I've been asked how I got in to walking, leading, teaching navigation etc. - so here is my walking story!
When I first started "walking" - I put it in inverted commas because apparently I was around 18 months old when I actually started walking. Fast Forward 40 odd years, and I am learning to walk. I'm fat. Sorry, there's no way to say it nicely. I'm 5'2" stretched out, and at that time, I was wearing size 18 clothes. My suit for work was busting at the seams, but there was no way I was going up to a 20.
I had a pair of walking boots. A cheap pair of Hi-Tec boots that had been in the box for I don't know how long. One Sunday, when I was in my early 40's, we had a phone call. The ex (who was a Walk Leader by this time), was being called upon to be a second leader when the one that was arranged hadn't turned up. I had about five minutes to decide if I wanted to go as well. In those five minutes I made a life changing decision, although I didn't know it at the time. I decided to go.
The walk was the Carreg Cennen Roundabout. A familiar walk for many, and one that I run regularly with the Brecon Beacons Park Society, for this very reason. If I could do it then, and be so inspired by the scenery, the hills, the achievement, then so could others. And that, for me, is what it is all about.
After some time, the then Chairman of the Brecon Beacons Park Society asked me if I would like to lead any walks. I went out for a day on the hill so that he could gauge my ability, and I started by putting in walks that were simple to navigate.
For my own peace of mind, I decided to go for the Walking Group Leader Award,(WGL) (Now replaced by the Hill & Moorland Leader Award). I did this in Plas y Brenin, and was quite proud of my achievement, especially when the Course Director told me during my debrief, that I was exactly the type of person that the Award was designed for.
The four day assessment included a lot of navigation, using various techniques for good visibility, poor visibility, night navigation, route planning, looking after a group, knowledge of the CRoW Act 2000 (Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000), open access land, and countryside management. We all had to prepare a five minute presentation, to be done when we were out on the hill, so no death by PowerPoint, thankfully.
A few weeks after gaining my WGL, I undertook the HF Holidays guidelines, to become a leader for their UK holidays. It was a gruelling four days!! It was held up in their Country House at Monk Coniston in the Lake District. This property had previously been owned by Beatrix Potter, who bequeathed it to the National Trust. HFH lease it from the NT. The guidelines was very similar to the WGL assessment as far as navigation, countryside interpretation, route planning, was concerned. There was the added element of guest entertainment in the evening, preparing walk briefings, delivering walk briefings,and being available from breakfast to bedtime to answer questions about the walks, and help people who were on self-guided holidays to choose a suitable walk, if they so wished, etc., I attended my first Ceilidh dance on my guidelines, and subsequently learned how to call a dance. I was accepted as a leader, and was able to lead in all of their lowland houses.
My first "Lead" for HF was in Haytor, in Dartmoor, a house they no longer own. Because it was my first lead, I have quite an affection for it, so I was very sad to hear that it had been sold. It was a remarkable property, and I have several stories to tell from leading there on a number of occasions, but that is not for here. What I will do, is show you a photograph of an altar which was in the grounds of the house. At one time a gay man had owned the house, and of course in those days homosexuality was not legal. He used the house to host his gay parties, and he had an altar built in the garden where he conducted gay weddings. Sadly, the altar is no longer there.
For several years I was very happy going around the different houses - there are 18 at the moment - which meant that I could talk about each house and the area to the guests, and many guests return time and time again. Even out walking with my local group, I would always meet people who had been on an HF Holiday, or who were perhaps a leader!
Then I decided that I wanted to lead in the Mountain Houses - Dolgellau, Beddgelert, Derwentwater, and Coniston, and so I undertook the Mountain Leader (Summer) Award (ML). I could have just gone for an upgrade assessment with HF, but I felt that if I had my ML then even if I stopped leading for HF at some time in the future, I still had my qualification. Since then, I have led the harder walks in Brecon, in Dolgellau, Beddgelert and Coniston, and will be leading in Derwentwater this year (2018). There is also a house in Glencoe in Scotland, but I think I'd rather go there as a guest!
I first started teaching navigation five years ago, in 2013, when I was made redundant for the first time. However, at that time I didn't know you could easily have your own website, or Facebook pages. I decided to take a break from work for the summer, and in that time I also ran half marathons and Marathon Eryri, an achievement of which I am particularly proud, and I went on to do it three times in all, with only having to stop because of arthritis. This old age thing does not come alone!!
Even though I was listed on the MTA website and the NNAS website as a leader and provider, unfortunately I did not get any business. After a few months I decided I needed to go out and get a "proper" job in order to pay the bills. Eventually I took a job in Cardiff and all of this went on the back burner, until I was made redundant again. This time, I have the ability to have my own website, and start up a FB Group. Which brings us to the present day....
Now I have my own website www.findyourbearings.biz a facebook page for Find your Bearings, a Facebook Group - Find your bearings, Go for Adventures, and I am also on Instagram.
I still regularly lead walks for the Brecon Beacons Park Society, and also for HFHolidays. For someone who could barely walk up the stairs without getting out of breath, I don't think I've done too badly.
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