Alex Kendall, author of our guidebook to the Snowdonia Way, introduces Large Outdoors - a walking holiday company with a difference.
Enjoying the outdoors is part of our national psyche... but can cause anxiety
If you’re the type of person who regularly goes out walking, perhaps heading out on long-distance trails, or happy to head up a mountain with a few friends, then it can seem strange that most people would never think of doing the same. To many people, even in a country where walking and enjoying the outdoors is part of our national psyche, heading out for a day in the hills is fraught with difficulties - navigation, how to get there, where to walk, what you’d need to take with you, who to go with - and alongside this anxiety there can be a total lack of knowledge about what’s out there, and why it’s even worth seeking.
This is where Large Outdoors steps in. Yes we take people walking, in all the stunning places Britain has to offer, but it’s the sociable side that draws many new members to come on our weekends. Our message is simple - get yourself to the hostel (or the nearest train station) and we do the rest. No need for people to worry about accommodation, food or finding places to walk.
There's always a friendly face
Arriving at the hostel on the Friday evening, it’s not unusual to see even the most nervous people begin to engage with the group and to make new friends. Staying in hostels means there’s always a social area, and no way to hide in your room! We always have a host on hand to make sure everyone’s welcomed, that hot drinks are on hand, and that dinner is in the oven. The knowledge that for the next two days everything is taken care of has a great effect on people; they can genuinely relax from the pressures of modern life.
Walking is of course what we spend the days out doing (though we have been known to throw in the odd pub or tea room if passing!), and our emphasis is on exploring and enjoying the landscape rather than pushing people to do the ‘highest’, ‘longest’ or ‘most challenging’ days out. Far better to stop and look at the wildlife and local history with one of our Mountain Leaders than rush about and miss everything as you pass. There are nearly always two different walks each day, so those who want to head for the summits can do so, while those who want to stay lower down can explore the woods and valleys.
Now in our 9th year, we have of course expanded into realms beyond our classic weekend set-up. Yes we do some challenges, and organise week-long trips to some of our favourite destinations, especially the Isle of Skye, but our main approach will always be the weekends, long enough for people to begin to get to know a new part of the country, but short enough that they remain accessible for those of us with a weekday 9-5. And with walking weekends from the south coast of England all the way up to the Scottish Highlands, there’s something going on everywhere.
A day you'll remember forever
Without our excellent Mountain Leaders, many of whom are freelancers, we couldn’t do any of this. We believe that having a good leader makes a nice day out into one that you’ll remember forever, either through that extra level of skill that can take you to hills that you would never go up by yourself, or having someone that can point out the names of mountains, and the history of the landscape. We pride ourselves in leaders who are also sociable, and will engage with people, rather than marching off at the front.
We operate all year, with only a few weekends in December and January when there’s nothing on. Winter can be an excellent time to go walking, with the low-angled sunlight and snow that changes a place utterly from its summer coat. This January our year kicked off with a group staying on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. On Saturday we ended up having lunch on the beach in the sunshine! Quite different from many perceptions of winter.
What we find now is that our weekends are made up of all sorts of people - those who want to see a new place, those who want to enjoy a weekend of guided walking with everything taken care of, and those who are perfectly competent walkers and navigators but who love the social side. However much we expand, and however many other trips we offer, this will always be our core mission, to get people together in beautiful places and to enjoy the simple things that too often get missed - talking to each-other, exploring the countryside, and seeing the world by putting one foot in front of the other.