Time is a funny thing. I turned round the other day and discovered that it’s 20 years since I was a Winston Churchill Travel Fellow. And so, I shall use this moment of nostalgia and amazement at the passing of time to reflect how this lifetime opportunity changed my life and continues to influence it to this day. Pull up a comfy chair, get a cup of tea - this is a long one. In short - the trip was EPIC.
What is a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship? These life-changing opportunities to travel and study are still available every year – check out www.wcmt.org.uk for more information.
All of these seem quite inconsequential now but at the time they were huge. And hilariously my report mentions me using the internet to do research on companies and email to contact them – I had even signed up for a Hotmail account. Jings! Imagine that. So much of what I take for granted today was new back then.
Most of my lasting memories are based around the people I met and the landscape in which I travelled. In looking back, I sometimes wonder how I found the courage to do what I did – not sure I could do that now, things like:
Driving from Toronto to Cape Breton and back via northern Ontario was a fabulous experience (including the breakdowns – the radiator blew up in the middle of Algonquin Park and the rear end fell off one night in Halifax – hey ho). These too became experiences – getting a new radiator built from scratch and the garage who ripped out the ignition so I could start the car with a screw driver as the key broke in it. I drove most of the way through Quebec in one go because although I reckon I could get by in French in terms of sorting out a campsite and coffee, French for my fan belt needs tightened was utterly beyond me.
The companies, the people and the landscape from this time continue to inspire me to this day. I learned loads about working with different groups on, in and around the water. I learned a lot about myself too including the 2 sides of travelling alone – I meet more people but visit less places with no-one to share the experience. On what sounds like a really shallow thing to say - I renewed my entire wardrobe – Mountain Equipment Co-op being my first experience of a big outdoor store and more importantly they made and sold kit and proper outdoor clothes made specifically for women – but this was revolutionary to me back then. In the past, I often struggled with the whole being a woman thing – often being driven to prove I can do something - feeling bound to that old adage of ‘you have to be twice as good as a man to be thought half as good’.
My jobs over the last 20 years have involved less water but still been based around landscapes and communities. Working for Community Woodlands Association took me to the 'real' Knoydart and the opportunity to support the wonderful Knoydart Forest Trust. Although not waterbased, the Trust and the whole peninsula is full of dedicated people, passionate about their community and their landscape. I love how transferable these qualities are.
It is fantastic to see the new paddlesports centre at Pinkston Basin, Glasgow – I like to think that somehow the aspirations of the Forth & Clyde Canal Community Project - we undertook a feasibility study for a watersports centre at Firhill Basin, tried to encourage polo pitches at Pinkston and took 100s of local we’ans paddling every year; and a report I produced when working for ROCK DCM on the social inclusion benefits of an artificial whitewater course may have had added some slight influence out in the ether, tee hee…
My paddling has mostly become confined to a hobby and yet still there are always opportunities – 10 summers ago I helped restart kayaking and canoeing as part of Craignish Boat Club. Again, the people involved are dedicated and passionate; and over the years we have shared the paddling experience with most of the children in the area. In 2016, the club was recognised as SCA (Scottish Canoe Association) club of the year which was a great boost to all of us. This summer, the club is out on the water without me – our newer, homegrown coaches and assistants now leading the way.
Where does time go? I am so grateful for the experience and opportunity this travel fellowship gave me even if I can’t quite believe that it is now ‘ancient history’ in the journey of my life. I am the sum of my experiences and yet I am not defined by them – they are only my interpretation of what happened. Stories, reflections and memories – snap shots of time. The experiences become part of the cells of my body and the stories part of my personal myth...
I am still working on becoming less of a burn out, stress head – still working on creating space in my life, letting go of old patterns of business although I do believe I have made some progress towards living my intentional path of ease. Inspired by the companies and people I met, I will remain forever passionate about creating opportunities for young people through watersports, landscapes and community.
I am ferocious, scary, angry
I am full of sharp claws and fierce bite
I am outer bear
I am protective, scared, running, avoiding, ignoring
I am fighting myself, my fears, my desires, my inner not enough monsters
Hiding myself and presenting my outer bear to the world
If I remember to breathe, to pause, to check in with myself
I can surrender, give myself permission to soften
Surrender my fierce hold on control, who I am, things I should
Surrender the thoughts that life will be perfect once I complete this or that
These thoughts that keep happiness and success and achievement always just out of reach, just round the next bend
When I surrender to bear
I can accept her protection, her claws, her fierceness,
I can luxuriate in her fur and her warmth
My inner bear
I can surrender my fears and my monsters – she’s on it, she has it
I can just be
Vulnerable, imperfect, human
Diane Oliver, Beltaine 2018