Winter is a time to slow down and let the cold heightens your senses; a break from the never-ending adventure of summer. A time to be grateful for each moment of daylight. This, according to Vicki McCreadie, a 36-year-old college tutor and outdoor instructor who falls further in love with the Lake District with each fleeting winter of snow and ice.
She moved north in 2012 to develop her outdoor education and instructing career. That’s over a decade of winters spent breaking ice to swim the lakes, installing the fat tyres, dusting off the skis – and removing snowballs from her dog Louie’s coat. “I love the contrast of the white-capped mountains against the red bracken and the blue shimmer of ice that will never form the same shape again.”
Main image: Vicki stumbled on a plunge pool for a dip while hunting a winter climbing spot | Credit: James ‘Jumpy’ Kirby @jumpyjamesphotography
Here, Vicki tells The Great Outdoors about why she loves the challenge of the cold and how she aspires to welcome more people into the joy of the outdoors.
TGO: Do you remember some of your most formative adventures at a young age?
Vicki: I remember my parents always prioritising seeing different parts of the world and allowing me to see and walk among some beautiful places. My first real memories of outdoor sports were at school. I was lucky enough to go to a school with a very random – but used – set of kayaks. I was once allowed on the school trip to the river and this is where my love for sports extended to the outdoors.
TGO: What motivated you to study to become an outdoor instructor?
Vicki: I had a tough time at school building friendships and wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of usual teenage antics, so sport became incredibly important to me. Building on this I was lucky enough to attend a residential to Wales in Year 11. Unsure of where I wanted to go after school, I completed a college course in Outdoor Education. I worked in a garden centre, saved up and continued to travel to different parts of the world and soon became hooked on spending time in the mountains and waters. I then realised how important it was to me and how beneficial it can be for others. This drove me to study at university and then complete many qualifications within the outdoor industry to allow me to “pass it forward” and create opportunities for others.
TGO: When and why did you decide to make Lakeland home?
Vicki: I moved to the Lake District in 2012 in pursuit of furthering my career as an Outdoor Instructor. Basing myself nearer to the mountains meant I could gain land-based qualifications to compliment the water-based qualifications I’d earned on the south coast.
TGO: Is it here you really got to grips with the cold?
Vicki: I had always loved the winter and was a keen skier before moving to the Lakes. I fell in love with my new home which enabled me to access the snow and wintery mountains without needing to be on holiday. This love already had me swimming in cooler waters – whether having fallen in from a boat or seeking out frozen waterfalls on purpose! One autumnal October really consolidated all these experiences and I began to use the cold for swimming and mental health.
TGO: What do you think makes winter such a special season for outdoors folk and why are you personally drawn to the cold?
Vicki: Winter allows you to slow down, appreciating the changing season from fast-paced spring and summer, using every ounce of daylight to witness incredible autumnal colours, calm amongst storms, warm fires, and soggy welly dog walks. Winter gives us permission to stand still while the cold heightens the senses, even before you have recognised it. I love the contrast of the white-capped mountains against the red bracken, fighting to be seen, and the blue shimmer of waterfalls and lakes. I love the ice that will never form the same again and is fleeting but beautiful. I love the winter for all those reasons and for the accomplishments and experiences I have had in the snow and ice.
TGO: Through swimming, you met the Wonderful Wild Women. What does this community mean to you and what do you hope to share with others?
Vicki: I met Sarah (the founder of Wonderful Wild Women) through swimming but had already engaged with Wonderful Wild Women online and through face-to-face events. They helped me meet more friends and find my feet shortly after moving from Coniston to Kendal. I found it all aligned with my values and my desire to see more women in the outdoors. At university, I was the only girl on the wakeboard team and unconsciously worked to change this. I ended up writing a dissertation on women in the outdoors. The results of that dissertation gave me an understanding of some of the barriers we face to participation.
Sarah then became an incredible friend and when she asked me to join the team and support her, I jumped at the chance. The community is incredible, I am proud to be part of it. I hope to continue to create those first steps into the outdoors and those “all you need to do is turn up” moments while we make sure the rest unfolds. I also hope to continue to support other women to lead. This year so many of the community have started to deliver their own unique opportunities for others and it’s been amazing to see.
TGO: On that note, what would you say is your guiding and instructing ethos?
Vicki: My instructing ethos has always been to be patient and conscientious. A lot of my work is based upon first time experiences in the outdoors. I am that person’s first taste of this industry and I want to be as approachable and informative as I can be, so that they will return, feel welcome and trust enough in me to push themselves in the new environment. Everyone starts somewhere and some of my experiences had the potential to put me off different qualifications and different disciplines. I was lucky enough to meet some incredible mentors along my journey who are now such good friends.
TGO: You seem determined to adventure on your own terms and at your own pace while diversifying the outdoors. What do those experiences mean to you as well as your hopes and aspirations for the wider outdoor community?
Vicki: I think I just want to do my best to support the right representation within the little slither of the world that I love. Those experiences give me the ability to reach further than my own direct echo chamber, to educate and inspire others. You don’t need a huge online following or fame to make a difference. Everyone is capable of handing over that golden nugget of information, support, passion, encouragement and changing someone else’s approach or thought process. In my circumstance that golden nugget is how we can look after our beautiful spaces and how we can safely share them with each other. I hope I can continue to do this and that others in the wider outdoor community continue to do so without feeling disheartened by the few people that do neglect and misuse the outdoors.
Only last week [at the time of writing] did someone fell the famous Sycamore Tree along Hadrian’s Wall in and unbelievable and irreversible act. As horrifying and devastating as these actions are there is still good happening out there. Hope is worth working towards and lots of individuals do good deeds each day to balance out the scales. It is important to remind ourselves of the positive and untangle the frustration. It’s not all bad and we can play a huge part in educating future generations. Be the change.
TGO: Finally, what can we expect from you and Louie in the future!?
Vicki: You can expect Louie and I to continue to work and live in the Lake District. We will keep on creating spaces where we can meet more people taking their first leaps and support those wanting to improve their skills within the outdoors. Louie is particularly good at giving hugs at the right moments and making sure we keep warm after swims.
We are excited about some potential winter collaborations, creating spaces for others to access all the cold-water benefits and are looking forward to some down time from a busy summer. I cannot wait for the snow, I know Louie will be jumping for snowballs as soon as its here. Overall you can expect us to keep on being here and keep on appreciating it all day by day.
Follow Vicki’s adventures online at www.vickiandlouieguidedwalks.co.uk and @mccreadievicki.