WRITTEN by ANNE ENSOLL & ALAN KIMBER
In this series we will be sharing the stories of outdoor instructors, mountain guides and enthusiasts who work and play in the mountains. You can read previous posts here:
My Story #1: Chris Ensoll, International Mountain Guide
My Story #2: John Kettle, Climbing & Mountain Biking Coach
My Story #3: Kelvyn James, International Mountain Leader
My Story #4: Anne Ensoll, Business Manager And Ex-Outdoor Instructor
My Story #5: Michael Curry, All-Round Outdoor Instructor and Business Owner
My Story #6: Esther Foster, Freelance Outdoor Instructor
My Story #7: Rob Pugh, Mountaineering Instructor and Stay-at-Home Dad
My Story #8: Colin Reilly, Outdoor Instructor & Church Pastor
My Story #9: Rhiannon Pritchard, Arctic Nature Guide and Academic
Alan Kimber is well-known in the world of mountain guiding. He is an IFMGA Guide, and he started up and ran West Coast Mountain Guides for 25 years. With his wife Sue he set up the family business of self-catering accommodation at Calluna, Fort William
What are your memories of adventures in the outdoors as a child or teenager?
Fishing, climbing trees, bird nesting :(, building bikes and going through the woods with them, old quarries, and clambering around on roof tops.
What do you remember about your outdoor adventures when you started doing them independently?
I went on an outdoor course and got involved with the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. I regularly went sandstone climbing at Harrisons Rocks, and drove up to North Wales from Hastings for weekends away. That was before the M25 of course - straight through the centre of London, up the Edgware Road and M1, turning left on to the A5 at some point, before arriving to wild camp on the shores of Llyn Ogwen at 2am. All sorts of crazy stuff, including paraffin blowing and swimming in Llyn Ogwen after coming back from the Tyn-y-Coed pub. Later we went up-market, staying in Scotty Dwyer's bunkhouse near Capel Curig.
When did it change from a hobby to a career?
Involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme led to working in youth centres and organising adventure days away. In 1970 I got a cash grant towards a three month course at Plas y Brenin for people who were interested in introducing others to the outdoors. The course cost £150 for three months, including a couple of weeks climbing and skiing in Scotland. I was then offered a voluntary instructor job at Plas y Brenin for six months. My future wife, Sue, was working in the kitchens during her college holidays at the time. When I started work there, my personal climbing grade was VDiff. This changed dramatically due to the exposure to other instructors with whom I went climbing, including Rowland Edwards.
What has your path been since then?
I moved on to Scotland and worked at the Benmore Centre near Dunoon and then on to Outward Bound Loch Eil near Fort William. Following the move up to Scotland I started ice climbing, which is now my favourite season. Working at Loch Eil Centre I came in contact with members of the loosely formed Creag Dubh Mountaineering Club, most of whom were unemployed at the time. I was fortunate enough to be working alongside of some very good climbers at the centre as well.
In 1985 I tried college for a couple of years, before starting up West Coast Mountain Guides in 1988. After 25 years I handed the company on to younger and fitter people, and I'm pleased to say that it is still going strong in Fort William. Sue and I also started a self-catering business, with 26 beds. This proved to be a very good move - it complemented the mountain training work and is still run as our family business.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to work in the outdoors, what would it be?
Stay fit. Invest in health insurance before your body starts to give up. Make sure you have a patient partner/wife, who understands what motivates you, and don't take them for granted. Continue to visit new places and carry on with your interest in the outdoors. Use it or lose it.