Posted at 12:00 - 22nd October - Sarah Booth
When we first made contact with Joanna Shimwell we were inspired by her life philosophy, passion for the outdoors and her ability to light the spark of adventure in others. Joanna is a woman of many parts – farmer, campsite manager, fitness instructor, mountain biker and Instagram influencer! But whatever she’s doing, whether it’s getting up at 5am every morning, looking after her animals, inspiring people to push beyond their boundaries or taking the time out to push beyond her own, Joanna does it with passion, determination and a gentle questioning of what’s most important in life.
Joanna, it’s great to get some time to chat with you. We wanted to start by asking about your upbringing. You were raised on your family farm in the Peak District, how did this shape your love for the outdoors?
I honestly can’t imagine who I would be without my childhood and upbringing on the farm. I have always had the privilege of space and freedom – open spaces to roam and be uninhibited. As a child I spent a lot of time running around the meadows while my Dad was working nearby. I would pretend to be riding a horse – finding things to jump over! I also helped him with the sheep a lot, so what I have learned about sheep is ingrained in me. Rearing lambs was always a really special time but it brought sadness too. I adore animals and feel I have a really strong bond with them. I have developed into a person that really needs and values space, openness, freedom, fresh air, hills, landscapes. All of these things make me feel fulfilled. I get an overwhelming sense of belonging, particularly when I am alone in the outdoors.
"I have developed into a person that really needs and values space, openness, freedom, fresh air, hills, landscapes. All of these things make me feel fulfilled."
Many of our readers are avid camping fans. As a campsite manager, can you tell us a little bit about what camping life is like form the other side of the canvas?
It’s hard work and the general public can be challenging! But focusing on the best aspects, I love the fact that running the campsite gives me the opportunity to share my passion and love of the outdoors with others. My parents set up the campsite when I was around 6 years old. I enjoyed a childhood of regularly meeting new ‘friends’ and playmates who had come to camp with their families. A highlight for me was being able to show the other children our animals; horses, sheepdogs, farm cats and their inevitable litters of kittens, and of course the bottle fed lambs and my guinea-pig collection (which was at around 17 at one stage).
Fast-forward to 2018 and my approach is still the same – enthusiasm for the farm and adopting the role of an unofficial guide to the ‘best bits’ of the area. As a keen mountain-biker, runner and general outdoor explorer, my knowledge of the local trails is vast and I delight in pointing campers in the direction of walks and adventures that will take them off the beaten track and away from the tourist hot spots. I often track my routes using GPS and have used this data to generate route maps that give hikers, runners or cyclists a number of options for circular routes starting from the campsite itself.
I really take pleasure in recommending the hidden gems, whether it be a beautiful place for a photograph, a wild swimming location, or a brilliant pub or café that tourists wouldn’t necessarily come across as easily. There are some amazing views to be experienced from around our farm location, which I never tire of or take for granted, so it’s fantastic to be able to ensure that people get the most out of their time in the Peaks.
For me it’s really nice to offer a rustic, rural and authentic farm campsite experience and I try to offer visitors a glimpse into farm life. Over the years we must have had countess children and adults enjoying their first experience of feeding and stroking a little lamb here.
The rural setting of the site and the animals is something campers really value, families in particular love that there are cows and sheep just over the wall from their tents! I often think that if you live in a town or city, coming to Dale Farm must be such a vast difference. First of all the silence…no road noise or sirens; you are more likely to be disturbed by the hooting from owls roosting in the trees around the farm, and the darkness is incredible – on a clear night you can see thousands of stars. It's breath taking.
"You have a voice in your head telling you that you can’t, when actually you prove that you CAN. The reward of overcoming your fears and perceived limits is AMAZING."
In addition to working on your family farm you also chose to become a fitness instructor. What was the catalyst for this decision?
I feel that it’s important that I have an identity away from the farm and campsite. It can feel like a suffocating place when you don’t leave for days on end. It can become difficult to integrate back into society when you live on a farm away from the hustle and bustle. I certainly didn’t feel that I had confidence to be trainer but the opportunity came about as I was lucky to have people around me who saw my potential and believed in me. I am so happy I did take the leap of faith and get out of my comfort zone as It has given me so much confidence and I absolutely love helping people. Being a trainer has helped me grow as a person so much and I have a great sense of purpose from the role.
What is your primary goal as a fitness instructor?
I love using fitness to make people feel more confident. I want to inspire and motivate people to push themselves outside their comfort zone to reach a potential they didn’t know they had. I want people to feel empowered by exercise and gaining strength. In getting stronger physically you get stronger mentally. Overcoming challenges and fear in the gym is much like the challenges you face when mountaineering or hiking/cycling. You have a voice in your head telling you that you can’t, when actually you prove that you CAN. The reward of overcoming your fears and perceived limits is AMAZING.
From your Instagram Profile we were instantly drawn to your passion for mountain biking and the enjoyment it gives you. How did you get into the sport?
I was feeling lost and have a history of depressed mood and anxiety. In my early twenties I got very into partying, lost my way living university life in the city and doing no exercise – it wasn’t good for me. I lost my identity and used partying as my escape from underlying unhappiness.
One day I made the decision to leave that life behind and try to become the wholesome outdoor loving girl I grew up as.
A friend lent me a hardtail mountain bike at that time and I started riding on my own, before joining an MTB meet up group a few months later. That way I learned new skills, new routes, met people who loved to ride and have good banter. It was great, a new way to spend my weekends and a definite mood enhancer.
Exercise in general massively helps my wellbeing. It gives me much needed headspace and I feel calmer and happier after exercise. It helps to quieten any voices in my head that can lead to destructive thinking patterns and habits.
As a sport that is traditionally dominated by men, we love seeing women like you showing us what’s possible. Can you explain a bit more about why mountain biking plays such an important part in your life and the benefits that you get from it?
I absolutely LIVE for my days out mountain biking. I love the challenge of it. There’s something about setting out into the unknown with your bike and not knowing what will happen, there’s a thrill in that. The route, the physical demands and wondering if I will hold my nerve? Will I ride well? How will the views be? Will there be any falls, mechanical mishaps? What will the weather do? Will I survive this one?! All of the unknown factors and the brutal grit and determination that’s needed is what gives me an IMMENSE feeling of achievement at the end. It gives me a high that lasts and lasts as I recall the moments and they make me feel strong.
I don’t feel intimidated by the number of men dominating the field – I have seen the numbers of women increase, which is great. I have found everyone I have met in mountain biking to be really supportive and encouraging and I try to be the same. I can remember being terrified on my first ride and skill-wise absolutely terrible, but everyone has to start somewhere and I remember that, so I think for even trying it out you are braver than many, which deserves credit and a pat on the back.
We are inspired and motivated by everything that you manage to fit into your life: 3 different jobs and still finding time to get out on your bike and go for walks. Can you share some top tips on how you manage to fit everything in?
I try to be really productive. I don’t rest much (unless I sleep). I hate to waste time and I just like to get on with things rather than thinking about doing something and procrastinate – I just do it.
My top tips would be to get up as early as you can! Don’t drink alcohol to excess! Lead a healthy lifestyle so that your body is strong and full of the energy needed to take you to the places you want to go to. Make lists of your goals so you stay focused and cut out the things that don’t make you happy or bring progress.
Being so busy means I value every bit of free time I get, so I don’t take things for granted. It means when I do get time for myself, I tend to be on an absolute high and really excited and thankful.
"I would encourage women to keep striving and never give up. The more you strive and achieve, the more motivated and driven you become, and the more you get done. Create that positive momentum and just keep going."
Your Instagram profile is an incredible visual account of who you are and what you love doing. If you could translate those pictures into words, how would you describe Joanna Shimwell, and what are the key messages you like to send to other women?
It’s always quite tricky to talk about yourself (perhaps that’s why I let my pictures do the talking) so I asked some of my nearest and dearest for help on this one. This is what they came back with: compassionate, driven, determined, focused, go-getter, adventurous, forward-thinking, grafter, straight-talking, open, thorough, positive, independent, feminine and real.
In terms of key messages, I would encourage women to keep striving and never give up. The more you strive and achieve, the more motivated and driven you become, and the more you get done. Create that positive momentum and just keep going!
If you are interested in following Joanna and her outdoor adventures, check out her Instagram Profile @joannashimwell. For more information about Dale Farm please visit www.dale.farm or Instagram @dalefarmphotos