Forty years of The Great Outdoors

An important milestone for the most authoritative voice in British hillwalking and backpacking

Today, the 40th anniversary issue of The Great Outdoors went on sale. Here’s what TGO means to me, and why I think it’s a vital force in outdoors media, as strong and relevant now as it was in 1978.

It’s been described as the thinking hillwalker’s magazine. Thanks partly to the influence of Chris Townsend, it championed lightweight backpacking years before it went mainstream, and continues to do so. Its tone is thoughtful, insightful, at times profound – and it respects both the intelligence and experience of the reader. Years ago, when I first started hillwalking and was just starting to go off Trail’s more brazen tone, these qualities all attracted me to The Great Outdoors. Here was a magazine with a strong focus on quality photography, teaching valuable skills and telling inspiring stories, and the gear reviews were written by people with world-class experience. People who lived for backpacking and mountaineering, not just the latest gear.

So when in 2015 editor Emily Rodway got in touch to commission a feature from me on hiking the Cape Wrath Trail, I jumped at the chance. At that point my outdoor writing experience was limited to a handful of features on websites and online magazines. I’m grateful that she gave me the opportunity – one I made the most of.

I had a lot to learn then (I still do). My photography from that trip was terrible, and I realised I needed to rapidly improve as a photographer if I wanted more commissions. By the time my next major piece came around – the Tour of Monte Rosa, an important milestone for me – I’d upped my game. The rest is history.

For the last few years, TGO has been the place where I publish my very best work: the grand journeys, the ambitious objectives, the stories that matter. My best images and my best words. I write widely elsewhere, but the quality standard at TGO is high, and in my own small way I’ve tried to contribute to that ongoing legacy.

Forty years in print is an amazing milestone. There are people out there who have been reading the magazine since 1978
More recently, I’ve joined the team as Online Editor. My job is to write and curate stories for the website that complement our print magazine, and also to grow our online presence. It’s a responsibility I feel keenly. As print media comes under attack from all sides, even established titles must diversify and embrace the web (some would say especially established titles). I’ve only just started, and there’s much still to be done, but it’s satisfying doing my bit to help the magazine find new readers.

Then there are the immensely talented writers without whom TGO wouldn’t exist. The magazine has nurtured innumerable new talents – a few of whom are now almost household names, and are certainly at the top of their field. So when I commission a new and unproven writer to create something for the website, I like the idea that maybe I’ve helped a future talent get that crucial first step on the ladder. Paying forward is an important part of both writing and the outdoors. It’s something I’m glad I’m in a position to be able to do.

Forty years in print is an amazing milestone. There are people out there who have been reading the magazine since 19781. Perhaps that’s what The Great Outdoors truly represents: continuity, the long perspective, an authoritative but friendly point of view. In an outdoor media landscape increasingly dominated by the ephemeral and the superficial, that’s a truly precious thing.

  1. You can read some of their stories in the latest issue, available to order online here

By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.

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