Join the Black Dog Outdoors Big Day Out!

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Trail magazine chats to the founder of Black Dog Outdoors about April’s Big Day Out – a free guided group walk in the Peak District organised specifically for people affected by poor mental health or mental illness.

Here, founder Andy Higson explains more about the Black Dog Outdoors online platform, and how you can get involved in the Big Day Out on April 12th.


Tell us about Black Dog’s Big Day Out on April 12th.  How can people get involved?

Black Dog’s Big Day Out is an organised walk specifically for those affected by poor mental health or mental illness.  The walk is free to attend, will be held in the Peak District, and is being led by qualified MTA (Mountain Training Association) Mountain Leaders.

This is our first planned event and aimed at introducing people to hiking in a more mountainous landscape.  The walk will be a great opportunity for those attending to meet like-minded people, make new friendships, experience the beauty of the Peak District, and also to learn some useful tips from the experienced leaders.

We’re looking to keep the number of attendees to a manageable level but there are still some places available.  Anyone wishing to attend can confirm their interest by dropping us an e-mail at to request a booking form.

What does the Black Dog Outdoors platform do?

The aim of Black Dog Outdoors is to promote the health benefits of outdoor exercise to those affected by poor mental health or mental illness.  One barrier that may affect people from getting outside, however, is the confidence or competence to do so.  We’ve therefore developed our website ( to provide a free source of information or advice for people looking to take their first steps in the outdoors, or those that already have an outdoor hobby but want to take it to the next level.  The website provides links to information such as:

·  databases for qualified independent leaders and instructors

·  national outdoor / mountaineering centres

·  local mental health related outdoor groups

·  information on staying safe (weather forecasts, insurance, tips on navigation, etc.)

·  outdoor equipment suppliers

·  mental health support groups and charities

We are also active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  We use these social media platforms to promote the health benefits of outdoor activities, share current news and articles on mental health issues, and also to share the great work being done by other mental health related groups and organisations.

Where did the idea for Black Dog Outdoors come from?

The idea started out like all good ideas do… in the pub! Actually, to be more precise, the idea was initially conceived last summer when I was climbing Mount Elbrus in Russia.  I recall discussing mental health issues with the guide, how mountaineering is my own personal therapy for dealing with work-related stress, and how I hope to attain the Mountain Leader qualification to help other people enjoy the health benefits of being outdoors.

When I returned home I had a similar conversation with friends after we’d been climbing.  I was surprised to find that many of them are affected by poor mental health and use climbing as their release.  This all seemed too much like coincidence so we discussed the topic further and found, unanimously, that we all feel better about life when we’re outside in our natural environment. 

I developed an outline concept (from these conversations) of an organisation that actively promotes a reconnection with nature, via outdoor activities, to promote improved mental health.  This eventually became Black Dog Outdoors. 

How does time outdoors help people overcome mental health problems?

My view, and that shared by the team at Black Dog Outdoors, is that the rise in mental health issues may be directly linked to modern living.  Humans have only been around for a few thousand years and, compared to the last 100 years or so, new technology has been relatively slow to develop.  Have our minds evolved sufficiently over the last century to keep up with the technological boom and the hectic pace of modern life?  Are we supposed to be jetting across continents and sat typing at computers or, mentally, are we still hunter-gatherers that should be living off the land?

This is only an opinion but, seemingly, it is an opinion shared by professional bodies. In fact, the role of sport and recreation in improving mental health is becoming increasingly clear (see this link).  Significantly, many of the mental health organisations are also citing ‘green exercise’ as a means of improving mental health – the NHS is even starting to prescribe it. 

The effects of outdoor activities can include stress reduction, improved mood, improved self-esteem and improved health and general well-being.  They take us away from the day-to-day activities that may cause us frustration and stress.  We learn to relax and, even if only for a short while, we find ourselves again (as discussed in Jules Pretty’s ‘Manifesto for the Green Mind’.

You have some fantastic partners in the BMC, Mountain Training, and Scottish Mountaineering…

We couldn’t be more grateful to these organisations for the support they’ve given us in the early days of Black Dog Outdoors.  The BMC and MTA are both supporting our Big Day Out in April and I’m sure that any future events “up North” will be well supported by Mountaineering Scotland.  It’s fantastic to know that mental health is high on their respective agendas and also on the agenda of the mountaineering community in general.

What future plans do you have for Black Dog Outdoors?

Good question! The last 6 months have been a whirlwind of activity, thanks mainly to the kind support from various organisations and individuals.  We’re already ahead of where we expected to be after six months, which is both scary and exciting in equal measures.

The “mission” at Black Dog Outdoors is to support people in improving their mental health through outdoor activities.  Our future plans will therefore involve more events in different parts of the UK, which will provide people with the opportunity to take on new adventures.

We’re also in the process of registering as a non-profit charity as part of our long-term plan.  This should help us to secure funding for larger events in the future… so watch this space!

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Oli Reed