Man sick of daily grind and city living quits job to climb 1,001 mountains

James Forrest’s alarm went off for another day at the office.

Another day commuting, another day sitting in front of the screen and another day far removed from the dreams of adventure he’d had as a kid.

He’d always loved the outdoors and he knew he didn’t want to spend every day at a desk.

So one day, after 10 years of the daily grind, James just quit it all, deciding to go on the adventure of a lifetime instead, climbing 1,001 mountains in the UK and Ireland.

After finally completing his last climb last weekend, James says it’s completely changed his outlook on life.

He says: ‘I love spending time outdoors and going for adventures but I accidentally fell into the trap of just living in a city and going back and forth to an office.

‘I wasn’t happy about the life I had created for myself and I was depressed.

‘Now, I’m just far happier and more content as a person. Being closer to nature is good for the soul.’

James left university and went straight into a job working in the charity sector, followed by a job in journalism.

Although he was doing well and he was following the ‘expected path’, he knew he wasn’t happy, so in 2017, he made the huge change.

‘I just wanted to make a change and pursue my adventure dreams so I flipped my life upside down and made the bold choice,’ James says.

He moved to Cockermouth in Cumbria to be closer to the mountains, started to work part-time and flexible jobs that fitted around his adventures and moved towards a more minimalist lifestyle.

He explains: ‘I downgraded my house and car and decided to spend any extra money on adventure rather than luxuries because that’s what I really wanted to have.’

He started off climbing all 446 mountains in England and Wales in six months but the following year he tackled all 273 mountains in Ireland in eight weeks, and finally 282 in Scotland, in six months, this year.

The actual definition of what makes a mountain is contested so James decided to pick a list from each place, leading to the list of 1,001 summits.

He explains: ‘Two thousand feet is often cited as the required height, but not always – and there is little consensus about anything else.

‘To be considered a separate mountain, distinct from its surroundings, does a summit need to have a drop of 15m on all sides, or 30m, or some other arbitrary figure?

‘And is 2,000ft the correct qualifying height, or should it be 600m, or is relative height far more important than absolute height? Many questions, few definitive answers.

‘Different authors have taken different stances to mountain lists over the years. I based my challenge around three of the most popular/prominent lists of mountains: the ‘Nuttalls’ in England and Wales, the ‘Vandeleur-Lynams’ in Ireland, and the ‘Munros’ in Scotland.’

Initially, he had very limited experience but says he learnt as he went along.

There have been challenges along the way but he’s never looked back.

He says: ‘I’ve faced my fair share of storms, torrential downpours and apocalyptic downpours that we can have in Britain so that’s never a particularly pleasant experience.

‘I’ve had a few times where I’ve thought ‘Why am I doing this?’. When I was camping in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, my tent collapsed in the middle of a night during a storm and I woke up face down in a muddy swamp.

‘I’ve got lost in remote locations, been chased by cows (and even a badger one time) and I nearly stepped on a poisonous adder in the Cairngorms in Scotland.

‘I fell ill in Ireland after drinking unclean stream water.

‘But I now live the adventurous life I’ve always dreamed of – and it’s been amazing for my physical and mental health. Mountains are good for the soul.

‘I love the freedom, the fresh air, the isolation, the unpredictability, the escapism – and this three-year journey has let me truly experience these joys.

‘I’d whole-heartedly encourage anyone to make walking and spending time in the mountains a regular part of their lives – it truly can be life-changing.’

James completed almost every climb alone until this year when his girlfriend Nicola Hardy, 36, from Sheffield came with him and was with him for his last Munro on 19 October.

He says: ‘I loved hiking alone – everyday life is so busy and I love to go out by myself, turn my phone off and have some quiet, back-to-basics time.

‘Doing the last challenge with Nicola as a couple was challenging at times but it was lovely to have that companionship for the last one.’

Now James has completed all the climbs but that doesn’t mean he’s going to give up on hiking.

He says: ‘I’ll always want to spend more time on the mountains. Obviously, there are some great ones near me in.

‘There’s also loads more hills and some I could climb if I use a different classification. Completing the last Munro on Saturday wasn’t the end. I love walking and hiking and I’ve still got lots of adventures ahead.’

James has written a book about his experiences of climbing in England and Wales called Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six months. One record-breaking adventure.

You can also follow James’ adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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