Outside Opinion: Could you be an outdoor professional?

I�ve been reading Trail since 2006. Not an issue�s gone by in those eight years where from my desk/shop counter/town centre living room where I haven�t perused yet another collection of amazing adventures and thought �Bloody hell � I WANT YOUR JOB!�

I can�t imagine many readers disagreeing either; �better a bad day on the hill than a good day in the office�, after all! The problem is, working in the outdoors can seem pure fantasy for some of us reluctant to leave the security of our office jobs. Many would have it that �you can do anything if you want it enough�; the reality, to quote another clich�, is that some things are easier said than done.

So, I�m not saying that anybody can just up sticks and start again, but I wanted to try and highlight that with the willingness to think a little more creatively and make a few smaller sacrifices, there are more outdoor opportunities out there than you might think.

Eight years since that first issue of Trail and thinking �YES: this is what I wanna do�, I�m finally setting up my own guiding business due to launch in Spring, and I can�t deny it�s been a long journey to get to this point.

I�ve had limited financial resources over quite a long period so I�ve never been able to simply pay for the qualifications required of many instructors or trek leaders. I�ve also never done any countryside management qualifications or GIS (map database software) training generally required for ranger jobs or access officer jobs � again, these things cost money and my previous expertise lay elsewhere.

So how have I got here? By constantly looking for opportunities in the spare time I had available. I did eventually save up and put myself through Walking Group Leader training for some credibility on my CV. This award is the hill and moorland version of the Mountain Leader award, and while it won�t get you as many jobs, it�s around half the price and covered terrain I had easy access to. I walked locally at every opportunity, working on navigation skills (even in the local park!) and experiencing as many conditions as possible.

I organised a walking group within my office and led local monthly walks as well as organising affordable trips further afield and leading the group up easier mountains on an informal basis. I contacted my local National Trust property, Brimham Rocks, and have voluntarily led walks for them.

In fact, a major factor in gaining experience was joining the LFTO readers� forum in 2007. Through liftsharing and meeting more experienced walkers on the readers� meet-ups, my hillwalking world was opened up massively in terms of cost and more difficult terrain. Those experiences and people continue to be a huge influence.

Ultimately, with no assessed qualifications but a good logbook under my belt, I started looking for walk leading jobs. There aren�t many paid jobs out there other than qualified MLs taking challenge walks, or multi-activity outdoor centre instructors. There are, however, many volunteering opportunities. My experience is with HF Holidays, who conduct their own internal assessment, require a minimum commitment of just 2 weeks a year, and look after you very well indeed, with many leaders bringing partners or families along and making it a holiday. You�ll also gain crucial insights into how a guided walking company operates. I was in a position to take on their yearly �apprenticeship� last year and through it received a lot of support in terms of finally gaining that WGL qualification and ML training. Just search UK guided walking on the internet and see what you can find.

There are other ways of getting financial reward for being in the outdoors. I�ve come across a good number of outdoor bloggers happily walking in their spare time, writing it up and enjoying a very good reputation within the walking community. So much so that some are even now making money from advertisers on their websites.

For some, showing your worth in outdoor internet circles can actually lead to a career. There are one or two well-known names in today�s outdoor media and film making that I remember from the old LFTO forum days. Those people are now building great reputations for themselves, and it all seems to me to have stemmed from proving their worth on well-known forums and social media pages and interacting with magazines like Trail. If you�ve got good knowledge, photos or writing skills, share them!

I also mentioned my lack of countryside management skills. Yes, many outdoor jobs require a degree, particularly for big organisations like National Parks. However, your local council might consider somebody who has experience and excellent local area knowledge. Whether town or country, get yourself down to some volunteering days with your council�s parks and recreation service, nature reserve, or local National Trust, National Park or AONB,  if applicable. You�ll gain valuable countryside skills and importantly, contacts and references from reputable organisations.

Sometimes scrapping everything for a new start pays off: I left a good job with a fantastic company to volunteer for a whole summer and gain qualifications. It doesn�t have to be that way though. There are small things you can do with a little bit of time here and there, the willingness to persevere, and being prepared to compromise. I don�t expect to make a living from walk leading,  but if I can get a few days here and there, it makes a part time �proper� job alongside all the more palatable. I�m happy to be where I am, I�m excited for my outdoors future, and you can be too! Go for it!


Read more of Ang's blogs at www.hurricaneharker.wordpress.com and check out her guiding site at www.feetintheclouds.co.uk