Even Country Walking’s Nick Hallissey Didn’t Know What Joys Were On His Doorstep Until Now!

Nick is a shot of happy. He really is! We love his dimpled smile here at Spring and are always happy for opportunities to work with him. We mean, who wouldn’t? Happy people make the world go round don’t they? We think so which is why we caught up with him, asked him what’s been good and how he’s adapted to a new way of working. And, as we’re all keen to help our community get its mojo back, we asked Nick for his top five ways in which to do it. Nick, we’re all ears …

Nick at Lodore Falls (c) Nick Hallissey, Country Walking

Nick!  You of all people must have found lockdown pretty tricky especially at the beginning when there were time restrictions too.  

It was a huge rug-pulling for anyone who loved the outdoors. But yes: it happened just at the time of year that the teams at Country Walking and Trail Running do their most intense forward planning for the year ahead.  I had a lot of exciting dreams on the horizon: Snowdonia, the Highlands, the Lyke Wake Walk, some very hidden corners of Cumbria that I’ve always wanted to visit. And about half a dozen running events too. All that disappeared at a stroke, and that was hard. But like everyone, we all took the view that we had to do it and deal with it, because there was more important stuff at stake. The great plus side, of course, was a new focus on enjoying what we have close at hand, and what we could discover on the ‘permitted hour of exercise’.

You’re right!  We’ve never seen so many people out and about during those first weeks.  Do you think it’s started something?  That people who weren’t into the outdoors will now be gallivanting on the hills?

I think lockdown has hugely increased people’s appreciation for just being outside. I saw more people out and about on the paths near my house than I had ever seen before, and chatting with some of them (two metres apart of course) a good many of them said they had no idea these paths or these views were here before. People have connected to their local landscape in ways they never dreamed of. So yes, I hope that will blossom into a greater interest in walking in the future; not necessarily an urge to rush for the hills but definitely to broaden the horizons and find more adventures in green space.

Nick in Ashdown Forest (c)Tom Bailey, Trail Running

The Spring team have discovered all sorts of new routes on their doorstep – did you too?  I mean you’re a walk-a-holic, did you know it like the back of your hand already? 

I was actually guilty of being a little dismissive of where I live, which is the Fens. I’ve lived in places you might describe as “more exciting” and I travel to stunning landscapes all the time, so I had a tendency to think of Fenland as just being the place I had to live to be near my office. All we’ve got is vast parcels of flat farmland divided by dead-straight drainage ditches; even my nearest patch of woodland is 15 miles away! But with lockdown I discovered that even the Fens can surprise you. I’ve found new riverside paths I’d never found before, and little swimming channels in the saltmarsh on the edge of The Wash. I even found whole nature reserves I had no idea about. So it has been a wonderfully enlightening experience. I won’t take ANY green space for granted again.

I think we’ve all learned that there’s a lot more on our doorstep than we thought!  Lockdown has heightened our need to go outdoors – two of us have started to have a morning cuppa in our garden before going to work.  Lovely.  It’s like a breath of fresh air for the soul.  What are your feelings? 

It totally is! I’ve done quite a few early-morning walks and runs that have been a total joy. And I’ve really treasured the chance to go for simple walks with my wife and the children, even if it’s just 20 minutes round the block. It’s absolutely the best way to defuse the tensions that can arise (and have done so) while we’re all cooped up together. And there are great rituals too. One of my colleagues posts a picture on Facebook every morning: she has a mug with a chalkboard surface, and she draws a new picture on it, takes it out to a field near her house, plonks the steamy mug of tea on a fencepost, and takes a photo. She posts it just with the word “mornin’” and it sets the day off perfectly, for her and for us. We’ve also done a social media feature called The Seven Wonders of My World – asking our #Walk1000Miles community to show us seven things they love seeing on their local walks. The responses have been wonderful; anything from hidden ruins or trees with faces in them, to pointless stiles (always good for a laugh) and blue plaques people had never spotted before.

Would love one of those mugs!  Loving Local has inspired great works in the past – any great works sprung from the Hallissey mind? 

Definitely! Our ‘lockdown hero’ is an 18th century writer called Gilbert White, who wrote The Natural History of Selborne. It’s Blue Planet in a garden: a complete wildlife documentary based on the plants and animals he found on walks around his home in Hampshire. It’s the ultimate guide to lockdown walking: that sense that there is always something amazing just waiting to be discovered. And Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity during a lockdown. In 1665 he was confined at his home (Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire) because the Great Plague was ravaging London. One day he looked out of a window and saw an apple fall from a tree in his garden and figured that the same forces pulling it to the ground might also control the movement of the earth and the moon. The laws of gravity started right there in a garden in lockdown. As for me? I’m still working on my sci-fi novel about intergalactic mountaineers, but that’s another story.

Nick in Sussex, (c)Tom Bailey, Country Walking

Intergalactic mountaineers eh?  Look forward to seeing Country Walking’s review of that one!  We know you’re a great supporter of all things local so we want to ask you what five things would you recommend we do once we get back to some semblance of normal to get the most out of our local communities?

1. Get in touch:  (You can do this now) Contact a café, pub, hotel or campsite that you’re fond of and make a provisional booking for whenever they will take them again. Even if it ends up being postponed by new restrictions, the vital thing is to support those businesses and to let them know we WILL come back as soon as it’s safe to do so.

2. Take the #Walk1000Miles challenge:  If you’ve had your eyes opened by the wonder of local walks and are thirsty for more, take a look at www.walk1000miles.co.uk and the Facebook group that goes with it. It has the combined wisdom and experience of the Country Walking team and the 70,000 people who’ve signed up to our #Walk1000Miles challenge, so it can show you how to take your next steps, whether you want to know where to go walking, how to read a map, or what to wear/use out there.

3. Get reading:  Of course I’m going to say this, but also take a look at a beautiful magazine called Country Walking. It’s full of inspiring ideas, whether it’s how to see more on your local walks, or amazing places to head for when restrictions will allow it.

4. Sociable walking:  Take a friend for a walk. Socially distanced of course, and within whatever the restrictions might be. But if there’s someone you’ve been desperate to catch up with (especially if they have struggled during lockdown), a walk is just the best way to get the conversation flowing. If we all do it, the net effect will be astonishingly positive for the nation’s physical and mental well-being.

5. Consistency:  Just. Keep. Walking. Walking opens your eyes to so many things: wildlife, history, heritage, culture, new friendships, new skills. In turn you’ll want to access books, guides, museums, exhibitions, attractions, pubs, cafes and places to stay, all of which will help the country get back on its feet. And of course, walking keeps us healthy. There’s no better way to thank the heroes of the NHS than not to need their help if we can possibly avoid it. Keep walking and we’ll ease the pressure on the health system that has done so much for us. And that’s got to be a good thing.  

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