Next up in our 'Meet the Adventurer' series of blogs, we meet Neruja Srikantharajah and talk about climbing, adventure, diversity, food and the beauty of Northern Ireland...
What was your first experience of adventuring in the wild?
This one I remember very vividly. I had just moved from London to the Lake District for my job as a graduate, and signed up to the first graduate scheme activity which happened to be a hike. The other graduates reassured me that it was just going up a hill but little did I know at the time that this also meant hiking up the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike!
I didn’t own any hiking gear or equipment, and really had no idea what the whole experience would be like. I bought myself a cheap little backpack and a pair of hiking boots, convinced I would have very little use for them after this. Together with some of my casual black and gold Adidas hoodie and tracksuit bottoms I would have normally sported around London, I was confident I had everything I needed for the hike.
The rest really does feel like a blur. I’m not sure how I managed to get to the top, whether the peer pressure of being in a group carried me or whether I genuinely wanted to prove to myself that I could get through it.
Considering it took me another 3 years to really get into the adventuring in the wild, I wouldn’t say it was a positive experience for me. However it is a story I tell with pride, because that girl at 23 had no idea what her potential was and how much she would end up embracing the outdoors.
Why should adventure people go and explore Northern Ireland?
Honestly, because it is so beautiful and almost untouched. It is less crowded, so if you want a relaxing trip, it’s perfect!
As I am based on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, I am biased towards the beauty of this region. It is also full of adventure activities, whether it’s riding a wave at Benone Strand, having a relaxing SUP or kayak session on the River Roe, or coasteering around the Giant’s Causeway. Hikers can tackle the stunning Causeway Coast Way, whilst climbers can trad climb at the renowned Fairhead crag or boulder at picturesque Murlough Bay.
As a hiker, I also love the Mourne Mountains. It is somewhere you rarely hear about when you live in mainland UK and yet so spectacular, and quite literally where the mountains meet the sea. This is also where Northern Ireland’s highest peak (850m), Slieve Donard, is located.
Whilst the country may appear small, it’s one packed full of adventure.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in exploring the outdoors but haven’t done so before?
My only advice would be just to get out there and give it a go. Gather a group of people / friends and organise a day out and just have fun. There is no need to go all out or extreme but just focus on enjoying your time out there. Everyone has to start somewhere and this could be when you fall in love with something you didn’t even know you liked!
Don’t feel like you need to have all the best gear, but enough to be safe and comfortable if (or when!) the weather turns. For that reason, if you are new to the outdoors I’d try to pick a nice day, just so that you can almost guarantee a positive experience. Nobody wants their first camping experience to be in the rain!
How have you found being involved in the climbing community?
To be honest, I don’t really feel like I’m part of a climbing community yet. This is probably down to me moving so much, but also because I have found it hard to integrate into any existing groups I have met in climbing gyms / outdoor climbing. People already seem to know each other and have people they go out climbing with, so actually getting into outdoor climbing has been difficult. Whilst indoor bouldering is easier to get into on your own, I feel like you really have to make an effort if you want to progress to trad / sport climbing.
Since moving to Northern Ireland, my husband and I have been really focused on ‘learning the ropes’ for trad climbing. We happened to bump into an instructor who has kindly taken us out a good number of times. But like with everything we do, we want to do much more than we currently get to do, as we currently rely on others to take us out. Lockdown certainly hasn’t helped us meet people, but we hope that as we spend more time here, we will start to fall into a community that we feel we are finally part of.
What inspired you to live a life of adventure?
Travelling. It all started when I went volunteering in Borneo for 3 months and then spent a year backpacking around Australia and New Zealand.
When I started travelling and backpacking, I realised I didn’t want to just go on holidays but wanted a bigger experience. So all my trips are now around activities and big goals. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to become the best version of me and to explore the world, embracing different cultures and really pushing my boundaries helps me do that.
I’ll always say yes to trying out a new activity at least once, because you never know what you may end up falling in love with.
I truly believe that life is too short, and there is just so much to do and explore in this world, and that is actually how my Instagram name @so_little_a_time was born.
How could we improve diversity in the outdoors?
Representation. If we can’t see people like us doing things then we can’t strive to be those people. We are left to dream but never really feel like it’s achievable. I am actually a really awkward person when it comes to being the centre of attention and it’s really outside my comfort zone. Yet when I started my page @so_little_a_time, I put all that aside and centred it around me and my adventures because I wanted to show people that people who look like me can belong in the outdoors and do thrive in that environment.
The outdoor industry needs to do more than just post pictures on their social media. Diversity needs to be in the very core of the industry and these conversations need to happen at the highest levels with the right people around the table. There is no point having ten white, able-bodied, straight men around the table talking about diversity.
We believe being out in the wild and having fun is for everyone, making diversity, and importantly highlighting diverse voices, key priorities. Why is outdoors diversity important for you?
Diversity to me is gender, race, body shape, health condition, disability, you name it. And I believe no one should be at a disadvantage based on these things that normally we have no control over. Of course not everyone is going to be able to do everything, but everyone should feel like they have the opportunity to try.
When I was younger, I didn’t even know the outdoors was an option for me. I didn’t even think about backpacking, climbing and surfing, it wasn’t even on my radar. And yet what I do best now is exactly those things. I think about where I would be if I had discovered all of this earlier in my life, and for that reason I want to give the next generation the best opportunity by having some representation.
We learn a lot from being around different people with different backgrounds and experiences. I can only imagine the potential and talent that could come through everyone having an equal chance at everything.
What’s been your favourite climbing experience?
This one is also easy. It’s definitely been climbing at Fairhead – every time I go there it’s a surreal experience. It’s terrifying, as its sheer cliff face, with just some rocks and the sea below you. It’s a brave place to start learning to trad climb, but that’s exactly what I have been doing and it’s been a steep learning curve. My favourite climb so far has been Girona, as on the second pitch you get to stand on a huge detached block, and when you look around you realise just how magnificent the Fairhead region is. But more importantly, it gives you a moment to appreciate that your body and mind has carried you up that rock face, and that being stood there is all down to you.
What’s on your favourite adventure meal?
I don’t actually eat a lot on day trips / adventure and a simple lunch normally keeps me going, although I always looked forward to a big meal in the evening. When I lived in Manchester and went on day trips to the Lakes, I loved stopping at the Tebay Services Farmshop on the M6 for their sausage rolls and pies, and a cheeky brownie for a sugar kick! Then I looked forward to a pint and burger at a pub when the hike was over.
On multi day hikes, I like to take dehydrated food to keep the weight of my bag down. We have an MSR WindBurner stove, so the simplicity of pouring in boiling water and waiting 10mins for a warm meal is perfect! My all time favourite is Expedition Foods' Couscous with Cajun Spices and Vegetable, but I discovered the Real Turmat Pulled Pork with Rice last year, during our trip through the Scottish Highlands and I loved it! I always love to finish off my dinners with something sweet, normally some sort of chocolate based treat!
Do you have any big adventures planned for this summer?
This summer it will probably be a local adventure. Since moving to Northern Ireland in July 2020, I’ve really wanted to do a road trip around the whole island. Covid permitting, we will get that roof top tent up on the truck and road trip, camp, hike, climb, surf around the island for a couple of weeks. If the borders don’t open up again then we will be back in mainland UK, to do another road trip!
In May 2020, we were supposed to be spending a whole month in Nepal. If the world let’s us again, we may be able to look forward to that in November! *fingers crossed*Follow Neruja adventures - https://www.instagram.com/so_little_a_time/