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My Outdoors Q&A: Alan Halewood

By John Davidson

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Alan Halewood during an early winter solo of Western Rib on Aonach Mor from October 2019.
Alan Halewood during an early winter solo of Western Rib on Aonach Mor from October 2019.

Name: Alan Halewood

Age: 49

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you normally do.

Year-round I work (and play) as a climbing and mountaineering instructor and coach. I might be guiding Tower Ridge one day, teaching people to lead on rock climbs the next and working as a consultant, training staff in a climbing wall the day after that. Then on days off I’ll be having my own adventures.

I have a wife and two active children who I visit the outdoors with as often as I can. I enjoy taking photos and learning more about the natural history of my environment, not only for my own benefit but to share it with family and the other people I take to the mountains and crags. I also love guiding and playing in wild places abroad – visiting places such as Greenland, Namibia and Afghanistan in recent years – but I’m increasingly aware of the pressures my travel can put on the environment so I’ve been reining that in a little.

Where are you based/where do you live?

Corpach near Fort William.

How did you fill the void of the great outdoors during lockdown and what was the biggest change for you?

The biggest change of course was the restriction to movement. I can see Ben Nevis from my house but now I couldn’t visit it to work or play.

However, I’ve been incredibly busy and there has been no time to spare. As well as homeschooling and enjoying spending more time with family and staying fit on my bike and with Joe Wicks, I’ve been part of working groups for the Association of Mountaineering Instructors and Association of British Climbing Walls, looking at how we might all return to work in the future. I’ve done a little work reviewing climbing walls’ procedures and even some ropework for climbers lessons over Zoom.

I also enjoy cooking for my family more too.

What have you missed most about the freedom of the outdoors over the last few months?

Just that, the freedom that we enjoy in Scotland to visit and recreate in an amazing local environment. I’ve become more aware of how that space (mental and physical) and how the simple but consequential nature of climbing and mountaineering helps me keep the rest of my life in perspective.

I’m fortunate, I’ve had an easy lockdown. I live next to a forest and a moor with a healthy family and we are financially fairly stable. This makes it easier to be resilient in the face of what’s going on in the wider world. However, I’m more aware than ever that when things do get tough, both myself and others use the outdoors as a stabilising environment and not being able to do that has negatively impacted on many people.

Have you found any positives in lockdown?

We’ve been exploring the immediate local area as a family and using a motion sensitive wildlife camera to film owls, pine marten, badgers and otters. We’ve never created that time to get to know what is going on so close to home before. I was due to work away from home over Easter and was concerned about time away when my children are still at an age when they (sometimes!) want to do things with me. The enforced time together has been welcome.

What was the first place you visited or route you did, once lockdown restrictions started to ease – and is there a trip you are still looking forward to when we can travel more freely?

I read the Mountaineering Scotland guidelines to stay local, prepared, considerate and safe and looked for somewhere well within my capability that I could access by bike. I really wanted to get out and do a big mountain route but decided the first trip should be one that was really, really easy for me to ease back in to activity.

Again, I’m fortunate living where I do and had lots of choice. On a scorching hot day a friend and I went up the north ridge of Stob Ban in the Mamores before dropping back into Glen Nevis for some easy low-level bouldering (followed by a swim in the river with my family). When we can travel a little further? Well, despite how close I live, I’ve never been to Rum and really want to go and climb on the Rum Cuillin when I can.

What event or events are you looking forward to once things are up and running again?

Most of my activities are small-scale and private and I don’t tend to enter competitions or go to big events. However, my children always enjoy the atmosphere of the Mountain Bike World Cup at Nevis Range and local meets with work colleagues through our professional association will be very welcome.

Do you have a favourite outdoors book or author?

Usually the last one I read! Something old: Bill Murray: Mountaineering Scotland; something new: Nick Bullock: Tides; something educational: Stephen Hearns: Peak Performance, Under Pressure; something transformational: Hugh Brody: The Other Side of Eden. (Sorry for being greedy, I read a lot!)

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