James Forrest, aka 'Mountain Man' (as the Sunday Telegraph nicknamed him), used to live in a city and work in an office - and was fed up. So over the past few years he has been on a crazy mission to make his life more adventurous; to explore the great outdoors; and to climb as many mountains as possible!
I'm addicted to hiking. I just love it. Sounds geeky, doesn't it? But I don't care. I head out hiking every weekend and often during the week. If I can't get out, I become grumpy. I've got the bug and I can't (and don't want to) kick the habit. But why do I enjoy it so much?
How it all started
I grew up in Birmingham in England, which is effectively one massive concrete jungle. Not exactly a fitting setting for the birth of a lifelong love for hiking. There are, however, loads of awesome green spaces in and around the city. When I was a young kid my gran and grandpa would take my brother and I out walking every weekend at these spots - places like Sandwell Valley Country Park and the Clent Hills. I think it was those trips that lit the fire, so to speak, of my passion for walking.
Whenever I spend too much in the office or in a city, I get agitated and frustrated. Whenever I spend time outdoors, especially in wild places, I'm happy and free. Sometimes I wonder why. Many of my close relatives and friends, who have very similar backgrounds and upbringings, don't have the same urges. But for me, that longing to be outdoors and connected to the landscape, feels innate - like it’s the most natural, normal thing in the world.
Keith Foskett, in his excellent book The Last Englishman, sums up this whole concept superbly: "Human beings have spent the vast majority of their existence in the wild – the vast majority. Towns and cities are a relatively recent concept and, although they make us feel secure, we are not meant to be there. They are not our natural surroundings. You will realise pretty quickly that the outdoors is where we were nurtured, where we spent our infancy and where we were raised. It is embedded in us and is as natural as it is comforting."
Escaping to a “better world”
Modern life can be stressful. It’s all deadlines and responsibilities, money and paperwork, pinging emails and blaring TVs. But heading out for a hike in the mountains or a forest, you can escape all of this. It’s good for the soul. It’s time for solitude, self-reflection and quiet. You’re surrounded by nature – chatting birds and buzzing insects – and you’re breathing in fresh, invigorating mountain air.
Just a few hours alone on a trail will clear my head, help me solve problems that have been bothering me for ages, or simply enable me to unwind and de-stress. I find the process of putting one foot in front of the other both therapeutic and healing. It puts things in perspective too. When you’re standing atop an exposed summit, surrounded my glorious views in all directions, life’s little problems seem to fade away. Nothing else really matters when you’re on top of a mountain.
Sometimes I find it difficult to articulate all of this eloquently. So I’ll turn to the words of Alfred Wainwright, the Godfather of hiking in the Lake District, where I Iive. He poetically put it like this: “I was to find a spiritual and physical satisfaction in climbing mountains – and a tranquil mind upon reaching their summits, as though I had escaped from the disappointments and unkindnesses of life and emerged above them into a new world, a better world.”
What will happen next?
Hiking in the great outdoors can be incredibly unpredictable. One minute it’s beautiful sunshine, the next it’s snowing. One minute you’re on the path, the next you’re hopelessly lost. One minute everything is going well, the next you’re staring danger (or death) in the face. One minute you’re all alone, the next you’re sneaking away from a poisonous snake. I love that. It’s exhilarating and life-affirming. It keeps you on your toes. It makes things exciting and adventurous. It’s completely different to everyday life routines, which are so controlled, organised and safe.
Take on a challenge and get a sweat on
I'm a goal-orientated person. I love testing myself, going outside my comfort zone and feeling like I've really "achieved" something. Hiking is brilliant for this. What better sense of achievement could there be than self-propelling yourself to the top of a mountain or completing a long-distance trail?
Hiking is a great cardio workout too. Climb a mountain and your heart will be pounding, your lungs heaving and your leg muscles burning. It's nature's gym. This exercise gives me a real buzz. I get a hit of endorphins that make me feel good and I enjoy living a fit and healthy lifestyle.
There are still loads of other themes whizzing around my head. I love the simplicity of hiking - when your entire purpose for a day is just to walk from A to B, life gains a wonderful clarity. I love the breathtaking beauty of your surroundings when out in the wild. I love encountering wildlife in its natural habitat; and the camaraderie you get out on the trail; and the way a view can sometimes, unexpectedly, make your soul sing; and the exciting or scary or calamitous adventures every walk seems to bring.
I could probably go on and on. But then I'd be rambling - and on that note, I think it's time for a hike.
You can read more of James' adventures on his site and follow him on his website and social media: