Chris Hilton is a primary school teacher based in the Tweed Valley and in this post he discusses adventures with his family and taking a can-do attitude to the outdoors – including searching the Cairngorms by ski for a carrot and making his own Canadian canoe!
Hi Chris, and to start, can you introduce yourself and tell us where you live and what you do?
Well, I’m a primary school teacher in Peebles, here in the Scottish Borders. I am married to Ali and have two sons, Thomas and Joah. I love to adventure outdoors in any way that I can; ski, kayak, canoe, on foot, by bike or even by inflatable rubber ring.
How long has the great outdoors been a part of your life?
Since I was 17 really. Then when I moved to study for a degree in Outdoor Education in Ambleside, the Lake District things began to develop. As outdoor students, we had no money but a real can-do attitude and if we ever wanted to have a go at something, then we would find a way to make it happen.
I’ve very fond memories of a few of us attempting to pile 5 kayaks on top of a Fiat Uno (without a roof rack) in order to paddle a particular stretch of river in the Lakes. Then later on in life, I wanted to learn to Canadian canoe. As they are expensive boats, the only way was to build one, so I did and had many happy adventures in it, from sea loch trips to a multi-day descent of the Spey.
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
Good question, a few years ago I made a film for the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival. It was a lovely film that told the story of Thomas and Joah going on a journey using cross-country skis, to buy a carrot for the snowman that they had built. We won our category and the prize was the book The Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan.
That winter, Ali, my two boys and I used the book to plan a ski trip into the Gelder Shiel Stable Bothy, just near Lochnagar. Snow conditions were good but the wind was wild. We reached the bothy and once the stove was lit, my youngest discovered a stash of Haribo sweets and Niknaks crisps on one of the shelves.
He was delighted and it was just what we all needed to lift our spirits. We returned travelling downwind and celebrated with coffee and cakes in a café. It was a brilliant adventure because Thomas and Joah were part of why we were doing it, it had elements of risk that we understood and managed carefully with a good helping of success.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
In truth, I don’t always find that balance, however I have learned that by being patient and creative with my time, the greater chance I have to achieve it.
Sometimes I have to wait. Perhaps it’s due to work commitments, injury, the weather or it simply isn’t my turn on a particular day. However, it is a good discipline that I have been practising for some time now. I’m better at it then I used to be. Reading, creating short films or just dreaming, all help when it is time for me to be patient.
I have found that being creative has enabled me to enjoy the outdoors in different ways. That approach has provided me with opportunities to be outdoors for a variety of reasons. Spending time outdoors on my own is good but even better when it is shared with my family or friends. For example, the short outdoor films that I have made with my sons have provided us with a focus and shared goal.
Running in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon with my wife (some years ago now) has given us memories. Canadian canoeing down the Tweed with a friend whilst talking over an issue has helped to clarify my thoughts. By moving outdoors, in different ways, with different people, I can remember those experiences and the adventure-flame still flickers inside me even when life takes over.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
When I was 17 I joined my local Venture Scout unit. The two leaders, Chas and Lorna Couldrick helped me understand that you can have so much fun outdoors. We went parascending, walked, climbed, camped, abseiled, dived, walked the Tour de Mont Blanc and completed some incredible (and scary) caving routes. They showed me that with determination, creative thinking, good planning and like-minded people, amazing outdoor adventures could be enjoyed on very little money.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Absolutely. Sometimes though it takes time to feel the beneficial effects. Being outside is a comfort, even though occasionally I don’t always appreciate it, I know its there. When I run, it seems to take 20 minutes or so to ‘get into it’ but by the end of the route, I feel so much more positive. I love the variety that outdoor adventure can provide. The experiences leave me with strong memories that when I need to, I can close my eyes and relive them again, any time.
What is it about outdoor adventure specifically that you love?
It makes me feel like a care-free young boy again. It reminds me of how play used to feel when I was younger. It can be completely immersive and as a result it becomes easier to forget everything else and focus on the here and now.
When did you discover FINDRA?
Christmas 2020. I was looking for a thermal top that was warm and comfy (as my Gran used to say) but also looked great. I find that FINDRA clothing does exactly that and exceeds my expectations. It feels incredibly soft, keeps me warm and fits me well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Less is more”. I try and practise this all of the time. The most successful outdoor experiences I’ve had are where things are simple. When I was cycle touring the Western Isles with my wife some years ago, I loved the fact that we were self sufficient and all I needed to think about on any particular day was where we were going to cycle, what we were going to eat and where we would sleep. That was it.
In this post, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
Learn to move with the outdoors, not so much just in it. Understand it and allow yourself to feel its rhythms, conditions and seasons. Grant yourself time in it. Try and be more of a part in nature and explore it in different ways.
I used to see taking time for myself in the outdoors as a luxury. However now I understand that it is a necessity.
Thanks Chris and thanks for a much appreciated addition to our Journal!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Running Free by Richard Askwith
Running Free by Richard Askwith. As Runners World puts it “An escape from the stopwatch tyranny of PBs and split times, this is a reminder of how to run for sheer joy.”
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
They are simple to make, you can cook them on a camping stove, flip um, cover them in Nutella and they always put a smile on peoples’ faces.
Here’s a link to a simple recipe for how to make pancakes outdoors over an open fire with the kids.
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Robert De Nero’s Waiting by Bananarama
Am I allowed to admit this . . ? 80’s Pop. When I’m outdoors and things are going well, Bananarama for example, just pops in there! Maybe that’s why it’s called pop?! Rick Astley, Michael Jackson . . . the lot. I love the up-beat tunes and they help me get through the hard times too.
Bananarama – Robert De Nero’s Waiting