For Teesdale-born Rob Atkinson, coming to the University of Cumbria was meant to be. Inspired by the Lake District just over the hills, the outdoor leadership course he took ten years ago was the start of an adventure that shows no sign of ending.
“The lecturers were people who had fantastic stories and had done fantastic things – celebrated their 18th birthday on the Matterhorn or paddled rivers in Nepal for the first time – and we were lucky to spend our time with these people,” Rob recalls.”When the lectures would finish we’d interrogate them more about their adventures – a wonderful time!”
The chance to get out and explore the area and travel further afield made its mark on Rob, as did the opportunity to study with like-minded people.
He met Abi when he was on his second year as she started out on the same outdoor course. The pair’s outdoor interests cemented when they became engaged while still at university. When they graduated the couple travelled the world climbing and putting into practice their studies from Cumbria in locations as varied as the U.S. and New Zealand.
Rob had worked as an instructor at the Kingsway Adventure Centre in Teesdale for a decade and is now centre manager. Two years ago he and Abi married and both now work hard to promote the centre; the passion they have for the outdoors shared far and wide.
“We welcome small school parties here from all over the north of England,” Abi said. “There are very few centres like this now so we cater for groups of mainly primary school age children who’ve sometimes never experienced what the outdoors has to offer. We work a lot with children who have additional needs for whom this kind of experience can be therapeutic.”
For those who visit, experiences including gorge walking, scrambling, tree climbing, kayaking, fossil-hunting as well as navigating around the moors and nearby High Force await. The difference the experience can make to their young visitors is marked. The couple say teachers regularly report a real difference in the behaviour of children who may arrive nervous of water and the outdoors yet leave more confident and keen to interact.
“We used to be a seasonal centre but now we work all year round,” Rob says. “As well as hosting groups here we go to schools to set up bush craft days. This outreach work can make a real impact as we leave them with several weeks’ worth of work to analyse.”
Now the couple are about to embark on another adventure; building their own camper van to make the most of the outdoors they clearly relish.
“We get people calling into the centre who came here in the 1950’s or 60’s and 50 years on they still remember fondly the impact it made and want to come back to visit,” Rob said. “The outdoors is my office and its incredibly rewarding. You don’t have to be the best kayaker or climber – you don’t even need to have done it before because you can learn all that at university.”