Victoria Pendleton is no stranger to enjoying the challenge of the diverse activities the nation’s forests have to offer. With experience as both an ex-professional cyclist and amateur jockey, the joy of mixing up outdoor activities comes naturally. Whether it’s mountain biking, horse riding, running, dog walking or simply exploring, she always finds a reason to keep heading out.
We met with Victoria to hear about what makes the forest a special place. Having recently moved to nearby Wareham Forest, it was the perfect place to find out more from her about exploring the nation’s forests from her backdoor.
What is it you love about this forest?
Despite being a tiny island there’s lots of diversity in our forests in the UK – they all give you very different experience to enjoy. Here in Dorset there’s different kinds of trees, plants and landscape. I’ve lived in a few different parts of the UK and this almost feels like you’re in another country sometimes. Having moved around as an athlete I don’t think I’ve found home yet, I’m still searching, so I really enjoy exploring new settings and environments.
I keep discovering new tracks and new trails. It’s always fun to find new loop, or a shortcut here and there. It keeps things different, and you can appreciate new views or sometimes just a beautiful tree! I also bring my horses out into the forest which I love, there’s nothing better than looking at the world between two ears with a forest backdrop. That’s just heaven.
What is it about the forest that makes it a special place to spend time?
I've grown up riding my bikes and exploring the countryside. I’m very lucky that I’ve grown up having the confidence to do that into adulthood too, it feels very natural and comfortable to me.
I really struggled living in a built-up environment. I feel more settled and more relaxed in green space, it gives you more energy and more mental capacity.
The forest is an ecosystem that wraps around you and immerses you. As an environment it's as far away as one can get from where most of us spend our modern lives, and the beauty is that there’s normally one not too far away if you search it out.
There’s nothing nicer than being in fresh air, particularly when it’s bright and the sun is coming through the trees – it's a special and magical environment. It makes you feel very small.
What motivates you to get outdoors?
Although I used to be an elite athlete, I don’t spend time here like I’m training for something. I like to come here to exercise, but also just to enjoy it for what it is.
Two days in the forest are never the same. You meet different people, there’ll be different light and weather – it’s a constantly changing environment through the seasons. It would be quite dull if it always looked the same, and it helps you track time because I think time flies by when you’re in nature.
When exercising in the forest there’s the feedback, it rewards your senses. What you can see, what you can hear, what you can smell – it's good for the soul. It’s far more peaceful and less dangerous than urban areas for exercising.
Even when the weather’s grim, the trees give you natural shelter. There are small hills, roots, ruts – it’s more interesting than built up areas which helps keep the mind active and makes it easier to keep motivated when exercising.
I would always encourage people to try outdoor activities - it’s never too late. Set yourself small goals, such as trying something new or revisiting an old activity. Give it a go, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. It can be a massive help from the routine of daily life.
Why is it important we respect the forest environment when we're out enjoying it?
When you’re in the forest you’re surrounded by wildlife, you’re on their turf. I’m lucky that when I’m on my horses the wildlife doesn’t evade me the same way it does when on foot or bike. I get to see nature a little bit closer, it’s a bonus to horse riding.
The forest, especially here in Wareham, is a really unique ecosystem full of diverse habitats. The wildlife called it home before we got here.
We enjoy the space for relaxation and exercise but from the insects, bugs and reptiles to the birds and mammals – it's a densely populated home to a huge range of creatures. This is a very special environment that needs to be protected and looked after for the future.