Meet Our In-Store Experts

Aileen King

Aileen works at our South Cerney store in The Cotswolds and has enjoyed a lifelong relationship with the outdoors. We chatted to her to find out more about her passion for outdoor adventure, the pleasure she gets from both pushing herself and helping our customers find the right kit, and the restorative role the outdoors has played in helping her through times of grief.


How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?

I’ve always lived my life outdoors, right from an early age, from having horses, working on farms, walking and camping and just doing the things you do when you’re young. I’ve just carried on doing them throughout my life and so I have a good relationship with the outdoors. It’s the place I want to be at the end of the day. Nothing is better than walking across fields with my dog - it puts me at peace with everything.


I have early memories of going up to Cumbria with my extended family and remember climbing what I thought at the time was a mountain called Black Coombe. It was just a hill really, but I knew from then that I loved the adventure. I loved having my little rucksack on my back. I felt like I was a mountaineer. But I never believed that the outdoors would play such a pivotal role in my life, and it all stems back to those early days. 


When I think back to my first thrill from the outdoors, it’s not a lot different now. I still feel that childlike excitement. What are we going to do today? Where are we going? Which mountain are we climbing? I still feel that when I’m on one of my adventures.


We can all be very blasé about things that make us happy, but I genuinely wake up thinking ‘what does today hold for me?’ And invariably, it holds surprises. Sometimes I’m fearful of what I’m doing, but at the end of the day, when I’ve accomplished something I’ve never done before, a mountain I’ve never climbed before, or a trail that I’ve never been on, it’s a fantastic feeling of achievement. You can't beat the experience of opening the tent flap and looking out at the early morning scenery and experiencing the dawn chorus. 


I'm always planning adventures even when I’m walking my dog in the evenings after work, I’m thinking where's next? I’ve always got something in my diary to look forward to. 

What brought you to work for Cotswold Outdoor?

After losing my husband, I decided to change my life when I realised working in the business I was in didn’t offer me any satisfaction. I was a high achiever, I got well rewarded, but I wasn't enjoying it anymore.


One night when I was driving past my local Cotswold Outdoor in South Cerney, I decided to drop in because I was a customer there, and I thought ‘I wouldn’t mind working here.' To cut a long story short, I got some hours, and it’s been fantastic, the best thing that I’ve ever done, and I’d had a successful career for the best part of 35-40 years before that. I love it, and it sounds a bit corny, but getting up in the morning and going into the store is a joy. Dealing with customers and working with colleagues, it’s just so enjoyable and something I wished I’d done a long time ago. 


There’s nothing better than talking to somebody who has come into the store for some help. When you’re able to assist them, they sort of engender enthusiasm in you again. You start talking about what they need and relaying some of the kit you use, and you feed off each other. I love it, and the customer knows that we are genuine about what we do, and they know that the advice we‘re giving them isn’t just something we’ve read in a book. It’s something we’ve done ourselves, and we know what works, and we pass it on. 


When a customer returns to the store, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than when they say: ‘You served me a month ago when we were going on this trip, and the kit that you told us about was perfect for what we did, so we’ve come back to see you because we’re thinking of doing something different next.’ That’s music to our ears, and I love that because I know I’ve done my job. I made mistakes myself as a customer, but when I came to Cotswold Outdoor before working here, I was sold the right boot. I’ve never forgotten that, and I know how important it is.  

How has the outdoors helped you in your own life?

I’d always enjoyed the outdoor life, but you get married, have jobs and all that, and then suddenly I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer, and I knew that my life was going to be very different. I decided I wanted to support cancer research, so I decided to go to Everest Base Camp to raise money for them, and I realised that was what I needed to do. To push myself to the limits, go all around the world. So that’s what I decided to do.


Losing my husband was the most dreadful thing that ever happened to me, and it was going out into the countryside reconnecting with nature that helped me through those early days. Listening, taking time, pausing, having lots of time to think. I took many, many walks in the evenings after work, and it gave me time to plan my future. You know, you come under a lot of mental stress when something so huge happens to you and reconnecting with the outdoors was the magic pill that made me feel better. I knew continuing to do all the things I was doing outdoors would help me get through the dark days. And the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it.


People have many ways of dealing with grief, and there’s no right or wrong way. We’re all individuals. For me, being in the outdoors allowed me to reset myself. It gave me satisfaction and helped me through a very painful period. Because the loss of somebody that you love very much is like a deep dagger in your heart, and in those dark days of early grief, it was a huge help for me, and I’ll never forget that. 


Days are brighter now - I enjoy things more. I can laugh – I couldn’t laugh in those early days. Sometimes when I’m walking by myself, I chuckle and laugh about things that I see. I could never have done that in the first six months after losing my husband, but the countryside has been the perfect answer for me.  


When I go on these adventures, I know my husband would be proud of me. It would have been easy to shut myself away and let the grief come over me and not be able to have a life beyond that. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have wanted me to do the things I enjoyed and go beyond the things I used to do, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve pushed myself to the limits. I’ve put myself into situations I would never have done before, but it’s just that feeling of making me feel alive and like there’s something to live for. The outdoors has done that for me. Going on treks all around the world has made me believe in a future. I would prefer that future to be with my husband, but it wasn’t to be and I know he would be proud of me for what I do and how I go about it. 


The outdoors has really helped me, and I feel like I owe it something. If I can play some small part in helping people to enjoy the outdoors, and importantly looking after the outdoors, so it’s there for future generations, I'll be happy. I owe that to the outdoors because I’ve had so much from it.

How does it feel to still be pushing yourself?

I push myself very hard and outside of my comfort zone because the rewards are so rich. I feel good when I do it. It’s tough, but once you’ve done it, there’s not a better feeling in the world. Some of my friends think I’m crazy doing what I do at my age. But you have to live dangerously sometimes and push the boundaries. I genuinely believe you can extend your life by being active, keeping part of a group of people – be it young people or older people. I’m getting older now, but I’ve still got a thirst for the outdoors, what it’s got to offer, and I’m always looking to see what crazy thing I can get up to next. 


One of the great things about being outdoors is you meet people of all ages, and one of the best things I find is mixing with younger people. They’ve got such a lot to offer. They’ve got opinions which may differ from yours, but sometimes that makes you stop and think. That’s one of the wonderful things about mixing with all sorts of age groups. As older people, we often think we know more than young people, but I feel young people have a lot to offer. They are serious about protecting the planet, they care about the future, and I think as older people, we can be a bit blasé.


I will never take the outdoors for granted. I think I did, once upon a time, as most people do about a lot of things. I don’t anymore. I don’t know how much time I’ve got on this planet, but I’m going to enjoy every moment I have and will spend most of it outside. 

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