What do you remember about your first great outdoor experience?
Ha! Well, I’ve always been an outdoor kid. I always liked adventures. I grew up in the Berkshire countryside, and when I was three I had one of those little children’s wheelbarrows. One day I just went trundling off with it and was found a mile away from home, going who knows where! But my mum said I was always a bit of a wanderer.
Are those early years where your love of nature comes from?
Absolutely. My friends and I would just go out all day, with a bag of Marmite sandwiches and apples. A KitKat if you were really lucky. We spent our whole time outdoors. We got completely filthy, plasters on both knees – it was fantastic. It’s got to be healthy to have a childhood that involves being outside, exploring things and discovering things: finding bird’s nests, doing snail races, building camps. It was all a completely unselfconscious outdoor experience – you had to make your own fun. You weren’t constantly monitored and it gave us all a level of responsibility. It’s funny, because we had a proper childhood and certainly didn’t grow up too fast, but conversely we also had a real level of independence. We had to look after ourselves, had to know what to do. There were no mobile phones then – you just had to deal with stuff!
Your new book, Friend for Life, is about the relationship between humans and dogs. What brought it about?
When I got my Welsh sheepdog Teg it was the most extraordinary journey for me, learning how to work with a dog. Watching a really good shepherd with a really good dog is like watching the best of Strictly Come Dancing. It also got me thinking about the unique partnership betwen humans and dogs. It’s accepted they’re descended from wolves, and wolves and humans have never got along very well. So how did it happen? How did it come about?
Being outdoors with the dogs is my survival mechanism. There’s something about being in the company of animals that gives a walk a special rhythm. You feel somehow even more connected to your landscape. Dogs are so curious too, they have this astonishing sense of smell, so they go off on their own little missions. And they’re always so joyful. When you’re walking up a big bugger of a hill and the dogs are just scampering up with their four-paw drive you think ‘OK, I’ve got to keep going!’. When you’re being a bit pathetic they just look at you as if to say ‘Come on!’
You’ve made programmes in some amazing parts of the world. What makes coming home so special?
The wonderful thing about the UK is that there are bits of it to suit every mood. I absolutely love living in Wales. The Wye Valley is staggeringly beautiful. But sometimes you’re in the mood for something a bit harsher, a bit rougher, and I love Dartmoor – it can be quite daunting, but it’s a stunning landscape. We’re blessed with a really fantastic and varied coastline too. I’m planning some proper long-distance walks this year. I want to walk the whole of the Wye Valley, starting at the source and walking home. It’s 176 miles – me and Teg are going to do that together.
Kate’s book Friend For Life: The Extraordinary Partnership Between Humans and Dogs is out now.