My Countryside interview: Naomi Wilkinson
The Countryfile and CBBC presenter talks about her high-octane outdoor experiences and peaceful times in her garden. Now if only she could defeat her old adversary, hayfever...
I am lucky to have parents who are both extremely passionate about wildlife and the great outdoors. They were volunteers for the Avon Wildlife Trust while I was growing up and so I have them to thank for my deep-rooted appreciation of the natural world.
My job has taken me to some fabulous places. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been granted some very special access through my work. It’s hard to pick a favourite but visiting some of our majestic seabird colonies have been huge highlights for me. Watching guillemots fighting for space and charming puffins wearing their worried expressions on Skomer Island, or my long paddle out on a kayak around Bass Rock being dive-bombed by gannets and investigated by curious seals were cracking experiences.
With all the travelling I do, I find a great deal of contentment in simply sitting in my garden and watching the birds that come to visit. I am a passionate birdwatcher and as we live near some woodland, we are spoilt with the variety of species that pass through.
For a little adventure, head up the Atlantic Highway to Wadebridge in Cornwall, where, after hiring bikes, you can pick up the Camel Trail, a disused railway track that will take you to Padstow and beyond if you're feeling fit. You're in for a 10-mile journey but it flies by as there are so many distractions to pedal past, including wonderful views, the pretty banks of wildflowers and plentiful bird life. The whole experience is an absolute joy.
For the past six years, through my work with CBBC, I have been seriously committed to encouraging young people to get outdoors and to engage with wildlife not just around the country but also right on their doorstep.
If I were a British wild animal, I think I’d be a hobby. I have only managed to see one once in the wild and it flashed past in the blink of an eye. I was once strapped to a biplane for some loop-the-loop, wing-walking action in an attempt to mimic their aerial acrobatics and it was beyond exhilarating. I rarely sit down and I’m always on the go, so I think I would enjoy life as a hobby!
When I want to get away from it all, I grab my surfboard and head to the sea. It’s an exhausting yet wholly satisfying workout and I am absolutely brimming with happiness when I am catching waves under a beautiful sunset. My surfing spot of choice is Fistral Beach. The headlands at either end of the beach create some epically powerful waves, but if conditions are beyond my limits, I'm just as content to sit back and watch the pros showing off their skills.
My waterproof walking boots are my most treasured piece of outdoor kit. I could not have survived the last few years without them… well, I could have, but I’d have been really miserable with cold, wet feet!
When I think of my favourite experience in the outdoors, parahawking in South Wales is pretty hard to top. It involved paragliding alongside a red kite. After a few failed attempts to launch, the stars finally aligned and we took to the air, soaring and gliding on the thermals. That bird’s-eye view of the glorious Brecon Beacons is a sight I will never forget.
On a personal level, hayfever can completely spoil an otherwise perfect summer’s day out in the countryside in June and July for me. If I could change one thing about the British countryside, I’d eliminate the pollen that causes my hayfever.
Thankfully, many, many children are already getting outside and reaping the countless rewards that brings. But I feel real sadness for children who aren’t encouraged or given the opportunity to explore and become adventurers at a young age. It’s such a simple free gift and that introduction to the great outdoors, with all its benefits, will stay with you for life.
The north coast of Devon and Cornwall and the Pembrokeshire coast are my happy places. We really are so blessed, in that wherever you live in the UK you’re only a short journey away from a spectacular coastline or some picture-perfect countryside.
I’ve recently been working with the BBC Ten Pieces project, introducing secondary school children to classical music. One of those pieces, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, transports me immediately to the heart of the British countryside capturing its essence perfectly.
As for cream or jam first on a scone, I favour the Cornish method, jam first then cream, only because I find the jam slips off the cream otherwise. But I’m not that fussy… I’d happily eat it either way!
Maria Hodson is production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine, alongside Margaret Bartlett. Since moving to Bristol in 2014, Maria has made every effort to escape into nature and loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking. Her adventure highlight in recent years was sea kayaking around remote St Kilda, off the coast north-west Scotland, in 2016. Most weekends, however, are spent exploring the great outdoors with her small child and doing accessible walks. Favourite family adventures are bird-watching at Slimbridge Wetland Centre and exploring the Forest of Dean, as well as an annual pilgrimage to see the starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels.