And then suddenly, it was autumn.
The fells have faded from the rich green to coopers and golds, the swathes of bracken on the hillsides now reduced to crisp skeletons. Misty mornings spent kicking through the invariably wet autumn leaves, the trails I run now thick with mud.
Last Friday, after abandoning plans to tackle another Wainwright due to a tired body, I took a slow afternoon walk out from my house on the edge of Ambleside to Rydal along the gravel public footpath surrounded either side by grassy hills and grazing sheep. It felt good to be moving at a slower pace after a couple of months of movement and change.
Early March, and I had just returned from the Peak District where I had spent a week training to run outdoor activities for residential school groups with the YHA. Bushcraft, archery, orienteering – I was thrilled at the prospect of trying something new, of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Back in the Lake District, we managed to do one session at Langdale hostel before Covid began to take hold. School groups canceled up until the summer. And then lockdown hit, seven of us in an empty hostel (you can catch up on that chapter here). Originally, the YHA thought we would be closed until the end of May, but it soon became clear the consequences would be longer and further-reaching.
By mid June, I thought it might be wise to start looking around for alternative jobs, whispers of redundancies were on the horizion.
One thing I had become really clear about during lockdown was what I felt ready and excited to call the Lake District home. After years of being so nomadic, of thriving on a love of change and working season to season, this came as a bit of a surprise to me, but one I’ve just gone with. Trusting my intuition.
Whilst I really loved my year working with the YHA, especially living up in Keswick, all the non-manager positions were only seasonal contracts, which I had been renegotiating each season and had suddenly become strangely unsettling.
I was ready to find something a bit more permanent if I could manage it, despite there being an obvious shortage of jobs during a global pandemic. I applied for a supermarket job which would be based in Ambleside once the new store re-opened. I remember walking down to Bowness near Windermere for my interview, the streets usually filled with tourists from all around the world, eerily quiet and flat (this was June before restrictions began to loosen). I sat by the lake afterwards, wondering how life had become so strange.
Thankfully, I got the position. And incredibly, I could immediately start my training at the Hawkshead store where I was still living at the hostel until late June.
I loved walking from the hostel to the village in those heady summer mornings, even at 5.30am on the morning shifts, being able to see the first light dance over the fells, rays of light shining on Esthwaite Water felt magic.
My remarkable luck continued and I managed to find a tiny room to rent in a house share in Ambleside. The house is set back from the busy main road, out towards Rydal. From the back garden, you can see the fells which make up the Fairfield Horseshoe and from my bedroom window, you can just see Loughrigg. I didn’t bother looking at any other houses, despite my bedroom being tiny. This place felt right.
I moved in mid-July, and strangely Adam who I had been living with in the staff accommodation at the hostel during lockdown also found work in Ambleside and moved into the neighboring room. By mid-August, there was a strong core of us who became good pals. Despite there being 11 of us in the house (it used to be halls of residence for the neighboring University of Cumbria), it never feels too crazy as we all work different shifts, but there’s always someone around for a kitchen chat or to watch a film with in our tiny corner lounge we’ve nicknamed The Nook.
The new supermarket opened in mid-August, and with lockdown, restrictions loosened the Lakes felt busy and crowded, especially in Ambleside where walking down the road felt like following an army of ants.
My job is basic, but I’ve found a joy in getting to know the locals – the fell runner who tells me about his weekly runs, the lady whose husband has Parkinson’s disease who looks at me with sad and tired, and speaks with a heavy heart, the tradesman who come in each morning for the same cigarettes and coffee. Those familiar faces who come in day in day out to buy the same alcohol, a darker side you don’t think about occurring in the Lake District.
Most days are mild and uneventful, and I find myself quietly clock watching to leave but really I’m just truly thankful to have a job in amongst the chaos of a pandemic. A friend I worked with back in the heady days of 2007, the year I graduated from uni, popped in this week, enthusing how stunning and beautiful the place was, and how lucky I am to live in the mountains.
Moments like that ground you, a reminder that this is why I’ve stayed.
Next year, with more time I’m hoping to work on another business idea (I’ve previously run my own small cake business for a while back in Nottingham and loved it, despite struggling to make it financially viable).
By September though, the crowds began to quieten and my days off were spent reconnecting with friends – a memorable run in the Grizedale Valley under Helvellyn with my running buddy Dan, a hike to Easedale Tarn, and a stunning meal at The Yan in Grasmere with my best friend V and a trip down to the Forest of Dean to see my other best friend Eleri and most recently my mum visited for a week with after-work walks to Rydal and a trip on Ullswater.
So here we are, mid-October, and I’m ready for the quieter dark days. Ready to get back to writing again. To sharing and connecting.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding how things will play out with any further lockdowns, I feel a sense of peace to be living here, ready for crisp winter mornings and evening runs by headtorch.
It’s in those day to day small moments which we can refind the joy even amongst the uncertainty.
Autumn will always be a sweet reminder of how beautiful it can be to let go and welcome change.
Catch up on more seasonal posts from the Lake District
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