From the wilds of Africa to the Highlands of Scotland, Natasha Armstrong talks to us about connection to the land and her upcoming Ben Nevis journey for wild places.
I am Natasha Armstrong, Mountain-Biker-Mum, South African born and bred with an absolute passion for wildlife, nature and being outdoors! Ten years ago I made the difficult decision to leave my home situated in the spectacular Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where I was a Game Ranger at PheZulu Game Reserve, and had the privilege of introducing many international guests to the wonderful wilderness that I grew up in. Since living in the UK my interest, knowledge and love of the wildlife and wild places here has continued to grow.
Combining my love of the natural environment and my spirit of adventure I have set a goal to climb Ben Nevis, and I'm taking my best friend of 25 years, Maria Pitts, with me for the 'ride' or in this case…the hike!
I have always enjoyed pushing my own limits through exercise and sport, mainly mountain biking, in order to grow mentally and physically. I grab at any opportunity to introduce people to this fantastic way of boosting one's well-being while exploring outdoors. I am also a proud 'Peaker', a part of the My Peak Challenge program 2021 and wanted to set myself a goal that I could achieve with my best friend, to celebrate our friendship and the support we have given each other in helping to promote and maintain our positive mental attitudes throughout tough times and the challenges that life has thrown at us. The goal to climb Ben Nevis will break us out of our comfort zones and be an experience of a lifetime... and what a way to raise awareness of the beauty of Scotland, its wild places and the importance of conservation while we're at it!
What do wild places mean to you?
During my research for this trip I came across the Gaelic word 'Dualchas' in the fantastic and inspirational book 'Clanlands' by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, this word sums up so perfectly the feeling of connection to my own land. I grew up in the wild in Africa. I remember feeling so connected with the elements of nature as a child, the change in seasons, the many summer evenings I'd sit in solitude on the edge of the bank overlooking our valley after the long scorching heat of the day, feeling the wind pick up on my face as a torrential storm brewed, the sound of the cicadas, the Nightjar bird and Jackals calling at night and the dry, dusty winters. I grew up learning to respect each and every insect and animal regardless of whether they were one of the many venomous snakes or spiders (that I had learnt from a very young age to safely capture and release back into the bush away from our house), or a friendly Angulate tortoise, a curious chameleon or a troop of intelligent, cheeky Vervet monkeys that would often come to enjoy a paw-paw (papaya) or two from our trees. Everything is connected in a delicate balance of life and I've always felt a deep responsibility to try and do whatever I can to protect wildlife and the places they need in order to survive.
Why do you think it's important people get out and help protect wild places?
Every living thing is connected; plants and animals and if our wild places are destroyed the ecosystems and ultimately the delicate balance of life on Earth will be destroyed. The world is becoming a lot more aware of climate change thankfully and there seems to be a greater awareness and drive towards more eco-friendly solutions in consumerism, but it’s extremely important to have passionate, experienced and trained people out in the world's wild places who are continually assessing, monitoring and maintaining the health of the ecosystems and are able to implement any procedures necessary to repair any damage that we may have created. They bring awareness to us all in how to contribute towards protecting these wild places which enables us to continue to enjoy them... and hopefully future generations will too.
We are set to climb the highest mountain in the UK on Tuesday the 27th July 2021! Wish us luck!