I recently ran a series in my monthly newsletter, Letters from the Lake District, called Inspired by the Lakes, where I interview people who have lived, worked or were inspired by the Lake District.
This was my Q&A with outdoor adventurer and writer Nic Hardy, who has undertaken a range of adventures in the Lake District, from completing the Wainwright and the Outlying fells, walking the Cumbria Coastal Way and hiking from her birthplace in Sheffield to her current home in Cockermouth.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your connection to the Lake District, and how you came to live here
I’m Nicola Hardy and I fell in love with the Lake District at 33 years old in 2017. I was single and working in IT Programme Management, a tough role that demanded five full days of my undivided attention. It’s safe to say that at that time my life revolved around my job.
A colleague and good friend Matt Watson introduced me to hill walking as a way of escaping the stresses and strains of working life and hiking soon became a crucial outlet for managing my physical and mental health. Visits to the Lake District to hike the Wainwright fells came fortnightly, and sometimes even weekly, at weekends during the spring and summer of 2018. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with hill walking in the Lake District National Park.
I used the social media platform Instagram to meet likeminded people for adventures in the Lake District. I threw myself into attending all the festivals like Keswick Mountain Festival and Kendal Mountain Festival and soon I realised I’d hiked all 214 Wainwright fells in the space of one year.
Slowly but surely, hill walking was becoming the biggest part of my life and I took the bold decision to leave my job, sell my house and travel across Scotland for six months hiking the 282 Munro mountains. After this, I spent a few months sofa-surfing between the homes of friends and family before moving in with my boyfriend, James, who was based in Cockermouth, Cumbria. I’m now a freelance outdoor writer for half of the week, and for two days a week, I work from home in a public sector research and analysis job.
2. Describe your first trip to the Lake District (or the earliest one you remember)
I actually began visiting the Lake District as a child although my memories of this time are patchy. Photos show that my parents brought my brother and I up from South Yorkshire to stay in the Ambleside area for holidays and there are photos of our smiling faces on the Ullswater Streamer, flying a kite in front of Whiteside in the western Lake District and enjoying the sights from Surprise View, Borrowdale.
Opposite Blencathra on a winter hike
3. You’ve undertaken a range of fantastic challenges in the Lakes – fast packing all the Wainwrights over seven weekends using public transport, completing the Outlying Fells and even ‘walking home’ from your birthplace in Sheffield to your current home in Cockermouth.
What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had in the Lake District, and what lessons have you learnt along the way?
I am fortunate enough to have experienced an abundance of highlights during a pretty intensive five years of adventuring in the Lake District. I have made it my mission to explore as much as possible and that includes not only walking the popular Wainwrights, but also walking the lesser known Outlying Fells of Lakeland and the full Cumbria coastline too. I feel like I know Cumbria better than I know my home county of South Yorkshire now and that was confirmed when I hiked from the hospital I was born at in the centre of Sheffield to my new home in Cockermouth in 2020. This felt like such a personal journey and the feeling I had that I was ‘coming home’ as I approached the Lake District confirmed that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
One of my favourite pastimes is to look across the Lakeland skyline from different angles and spot my favourite mountains and lakes. I also particularly love seeing the sunrise or sunset from the top of a Lake District fell. Some of my most memorable sunrises have been from Sheffield Pike, Red Pike (Buttermere) and Glenridding Dodd. Some of my most memorable sunsets have been from Glaramara, Black Fell and Whiteless Pike.
It’s important to note that as someone who jumped into hiking adventures with very little experience at the beginning, I didn’t get it all right the first time. Of course, I got lost, I had a tent pole snap in high winds, I fell and split my knee open on a rock halfway up a mountain. But with each error came vital experience and recognising my limitations led to me attending navigation courses, watching YouTube video gear tutorials, and refining the equipment I needed to adventure safely, such as purchasing a storm shelter, a satellite tracking/messaging device and learning how much food, water and clothing to carry. My learning curve has been steep but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
On the Kentmere Horseshoe in the Lake District
4. Which hill or mountain in the Lake District holds the most significance to you- the one you can return to time and time again?
Low Fell occupies the most special place in my heart. I can drive to Thackthwaite in less than fifteen minutes and hike to the top of this fell on a summer evening to get the escapism I crave. It’s ever so quiet and offers stunning views down Crummock Water to Buttermere on one side and sea views on the other. I’ve hiked to the top on my own, with friends, with my boyfriend, with my best friend’s children, with my young nephews and with my parents. It’s a great ‘starter’ fell for anyone new to hill walking. As long as I have air in my lungs, blood in my veins and boots on my feet, I will never tire of Low Fell. Alfred Wainwright himself said ‘When the doctor forbids climbing about 1500 feet, the future of his patient need not be entirely bleak. There is always Low Fell.’ (Source: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells – Book 7 – Western Fells)
5. How do you feel the Lake District has shaped you as a person?
The Lake District and the people of Cumbria have played a pivotal role in making me a happier, healthier and more understanding person. I’m in better physical shape in my 30s than I ever was in my 20s, thanks to living a more active lifestyle here. I met my boyfriend here, I’ve met many of my best friends here, I have spent hours upon hours of quality time with family here, I have given back to the landscape by participating in tree planting volunteer days, litter picks and promoting exploring the Lake District by public transport. I now work with the adventure planning app Komoot to share my Lake District adventures with a wider audience.
6. Your go-to place for a post-hike coffee and/or drink in the Lake District
In the northern Lake District I love to end a walk with a visit to The Round, Keswick, where you’re always greeted with a smile. I also like the quirky Bassenthwaite Lake Station for a Ramblers’ Brew (Cumbrian Tea). For a treat, I love to go to Armathwaite Hall Hotel Courtyard Bar and Brasserie for a Strawberry, Mint smoothie and the best Rosemary, Garlic and Mozzarella pizza bread I’ve ever tasted.
At the summit of Sheffield Pike in winter
7. The place you go to escape the Lake District crowds
‘West is Best’ when it comes to avoiding the Lake District crowds. Hiking Steeple from Ennerdale is one of my favourite mountain walks. Starting in the large car park at Bowness Knott it’s a peaceful hike along the edge of Ennerdale Water (if you’re lucky you might spot an otter here as I once did). Crossing the crystal clear waters of the River Liza, you rise up through woodland to approach Steeple from the north west. Be sure to look behind you as Ennerdale Water looks fabulous. If you’ve still got plenty in the tank at the summit you can include Scoat Fell, Haycock, Caw Fell, Lank Rigg, Crag Fell and Grike before returning to the car park – a challenging 28km walk away from the crowds.
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