The BBC describes him as “The Sherlock Holmes of Nature” and it really is understandable why.
Tristan has written 6 fascinating books about the art of natural navigation, you can find these, including his latest release ‘The Secret World of Weather‘ on his website here. Tristan’s books open your eyes to the incredible world of nature and how to read what it’s trying to tell you and where you are along your journey. These skills include, but are definitely not limited to, being able to read the subtle signs in the smallest breeze, a puddle on the path, birdsong, the motion of water and the moon and stars above you.
From just a short chat, it was so easy to pick up his enthusiasm for the natural world and all those different signs in everything around you. Tristan has dedicated his life and work to discovering and decoding these messages and sharing them with the rest of the world in a way that enables everybody to do the same.
For more from Tristan, the courses he runs and to keep in touch with him on social media, just click the links below:
Needless to say, I was thrilled when Tristan agreed to have a chat about the wonder of the natural world. You can listen to the chat just below here or on most podcast streaming services – it’s even available on YouTube! All the links you need are below.
Hollie Ivy, an intothesticks.life Community Campfire member and founder of Holls and Valleys, tells us about her life growing up in Alaska and moving to Scotland and shares her deep passion for everything outdoors – covering topics such as mental health, lockdown, home schooling and solo adventuring as a woman.
‘The real benefit is not reaching your objective… the experience you get along the way is the real benefit‘
Mark Davey – CEO of The Youth Adventure Trust
Mark Davey has been CEO of The Youth Adventure Trust for over 20 years now and not only has a plethora of experience and knowledge but clearly has a big passion and strong belief in what the trust is about.
The Youth Adventure Trust use outdoor adventures to empower young people to fulfil their potential and lead positive lives in the future. They work with them to build resilience, develop confidence and learn skills that will last a lifetime, helping them to face the challenge in their lives.
I believe that encouraging more people to engage with the natural world is so important and after reading why the Youth Adventure Trust do this, I couldn’t help but reach out and have a chat with Mark in order to spread the word a little more.
I absolutely implore you to have a look at their website and look into the numerous ways you’re able to support them in this incredible cause:
Originally a student and then colleague of Ray Mears as part of the Woodlore team, Paul gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge which he then used as a launch pad to develop and grow as an instructor and leader in his own business, Frontier Bushcraft. As well as an enormous amount of knowledge and skill, Paul offers a vast range of courses from plant and tree identification to multiday canoe expeditions across the world. He has risen to the top and is now one of the leading bushcraft experts and teachers in the UK – if not the world.
As well as getting to know Paul a little better, we discuss the importance of getting outside, managing a business and life based around the great outdoors, the impact of social media and how it can be a useful tool for encouraging others to get outside and engage with the natural world around them.
Sean Emery – known to most as Shug – is a backpacker, ex-Ringling Brothers clown, talented musician, YouTuber and recently retired entertainer. After chatting to Shug for over three hours, I would probably include Philosopher in there too.
I was lucky enough to speak to Shug and we had what felt, at times, like a very candid and personal conversation. I have watched his videos for a number of years and listened to numerous other podcasts he has partaken in. Shug comes across as a natural raconteur and seems to converse with ease.
More often than not, it seems to me that previous conversations that Shug has had with other people seem to focus mainly on his gags and entertaining/fooling around. For a long time I have always sensed the serious side of Shug (maybe the ‘Sean’ side) being supressed or held back from the light – and this is the side I wanted to tap into and find out what is really happening in the head of Sean ‘Shug’ Emery and get his genuine views on the great outdoors, how it can help us and why we should all spend more time outside. And I think I succeeded in that, and more.
I speak with Sean about life outdoors, of course, but we also touch on being a clown, prison, chocolate bars, faith, spirituality, alcoholism, introverts and extroverts, UFOs, Big Foot and so much more – it gets pretty deep!
Depending on the version you choose (the podcast or video below) you will hear different songs featured at the beginning and at the end performed by Shug himself. The podcast features the traditional American folk song ‘John Hardy‘ and the video features the Allman Brothers Band’s masterpiece ‘Whipping Post‘ – both tracks can be found in full below or on his SoundCloud site here amongst many other brilliant pieces.
What do you think that amazing, spiritual feeling you get from getting outside and immersing yourself in the great outdoors is?
During the chat you’ll hear us talking about the time Shug performed, as part of the circus in the 70s and with his own show, at El Reno Federal Penitentiary. Afterwards, he was kind enough to share some photographs and I can’t help but share them with you:
Hi my name’s Steve, you can find me on Instagram where I post about my life, mental health and my love for the outdoors. I am the co-creator of @greenprescriptions which is a project set up to help encourage people to use the outdoors to aid their mental health. I am also the co-host of the Green Prescriptions Podcast where we tackle topics considered taboo and talk to guests about their stories and why they love the outdoors.
My love for the outdoors has been there since I was a kid, climbing trees and playing man hunt in the woods with friends but I, like most, lost this love as I hit my teenage years and found distractions in drink, women and cars and the likes. It wasn’t until my early 30’s where I found my love again.
I’d gone through a divorce and struggled to find myself for a while, then I got the opportunity to have a go at the national three peaks. Being terrified of heights and very socially anxious, I knew taking on this group challenge with lots of new people would push my boundaries mentally and physically – but I was determined to stop living in fear of the world. Roping my brother (Dean) into the trip for that little bit of security, we set off and had a brilliant weekend. I knew by the end that something inside had been stirred and I couldn’t wait to get back up a mountain.
A month or so later we decided to tackle Striding edge on Helvellyn. My fear of heights would be tested to the max but I was determined to push through. We parked in Glenridding and started our walk in the most awful rain and darkness – It looked like it was going to be a slog of a day. Dean kept saying “quick, we need to get higher for the inversion”.
I had no idea what he was talking about but stomping along in the rain with no views and the cloud clagged in, I mustered up the motivation to walk with him and to not slow him down. Out of nowhere the cloud around us disappeared and we had clear skies. We stopped to take in the sunrise and looked back on the route we’d taken and BANG there it was, the most incredible cloud inversion you could ever wish to see!
Being new to the mountain scene I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have done (thinking that every time I climb a mountain it would be this way) but I did know it was something pretty special. With the sun rising above the cloud to clear blue skies, it was easy to feel like we were on top of the world. We headed over Striding edge, my fear of heights seemingly now gone. Standing on a piece of rock with a 100m drop either side of me, I’d never felt so free in my entire life. I knew then that this was home!
Since then the outdoors has became my medicine, my clutch, my therapy and my saviour!
This is why I try to help and inspire others to get outdoors – whether it be for a 10 minute walk or an all day hike, the outdoors and nature has so much to offer and carries many medicinal values. Studies have shown that just 10 minutes in nature can positively improve your mental health.
If you want to get started in the outdoors please do, if you don’t know where to start send me a message and I’ll help any way I can. In my opinion the outdoors has the power to heal anything, you just have to take the step!
If you loved that and want more from Steve, possibly the nicest man you’ll find outdoors, please make sure you head to the links at the top of the page and below here.
Please also check out Steve’s brilliant and inspirational daughter Lily here:
Author, environmentalist, film-maker, international motivational speaker.
Arguably no one alive has lived so long isolated and alone in so many potentially hostile remote environments. Benedict Allen is the only person known to have crossed the Amazon Basin at its widest and his catalogue of adventures also include the first documented journey of the length of the Namib Desert and being the only person known to have crossed the full width of the Gobi with camels alone.
“I think it’s important for us to realise that ‘explorers’ aren’t in a different category… we are all explorers, it’s part of the human condition“
It’s not everyday you get an email from one of your childhood heroes confirming he’d love to have a chat with you.
I remember watching Benedict Allen’s documentary Skeleton Coast about his trek down the Namib Desert, where the sand meets the Atlantic Ocean, and being blown away by this world perfectly balanced between beauty and death – to 7 year old me growing up in Buckinghamshire, England, it was unbelievable not only that such a place could exist, but it could also be explored! Moreover, Benedict’s documentary Ice Dogs was the tipping point for me. I’ve always been enthralled by the Arctic and Antarctic, so being taken into these areas by Benedict with his pack of sled dogs was every little boy’s dream (those like me at least). As far as I can remember, as soon as I could read I was reading books about the classic explorers like Shackleton and Scott and seeing their old black and white photographs documenting their journey to the Antarctic – then suddenly, from my own living room, being transported into the Arctic by Benedict Allen and his handheld camera was enough for me to want to become an explorer myself. It was not until I was much older that I truly understood the seriousness and wild hostility of these places and the bravery required to survive them and take those first steps onto the snow, ice, sand or jungle floor.
So you can expect when I received an email from Benedict Allen saying he’d love to have a chat with me about my mission to get people outdoors more, I was equally absolutely terrified and excited beyond belief – my girlfriend rightly described me as being like Paddington Bear on the trail of the great explorer he’d heard of as a child. So, we got it booked in and I remained equal parts excited and terrified up until the moment Benedict’s smiling face appeared on my computer screen ready for our chat.
I didn’t necessarily want a chat about Benedict’s amazing expeditions – no doubt he’s told those stories a million times – I was more interested in his own idols and heroes, his thoughts about exploring and why he believed it was so important that, even in a time of social media, we still need to get out to see the world and allow it to take its effect on us.
You can watch the video here or you can carry on reading below for more information and insights:
As it happens, Benedict was also inspired by those same major explorers who, in the past, I had been in awe of such as Shackleton and Scott but also by Sir Walter Raleigh and the ‘fascinating’ idea of El Dorado. However, his main idol and inspiration was his own father:
‘He was a test pilot…and when I was very little he was testing the Vulcan bomber, this very charismatic aircraft – it would come over our back garden and it was my dad flying it…’
The idea that his father was being a pioneer but also appeared to be a ‘vague’ and poetic character much like himself opened Benedict’s eyes to the possibility of being such a pioneer himself, and allowed him to realise that it was possible to achieve amazing things. Benedict wasn’t necessarily interested in the great outdoors yet though. He later moved to Buckinghamshire, where the Chiltern Hills were literally on his doorstep and where he developed both his interest and confidence in exploring during afternoon family walks in the hills, before realising his dream of exploration in his early twenties.
To Benedict the ‘golden era’ of explorers was coming to an end with the death of Shackleton and there were just a few names left at the time, such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Sir Chris Bonington, who he looked up to and wanted to be ‘some sort of explorer like them’:
‘Someone in that classic sense of exploration…a person who can head off and disappear into a landscape they’re not familiar with…’
Benedict headed off on his first trip to South America to the area of El Dorado and ‘managed to get away with it’, despite contracting two types of malaria and having to eat his dog to avoid dying of starvation.
‘I just thought the world was my oyster…and it was in a way’
Benedict Allen is only one of two living adventurers included in the Telegraph’s gallery of Great British Explorers, the other being Sir Ranulph Fiennes – so I couldn’t help but ask how he felt about now being on the same list as one of the ‘golden age’ explorers he had looked up to:
‘He’s at the other end of the spectrum…he’s a man of a military background and really the ultimate expeditioner‘
Benedict does not have the plan of ‘striding across the landscape’ such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, but rather immersing himself and disappearing into it. Sir Ranulph Fiennes does remain a model of inspiration for Benedict, still able to conquer these great expeditions at his increasing age. At 76, Fiennes has now almost completed his ‘Global Reach’ challenge to cross both Polar icecaps and climb the highest mountain on every continent – he has just three mountains left. So Benedict feels there is ‘hope for me yet’ at the tender age of 60.
As I touched on earlier, Benedict has been through some pretty tough experiences during some of his expeditions – he’s been shot at by Pablo Escobar’s hitmen in the Amazon rainforest, he’s been stranded in the Arctic, and on the edge of death various times – experiences that anybody else may consider as the final straw and subsequently consider a relatively normal life as an accountant instead. So I was interested to know what it was that kept him coming back and thinking ‘You know what, that was great! Next time I’ll do that in the middle of the desert!’ What motivates such a person to carry on?
The answer, as it happens, is fairly straight forward:
‘A lot of these expeditions are not fun…it’s not the sense of doing it but having done it… I’m not a mountaineer, but I imagine that moment – not when you reach the summit, but when you get down again from the summit… ‘
However, that’s not to say that his motivator is a sense of ‘conquering‘ nature – in fact, he finds the idea of ‘conquering nature’ to be distasteful. – Is that really the only reason you did it? So you can brag about it later? What keeps somebody like Benedict going back into hostile environments is the personal sense of achievement and self discovery after being ‘stripped down and knowing yourself.’
‘Even if you fail, you learn’
Is there anything in particular that you look back on an think ‘That was the best thing I’ve ever done?’
‘What going outdoors does is give you a whole range of experiences’ – whereas living your “normal” day to day life can be seen as a straight line, getting outside and taking a trip gives you a whole variety of of ups and downs, and it’s that variety that is so invigorating.
In answer to my question, Benedict recalled a trip that was ‘appalling at the time… but wonderful afterwards’: crossing the Bering Strait, the pack ice connecting Russia to Alaska, with a team of sled dogs (featured in Ice Dogs). To make matters worse, it was the coldest winter in living memory, with temperatures down to approximately -45 Celsius and very quickly his hands were already being attacked by frostbite. The dogs were able to sense his struggle and almost totally lost faith in him, no longer listening to his commands – waiting for their original owner to return. After some time and hard work their faith and trust in Benedict started to return.
‘And suddenly, this expedition which had been so horrible…these dogs began to listen to me and it was the most wonderful thing in the world…and that is the moment…the expedition continued to be painful but it didn’t matter because emotionally I felt I was getting there, making progress in this unhospitable world’
Role models for the next generation and the impact of social media
When I was growing up, there was no social media or Internet showing everybody getting outside and advocating the wonders of the wild world – our knowledge of the world came predominantly from BBC documentaries made by people like Benedict Allen and Bruce Parry, maybe even Michael Palin, immersing themselves in the unknown, almost magical, lands around the world. Now, with the Internet and social media making the footage and images I saw in weekly documentaries as a child immediately accessible in everybody’s pockets, I was interested to know if there was anybody in the public eye, such as Steve Backshall and Levison Wood, who stood out as a great role model to encourage the younger generation to get outside in a world that is so in danger and at a critical level of destruction:
‘All of them do it in different ways and in their own ways…and I think that’s important too’
And upon reflecting about how we all explore in different ways, Benedict highlights how his style was different too. The current explorers on television, such as Steve Backshall, all use a camera crew (big and small) which limits their ability to complete seriously difficult expeditions. Whereas Benedict was his own film crew, exploring the world with just his handheld camera. ‘These days it isn’t possible to do it in the same way’.
There was one part in particular in the answer that Benedict gave that stood out for me however:
‘I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the idea that all humans are explorers ‘
Benedict also touched on the fact that it’s very easy to look at these people and think that they’re special because they do what they do and assume we ordinary folk can’t be like them. This is, of course, a significant problem when you consider that there has been a tendency for middle-aged white males from privileged backgrounds to represent the world of exploring, something that Benedict recognises about himself. But this is something that is changing in time and not so prevalent as it was twenty, thirty or forty years or more ago. For Benedict, it’s still important that we have people going out and documenting the world as it is and showing us the truth instead of letting us get lost in the ‘bubble’ of social media. That is where people like Steve Backshall, among others, come in.
There are also people going out into the world for the wrong reasons, such as to gain ‘kudos’ by doing certain things, and that is not the point of exploration, for Benedict. For him, it’s all about the experience and allowing yourself to be immersed and overcome by the world the around you.
‘For me, I’m just as impressed by the little old lady who walks up a hill – but it’s been a struggle – as I am somebody who climbs Everest with oxygen. Yes one is harder than the other for a human, but relative to their own experience, perhaps that walk up a hill for a little old lady who is frail is a greater achievement’
I was also interested in his general views of the impact social media has on the world of exploration, and whether or not the ability to bring up anywhere in the world on our phones when we’re sat on our sofas (or toilets) reduces the desire to explore in person.
‘There has been a real veracity of truth – and science, I think, has somewhat been eroded by so called “fake news”… but it will settle down because people will want to trust in certain things’
For Benedict though, there are certainly benefits to social media acting in favour of exploration. He sees people posting on Twitter and Instagram about beetles they’ve found in the garden and looking for the names of certain beasts and plants. The information available is endless and often immediate.
He told me that his daughter ran into the room earlier that day to ask if he knew that there was a toad that weighed 3 kilos, information she had discovered on TikTok. Of course there are those who use social media for their own personal and financial gain and those who do observe the world entirely through social media but;
‘I don’t think it will stop my daughter looking for a 3 kilo toad’
Getting people outside
Of course, the whole mission and ethos behind Into The Sticks is to try to encourage more and more people to get outside and engage with the wild world around them, but to start doing that we need to identify what the barriers are for various groups of people. What is stopping people? I was interested to hear Benedict’s theory;
‘What is stopping people? I think it’s [not] believing that they are one of the adventurers’
Part of this is connected to what he was saying earlier regarding those people on television. It’s easy for everybody to sit there and think ‘These people are amazing and special’ because they are intentionally made to look amazing and special. Again, the lack of diversity of who we are looking at on television is a problem, and might lead some to believe that unless you look like the explorers on TV, you can’t do what they do – which couldn’t be more wrong.
Benedict is incredibly in favour of ‘micro-adventures,’ the idea that you can just have an adventure in a day. Just taking your bicycle out, or going for a walk;
‘I think that’s great…it’s making people think “I don’t have to sacrifice my job, or be worried about getting malaria.” – You don’t have to have adventures in the way that people did when I was younger.’
So, in your opinion, why is it so important that people get outside and engage with the world around them?
Benedict highlights a number of reasons why it’s so important to get outside, mostly relating to our physical and mental wellbeing. But he also spoke about the fact that it’s great for your soul and important that you get outside and realise that you are part of something far bigger than yourself, helping to put your problems and life into perspective with the world around you and understand where we sit in the ‘grand scheme of things’.
‘There is so much pressure on us in traditional society and I think it helps so much to step away from your work, away from your problems, to just feel part of things’
I added that we do have a tendency to separate ourselves from the natural world when in fact we are all part of it – we are just another animal living amongst the natural world, not separate from it at all. In fact, Benedict further added that some of the indigenous people he has stayed with in the past do not even have a word for ‘nature’ because it is simply not a separate entity from themselves and they understand that they are just another element of their environment.
The way I’ve heard Benedict speak about the indigenous people he has stayed with in these spectacular parts of the planet, I’ve often wondered if, when it comes time to leave them, he ever considers fully immersing himself into their culture and staying.
‘I have brief worries that I might feel like that…but I’ve been very aware that I do not belong, I think it’s an illusion to think you do…I know I’m the one most likely to get malaria and I know I would be the one to go mad…‘
It’s understandable that, no matter how much you may like and admire the way these other cultures live and view the world, the shock would be far too much for somebody in the modern western world to fully immerse themselves – as Benedict says, he would be the one to go mad if he was forced to have two, three, or four wives and lots of children. He worries that he would become trapped, either by the delusion that he could make a life for himself in the jungle (which brings on images of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) or that he would be framed for something in order for people to keep him within the community – which has supposedly happened previously.
‘My job is to go, find information and come back. And it’s always been very clear cut to me that that’s what I need to do…I don’t like to be distracted from my “mission” and it helps mentally to know exactly what I’m doing…’
When you first said; “I’m going to go to the Amazon, canoe down the river and have a walk in the rainforest” did anybody ever turn around and say “That’s probably not a very good idea”?
Benedict’s parents had very conflicting views about his ambitions to explore and cross the Orinoco Basin when he first expressed his desires to travel. His mother was ‘terrified’ because he was so ill-matched. Not coming from a military background and having little to no exploration experience, it’s understandable to see why she would be so scared of the idea. His father, however, was entirely encouraging, most likely because of his life as a test pilot whose job it was to put himself at risk everyday – especially piloting a huge aircraft like the Vulcan which carried our nuclear weapons.
‘I had very little expert advice, but those people who did give me expert advice just thought I wouldn’t get very far…I’d come back home having had a gap year type of adventure…I really was very fortunate to get away with it’
With the power of retrospect, being now 40 years after his first disastrous trip to the Amazon where he was less than 24 hours from death caused by starvation – having to kill and eat his dog to survive – and now being a father of three young children himself, how would he feel if his children came to him and said, ‘I want to do what you did?’ Would he support them or try to stop them?
Benedict like to think he would support them if they wanted to do the same thing, however, times have changed and so has the condition of the planet we live on:
‘I think if you’re doing an expedition you have a duty to acknowledge that…It’s not enough to just have an adventure if you’re devoting six months to it…There’s more to the world than just using it as a playground’
Benedict, with that in mind, would of course encourage his children to explore the world but would ensure that they did it for a particular reason and to bring something back other than “finding themselves” and growing as an individual. There is a lot that he would want them and everybody in general to be aware of.
‘We see heroes and heroines out there doing great things, and they are inspiring, but wouldn’t it be better to have role models for the young who are doing something more than just a physical feat?‘
‘The younger generation are often isolated from the world which is in trouble around them.‘
It was really great to have this conversation with Benedict Allen and to see that our views of exploring and the world in general are very much aligned.
There is much to be learned from people like Benedict and one of the many lessons I’ve taken from our conversation is this:
We are all explorers, we should all get outside and explore the world but for the right reasons. Leave the world in a better shape than you found it, be aware of the trouble the planet is in and use your explorations of the world to learn how you can help preserve it for the next generation.
A huge thank you once again to Benedict Allen and the team at Jo Sarsby Management, it was certainly a highlight in this wannabe explorer’s life.
I have a normal full-time job, which is as far away from the outdoors as you can get, however, I do take part in a few outdoor activities; I’m a keen runner, mainly fell running or ultramarathons, I ride bikes both off and on-road, I’ve partaken in quite a few triathlons and I enjoy swimming, hiking, and sometimes even a bit of SUP – but over the last few years, some of these hobbies have been put on hold while I’ve engaged in the world of climbing.
I normally trad-climb but I also do bouldering, sport, and winter climbing too. I was inspired to get out and climb by a friend and by the endless opportunities of adventure that open up because of it; the travel, the views and the landscape – sometimes what you see from the top or even the middle of a climb is incredible, and often climbing is the only way to these views!
Once you’ve learned the necessary skills, completed a few routes and gained confidence in the safety aspects, there is so much more exploring available to you, especially long mountain days!
Some of the best moments of climbing are not always finishing a hard grade climb, but when you’ve done something that allows you can take your time, look around and enjoy every part of the experience – I enjoy the long climbs and longer days!
Some of the best climbing days I have had are on multi-pitch limestone routes in the Peak District – climbing at Idwal Slabs doing long routes that can take a few hours. Pinnacle Ridge at St. Sundays Crag was a great full day out, finished with descending Helvellyn via Striding Edge. However, the greatest experience of climbing (for me) is winter climbing in Scotland, especially on Ben Nevis!
When climbing you often get moments that are, let’s say, sketchy! In these moments you have to learn to trust yourself, trust your feet, trust your climbing gear and trust the person who is belaying you! Having confidence in yourself and what you are doing is a major strong point and something that definitely, always, needs working on! Sometimes it’s better to take five minutes to catch your breath then try and try again. Learning take your time and not to rush is key!
I think getting outdoors helps put everything into perspective. You get the time and freedom, when outside, to clear your mind, look around and enjoy nature. I think being in the UK we are so lucky and spoilt with what we have available to us. We have amazing areas for every outdoor activity. The benefits of getting outside and exercising, whether this is a walk, run, swim or cycle is huge for both body and mind – everyone should get outside!
I think people sometimes feel cut off from the outdoors and that people don’t feel experienced enough to get outside and explore. Of course, without certain knowledge it is hard to find routes, link routes up, and have the confidence to just go out but there are thousands of established routes where maps or prior knowledge is not necessarily needed, I do think, however, that these need to be publicised more to encourage more people to use them. More people should look up their local trails. Climbing can be a hard sport to start and especially to transition to outdoors, but there are hundreds of companies and guides that will help. There are lots of indoor gyms with links to outdoor climbing too. And if you’re already an outdoors person, chances are you’ll know someone who is willing to teach you if you’re interested.
The UK Climbing (UKC) website has a fantastic directory of all climbing centres available in the UK. So start there and take your first step up into the climbing world!
If you liked that and want to see more from Adam, just check out the links at the top of the page!
You might just get roped into some climbing.
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Hi there! My name is Sophie and I’m a full-time wildlife and conservation artist from East Sussex. Essentially, I paint animals and their environments in order to raise awareness (and money) for important conservation causes.
‘What is conservation?’ I hear you ask. Well, in short, conservation is the protection of our natural world and all of its resources; this includes animals, plants and their habitats. It’s also about being mindful of our everyday habits and how they are contributing to either a positive or negative change.
I have always been fascinated by animals and the natural world. I have also always enjoyed creating art. Like most creatives however, self-doubt and a rather down-to-earth upbringing led me down the more traditional route of working various sensible jobs (and some not-so-sensible jobs too), before going to University and becoming a teacher in my mid-twenties.
I had always painted in my spare time, but as my spare time suddenly started to dwindle and I found myself painting less and less (whilst the artists that I lived vicariously through on social media thrived), I started to get ‘the itch’. When you have a deep passion for something, there’s only so long that you can ignore it for.
I eventually decided to reduce my hours at school; going from being a full-time teacher to a part-time private tutor and picked the paint brush back up. I started to build up my business, Art Basket, and paint commissions for friends and family on the side, and after a few years, I was finally able to become a full-time artist.
Since starting out as an artist, I have donated 10% of my profits to wildlife and conservation charities, as well as donating artwork to charity auctions and exhibitions each year. I can honestly say that without the drive to raise awareness and money for the causes that are close to my heart, I would probably have half of the motivation to paint. For me, painting wildlife and helping to protect wildlife go hand in hand.
I think that one of the scariest moments of my life was quitting my full-time, secure job to pursue a career in the arts. With rent due and bills to pay, I had responsibilities and I didn’t have the zeal and tenacity of somebody fresh out of school. I was unsure and it was scary, but taking the risk paid off tenfold. It taught me that, as cliché as it sounds, anything is possible and it’s never too late. I think that is something that I have taken with me into all of my endeavours.
I am proud to make a difference in some small way through my art. Either by educating others or drawing attention to the vulnerability of certain species, it fills me with joy to know that my artwork is helping in some small way.
I have also been extremely fortunate to have been shortlisted for some amazing art prizes and last year won the Leisure Painter People’s Choice Award 2020. Even more exciting was that the art auction held by Explorers Against Extinction, to which I donated a painting of a rhinoceros, set a new record for money raised that year! I also became a member of the Artists for Conservation group, meaning I am able to participate in even more charity events and continue to contribute towards protecting the planet.
If you loved that and want more of Sophie and her art in your life and you want to help support the amazing work Sophie is doing for the world of conservation, please make sure you head to the following links at the top of the page!
I live in Newquay, Cornwall. But until I was 35, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle in landlocked Wolverhampton.
I’ve always felt drawn to the ocean. When I was young I’d happily stare at the sea for hours. It had a pretty hypnotic effect on me. But I was too scared to set foot in it.
I could swim in a pool but I never translated that into sea swimming. Growing up inland, the sea was a big unknown for me, and something to be feared and avoided. Until one summer during a holiday in Cornwall.
Learning to surf
I spent an afternoon watching a group of surfers dancing on the waves. I was in awe and I vowed there and then to have a surf lesson just to tick something off my bucket list.
The day of my lesson and I was a bag of nerves before we even hit the water. But I was so focused on listening to what I needed to do that I forgot all about being scared. It took several attempts but when I finally stood up and rode a wave, I’d never felt anything like it. I was instantly hooked!
How surfing’s changed my life
Fast forward 10 years and I now surf regularly, sometimes several times a week. It’s my main form of exercise and I still can’t believe how much surfing has changed my life. I live in a beautiful part of the country, I’m fitter than I was in my 20’s and my mental health has improved significantly. I’m heaps less stressed, I’m more patient and I enjoy the challenges that surfing gives me. It’s a constant learning curve and I’ve learnt so much about myself in the process.
It’s changed my life. It made me see what was important to me and I’ve ditched so much of what society teaches us is ‘normal’ and ‘expected.’ We downsized our home to move here, ditched our careers and live a much slower pace of life.
Surfing is one of the hardest sports you can do and it’s why a lot of people give up very quickly. The sea is never the same from one day to the next. The waves are inconsistent and it’s not like going to a tennis court and practicing your serve over and over again. The sea is something to be respected and quite often, it likes to remind you who’s in charge.
One of the scariest experiences I’ve had was when my leash (which attaches my surfboard to my ankle) snapped in some fairly big surf. Suddenly there I was in no man’s land without the one thing that kept me afloat. At first I stayed calm and started to swim back into shore. But after a while I got tired and the panic set in. Luckily a fellow surfer helped me but it really freaked me out. I learnt though that panic is the worse thing you can do in a situation like that and avoiding the sea would’ve been a mistake. Luckily I got back in a couple of days later before I had time to talk myself out of it.
I didn’t surf bigger waves for a while after that, but slowly and surely over time, I built my confidence back up.
How nature can help us heal
The sea is an incredible healer for me. I can paddle out, gaze at the horizon and leave all my worries behind on land with no distractions. No one can disturb me out there. I can literally shut the world out for a couple of hours which I think is hugely important to everyone. We all need our own space and time, especially in such a busy, fast-paced world.
And then there’s the physical benefits. Surfing’s an all over body workout but to me it doesn’t feel like exercise. That’s hugely important to me. I think you’ve got to enjoy the exercise you do otherwise you won’t do it and it becomes a chore.
Nature and the wilderness can teach us so much about ourselves. It can teach us to be grateful, and to help us realise that we are part of a beautiful world that’s so much bigger than ourselves. It’s massively important to our physical and mental health, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Just getting outside and filling our lungs with fresh air can be just what we need to get us through day to day life.
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