Blackdog Outdoors is managed by a small team of volunteers. We all share similar interests, which include climbing, walking, paddle sports, biking, and the outdoors in general. We’re also extremely passionate about the promotion of outdoor exercise to improve mental health and wellbeing.
We have a wealth of experience between us, which covers a wide range of outdoor disciplines, and we’re here to help. If you need any advice on how to get started outdoors, what equipment to buy, or you need pointing in the right direction, then please drop us a line via e-mail or our social media networks. We look forward to hearing from you!
MEET THE TEAM
Andrew Higson – Director
Andy heads up our organisation and is a keen mountaineer and climber with experience of UK mountaineering in all seasons, as well as expeditions to climb in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps, and to the summit of Mount Elbrus. He is a qualified Mountain Leader, NNAS Navigation Tutor, and member of the Mountain Training Association, Mountaineering Scotland, and the British Mountaineering Council.
Being in the outdoors helps Andy to find balance in a fast-paced, often stressful, life. He is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and is passionate about promoting the benefits of outdoor activities and a reconnection with nature to others.
John Gale – Business Development Manager & Climbing Officer
John is our Business Development Manager, Climbing Officer and a keen rock climber. After discovering his passion for the sport 6 years ago, whilst trying out a local climbing wall, he has since attended various training schemes and is currently working towards the Rock Climbing Instructor award through Mountain Training. He’s been fortunate enough to enjoy climbing across the UK, Spain, France, Italy and Corsica.
John has a background in local youth and community projects including youth festivals and fundraising for local sport facilities. After recently returning from 6 months climbing in Spain, and being forced to take several months out with a degenerative back problem, he is keen to help bring other people into the world of Outdoor Adventure and all of the benefits that it brings.
Scott Robertson – Compliance Manager
Scott, as our compliance manager, is the one that keeps us all in check. He has been riding bikes in the hills for as long as he can remember, and that freedom and escapism is what drives most of his adventures, whether that is on a road bike, mountain bike, or with a set of mountaineering boots on.
Scott is a qualified Mountain Leader, Mountain Bike Instructor, Rock Climbing Instructor, climbing coach, and is working towards becoming a Mental Health First Aider. He likes nothing more than enthusing about why he does this to anyone who will listen.
Scott is also proof you can combine the stresses of an office job alongside a career in the outdoors.
Ian Holden – Operations Manager
Ian is our Operations Manager and is supported in this role by other members of the team. He’s also our resident videographer and enjoys capturing the essence of our work, which many of you will have seen on our social media channels.
In 2017, Ian decided that he was going to climb Kilimanjaro. Knowing he was totally unprepared he asked Andy Higson to help him by accompanying him up Snowdon. The experience in 50mph winds and horizontal rain should have put him off for life; however it had the opposite effect and he now tries to get in a hill at least once a month. Ian’s health and well being has vastly improved. He’s lost over two stone in weight and he ran his first ever half marathon shortly before hid 50th Birthday. He can’t sell the benefits of being outdoors enough – he’s a real champion!
Ian is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and actively promotes the outdoors as a form of therapy. Kilimanjaro became a reality in Oct 2019 – ‘Climbing Mountains not Making them’. In 2021 Ian qualified as a Mountain Leader through Mountain Training.
Lynne-Marie Dale – Paddlesport Officer
As our Paddlesport Officer, Lynne is the one that can always be found on or in the water!
The idea of sitting in a kayak or Canoe, on rivers, lakes or canals and just enjoying the blue space around us is something Lynne feels very passionate about. She is a British Canoeing qualified Paddlesport Coach based in Yorkshire, a REC level 3 First Aider and Mental Health First Aider. Lynne also runs Yorkshire Sea Kayakers, travelling around the country to explore the coastline that surrounds this beautiful island we live on. In 2020, Lynne’s efforts were recognised by British Canoeing, and she received a well deserved ‘Coach of the Year Award’ for engagement.
Lynne spends all her spare time paddling or coaching on our rivers, canals, lakes and coasts, and she loves introducing people to paddlesport, supporting those initial tentative paddle strokes then seeing the relaxation wash over us as we pootle along and chat while looking out for Otters and Kingfishers on the rivers or Seals and Dolphins on the Sea.
Felicity Turner – Hill Walking & Skills Officer (England & Wales)
Felicity (Fliss) has overall responsibility for planning and coordinating our hill walking and hill skills events in England and Wales. Fliss is a qualified Mountain Leader, a member of the BMC, volunteer for the MTA, she trains and assesses Duke of Edinburgh, and is part of the Lakeland Mountain Guides team…. basically she’s totally obsessed with our mountains in the UK. Fliss is also a qualified Mental Health First Aider.
Fliss loves heading out for a family adventure day, usually in Snowdonia as she’s lucky enough to have a base near Beddgelert. She loves that our beautiful countryside can give us freedom, not just physically, but mentally too.
Alan MacKay – Hill Walking & Skills Officer (Scotland West)
Al has overall responsibility for planning and coordinating our hill walking and hill skills events in Scotland. Al is a qualified Mountain Leader through Mountain Training, a member of Mountaineering Scotland, The British Mountaineering Council and the Mountain Training Association.
He tutors and assesses the Lowland Leader Award and can also be found leading groups on Ben Nevis. Being in the hills is very important to Al and he knows how positively this can impact on mental health. He enjoys sharing his love of the hills, especially with newcomers, and looks forward to sharing this passion with others.
Vicky Bickerstaffe – Hill Walking & Skills Officer (Scotland East)
Vicky is hill walking & hill skills officer for Scotland (East & Central) supporting Al Mackay. She is a keen mountaineer, trail runner and adventurer who spends much of her time in the Scottish Highlands and lowlands. She has explored and climbed throughout the UK as well as in the Alps and Himalaya. She also enjoys open canoeing and paddle boarding and yoga.
Vicky is a qualified Mountain leader, WMT Advanced medicine trained, qualified fitness instructor, and member of the MTA and Mountaineering of Scotland.
Vicky lives with long term mental health conditions which do have limiting effects on her life, but they do not define her. She is a passionate advocate of the therapeutic effects of the outdoors on a person’s mental wellbeing. As well as 20+ years of lived experience Vicky has gained several qualifications in mental health studies, mindfulness and counselling skills placing Vicky in a unique position to empathise and support others.
Holly Peristiani – Event Leader
Holly is a qualified Rock Climbing Instructor and full member of the Mountain Training Association. She found climbing in her mid-30s and immediately recognised the mental health benefits it provides. She enjoys all forms of climbing, although trad is probably her favourite: not much beats topping out on a sunny day in the Peak District!
Holly has worked with a wide range of people both indoors and outdoors, has training in working with visually impaired people, and is a qualified Mental Health First Aider.
Dan Thistlethwaite – Event Leader
Dan is one of our fantastic event leaders, with professional qualifications in hill-walking, paddling and climbing. Although based in Yorkshire, Dan has vast experience of leading events, and training providers, at home and overseas. Dan was a glacier guide in Iceland for 21 months and, as well as that, has worked for outdoor providers in the UAE and Thailand.
Dan is a member of the British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training Association, and is a proficient mountaineer and climber. He has climbed extensively throughout the UK, as well as in the French Alps, Polish Tatras, and to the summit of Gran Paradiso in Italy.
He is a qualified Mental Health First Aider, and has been leading on Blackdog Outdoors events since May 2021. Dan has a love of the outdoors and is enthusiastic about encouraging others to spend more time in our green spaces.
Ainsley Martin – Event Leader
Ainsley is a qualified Mountain Leader through Mountain Training, a member of Mountaineering Scotland and the Mountain Training Association. She started exploring the outdoors when she joined her local Scout group and has loved hiking and camping since. She has explored extensively in her native Scotland, in Switzerland and New Zealand.
Being outdoors and active is important to Ainsley. She is a keen hiker, trail runner, climber and wild swimmer, and enjoys sharing this time outdoors with others.
Nathan Grant – Event Leader
Nathan is a qualified Mountain Leader, with a background in delivering a range of center based activities to both adults and children. He is also a qualified and experienced Mental Health First Aider.
Like many, Nathan gained the mountain walking ‘bug’ at an early age, on family holidays to the Lake District. Living with the Peak District on his doorstep, Nathan can often be found with a smile on his face, walking, climbing or running in all weathers and usually in the company of his dog Ruby. He enjoys sharing this love for the outdoors and encouraging others to get out.
Leigh Kember – Event Leader
Some of Leigh’s earliest memories of the mountains are skiing with his family as a kid, and this love for the mountains grew whilst serving in the British army skiing in the alps and Canadian rockies. After leaving the army in 2006 he continued to challenge himself running marathons and started working towards his Mountain Leader qualification.
Leigh overcame some obstacles from a challenging year in 2019 and has since gained his Mountain Leader Qualification, as well as other outdoor qualifications in white water safety and rescue, Climbing wall instructor training & Mental health first aid.
Leigh has recently moved to the Peak District so he can spend more time enjoying the outdoors, and aims to use the outdoors to improve not only his own health but also to inspire others to do the same.
Steve Bower – Event Leader
Steve found his love for the outdoors as a member of the military, as a reservist with the Army, and a regular in the Royal Marines Commando’s. Upon discharge he worked in the private security industry for several years before becoming an outdoor pursuit instructor and then a qualified therapist in a local authority mental health team. With mountaineering and climbing experience throughout Europe Steve finds spending time in the outdoors helps with his own experiences of PTSD and depression and his work with people in the outdoors often entails him working collaboratively to facilitate change and achieve goals.
Steve is a registered and qualified Social Worker, A Rock Climbing Instructor, Mountain Leader and a NNAS Navigation Tutor. He holds certificates in Mountain first aid and mental health first aid which are augmented by his involvement with the local Mountain Rescue Team. He is a scout skills instructor in mountaineering and climbing, Snowdonia ambassador and a member of the BMC and MTA.
Zoe Patchett – Operations Support
Zoe has recently joined the team in an Operational Support role. Her earliest foray into hill-walking was a steady bimble up the Tatras in 2015. Zoe reconnected with walking in September 2020 as a means of finding balance during the COVID pandemic, and is currently undertaking the epic Coast to Coast walk.
Zoe has also found the confidence to take up climbing and bouldering, and is a real ambassador for our work here at Blackdog Outdoors. Zoe is looking forward to meeting attendees at future events to help encourage and inspire.
Symi Fuchs – Yoga Instructor / Mental Health & Event Support
Symi’s had a call to the wild all her life. The outdoors has always been a great healing place for her. Nature lifts her spirit. From forest bathing to getting some scramble-time on big rugged landscapes, she knows there is something so magical about being active outdoors – rain, shine or snow!
Symi is a certified Forrest Yoga teacher, and loves it. Yoga is her daily medicine. She’s also a life experimenter and deep emotional diver who is inconsistently brave and riddled with fears, doubts and other flaws. She’s lived through a catalogue of life experiences which led her to finding yoga. In her 30s, she ditched her career and flew to San Francisco to do her teacher training. And she’s never looked back. Since Symi started yoga, what she wants out of life has become so much clearer, and she’s enjoying not overthinking or complicating things – just going with the flow a little more.
Symi is also a certified MHFA and is an advocate for mental health awareness. She’s witnessed, and felt, how yoga can play a huge role in improving mental health and is passionate about supporting people with the tools of yoga, meditation and the amazing outdoors.
Adam Thistlethwaite – Mental Health & Event Support
Adam has been in love with the outdoors since childhood starting with hill walks in the Dales with his father to now working towards the Mountain Leader award through Mountain Training. Adam is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and enjoys supporting our events.
He is an experienced mountaineer, finding his biggest pleasure and challenge from Scottish winter routes and long mountain days in the Lake District and North Wales. He has experience of Alpine and Icelandic glacial walking and cross-country skiing, as well as mountaineering in the Alps.
Ceira Maclachlan – Mental Health & Event Support
Ceira is part of our mental health focus group and a qualified Mental Health First Aider. Having grown up living on the fringes of the Lake district she has always enjoyed getting out and about in the Lakes as well as enjoying the great outdoors further afield, such as North Wales and Scotland. Usually you’ll find her out and about accompanied by her four legged wingman. For Ceira, nothing beats the feeling of achievement and being on top of the world once you’ve hiked to the top of a fell or mountain.
Ceira loves taking photos of where she’s been on my adventures as well, making memories and capturing the good times in life is important to her. She is also extremely passionate about promoting the benefits of spending time outside and the positive effects this can have on improving your mental and physical health. Having been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression herself 4 years ago, she came to realise the importance of spending time outside and how this has made a huge difference to her life and how it can for other’s too.
Stacey Roberts – Mental Health & Event Support
Stacey is part of our mental health focus group and a qualified Mental Health First Aider, with the ASIST qualification. Stacey loves the outdoors, whether that’s walking the fells, climbing or being in a kayak on a lake. Living on the edge of the Lake District she tries to make the most of it and is currently ticking off the Wainwrights. This also helped her train for a trip to climb Kilimanjaro later in 2019 with Ian Holden.
Stacey is a strong believer that the outdoors is great for our physical and mental health and she wants to help people have the confidence to get out and enjoy the beauty we have around us.
Cath Melvin – Mental Health & Event Support
Cath is part of our mental health focus group and a qualified Mental Health First Aider, with the ASIST qualification. Cath was lucky enough to be born in the beautiful county of Cumbria and a love of the outdoors has always been in her blood. There’s nothing like a yomp in mother nature to bring you back to the ground when the ups and downs of life get a bit heavy. Whether that’s the hills, lakes or coastline, she loves them all.
Cath works as a wellbeing Coordinator and is extremely passionate about improving her own and others’ mental and physical health and know first hand the benefits that outdoor activity can bring.
Melanie Temple – Mental Health & Event Support
Melanie is part of our mental health focus group and a qualified Mental Health First Aider.
Growing up in the Lake District she spent much of her youth pottering in the outdoors with her father where she developed an interest in the natural world.
After studying ecology in Cornwall and working in Norfolk, it wasn’t until she returned home that she developed an interest in the outdoors and really appreciated the area in which she grew up.
Melanie is interested in fell walking, climbing and mountain biking, although the term ‘mountain’ should really be altered to ‘nice path’ and ‘forestry track’ biking.
Whilst enjoying many sports, including golf (don’t hold it against her,) she fully believes that any activity in the outdoors, or physical exercise, can improve a persons’ health, both physically, mentally and socially.
Alex Jones – Mental Health & Event Support
Alex is a keen supporter of our events. The hills and mountains are special places to him, they feel like a space where he can truly cast off the expectations of modern life and learn and grow as we would in our natural environment.
His mid 20’s brought a difficult few years and he learned a lot about himself in that time. When his employer offered the chance of training as a MHFA he was one of the first on the list as he wanted the chance to return the favours so many have done for him.
Alex is a Mental Health First Aider and also working towards the Mountain Leader Award but, unfortunately, its taking forever as he keeps finding new adventures to distract him.
Rachel Johnson – Mental Health & Event Support
For as long as she can remember, Rachel has always been an outdoorsy person. Her absolute passion is the snow, learning to ski from an early age meant frequent trips to the Alps and up North to the rugged mountains of Scotland – if you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere!
Rachel’s parents always took her on camping and walking holidays, inspiring her love of all things nature! Now, she loves everything from the sea to the mountains and everything in between, often with a 4 legged friend in tow!
Already having experience with mental health and first aid it seemed natural that Rachel progressed and undertook the Mental Health First Aid course to help and support on blackdog events!
Naomi Scott – Mental Health & Event Support
Naomi is part of our mental health focus group and also supports on our events. When she was little she was always outside climbing trees and out with friends. As she grew up, and ‘real life’ stresses kicked in, she found herself bogged down with work, in a job she no longer enjoyed, feeling more and more down.
Naomi remembered her childhood and the enjoyment of being outside and took it upon herself with a friend to step out of her comfort zone and walk up Snowdon. Being Wales it was wetter than wet and, stangely enough, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. She hasn’t stopped since.
Naomi loves taking photos of the places she has been to capture the beauty of the great outdoors. Whether that be right on her doorstep or further afield. She feel that the benefits of getting outside and the impact it has on mental health and wellbeing, has been recognised and it’s a great way of letting go of all the stresses and worries that come with daily life.
Corinna Parry – Mental Health & Event Support
Corinna is part of our mental health focus group and a qualified Mental Health First Aider, with ASIST qualification. Having been born and bred in the heart of Snowdonia, it has only been since May 2019 that she discovered the love and passion she has for the mountains after deciding to hike up Snowdon for the second time in her lifetime. She has not looked back since that incredible moment she decided to change her life.
The new found love that Corinna has for the Mountains has certainly helped her own battles recently and helped to change and shape the direction to her life currently, the drive to keep on walking, running and wild swimming is so powerful and she is excited to share this experience with everyone.
Adam Vaughan – Photographer
Adam is our resident photographer. He started rock climbing in Liverpool about 6 years ago and very quickly became obsessed, progressing from indoor bouldering to the crags of Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales. He now lives and works in West Yorkshire where he’s lucky enough to have the Peak District on his doorstep for rock climbing, hiking and wild swimming. One day someone might even drag him up a mountain…
Adam’s background is in press and commercial photography but he now spends most of his time installing massive artworks outdoors.