teacher, turned army officer, turned wilderness therapy facilitator... how did that happen?
I grew up on a diet of Type 2 fun. You know; the type of fun which isn’t fun at all at the time, but becomes fun afterwards, when the pain has faded and only the hazy memory remains, sweetened by the miracle of your survival. Like climbing bleak mountains in the pouring rain. Or sleeping in a midge-net in a cave on a remote Scottish island. Or putting up a tent in a hailstorm on Dartmoor. That kind of ‘fun’.
Inevitably, after a necessary period of rebellion/city-hibernation in my twenties, a strange sort of longing arose… a longing to get lost, to get wet, to get muddy, to scream into the wind, to dive into cold crisp waters and come up gasping and freshened … the call of the wild was on me.
For a while I managed to combine this with my work as an English teacher. I became an officer in the CCF, and accompanied school children on outward bound expeditions. I lead groups of cadets on Canadian summer camps in the Rockies. I was the teacher responsible for Gold D of E expeditions, wilderness experiences in the Kwa-Zulu Natal, and cultural exchange programmes to Malawi. In short, I had a blast, and so did the kids. After our descent from Snowdon one Easter weekend, I asked one of the teenage girls what had been the worst part. She told me, sliding down the snowy bits at the summit, because it was really scary. I asked her which was the best part. “Sliding down the snowy bits”, she said. “Because it was really scary”. My work as a teacher was done.
With 30 weeks to go, I wrote a bucket-list; ’30 things to do before I turn 30’, and boy, did those 6 months change my life! I began a year of group psychotherapy, ran a marathon, discovered meditation, stand-up comedy, clowning, 5 Rhythms dancing and basically embarked on a huge transition which saw me change, well, nearly everything! I trained as a counsellor, began sitting in a fortnightly women’s circle, and using my coaching skills to mentor teenagers. I undertook a remote first-aid qualification, and signed up for a 3-month expedition in the Borneo rainforest.
In 2014, I walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain. I set off alone, on the anniversary of my father’s death, with a stick named after him, a spare t-shirt and two pairs of knickers. In each town, a small yellow arrow pointed the way. The pilgrim blessing ‘buen camino’ bubbled up subconsciously from the cracked lips of hunched old ladies. The only thing to do, every day for 35 days, was to get up and walk west. And framed by that simple devotion, everything else felt up for grabs. There was freedom and serendipity around every corner; new people to meet, a breath-taking view, a beautiful stranger, a muddy field for dancing in, a stall selling slices of watermelon.
After another year of percolating thoughts, wild camping holidays and frenzied list-writing, I decided to see if I couldn’t make my work a dedication to those principles of freedom and simplicity. To find a way to be always on a journey. And to bring to others the feelings of joy, confidence and peace which a prolonged walk in nature always seems to engender. And on my 34th birthday, as I ruminated over my whiskey nightcap, the name ‘ipse wilderness’ was born.
And the journey continues … join ‘ipse wilderness’ to make your story part of our story.