Simon Reeve on his latest travels in the Lake District National Park for BBC documentary

Back on home turf after years of traversing exotic locations, the travel addict Simon Reeve tells Gemma Dunn all about his latest adventure to the Lake District.

When lockdown put a stop to global travel, Simon Reeve was forced to look closer to home.

Last year the adventurer, who in two decades has visited over 120 countries, set his sights on glorious Cornwall.

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Now he journeys further north to explore the landscapes of Cumbria for new two-part BBC series, The Lakes With Simon Reeve.

Simon Reeve with Angus, a young Cumbrian farmer. Picture: PA Photo/BBC/The Garden Productions/Jackson Wardle.

The 49-year-old finds that there is rare wildlife to discover and plenty of locals to meet.

“It’s part of the country that everybody thinks they know, but experience suggests to me that we can still find stories they haven’t heard before.

“There’s so many things going on that none of us know about.

“I’ve been to the Lake District many times over the years, but I still thought it was an area that I’d love to rediscover and learn about.

Simon Reeve at Haweswater, Lake District National Park. Picture: PA Photo/BBC/The Garden Productions/Jackson Wardle.

“Of course, part of the reason was that I tend to do foreign exotic adventures, but global travel wasn’t very possible during the old lockdown, so it was a case of finding somewhere fascinating and beautiful closer to home. And my goodness, the Lake District delivers on that.”

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“I thought of that wider area, Lake District, Cumbria, as being quite cut off from the rest of the country – and actually it’s key to life going forward.

“It’s the energy coast, so they’re producing huge amounts of energy – that we will rely on – just off the coastline in some of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms.

“And the farming in the Lake District, the mining that’s under way, these are all really important stories for the rest of the country.

“But more than anything, as I would hope with all of my journeys, it’s the people of Cumbria that were the real joy and surprise.

“Brits, we’re really lovely, wonderful, inspiring people, and I hope we celebrate that.

The series is full of interesting stories, but one sticks out for Reeve.

“One of the most inspiring encounters I had was with an 18-year-old young farmer, whose parents had passed away rather tragically close together, and he’s been left running a 1,500-acre sheep farm on his own, helped by a couple of teenage school friends.

“I was so struck when I was with them, in their lambing shed.

“There was life and death happening there and this lad, Angus, was dealing with it so calmly, stoically, and maturely. And his friends were cracking on with their roles as well. I was so impressed.

“It made me think back to when I was his age and how impossible handling that situation would have been for me and what a credit he was to his family – he gave me real hope for the future. We denigrate the young; we fail to give them opportunities and responsibilities so often, but my goodness, they are capable of such amazing feats.”

Reeve himself earlier this year said that people can sometimes be surprised to hear of his background, given his job.

“I think there is merit to people knowing, at a time when we’re a very unequal country, that my background was more ‘normal’ – if you want to put it that way – than most,” he said in January. “I managed to leave school with basically no qualifications and went on the dole and was in serious risk of falling into long-term unemployment and welfare dependency, and drugs and everything else that you can get when you’re a slightly lost lad growing up on the edge of inner-city London.”

The series will air just after the conclusion of the UN’s Cop26 conference in Glasgow, where some of the stark realities of ecological ruin have been highlighted. Does Reeve feel more hopeful following his meetings with people after each series?

“It’s all a bit more complicated (than that). You go in with simple preconceptions about places and situations and then you’re confronted by reality – and reality is so complicated. So yeah, in some ways, it’s more hopeful, because there’s so much that we can do, and that people are doing. But our challenges are big. We’ve got to protect life on this planet, we’ve got to feed an astonishing number of people, we’ve got to make our existence sustainable. And that won’t be easy, but we are capable of it, if we put our minds to it properly.

Like many people, the experience of living through the Covid-19 pandemic has given him a chance to reassess.

He says: “It’s made me want to live a richer, more fulfilling life while I can. To take more opportunities when they arise, to do stuff, enjoy life, and to live it to the max. As cliché as that is.

“I think surely the pandemic should show most of, if not all of us, that life is short, and we can lose these opportunities quite quickly. We need to grasp the moment while we can, so I want to spend more time with my son, I want to be doing less emails, I want to be travelling more, I want to be living life more, I want to be with my dogs more and I want less of the boring stuff.

It’s the sort of wake-up call people have after a heart attack or something.”

Getting to combine time with his son and his love of travel can be tricky, though.

“I’m desperate to (travel with him) but he loves where we live, so he’s not mad keen on going away.

“But we’ve definitely got to introduce him to the joys of exploring and discovering, whether it’s closer to home or a bit further afield. But yeah, I’m hoping to go on some more trips with him, and filming trips, as well, relatively soon. I really want to take him to Bangladesh, more than anywhere in the world. It’s beautiful. It’s poor, it’s packed. The people are amazing. I want him to see how people live on planet earth and enjoy it. And as a result, I hope not take his own existence for granted.”

There is so much to explore through television, though.

“I think the great stories and issues now are in relation to the environment and conservation, so I’d like to be more on that.

“I’d like to go to more parts of the world, which are, to my mind, on the frontline of our changing planet, and see what’s happening and see what people are doing about it.

“I think we’re in great battle now, for the future of life. And I would love to see more of that on my journeys and play a very, very tiny role in sharing that with people watching back home.

“We try and work that into the programmes as it is, but hopefully we’ll have more of a chance in the months and years to come.

“But I don’t get to just pick and choose what I want to do, I’ve got to put an argument forward and a case for it, so it’s really up to me. But if someone with a wand can help, that would be great!”

The Lakes With Simon Reeve starts on BBC Two on Sunday.