I stepped off the last bus from Penrith to Keswick in 2019 with a backpack full of belongings and zero expectations, unaware of the beautiful, incredible adventure about to unfold.
As idyllic as it sounds, I wasn’t in the happiest of places at the time. I was recently back from a 3-month backpacking trip in South America which also signalled the end of my relationship. I returned feeling hopeless and directionless, without a job.
I didn’t envisage being in this position as I began my mid 30’s. But after applying for a hostel job in Keswick and getting it, I set about rebuilding my life. And thankfully, little by little, the Lakes began to heal me. (You can read the longer version of How I came to live in the Lake District in this post).
Three years marks the longest I’ve stayed in one place since I left university 15 years ago. Somehow, little by little I’ve shifted to look for a life of stability rather than one of constant change.
These are a few of the lessons I’ve learnt in these past three years in the Lake District.
#1. Turning up with a lack of expectation for the future helped me re-find my feet
I’ve also been a fairly big planner (read: control freak) and like to have a fair idea of where I’m going and what I’m going to do.
Prior to accepting the job at the hostel in Keswick, I’d found myself in a spell of both mental and physical states of anxiety. I was in two minds about whether to even take the job, for fear of it not working out. Which, after all the adventures I’d gone on in my 20s with such a carefree attitude felt like a bitter pill to swallow.
But when it came down to it, what was the worst that would happen? I’d not be happy and have to go home and rebuild. I merely focused on each week as it came. I’d done barely any reading about the Lakes, and had no bucket lists, no plans for the summer.
Just to turn up and survive. And once I’d found my feet after a month or so, I refound that confidence.
With no expectations, everything that summer felt amazing.
Every new walk, every new place I visited, my Couch to 5k journey, I leant into everything without holding tightly on to how something should or shouldn’t be.
#2. Life is not a linear line of constant progression
I guess I had an extremely lucky run in my 20s where life felt like a constant upward trajectory – season after season without barely any issues of physical or mental health. At times, I felt invincible.
After that first summer and autumn in the Lakes, dreamed my Lake District life to be one of an upward trajectory – that I’d freely progress to fell running, higher positions at work, decent health – no need to be sad now!
But after a couple of my friends left the hostel in November, I found that first winter here quite lonely. The dynamic changed at the hostel and I was no longer enjoying the work
I was rocked when in January 2020 my manager said she wouldn’t renew my contract for the next season. Feeling let down after all the hard work I’d put in the previous summer, it spurred me on to find another hostel job.
I moved to Hawkshead in the Central Lakes on the last day of February 2020 and by the last day of March, I was living a lockdown life in an empty hostel.
The pandemic was another stark reminder that we lack so much control over our futures. Actually, life is more like a wavy graph than an upward sharp line. And that is OK.
Because it’s in those dips of the waves that we learn to grow, to re-evaluate and reconnect on where we need to head next.
#3. It’s ok to change your mind about you who are and what you want
Just before my birthday in 2020, I wrote in my journal about how the Lake District was starting to feel like home.
That I was finally ready to put down some roots. I went on to write about buying a little cottage and spending my days writing or volunteering or gardening. Whilst these dreams are still some while away, it felt very significant in feeling ready to call a place home.
Having spent the majority of my 20’s doing seasonal work (mostly as a chef) moving every 6 months or so from the mountains of the French Alps to New Zealand to the Shetland Islands and Scotland, I believed I would be a nomad for life. Getting a mortgage and ‘settling’ down felt like a boring, safe option. I go into more detail on this here – On prioritising a life of travel and experiences over climbing the career ladder
I loved the thrill of change and newness from meeting new people to exploring new countries and places. Friendships and relationships were short but intense. Commitment was not required.
But as I tiptoed further into my 30s, I felt a subtle shift towards the comfort of stability. Of knowing I wouldn’t need to pack up and restart my life again and again.
That maybe, just maybe after years of jokes from friends about not settling, I had found my place here in the Lake District, a place that equally challenges and inspires me day after day.
You can read my reflections on my first year in the Lakes here