The Lake District is your patch. What makes walking in the area so appealing for you?
It’s not just me – the world has caught on to the fact that the Lakes are spectacular and unique, as the soon-to-be World Heritage status will cement. I love the variety of the landscapes. The Grand Canyon might be awesome, but the landscape itself is the same for miles and miles. But in the Lakes you’ll find woodlands, valleys, mountains, streams, rivers, hills, villages, small towns – and even some pubs. Every day can be a new adventure in the Lakes, in completely different surroundings.
You’ve probably done more for the popularity of walking in the UK than anyone. Why do you think your TV programmes made such a difference?
I think people like walking shows and picture-rich series like Countryfile and Countrywise because we want an escape from our intensely busy and digital lives. Even though the majority of us live in towns and cities (83 per cent and rising in England), it’s nourishing and refreshing to see our beautiful landscapes through the eyes of the people on the ground. I like to think that walking is cool now as well. But using the word cool isn’t cool anymore, so let’s leave it with ‘walking is dope’.
Where else in the UK do you enjoy walking?
I got into it when my dad Michael took me walking when I was a little girl in the Peak District, so that will always be another favourite location for me. Dove Dale, Stanage Edge, the Monsal Trail and Jacobs Ladder all remind me of those days when my Dad’s knees were in better shape. The Cotswolds are ‘delightful’, Rutland is scenic, and the Dorset scenery is pretty special too.
Do you remember your first YHA experience?
I’ve started quite a few walks from the famous YHA Black Sail in Ennerdale, which has been fairly well written about. It’s been described as ‘England’s loneliest youth hostel’ because the closest neighbours are four miles away. No internet, no phone signal, no TV – it’s the perfect escape and you’re right next to the magic of Great Gable and Pillar.
YHA as a charity puts a lot of importance of getting younger people outdoors. Why do you think this is so important?
Erm, it helps you live longer – or is that too boring for younger people? In this digital age, it’s vital to connect with the real world too. All those beautiful pictures on Instagram of amazing, beautiful places and wildlife – they are real, and they need to be seen and experienced to be appreciated. Nature and the outdoors can help put your own problems in perspective, you can build friendships and have adventures together, plus walking can keep you fit and looking good for all those selfies. I work with the mental health research charity MQ, and three children in an average classroom live with a mental illness. Spending time outdoors and exercising isn’t the whole answer, but it can help enormously.
Where in the world would you like to travel next?
Well with my three kids it will probably be Disneyland, but in my dreams it’s hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru. I love beach holidays too, and Bora Bora looks pretty appealing.
If you could have given yourself one piece of advice when you started walking what would it have been?
Pay more attention to map-reading skills!
What’s the key piece of gear people need when walking?
It’s predictable but true – good walking boots. If you’re going to cover miles and miles you need a supportive super-comfy boot that’s gonna be your sole mate. (Sorry).
What’s the best way to get kids walking?
For super-small kids – give them a map with an ‘X marks the spot’ where you’ve buried a massive bar of chocolate. For the bigger variety – get them to have a go at geocaching. For anyone else I’d say find a location that inspires you or that you’ve always wanted to explore and just do it. You can get some tips and download all my TV walks for free at theoutdoorguide.co.uk, if any of those tickle your taste buds.