Well here we are again. Another year over and another photo highlights reel on the blog. I do really enjoy doing these each year – and it’s been one of those years that’s just flown by. Every time I’ve stopped to look back I’ve thought, “Heck, how is it <insert month here> already?” It felt like I stepped off at the end of May and landed at the end of September which, in a blink, became the end of October. And here we are seeing in 2023 already.
This year has been very full of travel. That is both great and exhausting. It felt a lot like 2019 – certainly as similar as it has been since the pandemic (quickly goes back to check I didn’t write that last year…). Ironically, my last lines in the 2021 roundup was to wish everyone a 2022 that felt more like 2019. So I guess I got what I wished for! And clearly I haven’t learnt. My three weeks of winter mountain fun in March feels like more than a year ago.
Going through month by month, I’ve been astounded to discover that three of four major events of the year were all in the same month – more than once. So I think it’s only fair to allow myself more than just one photo a month. It’s also highlighted just how flipping much happened this year – and just how crazy it’s been. Never mind how little I’ve written about it on the blog. It’s been mad. I need to sort it out. Expect to hear the stories in the near future.
January – Shropshire Way
In January, I started the adventure year off by running the Shropshire Way from Ludlow to Shrewsbury. I was visiting people in both those places but they could each only do the weekends. So I decided to make the obvious choice and walk between them during the week. Then, when all the campsites were shut because… er it was January, I decided I may as well try running it. I wouldn’t have a tent and I wanted to crack this running thing.
It was really good fun. There was a LOT of mud, one hotel that is now my favourite ever and lots of lessons learnt about running. Like it’s a really bad idea to have a hot chocolate and then immediately start running again. By the end I was walking most of the time but that was fine. I had plenty of time. The week gave me a new appreciation of Shropshire and of fast and light travel.
February – Winter Lakes and Scotland Trip
Now I’m freelance and free to do crazy things like take 3 weeks away back to back because mountains… I decided to go clock up some more winter QMDs before my Winter Mountain Leader Training. I had enough QMDs to get onto the course, but it had been a few years since I’d done anything decent thanks to Covid. A snowy new year’s bivvy was about the extent of it. So to not look like an incompetent fool when I arrived at Glenmore Lodge, I had a week in the Lake District as per usual, followed by two in the Scottish Highlands – split between Glen Coe, Fort William and Aviemore. (Basically, I didn’t want to be labelled as That Girl from Devon where it’s Flat.)
There wasn’t much snow in the Lakes, although we had a great last day doing the entire Helvellyn ridge, south to north in a one-er after a fresh dump of snow. (It was so good it made it into My Favourite Hike for Advnture.com) We had a hilarious time one day on some obscure, mossy, damp scramble, with a guidebook description that felt like my Maths lecturer saying “Clearly” instead of finishing the proof. It was apparently obvious, but very unclear to us.
Then I headed up to Scotland, spending time in based in Glencoe, Fort William and then across to the Cairngorms. The weather was, of course, mixed. But we managed to get some stuff done and rack up more QMDs. Plus have some classic Scottish winter fun… My favourite day was doing the CMD arete up to Ben Nevis: glorious on the ridge, instant white out after the ridge and pacing between cairns to get off the summit safely.
My first day in the Cairngorms was like August in the alps (well, maybe not nowadays!). Baselayer weather and fabulous snow. The second day it was -5 overnight and my camelbak froze in the van (oops) and there were 70mph winds coming down off the plateau. So yeah, either extreme will do…
And I also decided that I am finally too old for a dorm room.
March – Winter MLT Round 1
Everyone left and I had a few days in Aviemore before meeting up with Phoebe at the Pine Martin Lodge in Glen More. We had made a pact to do our Winter Mountain Leader Training together and now Covid was finally over, we were finally doing it… It was a great course. I felt like I was getting a thorough grilling and rough polish – exactly what I wanted. I’m very aware I’ve learnt all my winter skills from other people, trial and error. This means I’ve picked up everyone’s bad habits without realising it. It was really great to have someone who knows what their doing (and has qualifications to back it up) fix things I wasn’t even aware I was doing.
And then, halfway through the course, Phoebe got Covid… Although I tested negative (and continued to do so) I was asked to leave the course. Scotland’s Covid rules at the time actually said that I could have stayed, but I was essentially given an offer I couldn’t refuse and went. Which was gutting after all the preparation I’d put in. Still, I’ve got my place booked on for this coming January for round two.
Also, having moved into my current house July last year, I finally got sofas in March now my living room was empty. Hooray!
April – Ten Tors
My April was very much taken up with Ten Tors training weekends. We were out every weekend towards the end of the season because of diary clashes. I honestly don’t remember much of what happened on these weekends, only that they happened. But they were long days and nights spent on Dartmoor, remotely supervising and checkpointing. Still, we must have got something right because both teams did very well on the actual event in May.
It was also in this month that I finally swallowed my pride and started Couch to 5k. At this stage I could literally only run for the maximum time for week one: 1 minute of running with 1.5 minutes of recovery time in between. For the story of me and running right then, have a read of This Year I am a Person who Runs and So, I Go for Runs Now.
May – Erm, Ten Tors?
Again, I honestly can’t remember what I did this month and the photos are not particularly revealing either. Perhaps I did some work…? Saved from a no-photo month by the Dartmoor Plodders’ base camp at Okehampton Camp on Ten Tors weekend. Yes that is a full dining set and sofas, plus candelabra. And if you are thinking this is standard procedure for Ten Tors, everyone else’s pitches looked something like this…
This was literally the camp opposite us, the view from the sofas if you will. In case anyone is reading from Dartmoor and knows a teenager who would like to be part of an independent outdoors group and Ten Tors team, give us a google! I’m a volunteer leader for the Plodders (we all are) and I did four Ten Tors events through Plodders when I was younger. Simply the best 🙂
June – Walker’s Haute Route + First 4000er + Welsh 3000s
I was invited to visit Switzerland by the tourism board to take part in a Women’s World Record, climbing a 4000m mountain with women from across the globe. But that was only for a few days and it seemed a waste to fly all the way out and back for such a short time. So, I got my flights moved a week before to complete the Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. It is one of those routes that I had to write about quite a bit at Much Better Adventures – to the extent that I felt like the only thing left was to physically do it myself.
Of course, as with all PR things, this was very last minute and I barely had time to plan. But I’d read enough online that said “It’s fine, there are cafes and shops everywhere on route, you can get food on the way.” It was a bit earlier in the season that normal and I was doing it in a week rather than the recommended two. But I packed a huge rucksack (enough for both trips) and went.
Reader, it was not simple. I nearly ran out of food because all the shops were shut, had to hitch hike around a section and the map book I was using was downright wrong. But it makes a pretty fun story, so I hope to tell you it soon. I was relieved to finally make it to Zermatt, see the Matterhorn for the first time and not be at all inspired to climb it.
Then I caught the train straight to the five-star hotel I was staying at in Saas-Fee for the world record attempt. There is nothing quite like spending a week in a bivvy bag and then arriving in a hotel room that was actually more like three rooms with a wrap-around balcony. Rather than write any more about this, have a read of Climbing Breithorn (4164m) for a Women’s World Record and also my commission for MPora, My First 4000m Climb.
I flew back from Switzerland into Heathrow Terminal 2 (and was so lucky to get my rucksack back from the hold). But this month’s travel doesn’t end there. Oh no. I was meeting up with team Sidetracked in Llanberis and didn’t have time to get home and back. So I’d decided to go straight there, via the Welsh 3000s. Obviously.
My train was delayed, I missed the last connection to Conwy and ended up spending the night in Crewe before setting out early the next day. Why do I do this to myself again? Still, I loved doing the Welsh 3000s – I’d done all of it between Pen yr Ole Wen and Snowdon before, except Elidir Fawr. The Carneddau are still a mystery to me because I was entirely in fog for their duration. But my favourite bit was by far the section between Conwy and the proper start of the route. Beautiful, especially with the purple heather.
I rocked up to Llanberis, bought a curry pouch, some biscuits and a cucumber and went to meet my Sidetracked colleagues for the first time.
We bivvied on top of Snowdon with some of the Trash Free Trails crew, doing a litter pick and count on the way, plus on the summit in the morning. It was the solstice and although we went to bed with the summit to ourselves, we woke up at sunrise to some thirty people sitting on the summit mound behind us. A bit like waking up in an auditorium. Team Sidetracked then walked to the sea at Porthmadog while Trash Free Trails crewe cycled. Both of us encountered disused trails and overgrown obstacles. It was ridiculously hot and I had both a persistent nosebleed – and was almost crying through suncream/pollen. But I hope I wasn’t too annoying and, as in all good trips, the long day was rounded off by eating icecream while sitting on the floor in a supermarket car park. Always keep an emergency spoon in your first aid kit.
July – I’m Running
After such a remarkably long June, I’m not sure July can compare. I got back to discover that, although I hadn’t been running, lugging your life around all day at altitude is a fair substitute. And sometime in the month, during a classic Devon July downpour, I ran continuously for 20 minutes. As you can tell from the smile on my face, this was a huge breakthrough for me. Although ironically, once I knew I could do it my motivation for completing Couch to 5k fell off a cliff. I guess because an extra 10 minutes doesn’t seem psychologically like that much more…?
Anyway, also in this month, with lots of trip plans still moving or cancelled, I ended up with a very lucky slot at the US Embassy to renew my US passport – for the first time since I was 2 years old! This was a major thing for me and as someone who’s known they’re technically American but never really been American, I kept thinking that they’d tell me there had been a mistake and stop my application. But, many forms and booths later, it was done.
I also took a NNAS Tutor course this month because part of me thinks I want to teach navigation on Dartmoor…
August – US Passport and Interlaken
In a ridiculous turn of events, I went back to Switzerland in August to do a press trip based out of Interlaken, reporting for the Telegraph. It was an utter whirlwind of every adventure activity we could possibly squeeze into as few days as possible. I did some hiking and via ferrata. Then there was canyoning, kayaking, SUP and a really fun mountain descent via zip lines, karts and scooters. And quite possibly more that I – oh yes, white water rafting for a start!
This was really an eye opener for me in the canyoning department. I was psyched for it but when I got in the river it was so cold I couldn’t control my breathing when hitting the water. And we were wearing two wetsuits. It was fine being in the water, but dropping from a height that meant my head was submerged, I couldn’t stop myself from taking a deep breath before I got my head fully back out of the water. Anyway this freaked me out immensely and will completely change how I write about canyoning in the future.
Everything else was awesome. Great to do so many water-based activities again. Had a lovely relaxed SUP – my first ever in daylight (!). Lots of via ferrata I’d like to go back for and I wish I’d had more time to do more of the panorama ridgeline – the rock up there was incredible.
Also, something utterly unbelievable arrived in the post. John Muir Trail plans are now on!
September – Bikepacking the Rebellion Way
Immediately after Switzerland (do you sense a theme?) I got a train up to Norfolk to go on the launch ride for Cycling UK’s new bikepacking route, the Rebellion Way. I first got in touch with the great folks at Cycling UK for an interview with Sophie about the West Kernow Way. It was lovely to finally meet Sophie and Sam in person and the fantastic rest of the group for the Rebellion Way. I’d never been to Norfolk before and it was not at all what I expected. It was also the perfect moment between summer and autumn: hedges laden with fruit, golden fields and dusty earth. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to bikepacking in the UK.
Also that first night glamping, in a tent big enough to have full on beds, was exactly the recovery time I needed after super adrenaline week. And when Stefan had already pre-warmed the hot tub for us, the answer was, “Hell, yeah!”
October – Cumbria, Cumbria
Let’s start with the finish – on Halloween weekend, I did my first ever OMM in Langdale. I was slightly terrified. It was fantastic. We got utterly soaked. There was fog on top of the fells. We got navigationally misplaced at least once. At the end, instead of go 100m up river to a bridge, we were so wet we just walked through it. And I was astounded to discover that a good 50% was Type 1 Fun. I flipping loved it. Am I runner yet? Well I’m certainly getting used to the idea 🙂 I’m certainly not a good runner, but I do run.
Now, for the other end aka start of the month. I was in Borrowdale for a little while, trying to hole myself up to finish my book. No, it didn’t happen. I ended up doing edits on my Norfolk piece and a bit of writing and some wandering in the rain while the hoovered loudly – since when have YHA felt the need to keep hostels so ridiculously clean!
Here is a commendable second place for photo of the month. You can’t say that the people at Borrowdale Youth Hostel don’t have a sense of humour. I was a very very wet week.
Then I headed down to Grange to go to the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Big Weekend. I only joined the guild this year, at the recommendation of a friend. It was really lovely to meet so many members in person, including sharing a room with the lovely Sue Viccars and Viv Crow. There was canoeing (with rubber duck stealing), walking, a painting workshop and a healthy dose of table football. Also, since not many people my age seem to be in the OWPG – where are you? Before the end of the year I’d had new clients get in touch about work, who’d found me through the guild register.
November – Swords and Sorcery
Yes, an image nothing like swords or sorcery. I was meant to be knuckling down on the novel – oh look, another theme of the year – but this is what my camera roll looks like for November. It was gear testing central with four winter gear guides for Outdoors Magic, plus more for Advnture.com Basically my house ended up knee high in flattened cardboard boxes.
This sounds very glamourous, getting sent lots of kit to try out, but it really is a lot of work. Not just the testing, but the logistics of calling in all of the kit and liaising with everyone involved, then doing the testing and writing the reviews.
December – Time to Pause (in theory)
This is my bathroom. Or at least, what’s left of my bathroom. Because in a tiny house, having a big bath is a stupid idea for someone who only showers. Out went the bath in December. In the shower will be going, with extra space for the room every girl needs: a drying room. I don’t know how people function without one.
I was meant to be taking time to pause, reflect and plan for next year. I have done a bit of that. I also have a chronic case of Saying Yes to Things, so did a fair bit of volunteering and meeting up with people, as well as smashing all the tiles off the bathroom walls. I’ve always been a destructive child deep down. But the reviewing I’ve done has been very telling and will definitely help shape my 2023 for the better. If I can only stick to the plan.
We’ll be talking about that some more soon, and I am committing to going back to publishing much more regularly on this website, because infrequent is simply not acceptable. To quote Alex Roddie, “soon I’ll be blogging like it’s 2011 again” – because blogs are my favourite part of the internet, and if I’m sad few people regularly blog adventures any more then I’d better stop lamenting and start doing.
If you’ve got this far and you’re not already on my Adventure Squad email, then you probably ought to think about it. It’s full of these kind of This is My Life things and happier than social media feeds.
Either way, I hope you had a good 2022 and have an even better 2023 – whatever that looks like for you. If anyone still uses the comments section, I’d love to hear what you’ve got up to (and share a link if you’ve told the story online). Wishing you a happy new year and see you in 2023,