Netwalking, a networking meeting with a difference comes to Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 14:52 09 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 February 2013
The Yorkshire hills are alive with the sound of business, as Jo Haywood discovers at a networking meeting with a difference Photographs by Joan Russell
Take your shoes and socks off. Go on, give it a go. Itll surprise the heck out of your colleagues at work, but feeling the carpet under your outstretched toes will give you the little frisson you need to get through the day.
Now imagine you are barefoot on a mossy hillside with sheep milling about aimlessly around you, skylarks leading each other a merry dance above your head and undulating acres of Yorkshires northern-most dale laid out before you.
Sounds idyllic, doesnt it? And about as far away from an average day at office as you can get. But this is an average day at the office for Mark Reid, who runs a Netwalking group for Yorkshire business people who like to walk the walk as they talk the talk.
His office on this particular day a warm, late spring Wednesday is Arkengarthdale, which sits so far north in the dales its virtually in County Durham.
And his colleagues are a lively mixture of financial advisers, media consultants, psychotherapists and business trouble-shooters (oh, and a dog called Elvis but more of him later), all keen to swap ideas as well as business cards on an 8km hilly hike.
They gather at 8.30am at The CB Inn, which stands like a lone culinary beacon in this largely empty dale, for bacon butties and a brief introduction before striding out on a four-hour hill walking expedition set to challenge them physically and, perhaps, challenge their preconceptions about what makes a successful business.
Why are we networking here in the dales and not in a dusty hotel meeting room? Mark asks the group as they lace up their boots and stow their waterproofs in their backpacks (well, this is Yorkshire after all). I believe you do better business with people you know the Russelland trust. Its about developing relationships, and what better way to get to know someone than spending four hours talking and walking with them? If you want to swap business cards, you can, but its not obligatory.
Netwalking is not just about doing business. Its about making connections and developing your own business by talking to others about how theyve developed theirs. Its also about taking time out to think about your business without the distraction of emails and phone calls.
Youll be back in the office tomorrow feeling great and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way.
But thats tomorrow. For now, the 12 business people are happily slogging their way up the dale, ready for a five-minute break on the highest ridge.
This is the natural world of ecotherapy, says Mark, encouraging the group to sit in silent contemplation with nothing but the flip-flick of lapwings in flight to disturb the peace. You can learn a lot about yourself when you learn about the landscape you live in. Yes, this is good for you physically and youll burn about 1,000 calories today, but its more than that. This does wonders for your mental health. It releases feel-good endorphins and helps to relieve stress. If you take one piece of advice away with you today, let it be this: go walking youll live longer.
Next comes the most challenging part of the day for some barefoot walking. There are ooohs of satisfaction as moss engulfs hard-working feet in a cashmere-soft embrace, closely followed by yikes of surprise as nettles and thistles go about their prickly business with unnecessary enthusiasm.
As the yikes begin to outstrip the ooohs, most put their socks and boots back on again. But some hardy souls (with hardy soles) continue for a while longer, padding along with Marks dog Elvis, a large, excitable hound with an unassailable love of sheep droppings and sausage sandwiches (using one as a delicious entree to the other).
This is quite adventurous stuff, says Mark. I can usually gauge what people can do when we meet. I havent done barefoot walking with a group before, but I thought this lot would be up for it. This is a proper days walk out in the hills. Netwalking started in America, but it usually involved people in suits going for a 30-minute stroll in their lunch hour. This is much more full-on.
Netwalking is just one aspect of Marks work. He is recognised as one of the UKs leading experts on country pubs and long distance walks, and has written 17 successful guidebooks, including the acclaimed Inn Way series covering national parks across the north.
Hes a qualified walking group leader and, through his Harrogate-based Teamwalking business, has hiked more than 10,000 miles of footpaths in the last 14 years with corporate and tourist groups. As if all that was not enough, he also navigates ITV weatherman Jon Mitchell around the countys most beautiful and, sometimes, challenging landscapes as part of his walking series, A Breath of Fresh Air. He set up his Netwalking group three years ago and now runs five or six walks a year from March to December (apparently the Christmas walk is usually over-subscribed).
I know the dales and I know business, he said. Combining the two seemed to be the obvious next step.
If you fancy stepping out with Mark, there are Netwalking hikes planned on October 5th at Hawnby and December 7th at Burnsall.