Shepherds Walks - The Story

Shepherds Walks -

Shepherds Walks - The Story

My life of walking is not quite as simple as people first think, but I am certainly not complaining. Back in 1999, when I was a hill shepherd in Northumberland I had a strange idea. I was fed up of following poorly written walking guides so as someone who lived and worked in the countryside I decided to start creating some walking guides. Rather than just your basic route instructions I would look at the landscape from a "Shepherd's Perspective." After creating my first web site in the same year and uploading it from my farm cottage - 1000ft above sea level, through a 28k modem - Shepherds Walks was born.

Never did I imagine how my life would change.

Eleven years later I no longer shepherd sheep, but now shepherd people for a living. We are now the largest walking provider in North East England. No longer is it just me, but I have 8 people working for the business, which includes 5 guides. Where do I start?

I still create and produce walking guides, which is my true love, but these have been accompanied by lots of other activities.

We now have a daylong guided walk programme running 12 months of the year, where individuals book themselves onto walks. This has proved very popular and this year we have been doing a series of linear walks along The Pennine Way and Hadrian’s Wall.

Also we have got ourselves a good reputation in running events. In September we will have well over 200 people taking part in the 26 mile Kielder Challenge Walk. Other events we now run (or should that be walk) are the Northumberland Coastal Challenge walk, Cragside Challenge walk, the Rothbury Walking Festival and a new for 2012 is the St Cuthbert’s Way challenge walk. Some of these events are my highlights of the year, they are hard work but the sense of achievement at the end is second to none.

Three years ago we set up a walking holiday business, Shepherds Walks Holidays. The growth of this has exceeded all expectations with both guided and self guided holidays in Northumberland, Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales. We have found a great niche with people who are looking for a 'quality' walking holiday and the feedback we get is really good.

We have also carved out niches in the training world, both for GPS, Map and Compass and more recently Nordic walking. We run day courses that have proved very popular over the past few years. My ethos has been to bring in the best trainers. You soon get caught out if you are not 100% up to speed on the subject you are teaching in, and if people are paying they expect the best. More info about our training courses can be found here.

I am also a fanatical blogger and tweeter. All the guides have to write a blog entry after each guided walk and we post this online so that the walkers can show their friends and family what they have been up to.

We manage the business from a superb rural location in the heart of Northumberland, Kirkharle Courtyard. Kirkharle is the birthplace of the landscape gardener, Capability Brown. We share Kirkharle with 10 other businesses and a coffee shop! We are all housed in converted farm buildings and as we are open to the public it’s great to meet our customers. Sometimes you can sit behind a computer screen too long and forget what the real world really wants.

So do I still get out walking? The great thing about owning a walking business is you get paid to walk, but saying that I still enjoy walking on my ‘days off’.

It is a real honour to turn your hobby into a business and I often pinch myself when I get up in the morning to see that it is not all a dream.

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