I am not sure it can take too much of the overall blame, but it all started with a hiking sandal. On 17th February, as I was removing said sandal before heading to bed I felt my lower back ‘go’ and my sciatic nerve down my left leg ‘twang’ – I collapsed in an agonising heap on the sofa, from where I have not really moved from since.
So far there are 13 of us registered (and a few more maybes), and it is not too late to join us – there are still places on the challenge available, and I would love it if you would join us.
If you asked me what my favourite item of outdoor clothing is, I would answer, without hesitation, ‘my Chocolate Fish merino baselayer’. I actually have two – my first one suffered an accident with a dodgy washing machine and was badly ripped in several places… but I still wear it… (albeit in the privacy of my bed and much to the disgust of my partner!). I even contributed towards one for my brother, who wears baselayers throughout all of winter. My experience of other makes is, I admit, ultimately quite limited – I had an Icebreaker, which shrank after the first few washes and did not seem to regulate temperature evenly, and then I discovered Chocolate Fish – soft to wear, a good fit (long torso length), kept an even temperature and never shrunk in the wash. It looked like my search for the perfect baselayer had come to a quick end! So it was with some sadness that I received an email from Chocolate Fish that they are discontinuing their baselayers.
I started this blog (originally as countryside-walks.org.uk, then a few months later moving to mycountryside.org.uk) back in March 2008 (has it really been that long?). I had just started walking again (for the first time since a child) and, inspired by a few other walking blogs I had discovered (but long forgotten), I wanted a place to record my walks and share my experience.
It has always been a bit of an embarrassment to me that I have never (as an adult at least) walked in Scotland. This gaping absence in my outdoor experience has lingered over me throughout my outdoor-related successes over the last few years: being involved in the growing popularity of Social Hiking, speaking about social media in the outdoors and being shortlisted for Outdoor Personality of the Year…. I kept thinking to myself… surely eventually I will be outed as a fraud for not having ever walked in Scotland….
Well thankfully my personal self-doubt (about this at least!) can at last be put to one side – I have finally walked in Scotland!
As I was heading up to Scotland to give a training session for a customer in East Lothian anyway, I decided to make the most of the trip and arranged to meet Paul (@iomadh), a fellow user of both Audioboo and Social Hiking, for a hike. Paul had, the week before, stumbled across a leaflet for The River Avon Heritage Trail, and as the weather forecast was dire for the weekend, it seemed a sensible to do a low-level hike.
Over the last two years, my outdoor time has been very hit and miss – I have only had a few irregular, albeit lovely, weekend outdoor trips, and even the more routine local dog walks has been severely reduced (much to the disgust of my dog). Ultimately I have been getting the balance between being on a computer and being outdoors all wrong.
So this year I set myself two outdoor related resolutions. The first one is to go for a walk each day (ideally with the dog) – distance or location are unimportant, it can be a late night dog walk around the village or a 15 mile hike up a mountain. All that matters is that I get off the computer and go outdoors! The second resolution is to plan an outdoor day (or weekend) each month.
This month I thought I would ease myself in gently and take the dog on a hike around the local countryside – by chance I discovered that Rich (@FlintyRich), who lives relatively local to me, was at a loose end, so we arranged to meet up at The Grand Union Three Locks in Stock Hammond (south of Milton Keynes) the following morning.
On my most recent hike, with Rich (@FlintyRich), I decided to record a series of mini-podcasts talking about how I actually use Social Hiking when out on a hike.
The podcasts cover a range of topics: starting a walk and switching on location source (and what Social Hiking does when you start sharing location), setting a map title using Twitter, adding media to your map, automatic peak bagging, tweeting with context to your hike, changing a map icon using Twitter and uploading gpx files and photos when you get home.
The main point I wanted to get across is that I did not need to visit the Social Hiking website at all throughout the day, I just used the apps and social media sites I would usually use to share thoughts, photos and audio on the walk, and Social Hiking has then compiled it all to create a live updating, media rich, map to help me share my adventure. Simples.
Earlier in the year, I came across an article in the MS Society magazine about an annual event where a bunch of people climb some mountains to raise money to help support people affected by Multiple Sclerosis. As I have not done much fundraising in a while, I cut the article out and put it in my in-tray for future consideration, then promptly forgot about it…. until a few weeks ago.
As I re-read the article, it occurred to me that I happen to know a bunch of people who like walking, especially mountains- wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could get together, hike some peaks, raise some money, and have some fun?
On Thursday, I trundled down to London to take part in an Ordnance Survey Workshop, an opportunity to give my opinion on all things relating to OS and mapping. Unfortunately I cannot talk about anything I saw or that was discussed (due to confidentiality), but it was certainly an interesting and insightful experience. There is another workshop next week, and they are looking for participants who do outdoor activities recreationally to take part.
Autumn is upon us, and so too are The Great Outdoors awards – a chance for outdoor enthusiasts to vote for their favourite outdoor brand, retailer, pub, book accommodation and more. This year I find myself short-listed for the category of Outdoor Personality of the Year. It is of course an honour to be short-listed (thank you to whoever nominated me!) and I am chuffed to bits, although it is a bit surreal appearing on a list with such household names as Ed Bryne and Ray Mears (even my mum has heard of him!).
“I don’t mind, just don’t kill me!”. That was my response to Rich (@FlintyRich) when asked what I wanted to do for a planned weekend together in Snowdonia. It seemed important – Rich, who is a self confessed addict of bagging peaks on Social Hiking (411 to date this year), spends most weekends up in the mountains, whereas I am lucky to see a mountain more than a handful of times a year (let alone climb one) and recently work commitments and my health had combined to restrict my outdoors time (and therefore my fitness). “How about Northern Carneddau? It’s quite gentle” he suggested….
For a couple of days a week, I am often based on-site at a customer’s office in Stony Stratford, just over 8 miles (by road) from my house. We are a one car family, which naturally means I do not get use of the car, so I have to travel in by bus. As I live in a village with only one bus route, this involves catching the 9am bus* to Wolverton (another nearby town) then waiting around at a bus interchange for a connecting bus to Stony Stratford, arriving by 10am.
(* due to a very odd bus rota, the bus driver who picks us up has to go on his break at the next village, so we have to swap buses – it still counts as a single bus on the timetable though!)
Earlier in the week I was idly day dreaming over a local OS map when it occurred to me that after only 10 minutes on that first bus, we pass though Castlethorpe, a village that is only 4 miles (by road) (3 miles by crow) from my final destination, and the countryside between is actually rather pleasant – two river valleys (one is the Great River Ouse) and the Grand Union Canal. Why don’t I walk to work?
“Welcome to episode one of the Social Hiking podcast”…. so began my first ever podcast, recorded with my friend Nina (@smirnieoutdoors) in her house in Shropshire. The podcast itself, now it has been published, has gone down really well (the feedback has been beyond my wildest dreams), but it is hard to believe that, as we sat there in Nina’s sitting room with our show notes and podcast sponsor, it was only two weeks before that I scribbled in my notebook: “podcast? guest co hosts? Nina?”. This post is the story of what inspired me to decide to record a podcast and how it went from an idea to reality (at minimal cost). Hopefully it will interest, aid and inspire.
Quite a while ago, Google launched a feature called authorship, which allows people who publish content online to link that content with their Google+ profile. The most obvious effect of this is that your Google+ profile picture and link appear in Google search engine ranks. I see this as having a real benefit for content creators so I decided to give users of Social Hiking the ability to claim authorship of their maps. Imagine my surprise to discover that Google was inferring authorship of pages where it was not explicitly defined.
Hot on the heals of my few months trying out the Target Dry Origin Thermalite Insulated Jacket, I was approached as to whether I wanted to try out the Berghaus Akka Mens Down Jacket. I was really impressed with the warmth of Target Dry’s jacket and I thought it would be interesting to compare it with a (almost double the price) down jacket. Unfortunately none of the sizes available fitted me so, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I managed to conscript Tim Cooper (@ukjeeper on Twitter) to try out the jacket on my behalf. Tim, whilst not a blogger himself, is a regular on several walking forums and social media sites across the internet, and he is as a regular sharer on Social Hiking (he was in fact the first user other than me!). There is hardly a footpath in Essex he has not walked (if you don’t believe me, take a peek at his map of his Essex walks 2009-2013) and he can be found by his fire pit most evenings whatever the weather!
If you are a blogger, you will have almost certainly come across seo/link spam – this takes the form of irrelevant comments left on a blog post solely for the purpose of getting a link back to their site (ideally in the comment itself, but also as the link associated with the name of the poster). The ‘wisdom’ is that these links help boost the originators site in search rankings (with a bonus that someone might actually click on it).
Photographer John Butterill discovered a way he, and subsequently other photographers from around the globe, could share photo walks using Google+ hangouts to bring the world to people bed-ridden from Multiple Sclerosis and other illnesses. Read more
Target Dry, an outdoor clothing company from Belfast, Northern Ireland, is not a brand I think I have come across before, so I was curious when they got in touch asking if I would be interested in trying out one of their garments. Their main product is the Mac in a Sac, which I have heard of, but, with winter drawing in, I opted for the Mens Origin Insulated Jacket. I usually have a Craighoppers Down Gilet (it was a bargain buy from a closing down sale) shoved in the bottom of my rucksack that I wear during breaks and when camping but it is not an ideal solution, so I have been looking out for a suitable replacement.
I always think Northamptonshire gets forgotten when it comes to outdoor activities. For the first few years I subscribed to Countryfile Magazine I religiously collected, ordered and stored the ten route cards included each month – whilst almost every part of the country was covered, there was not a single route in Northamptonshire! So imagine my excitement to discover Northamptonshire has, in the opinion of Daniel Martin – Extreme Athlete, one of the best spots for wild swimming in the world!