A few days before Christmas 2019, sitting in Mathelidies cafe overlooking Helm Crag in Grasmere, I set out a vast series of exciting goals for the coming year ahead, goals which now seem whimsical such as visiting one new country, hiking the Cumbria Way, running a half marathon, dipping my toe into freelancing in social media amongst others.
It makes me smile, looking back now on that ambitious list, with only a few goals achieved – financial and running a half marathon of sorts (more on that later). I wouldn’t know it then, but 2020 was to become a defining, pivotal year for a whole host of reasons.
1. A farewell run/hike of the Keswick Three Peaks with Jamie in late February
Keswick will always be the place I learned to run. On the trails, by the lake, in the woods. After taking part in the winter fell running series at the hostel, it only seemed right to push myself to try and run the Keswick three peaks of Cat Bells, Walla Crag and Latrigg, before I was due to move to Hawkshead in March.
I roped in my housemate Jamie, and we set off under chilly blue skies, a gentle jog to Portinscale towards Cat Bells, our first hill. But as we reached elevation, it was clear the path would be too icy to run, so instead we dropped down to a lower path along the high terrace which runs along the shore of Derwentwater.
By the other end of the lake at Grange, I was tired so we stopped at Grange for a cheeky hot chocolate before hugging the lake road for a while and heading up for the second hill of Walla Crag. With only a vague memory of the route, this involved jumping over a stream and getting lost in bracken before eventually finding the path to the summit.
Running off Walla Crag, snow underfoot, was one of those dreamy moments of magic, the views, that feeling of weightlessness. As we ran, we reflected on what a mad autumn and winter we’d had living together in Keswick. Jamie ducked out at this point, and although I was exhausted, I found my way up Latrigg for the last hill and bid an emotional farewell to the place my Lakes adventure had begun.
2. A weeks activity leader course with the YHA in the Peak District in early March
I began the year intending to stay at my hostel job in Keswick, but a few weeks into the new year, it became clear that this unexpectedly was no longer an option.
After briefly considering alternative locations, I applied to other hostels in the Lake District. On a late afternoon in January, I attended an interview in Hawkshead in the central Lakes, turning up head to toe in waterproofs after getting caught in a hailstorm en route from the bus stop.
Hawkshead had facilities to run activities such as archery, orienteering, walks and bushcraft for school groups and the role would be combined with the general hostel assistant.
The position excited me, but I was full of self doubt as to whether I’d be able to teach all the activities – whilst I loved the outdoors, I’d never classed myself as naturally ‘sporty’.
But after consideration, I took the position and on the first day of March found myself in Edale in the Peak District with a whole host of people from different backgrounds and hostels across England ready to learn.
I adored everything about that week and felt more challenged than I had in a long time. I also loved the lack of wifi and phone signal – every night during and after dinner we’d talk, really talk and get to know each other in a way I remember from travelling in my early 20’s. I passed my archery course, excelled in the outdoor creative activities and quietly developed a newfound confidence. I couldn’t wait to share with school groups.
And then three weeks later, the pandemic hit.
The job dried up and it was back to square one.
But I will still always fondly remember that week, it was a sweet reminder of what we can achieve when we step outside our comfort zone.
3. A sunrise run to Latterbarrow in early April
A simple, quiet memory from early lockdown days. Nothing more than getting up at 5.30am and running from the hostel where we found ourselves in lockdown to the 200m hill of Latterbarrow 2 miles outside of Hawkshead.
I adore this place, and for such a tiny climb an obelisk marks the summit which overlooks Windermere, and Ambleside on one side with the Langdale and Coniston fells on the other.
It has become my “Latrigg” (my favourite hill in Keswick) go-to-hill whilst living here.
I had the hill to myself and drunk in every moment of the quiet beauty before running back to the hostel for breakfast.
4. A surprise birthday garden party BBQ in lockdown in early May
At the end of April, I injured my knee running and thus found myself unable to do either of my loves of running or hiking for my birthday. Also, we were still in a national lockdown.
To make up for it, my housemate offered drive me to Booths in Windermere (a fancy supermarket in the north, similar to Waitrose) for a stock up and indulge in food heaven which felt amazing after 6 weeks of living on supplies from the tiny local Co-op.
Whilst we were gone, the rest of my team mates at the hostel transformed our back garden – bunting hanging from my bedroom window, a string of solar fairy lights, tiny milk bottles full of wildflowers, old duvet covers on the picnic benches, balloons on the garden fence and wood stocked in the fire pit ready for a birthday BBQ.
On our return, I was so shocked and thrilled, hobbling around the garden; in love with all the tiny details they had gone to.
That night, we made plates of salad, cooked on the BBQ, toasted prosecco at dusk and I blew out my candles on the homemade brownies made by my manager.
We laughed and shared stories under the starry skies until gone midnight. I went to bed marveling at how kind and caring these people who were strangers two months ago and how they had given me one of my most memorable birthdays and made turning 35 so much sweeter.
5. Spontaneous underwear wild swim dip on the summer solstice in late June
I love marking the occasion of the winter and summer solstice, being out in nature and celebrating the changing light. In 2019, I marked both on Latrigg with a summer sunset and a lighting of a candle in the December gloom.
This year I went up to Moss Eccles Tarn, formerly owned by Beatrix Potter when she lived in Near Sawrey, it’s a calm, still little tarn on the edge of Claife Heights woods. A place I found myself at a lot during the first lockdown.
I didn’t intend to swim, no kit with me, not even a towel. But it felt too inviting, an urge to mark the lightest part of the year. Spontaneous, unplanned. Sometimes you’ve just got to jump right in and go with the flow.
6. Wild camping on the edge of Thirlmere on a hot summers night in late June
One afternoon in late June, I got a text out of the blue from my friend H who I worked with last summer in Keswick. We have the kind of friendship where you don’t message for weeks on end, and it’s ok. You just pick up right where you left off.
H messaged to say she was en route to the Lakes from Liverpool and would I like to go wild camping?
I’d just finished my shift at the local supermarket and was sat by a stream, licking ice cream, cooling off in the shade.
I ran home to pack my backpack immediately.
Driving over to Thirlmere, we excitedly swapped stories, parking at the edge of the lake and heaving our backpacks down in the waning heat of the day where we collapsed on the rocks on the shore edge moving very little until dusk.
We pitched our tents, mine a one-man, which has seen adventures from volunteering at Glastonbury to wild camping in the Shetland Islands. We lit a fire and the mood calmed, gentle soft whispers of chat until I drifted off to bed before the others, sleepy from the early start at work.
I slept soundly and adore the memory of waking up with this view the next morning. On tiresome, boring, tedious days at the supermarket, this picture re-centres me, reminds me what I am here for.
7. Solo hiking the Fairfield Horseshoe in late July
In mid July life changed again. As the hostel work wasn’t looking hopeful in the near future, I secured a job at a supermarket in Ambleside, found a room to rent in a 10 bed house in a quiet part of town and made the 5 mile move from Hawkshead to what now felt like a bustling tourist town as lockdown restrictions began to loosen.
From the back garden, I could see Nab Scar, the hill which marks the start of the Fairfield Horseshoe, a famous Lakeland horseshoe hike of around 10 miles which takes in 8 Wainwright hill summits.
With my knee now back to relative normality, I set off ‘just to do Nab Scar and see how I go’. I packed lots of food and my head torch. I knew in the back of my head, if all went well I’d want to continue.
It was my first proper hill since March and it felt incredible to be back in the hills, moving my body.
It truly is my happy place.
After the elation of the first summit, and clear blue warm summer skies, I just kept on going, pausing at each peak to drink in the views. By Fairfield, the highest point at 830m I was beginning to tire, the knee and my body still weren’t hugely hill fit and I was slightly regretting my decision but had no choice but to push on.
The last summit was by the light of my head torch – it took me far, far longer than normal (and I’m classically a plodding hiker!) and on the last bit of path I encountered a herd of Highland cattle which was a bit terrifying in darkness!
Definitely a Type 2 kind of fun memory towards the end but a hike I’m proud of.
8. Numerous Wainwright adventures over the year from Buttermere, to Ullswater to Troutbeck
I had a lofty goal of ticking off 40 Wainwrights in 2020 (I’m hoping to do all 214 by 2025 for a significant birthday). The pandemic and a knee injury in the summer meant the target wasn’t quite met (27 instead), but so many of my fond memories from the year were days on the hill – some solo but many with my friend Amy who I met on my first ski season in 2007 and had found herself moving to Penrith in July.
Memorable moments include descending off Red Screes doing ‘airplane’ arms to drum and bass, showing the world my bum on Sour Howes, cheese picnics on the side of Silver How in the late November chill and fell running Binsey and Ling on a bright October afternoon.
9. A classic Lakeland weekend with my best friend V in mid-September
V and I have been best friends since nursery school, and whilst our lives are quite different now (she is married with two kids, I was at the time single, living a life still vaguely like a student) we are still close and try to meet up at least once a year.
We chose a localish hike starting from Grasmere up to Easedale Tarn, catching up on each other’s lives and sharing dilemmas as we hiked.
In the evening, we had dinner at The Yan, a tiny restaurant on the edge of an old farm just outside Grasmere. It was truly one of my most favorite meals I’ve had in the Lakes, simple ingredients beautifully cooked – cured salmon, smoked duck salad and the finest Herdwick shepherds pie I’d ever had. We finished with a Cumbrian cheese board. Neither of us drank and we smiled at the fact that we’d got to an age and familiarity in our friendship that it didn’t matter if neither of us did.
The next day, we drove over the Kirkstone Pass and along the shores of Ullswater to Askam where we did a 10km trail run in the woods and rewarded ourselves with wood fired pizzas in the grounds of Askham Hall.
Friendship, food, and outdoor time bring me true true happiness.
10. A beautiful, unexpected romance from late November
Back in the summer, I begrudged having to take a job at the supermarket to remain in the Lake District, the exact same job I had at 17 back in the Midlands. But remarkably, it was the setting for an unexpected romance at the end of the year.
I noticed S one day in late autumn when I was serving him on the tills, complimenting him on the coolness of his crazy owl jumper he was wearing. He came in from time to time, and we had snippets of conversations, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle of each other’s lives each time we met.
Even when I didn’t serve him, I noticed how positive and happy he always seemed to be with others, always listening, always caring.
On a cold November Saturday, I was fortunately for once not on checkout and instead scaping dried milk off the refrigerator counter, which allowed our conversations to progress longer than normal and we ended up swapping numbers.
We met up a few days later for a walk to Grasmere, around Rydal Water and back to Ambleside, chatting non stop for the entire day. I think we both knew there was a spark immediately, but we continued with our outdoor dates at a distance (the second lockdown was enforced by now) from picnics in Borans Park near Windermere to a breakfast date at a misty Rydal Cave and a full moon lit walk along the Rothay River. He loves the outdoors as much as me and we would both be pointing out the tiny details of nature to each other, with wonderment and glee.
In early December, over Baileys hot chocolate from my flask, we sat by the waterfall in Rydal; confessed our feelings and right there was the beginning of another wild new chapter in my Lake District adventures.
Despite the sadness, uncertainty and change of 2020, one of the greatest gifts the year bought was stillness, time in nature and space to think. To really think what I want, which allowed me to ground myself for the first time in a long, long time.
Just before my birthday on one of those long, hot cloudless evenings in May, I sat up at Moss Eccles Tarn just outside Hawkshead and wrote a piece in my journal about feeling like I’d found a place to call home here in the Lakeland fells.
Let’s see what 2021 will bring