I love reading other outdoor blogs and learning more about the people who write them so have decided to run a series of interviews to share with you. There is inspiration in everything that you read and if any of the interviews inspire you to get outside, to try a new activity or even learn something new, then it is a win for me.
This week I’m delighted to have Mark Barrett from Hill Explorer. Mark is based in Burton Joyce, near Nottingham, but his roots are firmly placed in the Lancashire hills having lived up north as a child. He enjoys giving himself a really good challenge (or two or three!) each year and recently completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks at night and in icy conditions!! I am in absolute awe of the adventures and challenges that Mark has undertaken and I am sure you will be too.
You don’t have to do the crazy challenges that he does, but his philosophy (close to my heart too) leaves no room for excuses to getting outside:
“If it’s cold, wear more. If it’s raining, put your hood up. If it’s dark, get a torch. No excuses!”
So Mark, describe yourself in just one sentence:
Like all 40-year-old men, I alternate between being irritable and grouchy, and being irritating and immature. I’m at the stage where I can’t decide whether I’m an old person trapped in a young body, or a young person trapped in an old body. And yes, I’m aware that was more than one sentence!
OK, I’ll let you off with the additional sentence but only because it would have been really long without the full stops!
Let’s start at the beginning then, what is your first memory of being a lover of the great outdoors?
I was outside all the time as a youngster in Lancashire, and never really thought of myself as an outdoors lover. It was all taken for granted back then. My most vivid memories as a kid were out in Yorkshire, to places like Malham, Burnsall, and Brimham Rocks. The latter was definitely my favourite. The first proper hillwalk that I did on my own was local to me, and a very well-known landmark around the area. It was Pendle Hill. I make a little pilgrimage back there once a year and force my kids to walk up it.
I love that you take your kids back on your annual pilgrimage to Pendle Hill – it is somewhere I’ve been on planning to visit for some time, thanks for the reminder! It sounds like Lancashire and Yorkshire really gave you a taste for the hills but when did you really get into the great outdoors?
I properly got into the whole hillwalking and mountaineering thing after I moved away from Lancashire and ended up in Norfolk. I really missed the hills and landscapes of the north, and started getting a real longing to return and properly experience what I’d previously taken for granted. Eventually I moved to the Midlands, and from that point on started venturing regularly into the hills for long walks – I’ve never looked back. The scrambling started after seeing pictures of Crib Goch on the internet. They blew me away and I just had to experience it. I’d never even heard of scrambling before that point but I read all I could and then ventured out there at the first opportunity – alone. It turned out to be a wet and misty day and I didn’t encounter another person on the whole route. I loved every second of it and, since then, scrambling has become one of my favourite activities.
Wow, Mark! You did your first scramble alone! It does sound great not seeing a single person though, must have been very exciting and peaceful all at once. As well as the challenge of getting out there, what do you enjoy about spending time outdoors?
There are numerous aspects to the outdoors that I enjoy, such as the challenge of a long strenuous hike and the feeling of accomplishment when complete, or the feeling of solitude when out in the middle of deserted moorland, or the adrenaline rush and excitement of a risky scramble in the mountains. And of course there’s the fantastic variation and beauty of the British landscape which, in my opinion, is as good as anywhere else in the world.
I have to agree with you that the British landscape is stunning and a perfect place to explore, enjoy and tire. It sounds like you enjoy doing a variety of things, so tell us what activities do you do?
In the winter months, I have a tendency to stay a bit nearer to home and explore the Peak District. When the warmer weather arrives, I regularly venture to Snowdonia for some quality scrambling, especially Ogwen Valley which is probably my favourite place in Britain at the moment. So long as I’m up high, it doesn’t really matter. I also like to throw in a challenge walk or two each year just to test myself – I convince myself that so long as I succeed in completing them, I’m not old yet!
How about any activities that you enjoy but aren’t so good at?
Honestly? No…. probably because I have a tendency not to enjoy things I’m bad at. I’m competitive and a poor loser!
From your challenges in the past and the ones coming up, I can see that competitive streak! Talking of challenges, what has been your greatest challenge to date?
To date, I would say it was the Welsh 3000s challenge I did in the summer of 2015. The challenge was to summit all 16 of Snowdonia’s 3000ft mountains in 24 hours. If you include getting to the top of the first summit to start, and walking back to the car from the last summit, it took the whole 24 hours. The whole of the Carneddau range was done in darkness, and the entire route was done with wet feet after the first ascent was done in pouring rain and all the tracks had turned into streams. I was going delirious with sleep deprivation and exhaustion by the time I finished.
Oh my goodness, that sounds crazy… and with wet feet too! Well done, I think I might have been delirious from early on in the challenge! I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t have something else up your sleeve so please tell us what challenges you have planned for 2017 and beyond.
I’ve already completed the Yorkshire 3 Peaks in darkness on the 2nd January, which turned out to be a lot of fun as half of the route was covered in black ice. OK, maybe ‘fun’ isn’t the right word! My other challenge this year is scheduled for June when I’m going to be attempting the whole of the Pendle Way footpath including Pendles 3 peaks (Pendle Hill, Weets Hill, and Boulsworth Hill) in 24 hours. It’s around 46.5 miles long!
I have to say that the Yorkshire 3 Peaks in darkness sounded like some alternative version of fun, but I did enjoy reading about it (that was fun!) Your Pendle Hill challenge sounds pretty tempting I have to say. (eek, what am I saying! I told you Mark is inspiring!!)
If someone reading this is wondering about getting into scrambling, what three tips would you give?
This is a difficult one as there’s a lot more than 3 tips I’d be giving people. I would say:
Start with the easiest routes, and ideally have a partner who has some experience with you.
Do as much homework as possible on any routes you’re planning to try, including utilising relevant Facebook groups where there’s a wealth of knowledge on hand.
Make sure you’re physically up to the challenge i.e. fit and not petrified of heights!
There’s a lot more and anybody thinking of doing it alone should really read this.
I bet there are loads more tips, but they are definitely a good starting point and the article is very comprehensive too, thanks for sharing it.
I know a lot of people find it difficult to stay motivated to get out there in the cold and winter, how do you personally stay motivated at this time of year?
I don’t need to do anything different at all! The temperature makes no difference to my motivation – I’m one of those rare people who prefer the cold to being warm. My least favourite time to walk is on a hot summers day as the heat just saps all my energy. Autumn is probably the best time of year to go walking as there’s some really beautiful colours on show. All that aside, my philosophy has always been – if it’s cold, wear more. If it’s raining, put your hood up. If it’s dark, get a torch. No excuses!
I love your philosophy, very close to my own! It definitely is more about appropriate clothes rather than waiting for appropriate weather!
And finally, what made you decide to start a blog about your adventures, challenges and experience in the outdoors?
I actually did it for myself as much as anything else originally. I saw it like a diary – to keep a record of all my walks. Since then, I’ve developed it a bit to include other useful information such as an interactive map of the route, and a downloadable GPS file. I’m hoping that by doing this, others will feel inspired by the photos and route descriptions, and try the walks out for themselves.
It really is amazing how these blogs grow and form to become more than a diary of records, I very much enjoy reading yours too and checking out your photos from some hair-raising scrambles. I find downloadable routes very handy too.
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Mark, I very much look forward to hearing about your adventures and challenges for 2017. (keep your eyes peeled in case I actually do join Mark in the Pendle Hills!!) and hope that I will get the chance to interview you again in the future.
To find out more about Hill Explorer Mark Barrett and his exploring, you can find him in the following places: