What does an explorer look like? The first thing I picture is a khaki clad gentleman, sporting a pith helmet, probably with a rather fabulous mustache. The next image is Harrison Ford; it transitions between the Millennium Falcon racing Hans Solo and the whip wielding Indiana Jones, a curious amalgam of space smuggler and archaeological adventurer that makes for a very unconventional picture of an explorer; perhaps this image influenced George Lucas when he came up with the concept for the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull film? In quick succession after these I see Agatha Christie, Amelia Aerheart, and a friend of mine from university who was rarely seen without her down jacket or otherwise weighed down by a large rucksack which was never filled with course books.
The question was raised by Belinda Dixon to start her talk at Torquay Museum as part of their Explorers Series. Belinda is an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion, a British Exploring Society Media Leader, a BBC broadcaster, Travel Writer for Lonely Planet and, after careful consideration, an explorer! If I'd been asked the question of her, I'd definitely have said she looked like an explorer, and not just because of her British Exploring Society hoodie. Her approach shoes and walking trousers, along with the rucksack tucked behind the lectern, gave the impression of someone stopping off for a social call in the middle of a day's hiking but more than this, she looks happy and invigorated and has an expression which I can only associate with the question “What does an explorer look like?”
Behind her, a bundle of battered maps are stacked on a table. Belinda, is a self-confessed map geek and she excitedly shows us some of her favourites. One I find particularly interesting is a river map from a recent tour along the Yukon River which unlike most maps I am used to does not unfold into a vast and unmanageable expanse of paper, but instead follows the river downwards across spiral binding. Belinda’s is heavy with notations and she explains to us that for her maps are many things from potentially life saving tools, to immensely detailed sources of information, to containers of memories. Every camp is notated with a personal name including “Bear Camp” where a large paw print was spotted on the river bank as they arrived. Another of her favourites is a little closer to home; a battered map of Dartmoor, heavily used, documents her first wild camping trip and a 10 day expedition around the moor writing a piece for Lonely Planet.
Belinda is admittedly “new” to exploring, at least in this professional sense, the majority of her expeditions and adventures having all occurred in the last two years. She cites herself as evidence that anyone can be an explorer and that adventures can happen near and far and be of any length, magnitude or grandeur. This is part of the remit of the GetOutside scheme, to challenge the perception that adventurers and explorers are in someway superhuman, or alternatively, are fortunate jobless nomads who have unlimited time to spend indulging their wanderlust. The Champions are all everyday people, many with normal, everyday jobs, who are out there trying to show us that anyone can go on an adventure. The scheme aims to promote the health benefits of getting out whilst encouraging a change in attitudes towards the feasibility of exploring. And OS have some great tools for doing just this. One which we have now used several times since Belinda introduced us to it is their Greenspace map, a new online and app based map which highlights and filters different types of green spaces. This has become our new favourite tool for finding dog walking spots locally, leading us to some great woods and copses that we really should have explored sooner!
Another story Belinda shared is a particularly important one and it’s all about fear! Fear can often be an obstacle to adventure or trying new things and overcoming it is no easy thing. She describes a time when she stepped out of her comfort zone to go on a solo beach bivvy. Bivvying is a super stripped down version of camping with no tents, but instead a simple sleeping bag sized protective layer as your only barrier against the elements. The bit that caused concern for Belinda was the solo element, the risk of being isolated on a beach by herself, where someone might “get her”. A fellow GetOutside Champion pointed out to her that this was a learned fear and that the chances of anything adverse happening were slim and challenged her to face the fear by the end of the week. So one evening, Belinda headed out on the Coast Path, rucksack packed, convincing herself that she was just off on a scouting mission and not actually about to spend that night outside, alone, under the stars on the beach. By the next morning, her greatest concern was that a group of runners passing in the night with headtorches might have mistaken her for a body and sparked a search and rescue. The fear was overcome and the night was spent under the stars with a driftwood campfire and a bivvy full of sand; a great adventure!
There is so much more about this event I could go into. Belinda truly was an inspiring voice to make you stop and think about just how much is possible even around the nine to five routine. Her perspective leaves you with a glimpse of how every outing can be an adventure, be it exploring an unknown road, stepping out of your comfort zone or simply breaking your routine. I would highly recommend checking out her website and whilst you’re at it, go and look at the GetOutside scheme on Ordnance Survey’s website.
Torquay Museum still have loads more great talks coming up as part of this series which can be found here, we’re certainly going to be heading to a few more in the New Year, and if you fancy trying out the OS Greenspace Map you can find that here. I should also mention the fantastic work of the Shiphay First Brownie Group who were running the museum as part of the 2017 Kids in Museums Takeover Day.