Get to know Chris Hopwood
Find out more about what the outdoors means to Cotswold Outdoor expert Chris.
How did you get into the outdoors?
“I’ve always been into the outdoors. Growing up in Cornwall, it was all about the beach, surfing and the rural landscape around Bude. I was constantly walking the dogs, playing out with friends or at the beach with family. I wasn’t really into camping, that came along much later when I started to extend those days out and stay out. When I got to see more of Britain by going up to the Lake District and Scotland, that really exploded the possibilities. I didn’t realise we had all that in such close quarters.”
Can you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
“I can, but it’s quite complicated! My relationship with the outdoors now is that it’s a personal space in some ways. It provides me with the mental bandwidth I need to transition from work and daily life, into a space where I’m more myself. It’s also like a canvas, in the same way that a musical piece can provide a landscape in your head.
“When I listen to music and close my eyes, it can evoke a landscape or a space in which I'm immersed. Journeying through a landscape can have all the drama, complexity or serenity found in music. Music and journeys are kindred experiences; somehow, through me, they relate.”
Do you take your banjo and other instruments with you?
“The banjo doesn’t go further than the trees at the back of the house, but there’s a lovely boulder in the woods there where I can sit, see Snowdon and Glyder Fawr and play the banjo - when it’s not howling with wind and throwing it down! But I love taking music into the hills, even just on an iPod; some of my best days in the hill have coincided with pieces of music that have come on at a time that was so perfect. I couldn’t have chosen that piece of music at the time, it just happened, and that resonates with me.”
Can you talk us through the journey that brought you to Betws-y-Coed and to Cotswold Outdoor?
“I left Cornwall when I was 22 in a band and we went to London with the usual hopes of making it big. Of course, London takes up all of your time and we were all so busy working, that the band drifted.
“London is where I met my wife, Maz. We were spending lots of our time and money leaving London to visit places like North Wales and The Lakes and Scotland, and we just wanted to move on and live in a beautiful place like this rather than be too wrapped up in the London trap.
“So, I had an opportunity. I had a great job and I loved working at Tower Records. I was a product manager for what was, as far as I’m concerned, the best record shop in the world, so that was a brilliant thing. But it kind of went south with the change in the music industry, so that provided me with an opportunity to leave.
“I sent a CV to Cotswold Outdoor in Keswick and Royal Oak. Ross in Betws-y-Coed got back to me the next day, so that’s why it was North Wales and not The Lakes! So, we moved here in 2005 and lived up in Capel Garmon, which was a wonderful place. It’s so high up: you get a beautiful view over the national park and you can see all of the main ranges. But the main thing was that we wanted to buy a house, and the right house, so we held off until something that could accommodate us came along. We wanted a family and needed the extra rooms for that, plus somewhere to put all the drums and guitars!
“Then a house came up in Capel Curig, and that meant we moved into the scenery. That’s the big difference; it’s nice to see the whole thing but we actually wanted to be in amongst it and there’s nowhere more in amongst it than Capel Curig.”
Why did you want to work for Cotswold Outdoor?
“I wanted to work for Cotswold Outdoor because when I lived in London, I was acquiring kit that I needed for our trips away and I shopped in lots of different outdoor gear shops, but I liked my experiences in Cotswold Outdoor. The advice they gave me was good and very importantly, when they didn’t know the answer, they would find out. It was a really good experience and so then I thought, ‘ok, this what I want to do, and this is the company I want to do it for’.”
Can you tell us about how your approach to the outdoors has changed since moving here?
“When I arrived in North Wales, there are all the key places you have to go. Snowdon, and then Snowdon via Crib Goch, then Tryfan - these are the places that kind of scream out at you, that’s where all the contours are really tightly-packed and all the names are legendary.
“Eventually, you’ve done those summits so many times and in so many different ways. They never get boring because the weather provides variety and every day is unique, but you start to look at the parts of the map you haven’t yet been. And then you start to build relationships with people, locals, customers even, who will start to talk to you about places you haven’t yet been. So, you start to make notes and then you move on to those destinations.
“And then by filling in the blanks on the map, what I found is that I wanted to spend more time in these quiet spaces, and it stopped being about getting to the destination and more about slowing everything down and spending time in the environment. That’s when the outdoors really comes alive.
“Another thing that really helped me with that was buying a hammock. I never pitched my tent in a sensible place; I always pitched for drama. I always wanted the best possible sunrise even if it meant sleeping through a howling gale, whereas a hammock changes everything. You’re now looking for little crops of woodland where you can suspend your shelter. So immediately, your journey changes through that map and through the landscape. With the introduction of the packraft - where you’re now no longer linking woodlands with ridges and footpaths, you’re linking them with the lakes and rivers - that again makes you look anew at the map and it slows everything down and you get a different perspective. It’s a different experience.”
How did you get into packrafting? How does it make you feel?
“A good friend put me onto packrafting. He just mentioned ‘go and put it into YouTube and have a look at what it’s all about’. So, I did, and it just seemed exciting from the word go: a new way to journey. At that point, all these new opportunities began to appear.
“We’d been doing quite a bit of canoeing, but the thought that all the weight associated with canoeing and the portage would just vanish, because you could just take your boat down and stick it on top of your rucksack and walk: that was so appealing. So that’s how I got into packrafting.
“Being on the water gives you a different perspective: you interact with the land and wildlife in a different way. The packraft allows you to slow everything right down. You can enjoy a relatively small lake for an entire day; you can explore all the nooks and crannies. Wildlife are not disturbed by you when you’re in a boat; they seem to just get on with what they’re doing, so you can just drift up on a breeze into their space and observe. That’s wonderful, that’s not something you can achieve as a walker.”
What does it mean to you to be able to be able to share the outdoors with your customers?
“The impression that Cotswold Outdoor made on me when I was a customer was to find the answers. That kind of service – it’s more than a service, it’s a proper bond – is where you get the loyalty and the advocacy. That’s reserved for people that tell the truth. I joined Royal Oak because that shop had that reputation and I just want to maintain that integrity. We sell stuff that’s fit for purpose for people who are moving into this environment and want to have the right kit. So that’s the minimum standard for me: it has to be the right kit for the activity. That’s something I’m very passionate about.”
Why is it important for the kids to be outdoors and how does it benefit the whole family?
“As a family, we enjoy the aesthetics and vistas of the landscape, and we want to move out into and enjoy them. There’s so much competing for your attention in modern living, with all the devices and social media and TV. It’s all fine but I feel as though you have to, now more than ever, deliberately escape from it. You have to know that we’re going to get back to nature and just spend time together. Because there’s nothing else like it.
“It’s time together, without interruption. Our conversation becomes about where we are. It’s good for mental and physical health, and the exercise is important. There’s so much drama that the weather brings and with the seasons that we have, I think you’ve got to be out in it to really feel it and enjoy it. Whether that’s swimming in the lakes and rivers in the summer, which we do a lot when the weather is warm or skiing and sledging when the winter hits. I want these days out to provide good memories and useful experiences that the kids can call on, not just read about or see pictures of. They respond well to it, they really enjoy it.”
What does it mean to you to have the outdoors on your doorstep?
“Having the outdoors on our doorstep is a wonderful antidote to our previous time in London where you’d spend half your time travelling to get to the outdoors. Here, you can just open the door and walk straight into the mountains or straight down to the lakes and rivers. It’s a privilege and it’s one that I maximise. I feel for the people who are in my old shoes travelling here all the time; it would be a waste to not make the most of my time in the hills now that they’re just here.”
What keeps you motivated to keep exploring the outdoors?
“Challenging conditions and being amongst it motivate me to be out as much as a I can. There’s a common phrase, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather’ and it’s true. Weather - the more dramatic the better - motivates me to see where I can go and in what conditions I can stay comfortable and safe and experience the weather and landscape. In the night, in almost blizzard conditions, I know the mountain well enough to move into that pretty safely. I’ve got the equipment and I know how to use it, so I want to feel the power of the conditions. I think that’s a huge part of it. Why would I go inside when I could be out here?”
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