Inspiration: Sally Newton

Inspiration: Sally Newton

This week our inspiration series visits Friend of FINDRA Sally Newton who lives an eclectic and varied and life in sunny Devon.


Hey Sally, tell everybody where you live and what you do!

I live in Devon, above the River Teign, on the edge of Dartmoor and at 69, am lucky enough to be retired as far as earning a living goes.

I’ve had a somewhat eclectic professional life! I trained as an actor, worked in theatre, television and in films, then, after 10 years, decided to study natural resources and the rural economy. I worked for what is now the Devon Wildlife Trust, became a reporter and researcher on our local farming TV programme, developed training programmes for people in rural industries, did the same for school support staff, and finished off in libraries. I never knew exactly what I wanted to do but I think I was good at seizing opportunities, learning on the job, and having really stylish workwear!

I also got married, had a daughter and became stepmother to two more, and the ‘carer/mentor/analyst/giver of (almost) unconditional love’ to various rescue cats, plus increasing numbers of honeybees.

Sally Newton with a glass of wine in hand.

How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?

Right from my acting days in London, I’d crave exercise (dance classes at Covent Garden and Lottie Berk) and being outside (walking round London often at night...) How much was a reaction to 7 years of hated boarding school and how much was in my genes (my father’s family farmed in Lincolnshire) i don’t know, but it led to the move to Agricultural College and to Devon.

When Daisy was born, Mick and I took it in turns to do something for ourselves at the weekend. Mick, would go fishing, I would walk. Then I started skiing again, then when Daisy was about to go to university and I started running to take me over her leaving – and if I’m honest, I actually started running to keep up with some friends who were running because the keep fit class had been cancelled and I wanted to hear the gossip. Then I tore my hamstrings and calf muscle in a skiing accident and cycling was the only pain free thing I could do for weeks, so I did that.

What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?

I ended up running a marathon to celebrate my 60th birthday and have had some amazing cycling adventures – keeping my friend Caroline company round Denmark when she did the European leg of the North Sea Cycleway, the Shetlands and Orkney, the Alps2Ocean and most amazingly, the off road Molesworth and Rainbow rides, in New Zealand South Island, and more local ones in the South West with my other cycling friend, Nicky.

Sally Newton and friend at end of Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Sally Newton bikes beside Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail finish sign

Cycling in New Zealand

One of my favourite trails in New Zealand is the Molesworth Muster Trail, an off road ride we did with this being the only flat bit of the whole thing! We did about 2,000m of climbing each day with bikes loaded for camping!

Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?

It’s all been a bit hit and miss and random, but exercise and being outdoors have been absolutely crucial to keeping me in a better place mentally. I’ve never come back from a run or a bike ride feeling worse than before I went. Being outdoors has given me self-esteem, and a belief that I can do difficult stuff. It’s made me brave(ish). The fact that I trained for and ran a marathon even showed my daughter that if she kept going with her practice she would be able to do jazz impro. on her sax. They’ve brought me friends and taken me to wonderful places. They’ve helped me to value simple honest things.

How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?

So, retirement, which is kind of where I started: I try to live my life doing what makes me happy, feel fulfilled, keep healthy, and to give back to the community. I run and cycle (wearing my favourite stripy charcoal and pollen merino FINDRA top and neck warmer of course). I see my friends and family. I play the oboe (um, loudly and only a small percentage of the notes at the moment...) in a concert wind band with my husband.

We are beekeepers and I do the business side of our educational consultancy. I am involved with the local branch of the political party to which I belong, and I volunteer. I try (and succeed) to do as little housework as possible. And when I’m out and people say ‘I wish I was young enough to run/cycle like you’, I’m afraid I tell them how old I am, and that I didn’t start running/cycling until I was in my mid fifties, and that if I can do it, they certainly can!

Sally Newton with her bike.

When did you discover FINDRA and what’s your favourite piece?

I think I discovered FINDRA in the CTC magazine – either that or another running or cycling mag.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best pieces of advice I’ve received are: If in doubt don’t (makes me stop and think even if I do end up ignoring it). Just take the first step (being a perfectionist and on the receiving of much criticism as a child, stops the paralysis and helps to get me going). Only increase running or cycling distances by 10% per week (excellent advice if only I’d listened to it...) And something I read recently: Don’t let your mind get in the way of living your life (great for telling myself I can choose to think positive thoughts rather than negative ones).

You mentioned poetry when we spoke previously, can you share with us your favourite poem?

My favourite poem is Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

And do you have a favourite piece of Music?

I can’t limit my choices, but Pet Shop boys for dancing round the kitchen, Miles Davis’ LP Kind of Blue, Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. In the end I went went for a Pet Shop Boys classic West End Girls but the mega mix version, so channel that inner 80’s vibe and get dancing!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Sally, we really appreciate it!
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