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Review: The National Outdoor Expo

I am an Ambassador for the National Outdoor Expo and on 19th-20th March 2022 I was lucky enough to attend the first ever show at the NEC in Birmingham. I went along with my friends Emma and Emmie and we joined like-minded enthusiasts for a day of inspirational speakers, interactive features and exhibitors showing the best of the best for the start of the season ahead.

The National Outdoor Expo is for anyone who is into outdoor activities, including walking, climbing, running, water, camping, eating outdoors and travelling excursions. The Expo has all the inspiration, kit, tech, nutrition and advice for you to get outside and active.

We left Suffolk at 5am and drove to the NEC, getting there just in time to make the ribbon cutting with the amazing Iwan Thomas MBE and Richard Whitehead MBE. The crowds were lined up waiting and it was really fun as an Ambassador to walk up and down the people giving out free goodies such as magazines.

When the ribbon was cut everyone flooded in to see all the stalls and features the show had to offer. First up was the Welcome from Danny Bent and Mary-Ann Ochota. Mary-Ann is a presenter and author, and hiking ambassador for the British Mountaineering Council. Danny is an award-winning author and journalist, Guinness World Record holder, and celebrated adventurer and community leader. They made a great duo welcoming all the guests onto the Inspiration Stage.

Iwan and Richard

The first speakers were the inspirational Iwan Thomas MBE and Richard Whitehead MBE. Iwan Thomas, MBE represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Olympic Games in the 400 metres and 4 x 400 metre relay event. Outside of his athletic achievements Iwan has been engaged in various incredible outdoor events and challenges.

Richard is renowned for his sporting achievements, 4 time Paralympian and Gold medalist, he also holds the Marathon and Half Marathon World Record. He has spent his life dedicated to sport and helping young people excel in achieving their aspirations from schools in his home county of Nottinghamshire to the Syrian border.

Iwan was the winner of this year’s Channel 4 Celebrity Hunted, competing alongside Paralympic gold medallist Richard Whitehead and evading the hunters across the UK.

It was fascinating listening to the story of how the pair competed on the programme and the bond they shared during the adventure. Iwan covered 1,540 miles across the two weeks of this adventure, travelling between the start point at the London Eye, to extraction in Formby Hills.

My friends and I just happened to be backstage when they were so we managed to get a photo with them.

Things to Do

There was 200 exhibitors at the Expo and we saw quite a lot of them. There were loads of interesting people to talk to, competitions to enter and a fair amount of freebies!

Other things to try was a climbing tower, Campsite Cooking Demonstrations, trail running zone, bushcraft zone, zipline and Actively Outdoors Wildlife Watching Pavilion. There was also an Outdoor Skills Theatres, a stage offering practical workshop sessions for outdoor enthusiasts from skills to nutrition to advice.

Water sports

There was a team of professional coaches for an on-the-water session on Pendigo Lake as part of the Expo. Pendigo Lake is a beautiful setting right next to the exhibition hall with a wide range of canoes and kayaks for people to have a go on throughout a 30-minute session. The on the water sessions were led by three of the UK’s leading paddlesports coaches, Dan Wilkinson, Sarah Keight and Chris Brain, who were on hand to offer advice, assistance, and safety cover.

We has a go at kayaking together and one of our group also tried stand-up paddleboarding and wild swimming. The instructors were very helpful and we all enjoyed having a go on the lake in the beautiful sunshine. Perfect for families and children to try too.

Ben Fogle

I think it's fair to say that Ben Fogle was one of the bigger draws as a speaker! Ben has climbed Mount Everest, rowed across the Atlantic, raced across Antarctica to the South Pole and crossed the deserts of the Empty Quarter in the Middle East.

He talked about his career and the show he was currently working on. He has presented numerous programmes for the BBC, ITV, C5 and Discovery including the hit series New Lives in the Wild.

His talk was inspiring and he spoke about how we need to "tweak your life to live more outdoors than indoors." Said Ben; "My family and I have a beautiful relationship with the outdoors. Now lockdown is over we hope to travel and show my children the beauty of the British Isles and beyond."

He talked about how schools should be outside. "As a father I see first hand... how we are defined by single exams. As a boy I failed all my exams. Classrooms should be outside... I got an N in A Level Geography!" he said.

"There is no reason why every single youngster in this room can't learn way more in the outdoors.2

He finished by saying that if you really want something and you work hard enough you can achieve extraordinary things.

My friends and I were lucky enough to get a photo with him!

Anna McNuff

Anna was a speaker I was desperate to meet! Having just finished her book Llama Drama, I find her so inspiring. Named by the Guardian as one of the top female adventurers of our time, Condé Nast Traveller included her in a list of the 50 most influential travellers in the world.

She is the UK ambassador for Girl Guiding, and has cycled over 20,000 miles in Europe and the Americas, including through all 50 states of the USA. She has also run the length of New Zealand, and has a penchant for rollerblading.

In the summer of 2019 she set off on her most ambitious adventure yet – an attempt to run 2,620 miles (100 marathons) through Britain… in her bare feet.

Anna spoke all about the adventure through Britain barefoot and showed little video clips of all the runners who joined her along the way. Her clips with her runner mum were especially poignant and one clip when she was upset as her foot was infected and she wasn't sure she could run one day. She didn't want to let people down.

She also talked about the challenges of recently travelling around Thailand and Turkey with her 1-year old Storm. She said she doesn't sleep and was a challenge, but she's now thinking where can we go next! As the writer of a family travel blog this will be comfort to any other family travellers!

Sean Conway

Sean was another fascinating speaker. He talked about having done 15 marathons in 15 days in 15 national parks. He said he did it to show off the beauty of our national parks in this country after lockdown.

"The scenery was so spectacular it made me realise just how lucky we were to have this on our doorstep," he said.

He seemed to love his wild swims after his runs, something I can relate to as a wild swimmer.

To sum it all up I loved the whole experience and am already looking forward to next year!

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