When John Cabot set off in The Matthew from Bristol in 1497, embarking on a quest to find Asia, he set the bar high. Like any great expedition the tale of his treacherous journey across the Atlantic was full of highs and lows, but it also had unexpected discovery at the end – North America. No doubt he would be proud to see his adventurous spirit alive and well in the city today – at every level. 

From headline hitters such as Andy Torbet, who is known for taking on some of the most extreme challenges around including a HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) jump from 28,000 feet above the Arizona desert, to ordinary folk just looking to push personal boundaries. Within this series, we look into three local adventurers who tell us about their inspirational experiences and explain what adventure means to them…

BELINDA KIRK

GBROWpl_M0021Belinda broke a world record with her all-women team, circumnavigating Britain non-stop and unassisted in a rowing boat over 52 days. In 2008 she set up Explorers Connect, a community for adventurers that now has over 20,000 members.

What brought you to Bristol?

I went to school here, and after travelling extensively returned to work for the BBC NHU. I love this place; it’s one of Britain’s adventure capitals with such a wide range of wilderness so close, from climbing in the Gorge to caving in the Mendips.

What inspired your circumnavigation of Britain?

I decided to do it because I knew next to nothing about being at sea. I had done expeditions all my adult life but wasn’t feeling challenged. I knew I needed to step outside my comfort zone.

Was there a time you thought you couldn’t achieve your goal?

There were quite a few times I thought we might not achieve it – but that was the point. The worst bit was when I realised just how invisible we were to other boats, and we nearly got run-down on a couple of occasions. We had to cross huge shipping lanes day and night, like a tortoise trying to cross a motorway.

How did you feel when you finished? Completely alive. There’s this pretty unattractive photo of me on the boat with my gob wide open screaming in delight as we row in under Tower Bridge, the end point (for some reason it looks like I’m missing teeth – I mean it’s really unattractive and I do have all my own teeth). But it sums up that moment completely.

What motto do you live by?

Dare to fail. I think life is most exciting when you are pushing yourself beyond what you know. That is when you feel most alive, win or lose. If you never try you have lost already.

Have you always been adventurous?

Growing up on Alderney Island until I was 10, I was allowed to run free – and I did. The word my parents used was ‘feral’! That’s why I’m so passionate about helping kids, young people, everyone get outdoors. Adventure is a right: we need it as much as we need fresh air to breathe. Risk, failure, adventure – it’s what makes us all feel alive.

How can new explorers get started?

Join Explorers Connect – www.explorersconnect.com. It’s free to join and is a good first step if you fancy going on an adventure but are not sure where to start. We have monthly social events in Bristol where you can meet adventure-minded people and listen to amazing expedition stories by guest speakers. There’s also Base Camp Festival (www.basecampfestival.co.uk) in September, Britain’s first over-18s adventure festival. You can try new outdoor adventures then dance under the stars to live music.