Walking the world
TV presenter and adventurer Julia Bradbury talks about her favourite walks and inspiring others to discover the great outdoors
Synonymous with walking, Julia Bradbury is frequently on the road. “It works in waves,” she says. “I’m involved in so many projects and causes that I’m always on the go!”
As a pioneer for outdoor exploration and adventure, the former Countryfile host has dedicated her career to sharing the planet’s best walks, “walking the walk” in some of the world’s most remarkable places, revealing well-and-little-known gems as she goes.
Her sun-drenched series around the glittering Greek islands saw her return to her roots. “I’ve a strong affinity with the islands –my mum’s Greek – so for her and I to end the series on Chios, where my grandparents are originally from, was so emotional.”
Bradbury’s passion for the great outdoors began as a six-year-old exploring the Peak District’s rugged green valleys with her father. “It began with those early walks and time in the garden with my mum,” she reveals. “Dovedale, Stanage Edge and Kinder Scout are all favourite places. Being outdoors at a young age gives you a sense of independence and develops resilience and awareness – skills you need for travel.”
Criss-crossing the country, Bradbury’s reputation as ‘the face of the outdoors’ began with her stunning series Wainwright Walks, following in the footsteps of legendary fell-walker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright. “He really was one-of-a-kind… what a vision, what a legacy.” Shot in the Lake District, the show spawned a number of series in search of Britain’s ‘Best Walks’.
Bradbury’s big on how both travel and walking in the great outdoors can improve not just fitness, but mental wellbeing too.
“It’s fantastic exercise and great for the brain. For me, it’s a combination of mood elevation, embracing the elements, time to think, plus the physical elation of achieving a distance or mountain,” she explains.
“I think you see places differently when exploring on foot, allowing real connections with places and people,” she explains. “Through the mental health charity MQ and Mountains for the Mind initiative, I’ve learned about the positive impacts of nature on our mental/emotional states, how being outdoors in nature can lift spirits, elevate mood, ease emotional pain, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall health.”
She also says her work is an opportunity to highlight issues around the world. “I think travel has to be sensitive and enriching. I truly believe that tourism can be a force for good, supporting local communities, raising awareness about our beautiful planet and the beautiful people who live on it.”
Bradbury has created one-stop-shop The Outdoor Guide, sharing her TV walks and more – so what are her favourites? “The Lake District’s Castle Crags for family fun, the South Downs’ Seven Sisters to enjoy the fresh sea breeze, and the Peaks’ accessible-to-all Monsal Trail,” she says.
Her international travels have seen her trek up Iceland’s infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. “Iceland is a strange, gorgeous country. Incredibly peaceful – the Icelandic love life. The Laugavegur Trail is a world-class hiking experience, with extraordinary, constantly-shifting landscapes full of geysers, hot springs and glaciers,” she explains.
Her epic European search for £10k Holiday Home scoured boltholes in Bulgaria, Spain, France and Hungary, before plumping for her northern Portuguese postcard-perfect pad, while countless charity challenges include trips from Kazakhstan, through Russia to Mongolia for Around the World in 80 Days for Children in Need. But Bradbury’s most memorable fundraising escapade is back in Blighty. “Sleeping rough on the streets of London for Sport Relief for a week changed the way I look at homelessness.”
Does she have any particular travel bugbears? “Single-use-plastic bags. Why?! Stop now! Use alternative tamper-proof options,” she demands. On track with carbon offsetting, the planet-protecting presenter plants trees in partnership with The Woodland Trust/Woodland Carbon scheme, and works closely with the Premier Paper Group, “encouraging everyone to do their ‘conscious, caring’ bit.”
Next up is the Balearics, depending on the coronavirus situation, plus several other exciting projects. “In the meantime,” she says, “I’m encouraging people to prioritise their physical and mental health and urge them to get cracking. Get outside – when and where possible – and enjoy the great outdoors. Stay safe, and keep walking!”