Last Friday saw me in the Lake District for the Kendal Mountain Festival. As a first-time festival goer, I booked myself on to a couple of talks and went with an open mind to see what KMM has to offer. Here’s how I got on…
If you don’t know Kendal, it’s not hard to find the Brewery Arts Centre, home to the festival’s ‘basecamp’ for the long weekend. ‘Follow the people in down jackets’ is as good advice as any.
I arrived early on the Friday morning with time to suss things out before the first pre-booked talk of the day. If you love the outdoors, you’ll feel instantly at home in the basecamp tents. Adorned with prayer flags and surrounded by like-minded people, this is the hub of the festival and a good place to hang out. Climbers, walkers, campers, bikers, mountaineers all mingle and share stories.
I wandered around the various displays, soaking up the atmosphere before taking a pew to look through the programme. I hadn’t realised there was so much on offer just in basecamp. You could easily spend the weekend drinking coffee and listening to the free talks. And that’s before you head out to sample other delights on the festival menu, which you definitely should!
Since I’m always banging on about the benefits of making time for the outdoors in our busy lives, there was one ticketed event which immediately grabbed my attention. A panel discussion hosted by Megan Hine (if you haven’t read her excellent book ‘Mind of a Survivor’ then get yourself a copy!) along with four stalwarts of the everyday adventure movement: Jo Moseley, Graeme Walker, Dave Flanagan and Alex Feechan.
We often cite careers, family, caring for relatives, age and fitness as barriers to getting outside. Jo, Graeme, Dave and Alex are living proof that these things needn’t stop us from living more adventurously.
It was one of those sessions where the speakers just gelled and the audience were on board from the start. I was in my element!
Here are some of the messages from the panel (and the audience) I think are worth sharing.
Embrace the crapness
It doesn’t matter if you aren’t the best at something, or what others think. Whether it’s getting back into skateboarding as a ‘grown up’ or turning your hand to surfing, there will always be people younger, fitter and more talented than you! That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your chosen activity.
Equally, you don’t have to do something mega for it to be an adventure. Weekend walks with your family, a more active commute, learning to paddleboard or a couple of hours mountain biking with friends. It all counts.
If confidence is holding you back, ask yourself two questions:
- Is it fun?
- Am I having a good time?
If the answer’s yes to both, then give yourself permission to carry on! You’ll develop your skills naturally and confidence follows. Competence builds confidence and all that.
Give something back
Whether it’s picking up litter on your adventures or building your company to operate more sustainably, it’s important to give something back to the wild places which give us so much.
It’s easy to feel down about how we’ve treated the planet but hearing about companies like Findra and people like Jo gives me hope for the future. I suspect everyone in the audience already buys into the sustainability message but I certainly felt empowered to redouble my efforts and spread the word more about looking after our natural playground.
So pick up your crap and buy quality, sustainable kit and look after it!
There – that felt good!
Keeping fit allows you to do more outside. But a lack of fitness shouldn’t stop you from starting. Find something you enjoy and you’ll get fit without realising it.
I’ve never got on with formal training schedules. I can see there’s a place for them but agreed with the panel there’s just too much focus on targets, metrics and deadlines at work. This has crept into our leisure time too with fitness trackers and apps all the rage. Great if it motivates you but every now and then, stop monitoring everything and just have fun!
Starting small is also important. If you want to take up running, you don’t just go out and run a 10k in record time. Start by going out for five minutes. Walk if you have to. You’ll soon up that to 10 minutes. Then 20. Before you know it, you’ll be running a 10k. You don’t need a fancy training programme to do that.
Get clued up
Read Megan’s book (another plug!) and you soon appreciate her relentless focus on safety. My friends have always mocked my ‘captain sensible’ approach to life, so it was refreshing to hear it raised in the context of everyday adventures!
The outdoors have never been more popular. And that’s a wonderful thing. But the mountains can bite the unprepared and help isn’t always instantly available. We need to recognise our own limits and be comfortable with those. By all means be inspired by tales of adventure and push yourself (if you want to) but don’t bite off more than you can chew. You need to build up to the gnarly stuff.
As modern life does its best to disconnect us from nature, we lose vital skills like how to move through the landscape, knowing instinctively when the weather’s about to turn and which way’s north. Perhaps that’s a topic for another post but let’s just say here that we all need to serve our apprenticeship in the outdoors and hone our skills organically.
For those of us championing the benefits of getting outside more, let’s remember to bang the drum about staying safe at the same time!
The final message came from an audience member about social media and its power to influence. We’ve all seen photos of well-groomed, beautiful people sipping coffee in chunky knits watching an amazing sunrise from a rocky outcrop. In my head, that’s what I look like all the time but the reality is I’m normally a damp mess with bed hair and bits of mars bar on my chin when outside. But I’ll always have a smile on my face!
When sharing stories of everyday adventures, remember it’s not always blue skies and rainbows. Let’s all try to paint a realistic image of the outdoors and encourage people it’s ok not to be ‘perfect’. Just get out there and have fun, whatever that means to you.
A powerful message to end on.
Something a bit different
Feeling inspired by all this talk of everyday adventures, I grabbed a coffee before settling down for the next session – Wilderness Songs.
Nature is a huge passion of mine, and I’d bet a lot of outdoorsy people are the same. I’ve written before about tuning into the sounds of nature so this looked right up my street.
This was the ultimate chill-out session. Sitting with your eyes closed listening to the sounds of nature: Weddell seals under the ice in Antarctica; howling wolves; humpback whales and a lone Hawaiian bird singing for a mate – the last of its kind.
It was powerful stuff, and more emotional than I expected! But the reaction again from the audience just confirmed how we should all take time to connect with nature more than we do.
So much more
I enjoyed my first experience of the Kendal Mountain Festival. My non-outdoorsy friends are amused and think I’ve been to the equivalent of Glastonbury but the reality is it’s a chance for like-minded folk to gather and be inspired to get out there.
I’d have loved to have seen more – Alex Staniforth, Sir Chris Bonington, the Helvellyn fell-top assessors and some of the many films for instance. But that just shows the breadth of what’s on offer.
It sounds cheesy (and I suppose it is) but I loved how friendly it all felt. There were no egos on show. People doing incredible things yet being so humble about their achievements. No show offs. Just everyday folk with a love of the outdoors.
I can’t wait for next year…
- Allow plenty of time.
- Make a plan to ensure you don’t miss something you’d like to see.
- Don’t wear wellies – it’s not that kind of festival! Insulated jackets and bright colours are de rigueur here.
- Hanging around in basecamp with a coffee can be as much fun as anything – but there’s bound to be a ticketed session which interests you too.
- Bring your own coffee cup and water bottle – you take those with you everywhere now anyway, right?
- Visit the book shop.
- Support the local cafés.
- If travelling by car, park on the outskirts of Kendal and walk/run/cycle to the festival.
- Make new friends, discover new things and enjoy yourself!