Adventurer Ash Dykes and the Rhug Estate in Denbighshire join forces
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 January 2018
As Ash Dykes prepares for his next expedition, he teams up with Lord Newborough to promote organic produce from the famous North Wales estate, writes Martin Pilkington.
At first glance there seem few similarities between 27-year-old Welsh adventurer Ash Dykes and the 68-year-old Lord Newborough, owner of Rhug Estate in Denbighshire. But the two actually have much in common, and are now working together to highlight the health benefits of organic produce.
‘There’s a lot of synergy between what we do at Rhug and what Ash does,’ says Lord Newborough. ‘He’s a great believer in sustainability, and is active and adventurous. That all ties in with what we do here.
‘We wanted to promote healthy eating and how to control your diet to best effect, and the importance of using quality protein in the diet when training for the sort of adventures Ash gets up to.’
Those adventures have included walking solo across Mongolia, a trek of 1500 miles; and walking the length of Madagascar’s interior, some 1600 miles. Both were world firsts, recorded in his recent book Mission: Possible, along with his other expeditions and the story of his rise from an ordinary background to being named National Adventurer of the Year in 2016.
Ash had his light-bulb moment when studying at Llandrillo College. ‘The rest of the students had figured out what they were going on to – the military, university, work and the like. But I was completely confused as to which direction I was heading,’ says Ash.
He decided travel and extreme athletic feats should be his path, and formed a plan to achieve that goal. Having raised funds by working long hours as a lifeguard and selling his car, the 19-year-old Ash headed to Asia with a friend. ‘After a time I realised I was on the tourist route, it wasn’t as adventurous as I’d hoped, so I chose to undertake my first away-from-home adventure,’ he explains.
With money tight, the options were limited. ‘We bought £10 bikes, very basic things, wrecks with no gears or suspension, and cycled the entire length of Cambodia and Vietnam, 1100 miles in 15 days,’ he relates. ‘All the locals said it’s not possible to cross the border and the bikes couldn’t do it anyway. We were hit by mopeds, dodged by lorries, chased by dogs, but we made it - and that was the catalyst.’
Interestingly, Lord Newborough experienced a comparably adventurous test of character at about the same age. ‘When I was 20 I was sent to Australia with a one-way ticket and £100 by my father, and told not to reappear for 12 months. I worked as a jackaroo on a property west of Sydney. We used to spend pretty well 24 hours a day on horseback or sleeping on the ground. It was hard work.’
He spent another 12 months there doing various jobs to get by, including cleaning at a ski resort, and once was hungry enough to donate blood in return for free milk and biscuits.
He enjoyed further adventures before returning to Rhug, near Corwen, in the mid-90s to run the estate. ‘I worked on fisheries protection in Sierra Leone for a time.We policed the waters in boats for the Government to help the community make a living from fishing again. It was interesting... bullets frequently flying.’
It’s their shared views that led to their collaboration. Says Ash: ‘I’ve seen first-hand how climate change and environmental damage is forcing nomads to give up their way of life in Mongolia, and I’ve always been very much into the environment and sustainability.’
Lord Newborough runs Rhug’s 6700 acre farm organically, and the estate is focused on sustainability. ‘Organic farming is all to do with prevention rather than cure,’ he explains, ‘It’s a lot to do with thinking ahead, sometimes seven years ahead, maintaining the fertility of the ground in a natural way – everything has to be done naturally. We adopt the highest standards of animal welfare.’ Those methods produce quality beef, lamb, chicken and goose that are sold online and via the estate’s shop, but also appear on Michelin-Star menus.Raymond Blanc is a customer.Ash, who helped develop a Mission Possible Meat Box, is using them in preparation for his next adventure.
‘My body has been pushed to its absolute limit on my expeditions. It’s so important that I’m in peak condition, both mentally and physically, so sustaining my body on quality, organic foods is key. I train very hard, and try to load my body with nutrients it probably will not get enough of during an expedition.’
Where exactly he is heading next from his home in Old Colwyn is still under wraps. ‘I’ll let people know via my website,’ he says, ‘but I can say it’ll be amazing.’
* Rhug Estate covers 12,500 acres from Gwyddelwern in the north, Carrog to the east, Cynwyd to the south and Maerdy to the west. The 6,700 acre organic farm is central to the estate. To find out more go to rhug.co.uk. You can keep up with Ash Dykes at www.ashdykes.com