Live a Life of Adventure


‘Live a life of adventure,’ friend and mentor, John Ridgway, said as we looked across Loch a’ Chadh-fi at dusk. That evening, many years ago, a flotilla of ducklings paddled past, the mother intent on getting to the sanctuary of an island offshore. She kept looking over her shoulder, quacking at the ducklings to go faster. Summer’s evenings are long and light in the north of Scotland; we were just a few miles south of Cape Wrath, at the adventure school. An older wisdom has it that decisions taken by the sea endure. Live a life of adventure? A simple strategy, but looking back this was the best advice I was ever given. In one sentence Ridgway cast into the sea all those doubts and apologies for the past I’d long harboured. The past was not a cause for regret but a preparation, part of a plan, part of how the future should be. 

John Ridgway himself had rowed across the Atlantic with another paratrooper, Chay Blyth. Later with his wife, Marie-Christine, John sailed around the world, several times. Together they walked down the spine of New Zealand and hacked their way through the rain forests of South America. He and his daughter canoed round Cape Horn. The Ridgways were early marathon runners. Much of what they achieved was done as a family. Rebecca, their daughter, still runs the adventure school in the wilds of north-west Scotland. (see   

A Coherent Philosophy

Adventure formed a coherent philosophy for the Ridgways running a successful training and development operation from spring to autumn before taking off across sea and ice cap during the winter. I thought I’d grown out of all this.  For I had a past I never discussed much with Ridgway or any of the suits down in south-east England.

For several years in my 20s I’d worked on building sites in Kiel, Stuttgart and London. With only a backpack full of paperbacks, I’d wandered through France and Greece, hitchhiked across Italy, Austria and what was then Yugoslavia, feeding an insatiable appetite for rough wine and reading. Spells of fish farming on a kibbutz and soldiering beneath a foreign flag, completed these lone ranger style escapades. Somewhat late in the day I’d taken to heart the adulthood stricture: Isn’t it about time you grew up? Hadn’t you better be more responsible?  Later still clicking a company biro on the 10th floor I pondered what relevance such a past had for a modern man now sporting a gym membership and middle management career? Before Ridgway I’d have said, none.

That evening looking across Loch a’ Chadh-fi from the John Ridgway School of Adventure I saw again the parachute jumps we made at dawn over Corsica and earlier still the snorkel-dives amidst the coral reefs of the Red Sea. Beyond the ducklings I saw a mist-hung lake in the Yizreel Valley; a group of us winding in vast keep-nets of carp as the sun rose, just as the disciples had done.  


Most of us dismiss our past as youthful folly. The years zip by as we become parents and careerists, working flat out, like the duck, to keep the family afloat. Work becomes expedient, a trade off. Energies pour into avoiding the pikes that threaten us. Paying the mortgage, pursuing promotion, those are the imperatives of the anxious. Then there’s the less obvious attraction of the corporate world. Wielding power, garnering professional respect, prestige even, all but outweigh those ancient hymns to action and affection. How many suits wake up in their 40s surprised to see the farewell note on the pillow, the house empty, the family gone? If the present and its glories are overlooked the past is ignored altogether. 

Ardmore Rescue 

Back then it was Ridgway who came to the rescue. Both at his excellent table at Ardmore and through his books – all inspired and worth reading – I first made the connection that many of his exploits involved his family. As if on queue that summer’s evening the piper, a long distance runner and solicitor from Perth, struck up ‘Barren Rocks of Aden.’ For anyone with a drop of Scots blood it is impossible to listen to the skirl of the pipes and not be moved. As if from Loch a’ Chadh-fi itself the clanna rose again urging wilful disregard of the Sensible Party and all its betrayals. 

The past and its youthful dreams become lost to us. We forget the wonders of what we witnessed. The magical becomes normal simply because we lived through it and is discarded casually. Those days are caught in a flickering cine-reel  – a window beckoning beyond the corporate world. Behind the man in a suit crammed onto the 7.23 is the soldier who once wore dusty, green denims, the fisherman who dragged the great lakes of the Yizreel. The glum suit reads his morning paper, tamping these dreams back down among the carp, pressing his cartridges down inside the rifle magazine. My concept of adventure was hauled out of the water at Loch a’ Chadh-fi and pummelled and squeezed back in to respiration. 

A Family Affair 

Thanks to John and Marie Christine Ridgway, the idea of adventuring as a family endeavour took root and flourished. Summer holidays became kayak trips across the lakes of Sweden and north Germany. Together the five of us hiked through forests and mountains.  We camped by lakes, fires lighting our darkness and an array of local meat roasting on the embers. We cycled in Holland and Flanders, pencil spires punctuating a world of uniformity. Swimming in rivers and seas from the docks of Nieuwpoort to the silver-sanded Baltic capped many a long hike. Back home snatched weekends were spent hiking in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Scotland. Moving way out west made all this more accessible. Here we found swimming rivers, Welsh moors and mystic orchards haunted by panthers and insurrectionists.

Tolkien Rangers

Adventure took a major leap forward with the hunting ban. The way round Blair’s attempt to nobble the ancient traditions of the countryside is to lay trails using imported fox scent. Off I went, an experienced runner, dangling the trail behind me.The family was pressed in to help. Under our system the trail layer drags a scented rag behind him, pausing atop a summit then flying down across valleys and fields.  As free as a Tolkien ranger amidst the moors of Westernesse, these trail layers know no law of trespass, let or restraint. How primeval to chase across meadows and hills with your sons, all three of us fit and strong, sharing the thrill of the chase. 

The idea of living a life of adventure needs a conscious decision. Weekends ruled by pub and television are wasted. The real world is out there waiting to be embraced and threaded through any professional life no matter how mundane.  Cycling, canoeing, swimming and hiking are all well within the compass of most of us. Children love it, develop confidence and go on to run mountain marathons, sail the vastness of the empty seas, work on horse ranches and haciendas. With adventure comes love of learning. Inquisitiveness and that eternal question: what lies over the next horizon, translates readily to the seminars and squares of any university. 

Bond of shared experience

In his book ‘Born to Run’ Chris McDougall talks of whole tribes running for miles after game. They run together. Long distance running used to be common to men and women of all ages. So did adventure. Enjoy it as a group, a tribe, a clan. Life itself zooms by far too quickly; family life speeds by quicker still. Those years when you live together, eat together, share house and holidays are soon gone. Careers and work are important but put them in their place. However it is defined the family is the crucible of every civilisation. Therefore it is the duty of us all to saw away at the bars of conformity and stereotype. Adventuring across the wonders of the natural world strengthens the tribe. The bond of shared experience, of drama, love and laughter better equips us for the future. It roots us. Don’t settle for the mundane or grey, escape digital destitution. Live a life of adventure.