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Mental Health Awareness Week Blog 3: From Football and Alcohol to Nature and the Outdoors

Volunteer Paul Bill Bishop writes about how switching football and alcohol for nature and the outdoors changed his life.

I can remember the exact time: 6:02am, 6 September 2008. The early morning sun is rising in Barcelona. England football fans are pouring out on the streets from another drunken night, me ashamedly amongst them, sat on a bench head in hands unable to stand or speak – just a drunken shameful mess. I’d started drinking the previous afternoon – an all too familiar routine – not missing  a game for over two years, home or away. It was taking its toll on me both financially and health wise. My two best friends at the time, football and alcohol, were giving me a beating mentally and physically. It had been my escape to ease the sadness and heart-wrenching pain of losing both my wife’s parents within 18 months of one another. Their passing had hit me hard, very hard . It was time for change. The Estadi Olimpic de Montjuic, Barcelona, would be the last time I ever walked into a football stadium. Football and alcohol would no longer be my closest of companions. 

And now as I sit here alone in my study, the sun shining, surrounded by nature books, my mountain leader and gold award navigation certificates proudly framed above my desk, there is one book that stands out amongst all the others: ‘Guided walks in the Yorkshire Dales’. It lays tattered and torn, almost laid to rest peacefully. As I stepped out nervously in those early days it was always by my side – it was opening up a whole new world which was such a contrast from what I had left behind. 

Whenever I’m asked my destination while heading for the Dales I always reply: “home”. Its rolling hills, valleys carved out by melting glaciers over 12000 years ago, limestone pavements and hills at least 400 million years old, its rivers twisting, turning and tumbling, almost inviting you to join them, are all things I never tire of. 

My qualification as a mountain leader enables me to guide anywhere in the country on any terrain. Its award is well-earnt and requires dedication and commitment. It’s the soft skills that really count – a love of the outdoors and knowing how being connected with nature can change your life, your whole being. I’ve walked, trekked and slept in some of the most stunning locations across the UK. There is no greater reward than wandering the hills with your home on your back for the night, just you and the elements. Simply one foot in front of the other: there is no future, no past, just the moment. And the sun shines now.

Posted on: 12th May 2021