As part of our ongoing Reconnect project, we’re on a mission to connect with individuals who share our passion for the outdoors. Those who embrace nature in one way or another. Grasping the abundance of what Mother Earth offers with both hands, and all with all senses.
This week we’re catching up with Anna Blackwell.
Anna is a solo adventurer residing in Cornwall with her pup Bilbo! We have been a fan of Anna’s for a while now, following the stories of her adventures and feeling inspired by her determination and bravery to just get out there and do it. We chatted to Anna about her experiences, and feelings for what the outdoors means to her:
Our Reconnect project centres around a belief that those who spend time outdoors not only reap the individual benefits but also experience a heightened sense of will to protect and conserve the environment. Do you notice this in yourself?
Absolutely - as pioneering conservationist Jacques Yves Cousteau famously said, "People protect what they love." Having experienced first-hand how the Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average, I definitely feel more motivated to take conscious decisions, from the amount of air travel I do, to my day-to-day choices in energy consumption, packaging, brands I purchase from...
From Norway and arctic Sweden to Morocco and Serbia, by foot and by kayak, you’re adventuring experiences span many years. We love seeing what you’re up to! Can you share a highlight from your last, pre-lockdown adventure? And what made this so poignant for you?
I was lucky to fit in two trips last year, both to Arctic Sweden. The more recent was in October when I spent eight days trekking by myself in my favourite mountains. There's no one specific highlight or moment from that trip, but the first six days of it were probably the best six days of adventuring I've experienced. It wasn't that I was particularly lucky with the conditions (I had everything from brief sunshine through to icy blizzards and gale force winds), but I think after everything I'd faced in 2020 I was extra-appreciative of the wilderness and solitude and isolation, the opportunity to fully disconnect and immerse myself in an environment where I feel like the best version of myself.
What do you think the benefits are to being solo on your adventures? Do you think being solo enhances your connection with nature in some ways?
My experience is that being solo on adventures enhances - or intensifies - everything. Without the distraction of other people, or your phone going off, or even music, you become much more engaged with what is going around you. You start to notice all the little details in the landscape, the sounds, and smells, and colours. I find my emotions are also heightened, so my joy in seeing these things is amplified as well.
We’ve been thinking a lot recently about how our jewellery can carry memories. Whether that be of love, friendship, warm memories, or even grief and loss. Do you have jewellery, keepsakes, or objects that accompany you on your adventures? What do they mean to you?
As my adventures tend to be self-supported (i.e. I carry everything I need), I have to really limit what non-essential things I carry. Especially as I haul around some fairly heavy camera gear! But one of the things I always wear is a silver compass necklace from one of my Aunties, it definitely has sentimental value! I did have a piece of sea glass attached as a reminder of where I live (Cornwall) but sadly that was lost while I was playing with my boisterous puppy. I used to wear rings that I had collected on past adventures and travels, but I learned the hard way that rings and expeditions don't mix that well, after having a ring cut off my finger in the Arctic in 2019...
Being outdoors is clearly a big part of your identity. Can you describe where this love of nature comes from?
I think a big part of it comes from my Swedish heritage - I'm part Swedish and have been at least once a year since I was a baby. Growing up, these trips were always to my mum's cousin's house which was tucked away on a forested island in a lake, or to my grandmother who lived right by the sea. These were the holidays I looked forward to the most, where we spent all day outside, canoeing, swimming, fishing, cycling everywhere, having barbecues on the rocks... My parents let me and my brothers get pretty feral. Those happy memories nurtured a love of the natural world which has continued into my adult life.
What advice would you give to people wanting to be outdoors but may not have the experience or confidence to do so?
I think it's easy to see images of people fully kitted out in all the latest gear and to think you need all of that in order to spend time outside, but that's a fallacy. Most of my time spent outdoors when I'm at home is done in a pair of decade-old boots and a hand-me-down jacket... So don't let the idea that you need certain gear, or to look a particular way, hold you back. If you're lacking in confidence then my best advice is to find someone to share the experience with, whether that is someone more knowledgeable or just a pal who is up for a giggle and letting things happen - it's inevitable that something will go wrong, you may get caught in a rainstorm or stack it in the mud, but that's part of the joy of being outdoors! And finally, if you want to get involved in a slightly more hard-core adventure, there are heaps of activities centres and course providers around the country who can help get you skilled up. I've done summer and winter mountain skills courses to gain the confidence I needed to first go on my big adventures, and they've proved invaluable.
We believe that when you are in nature you are fully immersing your senses in every way, vision, touch, scent, and sound. Can you describe a moment when you felt fully immersed? What did you smell, see and hear?
I spent most of 2020 working towards getting a Masters in Environment and Human Health, which was a fantastic experience but it meant that I spent my whole summer writing an 18,000-word thesis! I remember getting completely fed up with being inside one day and taking myself for a walk through some woods near my house, and being completely overwhelmed by it all - how the sunlight was falling through the vivid green leaves and casting a dappled shadow over the footpath in front of me, the smell of the warm earth beneath my feet and the grass just beyond the trees (and a bit of cow poo as well, classic countryside). A soothing breeze across my cheek, carrying the sound of birdsong and the gentle rustle of leaves. I think having been cooped up inside, my senses were gasping for a bit of exposure to nature.
Can you suggest a simple way that our community can reconnect with nature today?
This is something I've been trying to do as often as possible when the weather is on my side and I remember... On my morning dog walks first thing, I make a cup of tea in my flask, take a roll mat to sit on and spend fifteen or twenty minutes at the top of the hill by my house, just soaking in the world around me while my pup potters about. I try to leave my phone at home as well, as it's all too easy to resort to a quick scroll through Instagram rather than just letting myself disconnect.
Follow Anna’s adventures @annablackwell
Look out for more Reconnect interviews in the coming weeks.