Promoting a destination? Make sure you don’t miss out on its stories.

It’s half term down here in the Southwest. Both Dartmoor and Torbay are full of happy visitors, and I’ve been doing a bit of amateur tourism research.

You mean people watching?

Well, you could call it that. But this has been people-watching with a purpose. I’ve been taking some notice of how people engage with their destinations.

Just being nosy?

Maybe! But there’s a method to my madness. Writing about places is a big part of my freelance work. It’s the part I enjoy the most because it gives free rein to my inner explorer.

So what have you noticed?

That stories make people stay longer. Sit at a destination long enough and you’ll notice the people who read information boards, follow storytelling walking trails, or carry guide books (paper or digital), are still there late in the afternoon when others have left.

So why is this important?

Because the better we engage with a place, the more we want to be there. We linger longer, spend more, and make return visits. We also want to look after that place better. And not just in high season.

Isn’t storytelling just another form of marketing?

Much has been written about storytelling in marketing but the message is actually really simple. You can’t make friends with people without understanding their stories. It’s the same with destinations. The places you want to spend the most time in are the ones you understand the best. By helping people to deepen their understanding of their destinations, we encourage them to return.

So storytelling can boost tourism?

According to Visit Britain, in 2019 tourism spending on overnight visits was £24 billion. Forecasts for 2021 suggest a huge reduction, to £9.8 billion. This has clearly had a huge negative impact on employment, often in areas that were already suffering from a seasonal job culture.

But I believe storytelling could be the key to reversing this. By giving visitors access to a destination’s stories, we can make them stakeholders in its future. In other words, we can help them fall in love with a place. And it’s that level of appreciation that will make those all-important visitors want to stay longer, support local businesses, and return again and again, even off-season.

Don’t they do that anyway?

Sometimes but encouraging return visitors has never been more important. We’re experiencing a staycation boom across the UK. With Europe out of bounds, our holiday destinations are finally bustling again. But what’s going to happen when overseas holidays open up again? How can we make sure all these happy holidaymakers keep visiting their favourite UK locations?

Let them in on the stories?

You’ve got it! I believe storytelling is the key to destination loyalty. Let’s face it, the Great British holiday is never going to be able to compete with Europe’s almost guaranteed sunshine but boy do we have some stories to tell.

What about overcrowding?

Good point! Our UK favourite locations are experiencing unprecedented crowds but storytelling can help with this too. By encouraging people to discover, then fully engage with new destinations. In other words, it can help spread the load.

So storytelling can promote new destinations?

It’s simple really. Stories make holiday experiences richer, broader, and more memorable. They also give visitors a narrative to retell. Something that’s really important in today’s social media-led world. Why not tell people stories then let them do the re-telling for us?

Are you sure about all this?

Positive! That’s why I’ve been throwing so much effort this year into creating stories about the places I love. There are lots of ways to do it, and the great news is that stories allow you to include messages about looking after a place too. After all, as CS Lewis said, ‘A (children’s) story is the best art form for something you have to say.

On the road again? Campervan travel and Covid-19

Should we be applying permaculture principles to our outdoor writing?


Wet tents at dawn – remembering the old ways

Did you learn how to pitch a ridge tent? I did and it is the teaching I remember more than those first camp nights.

Camping rituals

It seemed to me, at the tender age of eleven, there was a ritual to the whole affair. Even then I was aware of the passing down of skills. Like sailors on a land-ridden sea as we pitched we, master and apprentice, were not only partaking of tradition, we were becoming tradition.

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We all need outdoor education. Here’s how to support it.

This week, thanks to a great piece of research work from Plas-y-Brenin (The National Outdoor Centre) . I read the fantastic news that almost a third (32%) of the British population have tried a new outdoor activity since the start of lockdown.

Trying a new outdoor activity

Ordnance Survey, Street to Peak

That’s almost 17 million UK adults who have experienced the challenge and exhilaration that outdoor achievement delivers. The Plas-y-Brenin ‘Outdoor Aware 2021’ report (definitely worth a read) also reveals that 32% of people plan to continue their new-found enjoyment of being outside once lockdown ends.

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Woodland encounters. A lost learning experience?

The other day I had a wonderful outdoor experience. One that reminded me of my own childhood.

Freedom to explore

I’ve recently realised that my happiest childhood memories are outside ones. I grew up next to the Malvern Hills, and spent a fair amount of my time roaming the hills and commons near our home. I grew intimate with the outdoors, built dens in freshly mown grass, climbed rocks next to quarries, and made friends with the horses grazing on the common.

Childhood stomping grounds

My children did some of the same although their stomping ground was the Devonshire coast, and their roaming started at a later age. Having appreciated this experience from a maternal perspective, I can confirm that childhood freedom is far more relaxing for the children concerned than it is for their parents.

Which probably goes a long way to explaining why now I hardly ever see groups of children playing alone outside. And is also probably why I was so thrilled, the other day, to see a group of lads interrupting their journey to school to play on a rope swing in our local copse.

Space to explore

Over the last year, the copse has really come into its own as a community space. The dog walkers have been joined by young explorers, den builders and tree climbers. Plenty of play and action but always with adults in tow. The adults have been having fun too. I’ve mapped all the paths and trees in my head, and was out gathering wild garlic for tea when I saw the happy rope swinging group.

It was what happened next that really got me thinking.

Learning through asking

I was focused on my foraging task, smiling at the sounds of play, when I heard a small voice.

“Excuse me. Are you picking wild flowers?”

That made me smile even more, standing next to me was a young man who clearly had an environmental conscience. I explained that the plants were called wild garlic, and that I was only picking a few to have with pasta for my tea.

He smiled then ran back to set off for school with his mates.

I remember lots of encounters like that. Times when I asked new adults what they were doing, and learned from their answers. I even identified the owners of a particular horse, and went to their garage to ask them his name. As we grow, we lose some of that willingness to be openly curious but I have recently noticed it reappearing in both adults and children.

It’s because we’ve all been outside so much more.

Impromptu learning

There all kinds of learning, and I’m proud to have been a lifelong educator in playschool, classroom, and outdoor situations. But those impromptu moments of learning from strangers are sadly now a precious, and endangered species.

Let’s hope our renewed sense of community spirit can bring them back.

Family Walk – Bishops Walk and Anstey’s Cove

Colleagues are really important. Even for freelancers.

There’s nothing like the feeling of working in a team but when you take on life as a freelancer, you often find yourself working alone. When you’re doing freelance jobs, you might not have colleagues in the traditional sense but don’t be surprised if they appear along the way.

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Want to encourage children to go walking? How about child-friendly map reading?

Walking with children can be enormous fun but often also includes an element of determined reluctance, particularly as the day goes on or the paths turn uphill. Here at Fi Darby Freelance we’ve been busy creating some downloadable child-friendly maps for our local area. We’re very pleased with the results. If you want a few more tips on how to encourage children on a walk, read on!

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Why do women worry about being outdoors?

Sweeping gender-based statements seem to be in so I don’t feel too bad suggesting that in general we women worry more than our men. The science agrees with me but (like me) doesn’t really understand why. Suggestions include hormones, cultural burden, and our tendency to look after ourselves better than the chaps.

Being outdoors helped my anxiety

Whatever the reasons, I do know that my levels of worry (already excitable) increased as I approached menopause. Despite loving the outdoor lifestyle, it took me a while to register the soothing effects of being outside. Whether it was outdoor swimming, walking, wild camping, or (a new addition) running, experiencing intimacy with the outdoors had the ability to calm my concerns.

This is ironic because we women worry about being outdoors.

I know women worry about being outdoors because, in various guises, I’ve spent a big chunk of my life helping them gain outdoor skills. I’d like to add at this point that I’ve done the same for men and that they have worries too. But not always the same ones.

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Should we be applying permaculture principles to our outdoor writing?

Over the last 12-months. I’ve been enjoying finding out more about the principles of permaculture. I’ve also been trying to apply them to my own life. Developed in the 1970s from a sustainable agriculture movement, permaculture offers an exciting incentive towards positive change.

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The final push? Ten of the best ideas for local lockdown exploration

Local outdoor exploration has been on the uptake since the first lockdown in March 2020. We now all know, and appreciate our local areas. This doesn’t mean of course that we aren’t all longing for the opportunity to explore further afield but that time isn’t quite with us yet.

With the prospect of ‘somewhere else’ just around the calendar corner, these last few weeks of ‘stay local’ restrictions, might perhaps be the most tricky. To keep us all outside as spring unfolds, I’ve done some research and put together ten of the most interesting and creative ideas to help us get outside and explore locally for this final lockdown push.

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Observation affects reality. Even when we’re outdoors.

With all beasts banished back to the East, and the sniff of spring in the air, it should be no surprise that the nation’s thoughts are once again turning to outdoor activities. The reduction in activity and visitor levels of the 2020 spring lockdown were quickly followed by a visitor surge to our outdoor spaces. There is no reason not to expect the same as our current set of lockdown restrictions ease.

This is news to be celebrated but also planned for. As an outdoor writer and influencer, I’ve been thinking long and hard about my future writing strategies and how these can have a positive effect on both my readers and the natural environment.

I have given myself a three-point eco-friendly outdoor writing plan.

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