The Last Post (A Rambler Retreats)

The Last Post (a Rambler Retreats) | Always Follow a New Path

As we prepare to formally strike off Human-Nature Escapes as a community interest company (trading CIC), I’ve got mixed emotions about what we’ve achieved as a formal company and what the project brought to me personally as project leader. In many respects ‘the battle’ to keep the CIC going now comes to a logical close and that’s somewhat of a relief, recognising that now is definitely the right time for me to stand down.  

For the most part it’s been an uphill struggle, keeping the project afloat for the last 8 years, with limited resources and often spending too much of my time chasing funding or opportunities for trading, which most often came to nothing.  This took time away from the bit I enjoyed the most— bringing together people’s creativity and getting outdoors for the activities we shared. But that said, I’ve largely enjoyed every minute (apart from all that admin!). I’ve met some fabulous people along the way and strangely it seems to have provided me with a natural path to retirement. 

I never intended to retire 10 years early (at just 57), but unfortunately there’s no realistic way to continue the project. With funding now exhausted, and no following-on funding to continue our work, there’s certainly no way of realising our vision of launching a community wellbeing narrowboat (‘Narrow Escapes’) on the local canals as a mobile operating base for our project. I spent countless hours planning this concept, visiting other canal projects, planning and designing the boat design, seeking quotes for the narrowboat build and writing funding bids and application video presentations — but despite securing a generous offer of £80,000 towards the boat build, we never quite managed to get other funders on board. It would have been a fabulous local resource for wellbeing and creativity linking people to local nature, wildlife and heritage sites, but sadly now that isn’t to be. That ship has sailed.

It’s something I’ve come to accept and in some ways be thankful for. This inability to continue the project and earn just even a basic living from it, made me look to take my retirement early, something I hadn’t really appreciated might be possible, but now realise it is. 

Now is a time that I’m spending on reflection, of what was achieved, the friendships made and new relationships forged, tinged with a little sadness of what might have been, but thankful for what was, how long it lasted and the place it’s got me to now. So I thought I’d do one last post, as this particular rambler makes his own retreat. 

Photo credit Linda Taylor — Reflections in the Mill Pond from Ramblers Retreat 

Our most recent walk (October) was from the Ramblers Retreat at Dimmingsdale (or is that Dimmings Dale, we’re still not sure).  On arriving, Linda (who originally coined the phrase ‘Natter in Nature’), pulled out a map of the walks around the Dimmingsdale area. Looking at her map I realised that we’d only ever taken the one more simple and direct route up the valley to the left of the pond from Ramblers Retreat.  Nice though that route is, which takes you along the stream and waterfalls, this time we decided to take a ‘new path’, following the map to the right of the mill pond.

Someone once told me about importance of always exploring a new path when that opportunity arises. Since then, to take down a path that I’ve never explored before is something that I’ve always tried to do. Whether that’s been on my own personal journey in life, or simply when out walking or biking on my own, I’ve always found it exciting (and sometimes a little bit scary) to venture into the unknown and ‘take a new path’ — and perhaps that’s where I’m at now?  It can open up new treasures (places, views, scenes, encounters) that you’ve never experienced before, and often you emerge somewhere that you didn’t quite expect, but often a place that comes as a pleasant surprise. Something struck me on this day that it was the right thing to do.  

Photo credit Linda Taylor — Rock Outcrop on a Different Path (great view from the top!) 

Following Linda’s map down a new path led us to find new views of the valley, some great viewpoints from dramatic rock outcrops and some really peaceful resting points to admire the view (a far cry from the sound of thrill rides at Alton Towers that could be just about heard in the far distance). This path wasn’t easy, in fact it was very difficult going and muddy in places — and it made a hell of a mess of my white trainers!  But it was worth it, arriving up at the top of the valley on farmland that I soon recognised as a place I knew and that we’d walked to on previous escapade, that time from Hawksmoor direction. Surprising where you end up!

In many respects, debating whether to take a new path, is where I was at in late 2015, before I started Human-Nature. It wasn’t an easy path, but it felt like my engineering career was at a dead end and my job no longer served my needs or any opportunity to be creative in my work, which was affecting my self esteem and mental health. Every day at work was a drag, was of little challenge for my skill set and I was terribly bored of it.  It lead to long periods of depression and at other times severe stress. It felt like I needed to ‘escape’ to somewhere new.  On lunchtime walks from work (just to get out into the fresh air and away from the office) the seed of an idea for Human-Nature Escapes was born —a new direction and venture which seemed to offer a different experience and an alternative new career path, but one I knew would might nourish my own wellbeing and bring me opportunities to express my own creativity and put me firmly in control of my own direction.  My mind and body were telling me that I needed to take a different path.  

Photo Credit Linda Taylor — Blocked path from a fallen tree, blockage now removed, revealing the tree’s beauty

I had found solace (and ‘escape’) in taking bike ride on my down the local canals, often with a digital camera as my travelling companion.  It felt somehow liberating, to be free, away from noise and traffic, experiencing nature and the nostalgia of our heritage along the canals. Many of the buildings along my route were a little bit broken, but still standing. In many respects a lot like me. These ‘human-nature’ encounters between me and the landscape (nature/wildlife/weather etc) were my way to ‘escape’.  The physical exercise and fresh air did me good, and photographing and creative writing about my journeys was cathartic. I guess with Human-Nature I went down a new path.  It was an uncertain one, with no guaranteed income, but one I was willing to explore. In many respects, it felt like my conventional career path was blocked and no longer passable.

So, now as I take (early) retirement, a new path awaits.  This time with certainty of an assured income, alternative plans and new adventures now seem possible.  I hope to acquire a second hand campervan, which will take me (and the other half) to new UK landscapes, plus allow more time exploring the local canal network by bike. 

My Human-Nature journey in many ways ends where it started — with more time and new opportunities to be outdoors, getting exercise, being creative and enjoying nature green space and heritage landscapes.  This time thankfully without the added pressure of earning a living from it.

Of course travelling down any new pathway is a journey, and as I said in my original e-book, life isn’t about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey, the company of the people we might meet along the way and the friendships that hopefully form. I know I’ve made to some good friendships on my social enterprise journey and helped a few other people make some solid and lasting friendships too — which is possibly our greatest achievement as a CIC.

Photo Credit Linda Taylor — Friends with Human-Nature (friends walking group)

As we conclude Human-Nature as a CIC, I’m uncertain whether this is an definite end, just a pause, or whether it might be the start of a new beginning. Maybe there’s new paths for me to go down, and who knows, you never know when our paths might cross?

Until then, as this rambler retreats, it’s goodbye from me — but thanks to all those who took interest in sharing Human-Nature’s journey. Time for me to dust off my camera and get on my bike!

(And remember, always explore a ‘new path’ — who knows what adventures await?)

We’ll be continuing the walking group and Facebook group (Friends with Human-Nature) which we’ve been doing for last 8 years and who knows we may continue the website as an on-line creative community of people whose wellbeing is ‘inspired by nature’, or maybe take it in a new direction.