Palmer

She’s always been a sports fanatic and was originally planning on becoming a PE teacher. “It’s a natural thing for me, some people think it’s extreme. But it’s something I’ve always done. I used to do free running on the farm, natural things a child would do,” she claims. Now her work as an outdoor education instructor enables her to enjoy a whole host of outdoor activities.

“I canoe, kayak, gorge walk, coasteer, mountain bike and I’ve just starting climbing. I’ve been in the outdoor world for 23-odd years. It’s a natural progression from the motocross endurance racing I used to do,” Fiona shares.

Fiona’s work life is incredibly varied. She works with the outdoor pursuits company Adventure Beyond, and the canoe club Llandyssul Paddlers. She also helps out with school camps and DoE groups and currently works shifts with a children’s care home.

Bala Mill Div 2/3 (May 2012) (C) Carl Palmer

Bala Mill Div 2/3 (May 2012) (c) Carl Palmer

Fiona is a qualified youth worker and has been working with children for about 12 years. She has a real passion for helping people less privileged than herself. “I’m looking for the genie in the bottle in them, to help them open up and achieve greater things in life,” she says. She’s even been toying with the idea of working with children in third world countries, and war and disaster zones.

“I’ve had my chance to shine, so I want to help others shine now, help them feel good about themselves,” Fiona shares. “I try to have fun at my work and I particularly love the team building activities. Having fun at work is so important.”

“I’m a big adventurer and love discovering. I love being outside, I love being with people and nature. It’s my office you see. I’d be absolutely miserable if I was in an office nine-to-five. I have too much energy. I’ve always been active, and I’m always getting up to mischief, good mischief!” she chuckles.

Fiona was recently babysitting her friend’s kids. As you can imagine, she didn’t spend the day inside watching DVDs. No, Fiona took the kids on an adventure. “We had the most mysterious and magical day,” she confides. “We went on a dragon hunt up Pen y Fan and some boys came up to us, asking if we’d seen a dragon. It was so mysterious! So we joined them, asking everyone we saw if they’d seen the dragons. Everyone gave a different answer. The kids were only four and five, and they were really getting into it. We had such fun!”

Awaiting caption (C) Carl Palmer

Henllan on the Teifi River (c) Carl Palmer

Fiona’s passion for life is contagious, she makes you feel anything is possible. “I just love life, I love creation and I love helping people achieve their goals. You’ve got to enjoy life, cause you’re only here for a bit,” she says. She does have her quirks though. “I like chewing straws and I like tea red hot. Proper coffee is a must too,” she admits.

Fiona now lives in a quiet village in Wales, and there could be no better place for this outdoors lover. Having grown up on a farm in Derbyshire, she is used to the outdoor way of life. “I love the diversity of Wales, you’ve got the mountains, the rivers, you’ve got everything really. Wales has so much history and culture, it’s a country that’s really held its identity,” she says.

Fiona also loves the slower pace of life in the countryside. “You can hide in Wales quite nicely,” she admits. I agree with her, there are a lot of benefits to living out of the way.

So what’s next on the world champion stunt rider’s to-do list? Two things. The Devizes to Westminster international canoe race – a 125 mile test of skill and stamina – and a trip to Antarctica. Nothing is too challenging for this woman!

First ever lead climb

Preparing for my first lead climb

Preparing for my first lead climb

“Do it sooner rather than later” is something I’ve been told a lot. So I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at lead climbing… before it becomes my monster in the attic.

The plan was four weeks solid prep before attempting lead climbing, but with the twists and turns of everyday life, this turned into a mere two sessions. So with enough butterflies in my stomach to fly me up the wall, I donned my harness, chalk bag and shoes that felt three sizes too small and gave my first lead climb a go. Surprisingly I didn’t die and even enjoyed it.

Climbing is often viewed as an extreme sport reserved for adrenalin junkies and there’s no denying it can be dangerous; the sport has after all seen some pretty horrendous accidents in its history. Just last summer an experienced 32-year-old climber died after falling 50 feet from Dancing Ledge, near Swanage, Dorset.

But these are very isolated incidents and those involved tend to be climbers really pushing the limits. But taking the right precautions, climbing can be fun, safe and exhilarating, even if your heart still skips a beat at the thought of falling.

So why am I so keen to jump headfirst into a sport where falling is as much a part of the fun as the actual climbing? Am I an adrenalin seeker? Not really. I’ll avoid falling at any cost. Even roller coasters scare the living daylights out of me. I’m much more at home in the spinning teacups.

I started climbing last September and wasn’t planning on falling in love with it, but I did. I thrive on the sense of achievement upon completing a route you thought impossible and conquering a lead climb should give me even greater satisfaction.

Picking out a nice route for my first lead climb

Picking out a nice route for my first lead climb

Sport leading can be just as safe as top-roping, but with the added technicalities and increased scare-factor, senior climbing instructor, Tym Miller-White, recommends spending two to five months getting comfortable with top-roping before attempting to lead.

There are a number of challenges when starting out. Of course there’s the fear, but you also have to take in some additional fiddly bits like ensuring you have a firm hold before clipping in, making sure you don’t Z-clip or back-clip or place your foot behind the rope. I’ve been told, should I fall having placed my foot incorrectly, I could end up upside down. Gulp!

The Challenge

So after six months of bouldering and top-roping it was finally time. Having managed to ‘rope in’ the help of some friendly volunteers including Josh – a senior outdoor instructor and keen lead climber – and a friend who’s a dab hand with a camera, we trundle down to my local climbing centre, Boulders.

Leading tends to be done at a lower grade than top-roping, and as I’m currently top-roping at 5+, Josh sets up a 4+, informing me it’s “a nice one” after nimbly mountain goating to the top in a matter of seconds. One slight problem – I’m a head smaller than him, so a nice climb for him turns out to be rather a stretch for me. But I relish a challenge.

A few preparations and I’m ready. The moves to the first carabiner are fairly straightforward, so I clip in no problem. I find it amazing how much more I have to think about my moves, despite it being a relatively easy climb. But at the second clip I make my first mistake.

Josh explains the dangers of Z-clipping

Josh explains the dangers of Z-clipping

“You Z-clipped Margaux,” Josh exclaims. Basically I’d taken the rope from beneath the last carabiner to clip into the next, so had I climbed another metre and fallen, I’d have fallen four metres instead of two.

First attempt foiled, I try again. First clip. Second clip. The third clip gets a little tricker, as I have to squeeze the hold with my left hand, reaching over it with the right to clip in. Cramp, cramp, cramp and release; phew! This climb reminds me how flexible I used to be. I really ought to work on my flexibility again – I’m sure it would do wonders for my climbing.

A couple more tricky manoeuvres up past the fourth clip, more huffing and puffing, and I’d made it – elated, joyful and proud. But it wasn’t over yet. I still had the hardest part ahead of me – the fall. Oh why had I agreed to voluntarily throw myself off a climbing wall?

The fall

The fear of falling in a lead climb is one of the biggest discouragements from trying it out in the first place, and can become a huge hindrance to your climbing development if not dealt with. Tym has the perfect solution, “When inside I try and fall off in every session, just to remind myself that falling is completely safe. It’s the unknown that people are scared of, so you need to get rid of the unknown and fall off a lot.”

Taking a breather before my first lead fall

Taking a breather before my first lead fall

I’d practiced a few falls with a loose top-rope, so I knew it would be scary, but I hadn’t anticipated just how frightening it would be. So heart thumping, hands sweating, I put all my trust in my belayer Josh, and jump. My involuntary scream attracts a few inquisitive glances. The fall has surprised everyone, because instead of falling two meters, I fall more like four.

Having anticipated a somewhat shorter fall, my Scottish cameraman had zoomed in too far, meaning I fell off screen. Now for the sake of some video footage I had to do the whole thing again. The second fall was just as inelegant, landing pretty much face first into the wall. I’m sure with time, I’ll learn to bring my feet up.

Although not entirely thrilled at having to go through two pretty big falls in one session, it’s certainly given me confidence in the equipment and although overcoming the fear of falling will be a battle I face every time I climb, I’m starting to win the head battle.

“Lead climbing gives you a lot of freedom, the freedom to go and climb anywhere really. With indoor climbing you have the freedom to climb on any route, in Boulders, that’s 60% more choice than if you were just top-roping,” Tym shares.

I think if I was like Tym, who basically lives and dreams climbing, then I like him might also be booking three lovely climbing holidays this year. But I think I’ll settle for some nice climbing in Dorset or my local quarries when the weather warms up a little.