Recollections of an HF leader

'Why I volunteer as a walk leader'

Kevin Hall has been leading HF Holidays groups on walks and wildlife holidays for nearly 20 years. He is a keen photographer and regularly sends in the fabulous photos of wildlife and landscapes that he takes while he is out and about in the countryside. Here we ask him about how he came to be a leader and some of his enduring memories and experiences to date.

Kevin Hall

Q. How were you recruited by HF Holidays? Did you have any experience of HF before leading?
I saw a very small ad – about the size of a postage stamp - in the YHA magazine and I responded to that. They sent me a whole lot of tricky homework questions. I did all these and sent them off. I didn’t hear anything for a good while and was then invited to Derwent Bank for an assessment weekend. I knew nothing about HF Holidays beforehand. I thought it would be a religious organisation!

Before going to Derwent Bank I had to pay a good faith deposit; £25 cheque, returned uncashed if you turned up! I turned up, was greeted and was well impressed from the very start. Round tables and sit anywhere, menus to choose from, great atmosphere. The weekend was a hoot from start to finish. 

Out in Whinlatter Forest in the dark, I had to find two particular cubic boulders, (which I called Picasso’s testicles). I still don’t know how I did that, but I did somehow.

Then on return there were more tricky test papers. I’ve hardly seen anyone from that guidelines assessment since. There was one guy, Simon, who was very good and helped me by lending me a decent headlamp. I’ve never seen him since which is a shame really. Some dropped out while others were dropped without ceremony. They took me on, probationary on a C grade. I was upgraded to a D later.

At that time, you could sign up for abroad leading at the same time, and I did, as I have reasonable French. 

Q. When you first became a leader what was your walking and professional background?
I’d worked in comprehensive schools, teaching science and with major responsibilities. I’ve walked since I was young with friends, and at college I was a leader and committee member for the Hiking Club. Then as a teacher I ran a walking club and passed a summer MLC at Plas y Brenin in 1973. I’ve taken lots of teenagers and parents and other staff up mountains in Wales and the Lakes, the Pennines, etc. I’ve also done fieldwork courses with schools.

Q. Can you remember why you wanted to be a leader?
I love being outside and all aspects of nature and wild places. When I finished as a teacher, I wanted some outdoor activities, some with people, some with physical exercise, some needing mental effort; this HF Holidays leading idea seemed to meet all those things. Like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles, this was in the middle, the common ground. And so it proved to be, exceeding all expectations.

Q. What was the first area you led in?
The Southern Yorkshire Dales. Dai Rowlands – one of the HF Leaders was also at the house leading. He offered to help me and was very good; I’ve kept in touch with him ever since and used him as a counsellor.

The first walk went via Malham Cove, where a lady with very poor waterproofs was soaked and cold; I got some extra layers on her and cut the walk short down to the pub. I felt very green, but it went well. I found getting off the coach made me disoriented at first. Some leaders made me feel like an incomer, Kevin-come-lately! Now I’d like to think I’m one of the old guard!

Q. How do you look back now on your leading skills when you first started?
Looking back now I must have done well, though lacking in confidence which is typical of me. People liked the wildlife information and informal approach.

Q. When and where was your most recent lead?
Brecon in autumn 2021. I had signed up for three nights but ended up staying for ten because of Covid restrictions coming into force, meaning that the scheduled leaders could no longer come.

Q. What aspects of leading have changed most since you started?
It’s all electronic now, even the mapping, though I only use the phone for a dead fix. Guests have often got gizmos, making me look old! The walks are more carefully done, a credit to all the Field Advisors.

Q. What aspects of HF Holidays are unchanged since you started leading?The great outdoors and countryside, the desire of guests to be led well and to overcome difficulties or find places they wouldn’t tackle on their own. The sharing of great experiences.

Q. Do you think that the walks experience has changed?
Walks are generally easier and better described now. There’s a better range and choice now I think to suit a wider range of walkers.

Q. Have the country houses changed much?
Facilities, food, rooms… all gone up market now compared with when I started. Some leaders’ rooms were grim, just glory holes up in attics. Now all en-suite and leaders are accommodated so much better. Food is much more elaborate now compared with menus when I started.

Q. What was your best HF experience?
Hard to choose; I’ve had such a great time on all the trips whether in UK or Europe or doing wildlife holidays when I set the routes. Norway’s Lofoten Islands were really outstanding, but so were some of the Guided Trails and other European holidays. I’d do them all again, I’ve never had one I regretted. There is always fun of one sort or another!

Q. If you could bring back one thing about ‘past HF Holidays’, what would it be
All changes are for the better. It’s a complex organisation and very impressive. A dynamic one too, and one that has to move with the times, which it has done successfully.