Women Afoot: Zoe Langley-Wathen – Podcaster In the Brecon Beacons
Women Afoot is a regular series where I get to share awesome, inspiring stories of women hikers and walkers from around the UK!
Article 2 – Zoe Langley Wathen
Meet Zoe Langley-Wathen, host of the HeadRightOut podcast and a seasoned hiker who currently lives on a beautiful narrowboat in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.
Part 1: Meet Zoe
- Meet Zoe From HeadRightOut
- Where’s Zoe Hiked?
- The South West Of England – Getting The Walking Bug In Childhood!
- Zoe’s Motivated By A Challenge – Styling Her Own
- Zoe’s 2021 Challenges
Part 2: Zoe Recommends
Part 3: There’s More!
Part 1: Meet Zoe
Meet Zoe From HeadRightOut
The first thing you should know about Zoe is that her enthusiasm for hiking in the UK oozes from her pores! And I guarantee that as soon as you start chatting, you just want to get out and explore our fantastic landscapes too.
Zoe recently upped sticks from the Purbecks in Dorset, swapping the dramatic Jurassic Coast for the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. But as well as a change in scenery she also gave up a successful teaching career for a tranquil, simpler way of living. Which is the reason Zoe moved onto a narrowboat on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (Mon and Brec) in 2020.
A simpler way of living doesn’t mean a less busy lifestyle though, not for Zoe anyway!
Since moving to the Brecon Beacons Zoe started HeadRightOut, encouraging mid-life women to build resilience by getting outside their comfort zone in the great outdoors. She’s an author, speaker, blogger at HeadRightOut, and host of the HeadRightOut podcast…and the list goes on! You can find links to HeadRightOut and Zoe’s social media accounts at the bottom of the page, but before you do let’s find out about Zoe’s hiking journey.
Where’s Zoe Hiked?
Here’s an impressive small selection of Zoe’s hiking achievements over the last 10 years:
- The South West Coast Path, 630 miles
- The Wales Coast Path (the first woman to walk it), 870 miles
- Offas Dyke Path, 177 miles (solo)
- Wainwright’s Coast To Coast, 192 miles
- Camino De Santiago, 500 miles
- Pennine Way, 268 miles, and
- Hadrian’s Wall Path, 84 miles (solo) – to name a few!
It’s an impressive list, but where did it all begin?
The South West Of England
Getting The Walking Bug In Childhood
Zoe grew up in the southwest of England and some of her earliest outdoor memories include walks through fields or up to a local hill fort with her dad. There was no family car so walking was a way of life, but it wasn’t until she joined her village youth group as a teenager that she got into “proper hiking”. And ‘proper hiking’ included the thrill of night hikes in the Mendip Hills, enjoying the “risk of walking in this environment in the dark and sometimes thick fog”.
Even to this day though one of her favourite ‘proper hikes’ is in the southwest of the UK. It is of course South West Coast Path, which she completed in 2011 to mark her 40th birthday.
Zoe loves The South West Coast Path for its “stunning scenery and diversity, plus also because it seriously challenged me and I do love a challenge!”
Zoe’s Motivated By A Challenge
Styling Her Own
As well as hiking some of the UK’s most beautiful long-distance trails from the South West Coast Path to Wainwright’s Coast To Coast, Zoe’s a fan of creating her own hiking and walking challenges. She says that creating a challenge is hugely motivating because she hates the thought of letting herself down.
Motivation comes in many forms, whether you want to complete Scotland’s Munroes, the UK’s Marilyn hills, or all of our National Trails. But a self-designed challenge is often more meaningful, although it can come with more risk of failure (it’s so much easier to pretend you never thought of it!). Zoe counters this by making herself accountable on social media:
“Give yourself a hashtag and anyone can keep an eye on your progress!”
In 2019 Zoe set a personal challenge to explore somewhere new on 100 days that year, which she ticked off two days before New Year’s Eve (despite a serious skiing accident in April that took her out of action for a couple of months). She dubbed the challenge #100MappyDays (which you can discover on Instagram) and completed it close to home by conquering a “huge fear of heights”:
“I ventured out onto a thin strip of headland on the South West Coast Path known as Bat’s Head. I was terrified, but felt amazing having achieved it.”
Zoe started 2020 on a mission to complete another personal challenge: #100ScaryDays. This challenge saw her tackle her fear of heights again (by climbing scaffolding to fix the roof on her Dorset home), as well as dealing with spiders in the bath! Hiking in Scotland was also on the agenda:
“Scotland is soooo wild and remote and despite all my hiking experience, I’ve never been more than about two or three days away from civilisation. That’s why the Highlands of Scotland gives me a new challenge to face.
“I’ve not hiked much of Scotland or any of Northern Ireland – both intrigue me and I find them a bit daunting too. I think that’s why I like the idea of getting a bit more of them tucked under my hiking belt.” But like most of our plans for 2020, this particular hiking challenge had to be put on the back-burner for a while.
And Zoe’s 2021 Challenges?
The Mon And Brec Bridge Bagging Challenge
When you live on the beautiful Mon and Brec Canal, bridge-bagging has got to be the perfect way to explore its 36-mile length on foot. But that’s too simple! So Zoe, ever the adventurer, has devised a challenge that covers 3,412 miles of tow-path instead. She’s made it a distance challenge on a par with one of the big US trails by walking out to each bridge (and back) from home.
Why not follow along on her social media accounts (links below) to show some support and see some of the stunning sights along the way!
Zoe tries to hike every weekend throughout the year but has come up with a plan to motivate herself and others to get out for a walk every day, “even for half an hour”. We all know how good a daily walk is for our general health and well-being, but it’s not always so easy to fit into a busy day: enter Zoe’s #JuneDailyJaunt!
Zoe’s created a bingo-style challenge sheet for the month which includes different types of walks to tick off each day – anything from a dog walk to a sunrise amble. It’s a fun way to spice up your week and of course, you can do it any month of the year. (Download Zoe’s ‘bingo card’ for some ideas and join in on Instagram.)
The HeadRightOut Podcast
This is such an exciting development in Zoe’s hiking career and possibly her biggest ‘ HeadRightOut Moment’! The HeadRightOut Podcast was launched on the 30th September 2021 and in weekly episodes she speaks to
“midlife women about stretching comfort zones and facing fears. They will highlight each guest’s HeadRightOut Moments and challenging the norm, mostly in the outdoors.”
One of her first conversations was with the illustrious podcaster and adventurer Sarah Williams (link to the episode), and there are so many more in the line-up you won’t want to miss. Stories of resilience and overcoming fears from women all around the UK will have you enthralled and pulling on your hiking shoes in no time!
In fact (blatant plug!), I’ve been one of Zoe’s guests too and you can listen here:
Finally, I asked Zoe for her hiking tips and recommendations that I hope will inspire you to get outside and explore the UK.
Part 2: Zoe Recommends
3 Top Hikes In The UK
1. The South West Coast Path National Trail
“The South West Coast Path is top of the list – particularly the North Cornwall coast and the Jurassic Coast sections.
“It’s so diverse in terrain, landscape, visually exciting, and physically challenging in some stretches. It’s tough but doing it in sections is a great idea to promote the motivation to get out and ‘tick another off the list’, if doing it all in one go isn’t an option.”
2. The Lake District National Park
“The Lake District for anyone who has never seen mountains will be an absolute feast. I never tire of visiting this area.”
“It has everything from picturesque fells, lakes and hiking trails to giving you that total shut off from daily life. Yes, it’s unlikely you will get 4G or mobile phone signal in the heart of the Lakes but it is totally worth the wind down from technology.”
3. The Elan Valley, Mid Wales
“The Elan Valley is stunning. Rhayader is a pretty little town and makes a good place to base yourself as you explore the area. The Elan Valley is made up of a series of reservoirs, Victorian dams and pumping stations. Surrounded by forests and dramatic waterfalls it really is a place that is easily accessible to those with families, disabilities or the elderly as there are easy, flat paths surrounding most of the lakes.”
3 Inspiring Adventurers
I asked Zoe who inspires her and I hope her top 3 will inspire you too!
- Tough Girl Challenges: Sarah Williams’ adventures are inspirational and her Tough Girl Podcast is definitely up there at the top for discovering inspiring women
- Jo Bradshaw is a huge pot of inspiration because she leads expeditions up mountains, has climbed six out of the seven highest mountains on each continent and yet (like me) used to be fearful of heights.
- Al Humphrey’s podcast Living Adventurously has been interesting to help me think differently about my life
3 Tips For Beginners
Women Afoot has the best tips for you! Here are Zoe’s top 3:
- Don’t daunt yourself with thinking you need expensive kit. Head off with a simple pack of drink, grub, waterproofs, an extra layer or two (depending on the weather), and a comfy, well-fitted pair of walking boots. Don’t neglect the benefits of a pair of walking poles either, if you are going to be doing hills. It’ll reduce the impact on your knees by around 25%.
- A camera is helpful to remind yourself of the day’s delights but I generally don’t listen to music as it makes me less aware of my surroundings. People won’t stop to chat to you if you have headphones on.
- Choose short trails to begin with and build up confidence and stamina gently. If you’re following a way-marked trail, the chances are you won’t need a map but it is a good idea to keep one in your pack as a habit, just in case. If you like to follow a map anyway, I have found a few mini sticky bookmarks are handy to place-mark where you are on the map. When you check it in a few miles’ time, it’s then easy to move it to where you have reached.
Zoe can’t stress enough how important it is to have a good waterproof jacket that will be waterproof, warm, windproof and light when you need to pack it away. She wears a Paramo Velez Adventure Smock, which is about ten years old. She says “it’s had repairs too but well worth the £200 spent and the repair work. It is incredibly warm, machine washable and I usually don’t have to wear a fleece under.”
She also recommends you take a couple of buffs along to use as an extra head warmer under a hat, neck warmer or to wrap around your wrists: “one on head and one around neck can be pulled down and up respectively to keep out severe weather with just my eyes peering out… Ninja-style!”
She also recommends you take a guidebook on a long walk:
“I enjoy reading about the history and anecdotes of the area. Cicerone and TrailBlazer have been my favourites and I have a lot of these on my bookcase.
I always carry a map with me but in recent years have got into using the OS premium app. This has probably made me lazy in getting out my map and compass… I think I could still remember how to take a bearing if I needed to. In fact, I might make that a point to try!”
Zoe’s Top 3 Bucket List Hikes
It doesn’t matter how many miles you hike, there’s always room for more!
- I’ll put the US Triple Crown down as one (although really that’s three trails AT, PCT and CDT – is that cheating?!)
- The second is to walk around the coast of Great Britain. I’ve already done the South West Coast Path and Wales Coast Path but I would have to do those again as part of this adventure plan
- And I am still exceptionally keen to walk the Dorset boundary too. I was planning this for 2014 and then personal circumstances prevented it. I started planning it again for 2018 and serious family needs arose, so it has had to wait. Even so, I’ll still come back down from Wales to walk it.
And then there’s Japan… ” Both my husband Mike and I would dearly love to travel to Japan and do some hiking trails over there. There is supposed to be a wonderful long-distance temple walk to do – that’s on our list to investigate. Darn it – that wasn’t three was it?!” (Not quite Zoe, not quite!)
Part 3 – There’s More!
Connect With Zoe
- www.headrightout.com – Zoe’s blog
- HeadRightOut Podcast
- The Biggest Book of Yes (available on Amazon UK)
Thanks for reading and a big thanks to Zoe for chatting with me and sharing her hiking journey, dreams, and tips with us. I hope you’ve found plenty of inspiration!
Before You Go
If you’ve been inspired why not help me to grow the series with lots more inspiring features? You can keep me topped up with coffee as I type away with a £3 cuppa over on my Kofi page – I love a cappuccino! You can also show your support by spreading the love and sharing the article far and wide – share links are below. Thank you!