The walking enthusiast and founding member of The Outdoor Guide explains exactly why she loves roving the British countryside

It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to exploring the UK – there’s so much to see with our striking variety of scenery, depth of culture and abundance of history.

Luckily for me, my story had a very natural beginning, with my dad, Michael, scrambling around the Peak District. It wasn’t a bad initiation to the Great Outdoors as we explored rugged dales, windswept moors and tall peaks. 

We shared many father-daughter adventures when I was a little girl, after school and at weekends; hours were spent tunnelling through deep snow drifts just outside Buxton or striding out across grassy hills that bounced flashes of sunshine across the landscape in summer.

I remember staring in wonder at the climbers on the gritstone escarpment of Stanage Edge – a game that I would come to know in later life as “vertical chess”. A much easier prospect was the Dovedale stepping stones that cross the river Dove. I can’t wait to take my children there – it’s a Peak District rite of passage. 

The seeds were planted back then, a love of fresh air and exercise that has become part of my DNA. It has led me to explore much of the UK on foot, from hidden valleys to windswept coastlines. Each landscape has its own unique appeal and tone.

My mood, the weather, the time of year, the company I’m in, they all affect how I feel about the countryside. Happily, it’s that variety of experience I thrive on. Cycling around Rutland reservoir with the kids makes for a fun family day out, but sometimes I like nothing better than a bit of solo brooding in an ancient woodland up on Exmoor. 

Stanage Edge, Peak District

Credit:
getty

I adore trees – they make me happy. That’s why I’ve been involved in so many tree-planting projects over the years. The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood in Normanton le Heath, Leicestershire, is now a haven for wildlife including buzzards, skylarks and the rare hen harrier; we did a mass planting session there to get things started back in 2012 when I worked on Countryfile.

More recently, I’ve helped to plant thousands of trees with the Woodland Trust and a company called the Premier Paper Group that organises tree planting days for clients in Mead, Derbyshire. Everybody loves digging and getting their hands dirty. I’m really committed to planting trees for future generations to cherish. You should give it a go!

Scenery isn’t the UK’s only appeal, of course. The fabric of history in our hills and dales fills volumes of books. Whose imagination wouldn’t be stirred when exploring the secret sites revealed by an Ordnance Survey map and weaving magical tales around ancient monuments?

Then there’s the very special appeal of stately homes. I love hearing about the people who built them and helped form the landscape. And it’s lovely to discover the tales of those working to preserve them today. We are lucky to have such places protected by our National Trust and National Parks network. 

Rutland resevoir is a fun family day out

Credit:
istock

There’s also our country fairs and festivals – another great way of accessing home-grown grub and exploring more about the local communities that keep the beating heart of our island nation going. Whether it’s Glastonbury or the tiny cider and cheese fair at Compton Martin near Bristol, you really get into the veins of the locals at these events. 

These days, we face new challenges and opportunities, from the single-use plastic crisis to wider issues around sustainable living. But we can all start to make a difference to help ensure that the nation we love remains a place to enjoy forever.

Discovering the diversity of our island kingdom’s landscapes is one of the greatest pleasures of living here. My ambition is to keep it that way. 

Julia set up The Outdoor Guide, a free online resource, with her sister Gina (theoutdoorguide.co.uk).

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