Introducing Phoebe Smith, our new Scout Adventurer
22/05/2019 News | Blog
A wild at heart writer with an eye for a great story, Phoebe Smith isn’t only an industry-leading adventure specialist, wild camping champion and broadcaster, but is now your latest Scout Adventurer. While millions fall asleep to her stories (she’s the world’s first Sleep Storyteller-in-Residence at Calm - the number one meditation app), we ask Phoebe to talk about the woman behind the stories, and what’s coming up in the next chapter…
Was it always clear that you’d end up on this adventurous path?
Not at all – despite growing up on the edge of Snowdonia in North Wales, I was never into the outdoors as a kid. As it always is, you take these things for granted when they’re available. Mostly, I was really into guitar and desperately trying to be a rock star. It was only after my degree in journalism came to an end that this path started to materialise.
What happened after University?
I went travelling, because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. In Australia, I was persuaded to go and sleep wild in the Red Centre – home of the Uluru rock – where we camped in swag bags (Aussie bivvy-bags). The guide described all the snakes, scorpions and ants that could kill with one bite. But the stars were the brightest I’d ever seen, and I fell asleep to the most beautiful sunset. When I woke, I wondered, how come I’d not done this anywhere back home?
Where was your first wild camp here in the UK?
Back at the root of it all, near where I’m from in Snowdonia. One minute it was pounding with rain, the next I was badly sunburnt; midges were in my eyes and up my nose; I got ticks, chased by sheep... But then I found a lyn (a lake), surrounded by mountains, and knew I’d found my place. The next morning, I caught sight of my sun-burnt, midge-bitten face, and – although I’d never looked less glamorous – I also didn’t think I’d ever looked so good. I knew that there had been a cataclysmic change within me.
Did you have any concerns?
Everyone told me it would go wrong. That I would be mugged, attacked, definitely eaten by bears (in Wales?!). Then, come 2am, I heard footsteps outside my tent. I was terrified. Finally, I worked up the courage to open up the tent and found, of course, it was a rabbit. It’s always a rabbit. That fear is just how it is on your first few solo camps, but the worry goes over time. Now, it’s just a case of, if I don't feel comfortable, I'll pack up and find somewhere new.
‘I knew that there had been a cataclysmic change within me.’
Just how big of a turning point was that first camp?
Oh, from then on, it was a total addiction – pushing my sleeps more and more in the pursuit to find the ultimate sleeping spot in the UK. Twelve years later, I’m still at it!
Where are some of the strangest places you’ve slept?
I’ve slept all over – caves, bothies, under overhangs, dangling from trees, on mountaintops, inside glaciers… I’m always looking for somewhere new, and somewhere with a story behind it. We’re such a small island, but we have so many different kinds of terrain for so many different kinds of adventure.
What are the golden rules for wild camping?
Arrive late, leave early and always take your rubbish with you. I always try to leave a site in a better state than I found it. The best thing I ever learned was how to read a map, that way you can find the best wild camping spots – well away from people’s homes, ideally near a source of water, off paths and out of people’s way.
And your biggest wild camping tips?
For your first couple of wild camps, go somewhere you know really well, and be sure to visit in the daytime first. Take kit that’ll keep you warm – a down sleeping bag will do the trick. And don’t underestimate the niceties. My motto is enjoy, not endure, so I’ll take my inflatable pillow, hot food and nice drinks. Also, fill a Sigg bottle with boiling water and wrap it in a fleece or sock; that way you can snuggle up with a makeshift hot water bottle
Heard any wild camp horror stories?
One girl told me she’d gone wild camping and had an awful time. Turned out she’d only taken a salad to eat. This is not the time to calorie count!
‘Fill a Sigg bottle with boiling water and wrap it in a fleece or sock, that way you can snuggle up with a makeshift hot water bottle.’
What’s been one of your biggest achievements?
Last year I gave up my Christmas to raise over £16,000 for Centrepoint – the young person’s homeless charity. I set myself a challenge called ‘Wanderwoman Walks the Wall’, where I walked the width of Britain (one hundred miles) following Hadrian’s Wall. I spent my Christmas Eve in a frozen farmer’s ditch in the middle of Cumbria, and finally finished on the evening of Christmas Day. It was a really difficult hike, but the feeling of pride at the end was amazing.
How did it feel being asked to be a Scout Adventurer?
I was honoured. It’s so important for me to help try and get young people into the outdoors. Not only is it great for physical health and mental health, but if young people don’t have chance to fall in love with the outdoors, how will they care enough to protect it?
Is there a connection between personal success and the outdoors?
100%. The more I’ve pushed my wild camping, the more successful I’ve become in my professional life as a writer and adventure journalist. It gives you all those skills to feel like you can do anything. These skills are quite literally ‘skills for life’, which is a motto that resonates hugely with me. Even if you don’t realise it at the time, the things you learn in the outdoors work their way into so many other areas of your life.
Who’s your favourite fellow Scout Adventurer or Ambassador?
I’m biased but I obviously have to say my upcoming polar expedition teammate Dwayne Fields! All the Adventurers and Ambassadors are wonderfully inspiring but Dwayne and I get on so well. Sometimes the adventure world can be full of machismo, but we know how to have a laugh and not take ourselves too seriously.
‘Even if you don’t realise it at the time, the things you learn in the outdoors work their way into so many other areas of your life.’
Can you tell us a little more about this expedition?
So this is our WeTwo expedition in Antarctica – the idea behind it is that both Dwayne and myself have been told we can’t do things. I’m not well connected enough, I’m a woman... Dwayne on the other hand is a black guy who had a troubled inner-city upbringing. Even with this expedition, certain organisations have told us that we’re not ‘the right people’. So we’ve teamed up to show everyone that it doesn’t matter your gender, your race or where you’re from. It’s about working together – and that if we work together, we can make real change.
What does the expedition look like?
We’re doing something we’ve called ‘Penguins to Poles’, starting at the emperor Penguin colony on Beckner Island and walking to the South Pole. The usual starting point for the walk to the South Pole is three away days from Beckner Island, and while no self-respecting explorer would ever walk three days in the wrong direction, Dwayne and I will! We think penguins are a great icon for the underprivileged; they live tremendously hard lives and are constantly battling against the elements.
What do you plan on doing with the money you raise?
We’ll be using the money raised from this adventure to take a group of under-privileged young people to Antarctica the year after, in 2020. Essentially, we’re going to go and do something we’ve been told we can’t do, to then go and take young people who believe they can’t do it, either. It’s really important to me that young people connect with the planet, especially now that micro plastics have now been discovered in Antarctica. Anyone who comes to Antarctica becomes an instant ambassador for it, and we need to give young people that chance to see it.
‘We think penguins are a great icon for the underprivileged; they live tremendously hard lives and are constantly battling against the elements.’
What makes Scouts the perfect match for you?
The values that Scouts and I both have, and the things we’re trying to do for the next generation, are perfectly in sync with each other. It makes total sense in my eyes. I’m nobody special, though – that’s my whole thing – I’m just a normal woman who wants to find adventure and make it a huge focal point in my life. I believe I can show young people that it’s possible for them, too.
Do you have any advice for aspiring adventurers?
Try everything; at least that’s what I do! And don’t give up. I was told so many times I couldn’t wild camp cause I’m a woman, that I couldn’t be a travel writer because it’s the most competitive part of the industry. Any time you spending comparing yourself to others and complaining about your lack of time is a waste of time. Just do it!
Please be mindful of wild camping and the law, and always seek the landowner’s permission.