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Our special correspondent on the peninsula, Nic Goddard, catches up with former BBC presenter, Simon Wills, and finds out about his continuing quest for new adventures.
The first time I met Simon Willis was on the Corran ferry when I was heading over in my wetsuit to complete the swim back across in October.
As part of the Highland Open Water Swim team running the event, Simon spent the ferry crossing telling those of us looking nervous at the prospect of the swim ahead about how the swim had been precision timed to make best use of tides and weather conditions.
More recently I have attended an event where Simon spoke about tides in far more depth. Using props of different sized balls to represent the moon and the earth to demonstrate what causes high and low, spring and neap tides along with a couple of his own beautifully put together films, he captured a room full of people – of mixed ages and differing previous levels of understanding of the subject.
I interviewed Simon in his home in Strontian to find out more about this one time BBC TV presenter who has travelled the world pursuing extreme sports and adventures but is now settled here on the peninsula with his wife and dog, and continues to find adventures right here.
With a career which began back in the 1980s in front of the camera with his first big story as a TV reporter covering the miner strikes at Cortonwood Colliery and presenting on Newsnight Scotland, it is clear that bringing stories to people is Simon’s greatest skill.
An epic walk crossing the whole of America in 2002 on the Pacific Crest Trail which spans from Mexico to Canada, resulted in his travel journal becoming a published book. A second book resulted from a sea kayak expedition in 2008.
However Simon is quick to tell me he doesn’t always feel he has much to say: ‘The scariest thing I’ve ever been asked to do is an after dinner speech.
‘I simply didn’t know what to talk about! But if there is something I know about and think others should also know then I enjoy figuring out the best way to tell them.
‘I’ve always had an urge to tell stories. It’s deeply satisfying when people want to listen.’
And it seems that finding the most interesting stories to tell drives Simon to seek out interesting experiences to have.
A keen cyclist, swimmer, kayaker and hill walker, Simon has previously
competed in triathlons and iron man contests although regretfully tells me his knees now prevent him from the running aspect of these extreme sports.
He explained: ‘There is always an intrinsic reward to doing extreme things but there is an added motivation to write, take pictures, make films, or tell stories about these adventures.’
Retiring from the BBC and moving up to the Highlands means those stories now have a more local flavour.
Moving into new technology, Simon combines freelance film-making with blogging, podcasting and You Tubing.
He shares these closer to home adventures on with a wide audience
online and on social media. Simon also writes for magazines and has won awards for his travel writing.
Simon has called this part of the country home even while working down in Glasgow for the BBC, though commuting back and forth to find peace here.
He told me simply: ‘I live here because it feels like home. I am at peace between mountains and water. I love the fact that there are no Munros here because it means we are not swamped with visitors.
‘It’s a stunning but relatively quiet corner of the Highlands.’
Simon Wills in his BBC presenting days.
NO F51 Simon Wills 02