I blame Mrs Clayton, of Sutton Road Middle School for filling my head with stories of adventure. Recognising a blossoming reader, a rare find in a grimy pit village in the middle of the miners strike, she was an odd introduction to the world of ‘stoke’. Similarly off-trend was the author she hooked me on. Enid Blyton is hardly up there with the greats of outdoor literature like Nan Shepherd or John Muit. But still, that was my eight year old stoke, reading the Famous Five.
Despite, or rather because of our busy modern world, the stoke has never been higher. Or more on-trend. First North Face went from High Alps to High Street, and now come over all Start-Up in a collaboration with Manchester’s finest waxed cotton merchants Millerain. Hopefully it’s not ‘Peak Outdoors’ that we have passed, but hopefully past Peak Outdoor Stuff.
I don’t think the appetite to get outside more is going to change anytime soon. I hope not. Because the survival of our species, as well as our own wellbeing, is dependent on re-establishing a connection with the natural world. And deep down in our spirit, in the legacy of our ancestors souls, we know it.
That is why there is so much adventure in advertising, particularly cars for some reason. Oh wait, that’s it – the car industry wants you to enjoy bulkily accessorised hobbies, so you need a larger, more expensive car to lug your gear around. And the backdrops are nice.
So they sell you a better outdoor life, via the marketing sleight of hand of selling you the very thing that is contributing to the Climate Emergency which is destroying our planet. Slow. Hand. Clap.
And yet we buy it. We buy it because we need the sense of harmony and wellbeing that comes from being outdoors. We know we want it. We just don’t actually know how to find it, other than buying a new 4×4 and hoping the satnav comes programmed with the location the advert was shot. (You can have that one for free motor vehicle marketing departments.)
Luckily, I discovered my own path to Nirvana at a very early age. Almost every introduction to the outdoors was through the printed page, from the Five Go to Adventure Island, through MBUK magazine and A Manual of Modern Rope Techniques to Great Walks in the Peak District. Not the world’s best literature. But fuel for a fevered mind as I imagined a life packed in panniers.
I have always known that the pages of a book were a portal into another world. And now that I’m running a business helping others make the same discovery, I get to read the entire adventure literature canon as my almost actual job!
So here is a short selection of books that will inspire you to reconnect with nature once life returns to something resembling normality.
10 Books To Read If You’re Missing The Great Outdoors
Since I’m talking stoke, I must doff my 5-panel cap to Jeffrey Bowman and Gestalten for pulling together the definitive bible of the new outdoor movement. I read The Outsiders just as I was starting my business, and it showed me that people definitely wanted something new in the outdoors. And introduced me to some folk who became good friends like Miscellaneous Adventures and Trakke.
California Surfing and Climbing in the 1950s
The thing I have never quite got about outdoor cultures is that some are considered cool, like surfing, and some are not, like climbing. That made no sense for me. As an avid climber at university, everyone assumed my long blond hair and baggy skate T-shirts meant I was a surfer.
We perceive a huge cultural gulf between these two great outdoor sports which are fundamentally about the same thing – pitting yourself against Mother Nature’s rawest forms. So I was delighted to come across California Surfing and Climbing in the 1950s in the café of a local climbing wall, Red Goat in York. You can’t beat the iconic imagery in California in the 1950s, capturing both sports back in day when things were done as they should be.
Let My People Go Surfing
Yvon Chouinard’s Patagonia has inspired us since day one. With his leadership, they have always done their own thing, because it was the right thing. Which allowed them to effortlessly bridge this cultural gulf, and be equally at home in the Sierra Nevada mountains or Big Sur beaches. Their ‘Don’t Buy This Shirt’ advert was the very first thing we posted on Twitter. A totemic nailing of our colours to a testing mast. So yes, I am a fanboy, but seriously, Let My People Go Surfing needs to be given free to every start-up founder and CEO if we are to have any hope of curbing our runaway race to a destructive end. Plus we’d get to see more cool businesses along the way too.
Mountaincraft and Leadership – Eric Langmuir
This one is a bit of a curveball. I’m guessing you may not have come across it, but as soon as I heard this was the syllabus for the Mountain Leader Training Board, I knew it was the book for me. I spent hours as a kid devouring its simple line drawings of contours on a hillside, or how to cross a river in a group of three. I never did do the training programme. But I reckon the wealth of knowledge I picked up from Eric’s authoritative tome, Mountaincraft and Leadership, would stand me in good stead if I did.
The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd
If ever there was writer who was connected to the natural world, it was Nan Shepherd, an author of few works but one colossus of a book: The Living Mountain. In this slim volume, written in the 1940s and unpublished for 30 years, Nan shows us in a way that no other writer has managed what it is like to be in and of nature. The metaphor of sight, seeing and spectres burbles like a mountain stream through her prose, giving the impression of seeing the world through her insightful eyes as well as out from inside a mountain.
The Great Alone – Tim Voors
I read The Great Alone over the Christmas holidays, having got some extra books in the store as ideal Christmas presents. It wasn’t the most popular of the books we got in, but for me it was the best of the bunch. Lots of jacket copy will try and persuade you that ‘this will make you pick up your pack and hit the trail’. But honestly, that is what I’m itching to do having read this.
Maybe I have a trail thing, as I recall the same sensation reading an early issue of Another Escape which has a beautiful series of portraits and stories of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Whatever, I loved Dutchman Tim Voors’ engaging and amusing story telling from his time on the Pacific Crest Trail. And it gave me a great excuse to wild camp in Ilkley Moor’s stone circle so I could take this photo as the warm blush of a frozen sunrise slowly crept across the fiery heather.
My First Summer in the Sierra – John Muir
Now there is a strong case to make that John Muir is a prime contributor to Peak Outdoor Stuff. His pithy prose proved too tempting for adventurous brands to resist slapping his words on every tin cup and T-shirt. But that’s hardly his fault, is it? When you read My First Summer in the Sierra it’s easy to discern his evident enthusiasm, and I for one envy the clarity of his eager communication. It certainly proved effective, as he went on to preserve some of the world’s most special places by convincing Theodore Roosevelt to found US National Parks system.
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot
This is another book which came out just before Adventurous Ink launched or it would certainly have featured. The Outrun vividly narrates a familiar story of a life re-discovered in the space and connection afforded by nature, as Amy returns to the Shetland Isles to find herself again. It’s highly probable that this book led me to start the subscription, so inspired was I by the gleaming clarity with which her words conveyed a tremendous emotional connection to the natural world.
Microadventures – Alastair Humphreys
Alastair Humphreys has achieved the prodigious accomplishment of being the most featured author in Adventurous Ink. We’ve included three of his books in the three years it has been running and none of those were this one, Microadventures! This is the definitive guide to adventure in the modern age and shows how we all have the time and space to make more memories outdoors. We just need to change our mindset about what constitutes an adventure, breaking grand ambitions down into life sized chunks.
Wild Guide to the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales
The Wild Guides actually beat Al to the top spot for most featured publication, with four of their guides having featured in the past, although not this one. This is my own personal copy to a place I’ve lived in and loved for most of my life: Yorkshire. And yet it never ceases to amaze that I can open its pages and still find somewhere new right on my doorstep.
Adventurous Ink is a unique subscription to help you make the most of your wild and precious life, through regular encouragement to spend more time outdoors. Each month subscribers recieve a mystery book or journal from the world’s finest outdoor writers and publishers, carefully curated to help you reconnect with the natural world and inspire your next adventure.