For quite some time I have been championing the idea that the wilderness is often closer than we realise. For those of us who spend much of our time hacking around the urban jungle, it can be hard to imagine that less than an hour away from this crowded train platform, this busy office, this smoggy street is woodland where you can’t see another soul, wetlands where the only sound is birdsong, and hills far more satisfying for a tea break than the nearest chain café.
So when Victorinox approached me to ask if I’d like to work with them to help promote their One Hour to Outdoors #UrbanOutdoors campaign I was delighted. After all, which grown-up boy (or girl) does not love the iconic Swiss Army knife?!
Besides, this is exactly the sort of thing which I love doing: sowing some seeds of ideas that might germinate into more people busting out of the city at weekends or on light spring evenings. Within an hour of where you are reading this, there is a wood you have never been in, a hill you have never scaled, a view you have never seen. In other words, you can be an explorer this weekend, genuinely discovering places that will be new and surprising and memorable for you. I love how easy but rewarding this can be.
Within an hour of where you are reading this, there is a wood you have never been in, a hill you have never scaled, a view you have never seen.
And so I set out to explore. To demonstrate that versatile gear is the best sort of gear. And to go someplace I had never been before. Kitted out with Victorinox’s indestructible I.N.O.X. watch, backpack and the ultimate adventurous Swiss Amy Knife I felt fully prepared. I was looking forward to it! I made my way from city office to Boris bike to crowded streets and on to the railway station and a swift escape from the city. I’d spent too much time in the city recently, dashing around or staring at a laptop screen. So I was looking forward to slowing down, chilling out, and staring into the middle of nowhere for a while.
The first thing I noticed, as I walked away from the empty, rural station, was the stillness. It’s quiet, sure. But the countryside also feels still after the perpetual motion of London. I stood still and pondered where to go. That’s another thing – if you don’t really mind where you stroll then the options are simultaneously vast but unimportant. So I picked a path and walked out through spring farmland, the first spring shoots just greening the earth.
I ducked into a wood, pushing through the branches and thick grass until I felt completely hidden from the world. In front of me was a lake, and the only sound was the breeze in the trees and birds calling as they swooped in to land on the water. I sat on a log and did absolutely nothing. When was the last time you had the time to do nothing?! My urban mind was still whirring but I could feel myself slowing down as I idly whittled twigs.
Moving on, I made my way up a tightly clefted valley, thick with trees. Nobody on earth knew where I was. I always love that feeling. Freedom! Freedom, in this case, within earshot of a busy road. But I was having fun as I ducked and weaved my way up the valley.
I paused on the treeline for some food. Two things always make my food taste better: hunger and fresh air. I had both. And so I appreciated and savoured my simple sandwich far more than I ever do when I “grab a sandwich” in the middle of the daily rush. I needed the energy, too: I had a hill to climb. A hill impressively steep and “hill-like” for somewhere so close to London. The day was cold still, but the sky was beautifully clear and I was excited about getting to the summit in time for sunset. I swung my pack onto my bike and began the climb.
The climb. Steep, yes. Out of breath, a little (I confess). But no hill in southern England takes too much time to conquer. I turned on the top and drank in the view. I don’t know why this keeps happening to me, for I have been surprised time and again by the beauty of so many spots less than an hour from our capital city, but I was amazed. I could see for absolutely miles. The air was freezing cold and clear as ice. The sun was low and dazzling. Spring was very much on the way, something I’d not really noticed that morning in London. I threw out my arms and span on the spot, looking a bit of a fool, I imagine, but feeling great. Without fail, these little dashes I do away from the city leave me feeling more uplifted, calm and positive than I was before I left the city.
I rued not having packed my bivvy bag and sleeping bag. This would have been a marvellous place to spend the night, to watch the stars above and the car lights down below. But I was glad to have brought a little stove. The familiar click of the lighter, the roar of the stove, the steaming pan: I know this well, and I love it. But what I had never known before was this view. A cup of tea, a blazing spring sunset, and a view from on high that I had never seen before. As the old song puts it so well, “one day like this a year would see me right.”
The video I made about my One Hour to Outdoors adventure is here. I hope you enjoy it.
In collaboration with Victorinox.