Tanya Oliver - From High Heels to High Hills
Tanya Oliver ditched a high flying career, packed her vast collection of shoes and headed for the Lakes. She tells Mark Gilligan about her book.
One of the great mysteries of life is that we never know where we are going to end up or how that journey will unfold and, sadly, for many it doesn’t always go to plan. The path we take can deliver as many heartaches as pleasures. But for Tanya Oliver that ‘road’ seems to be opening out nicely.
We meet in glorious surroundings by Elterwater to discuss her new book, From High Heels to High Hills, and she admits: ‘I never thought I would be here, living and working in the Lakes. It’s a place I have always adored and, as a child, we would come up all the time.
‘I loved splashing in the water but didn’t really enjoy climbing the mountains. However, the sense of achievement when you reach the summit is a tremendous feeling and one I never forgot.’
She pauses, smiling broadly - you know it comes from the heart. Her love for this area is clear. Born and raised in Sussex, Tanya worked for 12 years in local government, starting at the bottom as a temp and becoming a senior director in the finance department.
Then, a restructuring at meant that she had to consider the future and what better place to clear the head than in the Lakes? ‘It was January, wonderfully clear, crisp and blue when I went up my favourite fell, Yewbarrow. As I eventually reached the top, I sat there, looked around and realised how much all this meant to me.
‘I decided there and then that I could make a working life on my own and so I quit my post, took the redundancy and set up as a consultant.’ That was a stop-gap because she already had the idea of writing about her experiences as a walker from a woman’s perspective.
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She started with a blog, opened a Twitter account and invested time in other forms of social media to promote herself. One day, out of the blue a National Trust job offer appeared on Twitter. Based in Grasmere, working for the ‘Fix the Fells’ project it seemed a perfect opportunity.
‘Here I am now working for a team of people who really do make a difference. The Rangers and the volunteers have my utmost admiration. I do go out and help though my role is communications and business planning.’
The move allowed her to put her own project into gear, which was to write into about her own experiences walking the fells - a woman who falls in soggy bogs, gets dirt in her hair, stumbles in the snow, wears big boots and thick fleeces, yet is seen in her ‘normal life’ as a very smartly dressed, well-groomed woman.
‘I admit to being very girly. My friends don’t believe that the woman they know, who loves heels, pencil skirts and the colour pink can have this other side to her that is a complete contrast. The publishers liked the idea of this quirky approach and so I was delighted to be commissioned.’
One look at the book cover gives you an indication of what to expect. A pair of eye catching, spotted high heels shamelessly placed directly in front of Wast Water, Britain’s favourite view! What would Wainwright make of that?
Look closely and you’ll see mud splattered on the shoes. She laughs as she says: ‘That’s Photoshopped on. There was no way I was going to get them dirty!’
The book is her journey, mainly alone, as she engages with the fells and reveals herself as a true walker. Written with a passion, love and humour it makes for a fun and educational read. And it is not just for women to enjoy. I think even AW would have liked it.
With never ending work to continue ‘Fixing the Fells’ and more written offerings in the pipeline, we then move outside to take some photographs.
I go to get my camera kit from the car and as she moved across the car park to get into position for the shots, I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of high heels crunching the gravel.
It seems cleat Tanya Oliver and her high heels have definitely found a home!
Walk this way
From High Heels to High Hills includes sections on what the guide books don’t tell you - getting lost, walking with children and animals, bogs and screes, Tanya’s favourite fells and, of course, her favourite heels. It is published by Step Beach Press, priced £16.95.