Last month I had the pleasure of hosting the National Adventure Awards in Glasgow, an annual gathering that celebrates the achievements of folk who have pushed the boundaries of their particular adventurous activities. It was a great event, an evening in recognition of some truly amazing accomplishments and an antidote to the prescribed, sanitised society that most of us live in.
The nominees for this year’s Awards include some extraordinary individuals, people who quietly and effectively close the door on normality and set out to push their own limits in a wide variety of settings, from the wilds of the Yukon, to the frigid temperatures of Outer Mongolia in winter, to the heat of the Namibian deserts.
Bringing all these amazing people together into one room – mountaineers, kayakers, sailors, ultra-distance runners, swimmers and long distance walkers – is one of the great joys of the National Adventure Awards and is such a contrast to the grey, corporate, low-risk world that so many of our young people are expected to fall into. Just mixing with these adventurers is an adrenalin-rush all in itself!
Amongst the Scots who were nominated was ultra-distance runners Jamie Ramsay, who ran unsupported from Vancouver to Buenos Aries, a distance of some 18,000 kms; and Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell who set a new record for running across the sand dunes and deserts of Namibia.
Perthshire’s Mark Beaumont broke the record for cycling the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town in an astonishing 41 days, and a team from Skye, the St Kilda Swim Team, swam in a relay between the far Atlantic outpost of St Kilda to Hushinish in the Western Isles.
I was delighted to see fellow Walkhighlands columnist David Lintern and his companion David Hine nominated in the Team of the Year Category. Last spring these two men walked and paddled across Scotland from west to east with the intention of climbing all the mountains over 4000ft en route. What was different about this expedition was that they were going to link the nine highest mountains in the UK by using inflatable packrafts to paddle lochs and rivers, some of them from source to sea.
Other contenders included Welshman Ash Dykes who recently traversed the island of Madagascar on foot, taking on all the major mountain summits as well as fighting through the densest jungles, crossing the savannahs and deserts along the way. The expedition took four months and covered 1,800 miles, and the Eiger Paraclimb Team, which tackled the West Flank route of the Eiger in an attempt to assist three disabled climbers, one who is visually impaired, one with autism, and the other with Multiple Sclerosis, to the summit.
Award winners included Sarah Outen, who last November completed her London2London expedition, a four and a half year, 25,000 mile self propelled circumnavigation of the Northern Hemisphere by foot, bike, kayak and rowing boat. Sarah overcame huge obstacles and endured extreme conditions in remote environments, often alone for months at a time. A typhoon on the North Pacific forced a mid Ocean rescue from her rowing boat in 2012 and a hurricane on the Atlantic last summer forced a pre-emptive evacuation after 143 days at sea. She has also kayaked some of the most treacherous waterways in the world and cycled across North America during one of the harshest winters on record.
The Media Award went to Vertebrate Publishing, a company fast making a name for itself as the UK’s leading publisher for outdoor oriented books, from mountaineering to hiking to cycling to wildlife; and the Service Provider award went to the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, who provide daily winter reports on avalanche conditions from major Scottish winter climbing areas, which necessitates assessors going out every day in winter, in all conditions, to check avalanche potential on the hill.
And this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to a couple who have literally spent their lives enjoying and surviving their own adventures in various parts of the world while spending 37 years running their own School of Adventure together.
The National Adventure Awards Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a person or persons who the judges believe have contributed significantly to ‘adventurous activities’ throughout the course of their career, and for me these two people epitomised the very spirit of adventure.
Exactly fifty years ago two young men in their early twenties, both serving soldiers in the Parachute Regiment, left Cape Cod on the eastern seaboard of the US and rowed a small Dory rowing boat across the North Atlantic, the first men ever to do so.
Three thousand miles later they arrived on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, having spent 93 days living in a cramped eight-foot by four-foot cockpit with no shelter and no bedding. They sat on hard wooden boards, ate dehydrated food and carried fresh water in old vinegar bladders. And remember, there was no GPS or digital radio systems in those days. For one of those men, that adventure was a revelation.
“It was as if a page of small print had been obscuring my vision. “ he said. “I could see a much bigger picture now. I hoped to live a life of adventure – not just on the sea but up mountains, through jungles, across deserts and down rivers as well – the whole world. I worked out my own simple code: self reliance, positive thinking, and leaving everybody and everything better than I found them.”
This became the philosophy of the John Ridgway School of Adventure and John and his wife Marie Christine ran the School together for 37 years. Based in Ardmore in North-West Sutherland the School could only be accessed by boat or along a narrow hilly footpath.
During the winter months, when the School of Adventure was closed, the couple would embark on their own personal adventures. And remarkable adventures they were.
• John sailed single handed to Brazil;
• they traced the Amazon from its furthest source to the sea;
• they crossed an unexplored ice-cap in Patagonia,
• they sailed to the Spanish Sahara;
• they took part in the Whitbread Round the World race;
• they went off on a climbing trip to Nepal;
• they sailed to South America where the couple’s daughter Rebecca became the first woman to canoe round Cape Horn,
• and took part in numerous trips to Peru where John and Marie-Christine adopted the orphaned daughter of an old friend who had died in a terrorist attack.
Somewhere between all this the couple twice ran the New York Marathon and John found the time to set a record for a non-stop double-handed circumnavigation of the world.
When they both retired on John’s 65th birthday they set off to sail around the world once again, John’s third circumnavigation of the globe. This time they wanted to highlight the plight of that great seabird, the albatross, which they completed by sailing up the Thames to present a petition at Westminster.
John Ridgway and Marie Christine Ridgway have now retired and are living as “reclusive” crofters at Ardmore in Sutherland, in the far North-West of Scotland. John, now 78 years of age, told me he and Marie Christine are now living the life they set out to live when they were first married.
The National Adventure Awards were established three years ago to celebrate the very best of adventure across the UK. The awards are open to anyone, and any member of the public can submit nominations for people, teams and businesses across a broad range of categories.
I was chairman of this year’s judging panel and the other judges were Karen Darke, the Para Olympic bronze medallist and intrepid explorer; John Summerton, editor and founder of that excellent magazine Sidetracked, The Adventure Awards media partner; Al Humphreys, round the world cyclist and author of MicroAdventures and Professor Neil Juster, deputy vice chancellor of Glasgow University and outdoor enthusiast.