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Everyday AdventurersWhat if we walked?

By Leanne Downs9 March 2020

Luke and Nell are the couple behind the slow travel and walking blog What if we walked?. In our latest Everyday Adventurer interview, we chat to them about their love of walking, what they think is the biggest barrier to getting outside and their new lives on the Isle of Skye.

Thank you so much for chatting with us today. For anyone out there who hasn’t come across you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

So hi – we’re Luke and Nell, a travel blogging couple behind the site whatifwewalked.com and we’re totally preoccupied with walking as a type of travel. We have this theory it’s a particularly enriching travel experience that provides a world of benefits to the traveller and the planet.

Have you always been outdoorsy? Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to the outdoors and adventure activities?

We each have different answers to this. Luke has always been the breezy outdoor type: sports, camping, hiking. Nell came around a bit later when we were travelling the world together back in 2015 and probably from a different angle: walking as a way to explore and take in more of the world.

So now we see walking and hiking not as singularly ‘outdoorsy’, but as a fascinating way to travel, rural or urban, anywhere you are.

The end of our hike along the Via Francigena, Rome

What is it that you love about being outdoors the most?

As we said above, we’re big proponents of walking anywhere, but there is something about walking in nature for sure. We’ve thought a lot about this, and it occurs to us; it’s one of the primary and simplest ways to make yourself feel better. The air, the quiet, the vast expanse of the outdoors seems to infuse into your head, so the landscape of your mind becomes similarly open, refreshed. We have no idea how it happens, but the outdoors just kinds of blows in.

You have Skye on your doorstep, what’s your favourite part of Skye?

One of the main reasons we moved to the Isle of Skye last year was to take advantage of having the Scottish Highlands and Islands around us – for our money the most breath-taking landscapes in the UK.

On Skye, we probably think Loch Coruisk. It’s on the mainland of Skye, but it feels like it isn’t: you can get a tiny boat there, chugging off from the diddy port of Elgol, and once at the loch, you feel utterly cut off. The jagged Cuillins surround it, and when the loch is at its stillest, it’s a perfect mirror.

Having said that, where we live on Skye is about ten minutes’ walk from this wild sandy beach only populated by the odd passing seal, so that’s where you’ll find us the most.

The Coleridge Way, 51 miles, from Nether Stowey, Somerset, to Lynmouth, Devon

What is your favourite natural place to visit in the UK outside of
the Highlands?

Probably the south-west coast of England. Luke has walked the whole South West Coast Path so has a roughly mapped memory of the entire thing, reeling off his favourite bits of clifftop (Valley of the Rocks) or cove (Sennen) to anyone who will listen.

What is your favourite activity to do on your own?

We would generally walk together, so separately it’s different things that aren’t even outdoorsy (sorry): Luke loves to cook, while Nell gets a bit obsessed with reading local folklore and ghost stories of wherever we’re in, as we’ve been moving a lot. (Still trying to work out how to include either of those things in our blog)

Have you ever done any formal training to help you learn any outdoors
skills you have or are you completely self-taught?

Self-taught, although Luke would undoubtedly like to volunteer with Mountain Rescue at some point and learn through them.

Luke and Nell document their walks through images and words on their blog

What is your favourite memory from spending time outdoors?

Two and half years ago we walked to Rome from the UK, a 2000km four-month trek on a pilgrimage route called the Via Francigena. You might think then that we’d say our favourite memory was the day we arrived into Rome and finished, but it wasn’t: it was getting halfway, at the Great St Bernard Pass in the middle of the Alps.

It was July, 2,469m up, right on the border between Switzerland and Italy, and it was a hugely significant moment of reflection and euphoria. Surrounded by those towering mountains confirmed to us what we hadn’t known before that point – that we could make this mammoth journey, and that we were doing it. That’s a really powerful feeling in life and kind of transcends anything else we’ve ever done outdoors.

Do you have any outdoor plans coming up?

A really important part of our blog is providing full guides on long walks, and we’d really like to add to that. Thus far we’ve stuck to Europe, but we’ve got our eye on the US and Japan as possible next destinations. Or anywhere where there are iconic walks, we’d love to cover them on the blog, so suggestions are always welcome!

What are your three favourite items of kit?

Boots (Danner), our Millican bags and a camera.

Luke and Nell live in the Scottish Highlands on the Isle of Skye

What do you think is the most significant barrier to getting outside regularly?

Oh, there are a few factors. Busy lives are the obvious one, and the fact that most of us live in cities or urban areas, so don’t feel particularly connected to the outdoors.

But we think the biggest thing might be most people probably see being ‘outdoorsy’ as some kind of specific personality trait that they don’t really have or identify with. So they dismiss the idea and completely underestimate how good it will make them feel, or what they could experience.

Then there’s practical accessibility to wilder areas like hills and mountains. People aren’t sure what they need to know or take, and don’t want to look like an idiot. It doesn’t help that you only ever hear about amateur walkers in the news when they’re stuck up a mountain in flip-flops. People say, ‘Woah, I don’t want to be that guy!’ and think it’s not for them.

Best pub on Skye for warming up post-adventure?

Skye doesn’t really have pubs per se, but there are a few inns and cafes that we’d recommend: The Old Inn at Carbost; Hotel Eilean Iarmain, Camuscross; and An Crùbh Café on Sleat are all friendly places to drop into for coffees, pints and food.

Are there any prominent outdoor or adventure sports figures who inspire you?

Swerve choice, but Ben Fogle does some incredibly interesting, varied work that is simultaneously travelling, racing, endurance, life stories, arts and culture.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into an outdoor pursuit?

If you’re interested in walking, start with short distances. For a beginner, a full long day should be no more than 10km – this will definitely feel long enough!

Exploring a bothy on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Leanne Downs

About Leanne Downs

Leanne Downs is the content editor for Thryve and works as an outdoor writer, blogger and photographer. She loves hiking, hillwalking and wild camping.

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