Despite the challenges, Freshwalks flourished with a smile in 2021, reaching new places and people and welcoming back many old favourites.
Natural human connection truly mattered and those looking to recalibrate personal or business direction, sought purpose, counsel and motivation to help guide them. Those struggling were never far away from a proactive helping hand or pep talk. Those winning were a constant source of inspiration and positivity for others. A perfectly balanced dynamic.
The Freshwalks adage, “we leave no person behind” means in life and not just on a walk, as the DNA of this community evolved for the better.
Here are the month-by-month highlights of a year which only started on 31 March but still included 95 walks – from the Lake District to the South Downs. From the Shropshire Hills to the Yorkshire Dales. And plenty of other places in between.
It’s been an incredible adventure and a privilege to deliver. Enjoy.
End of March
It was a sheer bloody joy to organise the first events of the year at the back end of March. Quickly pulling together a programme in a matter of days and rapidly scaling up to match the rising demand for human reconnection.
The rules were complex to navigate and some aspects open to interpretation but subject to some necessary due diligence, we were back in a position where groups of 30 could safely gather outdoors once again – if organised by a business or similar entity.
A short Wednesday comeback walk on a gorgeous early Spring day around Tegg’s Nose, Macclesfield Forest was quickly followed two days later (April Fool’s Day) by a proper Kinder Scout mission from Hayfield. Yes, we were back.
After an ascent of William Clough to Kinder Scout, there was no pub to end with at the end of a fine hike but it was damn good to be back out there and to witness the impact of human interaction on those who’d joined us. A can or two of beer might’ve been opened in the car park and nobody could possibly feel guilty about doing so.
We kept ourselves busy in April – with walks coming thick and fast – and only a couple of weeks later, we were once again allowed to celebrate our shared sense of achievement in groups of six within beer gardens too. Such simple pleasures we’d yearned for through those dark, cold months.
Sitting opposite Hollingworth Lake on a glorious, sunny Thursday afternoon every bit as delightful as Howardtown Brewery Tap’s finest ales and food platters a fortnight later after a magnificent return to Bleaklow.
Before then, the first of several events with the brilliant Women In Property crew, following a pilot committee walk the previous autumn. A 10km hike around Edale, taking in Mam Tor and Rushup Edge. They keep coming back for more and we’ve six events planned for 2022.
I nearly forgot to mention that we squeezed in another iconic Freshwalks route from West Kirby to Hilbre Island – wet feet all round as we traipsed across the Dee Estuary close enough to the exiting tide. Nowhere quite like Hilbre for escaping the news to another world and David Taylor is a brilliant local guide.
Life was getting good again and fitness returning. Both physical and mental.
Freshwalks prepared for take-off in May. We got everywhere.
We ran our inaugural London event in Richmond Park, a lovely day with even lovelier people though I got caught up in typical Euston chaos on my return journey. Diverting via Kings Cross and Sheffield, it was reassuring in a strange way that public transport disruption was back. Perhaps normality was creeping back into life. We wouldn’t crack London in 2021 and brakes were hit but we’ll return with energy and conviction in 2022 to find some more like-minded souls.
We ventured to the spa town of Ilkley for a terrific moorland hike, briefly toured the seafront at New Brighton with the amazing Margo Storey of Heart of Liverpool tours and then found a spectacular beer garden and ice cream selection up in Scorton, Lancashire after a short hike upto Nicky Nook. Mark Sutcliffe knows his walks and especially Lancashire ones.
Collaborating with Emma Fox of Show Me Manchester on a special ‘Back to Town’ city walk we enjoyed a post-tour pub lunch in the Oxnoble on the first day pubs were back to opening indoors.
Variety became the spice of Freshwalks life in June as we headed back down to London for a riverside walk along the Thames from Putney Bridge where urban sprawl gradually blends into semi-rural charm.
It also marked our debut in Nottingham as the fledgling East Midlands crew headed further east than usual to take in the delights of Wollaton Park. Elsewhere, a predominantly Mancunian crowd headed north for that most iconic of Yorkshire Dales walks around Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar. Vintage stuff and a worthy road trip for the 0161 crew.
June also saw the inaugural Walks for Women event in Marple. Led by Katya Willems, this new series of walks has already attracted a loyal following and is set to continue in 2022.
But perhaps the highlight of June and possibly the year to date was a glorious mid-month sunset walk on Kinder Scout from Hayfield. We stayed up in the peaks close to 11pm taking full advantage of the lighter evenings. The kind of special night when relationships were cemented through shared moments. Smiles and laughter were in abundance and if you know, you know.
Summer had already started with a flourish but was just about to rattle through the gears. July was jam-packed with walks including several private events. One such walk saw the soon-to-be Man United manager, Michael Carrick sadly unable to join his charity foundation (on the rescheduled date) but it was a huge pleasure to enjoy the company of his wife Lisa and team on a walk through the Vale of Edale.
Freshwalks experienced ‘Bronte Country’ in the picturesque West Yorkshire village of Haworth for the first time – we’ll definitely be back in 2022 – and a brand-new route upto The Roaches in the Staffordshire Peak District.
July also saw us head back to the magnificent Alport Castles. Our reservoir loop route to ‘Middle Earth’ from Fairholmes Visitor centre is as good a walk as you’ll find anywhere in this country. It has everything. Drinks in the sunshine outside the Yorkshire Bridge Inn and not for the first time, this pandemic started to feel well behind us.
This tends to be a quieter month for Freshwalks in any normal year and in 2021 many had opted to go away for a well-deserved break. We took the programme down a slight notch but still squeezed in eight events of which the highlight was the long-awaited summer social.
Sold out in a heartbeat, this carefully curated route first took us from Chinley to Hayfield – where we enjoyed a fabulous platter style lunch at the now Michelin Guide featured Pack Horse. The afternoon saw some rebels stay put but also saw the majority of the group walk on from Hayfield to Little Hayfield onto Rowarth and Birch Vale before finally landing in New Mills via the impressive Millennium Walkway. En-route we enjoyed some of the finest pubs on the fringes of the Peak District. The weather wasn’t exactly summer social compliant but then again, the perfect day to be able to take refuge inside pubs on our travels.
Elsewhere in August, we also ran our first Walkshop in the Shropshire Hills. Walkshops director, Martin Murphy took a Birmingham-based property team out for a superb hike onto the Long Mynd from Church Stretton. The topic of Resilience relevant for many coping with the challenges presented by the pandemic.
It would be poor form to overlook our first real excursion into the White Peak as we looped out of Ashford-in-the-Water, along the Monsal Trail and back to our start via Bakewell. So much of interest on this route and far easier underfoot than the rugged landscape of the Dark Peak.
Our latest sunset walk provided a stunning evening above Hebden Bridge and James Torry, so often unchallenged on such matters, faced serious competition from Vikas Shah MBE, who brought a strong photographic game himself. Watching the sun go down, sharing food and drink with good friends. Tis good for the soul.
With our trip to Coniston looming large, there was a slight ‘calm before the storm’ feel about September but that didn’t stop a terrific Freshwalks taking place in Langsett on the eastern moors of South Yorkshire. After such a warm and dry summer, it felt comforting to many of us to experience a proper damp, moorland schlep through bogs and peaks. Clair Wescott earned her Freshwalks stripes by going thigh deep up top when a safe step seemed improbable. A three-man job, led by Vic Johnson, to hoist her out safely. Walk carefully up there, kids. Such efforts are nearly always rewarded in the form of pie and back in Langsett we found a pub that does great pies. Great big giant pies. Happy faces and bang, Autumn was upon us.
The following week we chased double rainbows up at Shining Tor on our final sunset walk of 2021. It rained, it definitely shined and we all smiled. Most of the chat was, excitedly, about Coniston only a couple of weeks away now…
A month full of incredible Freshwalks action and it didn’t hang about with three events on the first day alone. I found myself on the North Wessex Downs, leading a senior team from Logicalis out of Goring & Streatley on the Thames. Elsewhere, our first and long overdue hike up Winter Hill and Rivington Pike with John Knott and Mark Sutcliffe was busy looking after another private group in the Ribble Valley. A real team effort of a day.
The week after I was on my travels again and a ten-hour round trip took Freshwalks to the South Downs and a pretty 15km ramble out of the tiny village of West Dean (near Chichester) which looped around Goodwood racecourse and up the Trundle Hill.
And then there was Coniston and the culmination of many months of planning. Expectations were high and so were the numbers wanting to get involved – with nearly 60 people up there at some point between Thursday to Saturday.
By popular demand, I tweaked my traditional tour recipe and switched the long walk from the second day to the first. So 55 walkers landed in Coniston, Thursday morning and were bang at it from the off, all carefully filtered into groups of similar ability and ambition. Some fancied the full shebang, some earlier evening drinks.
A rum old day heading up the Old Man but with solid hands from Tink Adventures (Emily & Jared) in support – we’d crafted a perfect plan with just the right amount of flex for changing minds and wobbling legs.
One group headed onto Swirl How and Wetherlam, tackling the treacherous Prison Band section. The other looped back to Coniston via the steep descent at Levers Hawse. No easy way back in truth but the staggered approach worked a treat. What an achievement all round and just one minor injury to report. The first night of celebrations kicked off with a huge buffet in the conservatory of the Sun Inn.
Come the morning, 46 people made the privately chartered boat trip from lakeside down at Coniston Water. A great effort considering half a dozen had already admitted the night before they’d join us for lunch in Hawkshead via taxi.
On the right day, the Lake District comes alive in autumn and it was exactly that kind of day. Blue skies, shimmering waters and perfect reflections of trees and mountains towering above. The look of joy on faces as we sailed away from the jetty and headed for Parkamoor said it all.
Friday’s plan was looser than the military precision of Thursday’s endeavours. The entire group rambled through Grizedale Forest, resplendent in the autumn sunshine and dropped into Hawkshead for lunch like a Viking army but a friendly one. And the only pillaging involved pies, ice-cream and beers (though not in horns). A gorgeous atmosphere took over the village as we filled most of the beer gardens in this quintessential Lake District setting. A little over an hour later, those who wanted to walk on assembled in the square and a depleted group of less than 20 walkers kept going. To Tarn Hows no less, which was as fine a sight on this sunny day as any Freshwalker had witnessed in 2021. Up there with Alport Castles and our best sunrises and sunsets. The rest continued the socialising in Hawkshead before returning to Coniston for the evening.
Our Friday night was spent at The Crown Inn where we organised some live music to get the party going. And the secrets of the after-party will have to stay with those who went on tour. But after party or no after party, the Coniston tour was a unanimous success and probably the highlight of the year.
We said October was jam-packed and we had no less than another five events across Yorkshire, Lancashire & Derbyshire the following week after Coniston – the standout being a weekend 40km charity challenge trek for Bruntwood in the Peak District. A two-day job and £5000 raised for charity. Nice work all round and great leadership from Martin Murphy and Emily Thompson.
October had already delivered so much but its parting gift was the return of our sunrise walks – a 6.30am route from Hope to Edale – which delivered in full and ended with the entire group enjoying a cooked breakfast at the excellent Edwardian tea rooms in Hope.
Spurred on by such a wonderful month, November picked up the baton and didn’t let us down. Pendle done Proper, claimed Mark Sutcliffe and he wasn’t wrong, except Lancashire’s hulk of a hill, once again denied us the fabulous views readily available only 24 hours earlier. We’ll get a clear day on Pendle one day, though for now, we’re three misty blanks from three efforts.
Saltaire proved to be a hidden gem in West Yorkshire for a private event on Baildon Moor and a truncated version of our Summer Social route was twice repurposed for an Autumn equivalent and the same again for Women In Property. A pub lunch in Hayfield and finishing line drinks at The Shrub Club inside Torr Vale Mill, New Mills a winning combo for Freshwalkers, old and new.
Inspired in part by Coniston, a relatively impromptu retreat was organised in the Yorkshire Dales mid-month and a small crew of hardcore Freshwalkers headed to the magnificent Grade II listed High Hall, Appletreewick. For three nights, this historic country manor was a perfect base for socialising and relaxing as we enjoyed all the modern comforts, the two village pubs and fabulous walking routes right from the front door.
It felt a while since we’d walked up the Cheshire Matterhorn, Shutlingsloe – early December 2020 when a blizzard would later force a retreat back down from Shining Tor. Anyway, the second sunrise event of the season saw another headtorch-wearing group of Freshwalkers gather at Trentabank Reservoir car park for what proved to be a perfect morning walk. Macclesfield Forest looks best in winter, dusted with light snow or frost and its pine trees oozing Alpine vibes. This was the clearest of mornings and a sun which glowed with all its might. Bring on a dose of Vitamin D at this time of year.
Underwhelmed by the initial response to my proposed Chrome Hill & Parkhouse Hill walk (postponed until Spring 2022), there was a change of plan and we added a late November Friday afternoon event ‘Kinder Sunset and City Lights’ which proved popular and provoked a sudden surge of interest. Another head-torch job and though we faced some cold, fresh weather initially, the descending sun and clouds conspired to create a visual stairway to heaven. Ethereal rays from above. Back in Hayfield and a feast of oysters, duck and wine was some way to end the week at our old favourite, the Pack Horse. What a way to end a week.
The month started with a superb Walkshop event for JD Sports in collaboration with Cath Brown of Skilful Conversation. A hybrid delivery format consisting of an indoors workshop followed by a 10km hike and a closing wrap session back at the Strawbury Duck in Entwistle. It was a really impactful day on the topic of balance and helping their busy legal team manage busy workloads and set boundaries.
Country Living magazine – part of Hearst – also brought us in to deliver a Winter Ramble & Refuel event for their customers. Only a short reservoir loop but a chance for many media and advertising execs to escape the city, unwind the mind and then enjoy some fabulous food and drinks.
Later that evening our own Christmas Party and annual awards at the King’s Arms in Salford. Despite the creeping menace of the pandemic once again and a less than ideal dropout rate, 45 of Freshwalks finest joined us for a fun evening of celebration. Award winners included Michael Taylor (Community Champion), Clair Wescott (Best Newcomer), Alastair Jones (Benny Rothman – Spirit of Freshwalks) and Tamsin Caine and Ian Hutchings were both inducted into the Freshwalks Hall of Fame. Some awards were held back on the night because people couldn’t make it and they’ll be presented in the New Year – watch this space.
The grand finale. As with the Summer Social, I’d spent some considerable time plotting a bespoke route to provide a real challenge, appropriately angled views at sunrise and sunset and diverse scenery. Our 25km march from Edale to Hathersage was everything I hoped it would be and the effort involved – as we traversed peaks, forest, reservoir, cloughs, moorland, bog and edges – worthy of the £2500 raised for the NSPCC. The atmosphere back at the Scotsman’s Pack Country Inn was a bit more subdued than usual as exhausted walkers chomped warm mince pies and quaffed mulled wine. An elite Freshwalks group and fitting way to wrap up another tremendous year.
And that was the year that was. Thank you to those who joined us. Every single one of you added something to the Freshwalks fabric and I hope you enjoyed the journey.
Roll on 2022 – the challenge is set to make it even better.
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