Standing in Crow Park, a short walk from Keswick, I can trace the outline of the fells and recall a vivid memory from many of the mountains which line the shores of Derwentwater and beyond.
There’s the towering, imposing figure of Skiddaw, which I summited in an unexpected flurry of sleet the day after my 34th birthday where I had celebrated by spending the night at Skiddaw House hostel. It’s rounded neighbour, Lonscale, which I braved on one of my first ever fell runs, the icy November winds whipping at my face as I concentrated hard on the grassy descent, feeling a huge sense of pride as I looked back to see how far I’d come.
There’s Causey Pike, I used to gaze at hanging out my bathroom window in the staff house. I hiked the uneven peak on an Indian summer’s day last September, chatting to a fellow hiker at the top about the beauty of the Lakes and celebrating a memorable day on the fells with a whisky in the sunshine at the Swinside Inn in the Newlands Valley with Dan and Tom.
Collectively, those mountains became a part of shaping the person I am today.
Walking around town brings similar nostalgia – there is Booth’s cafe where I sat on a pouring wet March morning, gripped so tightly with fear and anxiety I almost didn’t attend the job interview at the hostel; the job which began the Lake District adventure.
There’s Fellpack, where I have shared many secrets over coffee and cake, brunches with new friends, old school friends and a date night which was never quite the one. There is The Loft nightclub (probably the only one in the Lake District) where I drunkenly danced like no one was watching, even when there were only about 7 people in the entire place.
Each place, each memory, shaping my past, shaping my future.
I took the bus back up to Keswick this afternoon, and whilst it’s not the first time I’ve been back since I left in February, it was the first time I’ve been back alone, giving me a chance to reflect on how I’ve changed; how the worlds changed so drastically in the last five months.
It was a freezing February day the last time I was at the lake, torrential rain and flooding had battered the town again and a thin layer of snow dusted the high fells. I felt a mixture of nervous and excited energy about moving to a new hostel, with a new role as an activity leader for school kids laying ahead.
A summer due to challenge and inspire.
I had an incredible week training in the Peak District, followed by one day of running activities in Langdale before life changed for us all.
Two weeks after I moved to Hawkshead, lockdown occurred and life suddenly looked very different. At first, I felt a mixture of confusion and sadness as it looked increasingly like my job would not continue.
But after a short while, I settled into a gentle rhythm and pace of life. I grew to love the sense of space and freedom I had – both physically in a quieter corner of the Lake District and mentally – I finally had space to breathe, to reflect without the constant flow of work and the never-ending searching, pining for the next adventure.
I had a chance to be still.
Having time to reflect, I realised how unhappy I had become during the winter in Keswick – that despite those memories I painted earlier, the winter season was a very different experience from the summer. My friends had moved on and I found my manager increasingly difficult to please, a constant impossibly high set of expectations I suddenly could no longer meet for her which quietly began to erode my self-confidence.
The darkness, relentless rain.
I missed those long summer days building fires, dips in the lake, trail runs, wild camps and spontaneous evening walks.
I missed who I was last summer.
During those quiet lockdown days, I realised how during my time in Keswick, I had attached a lot of my happiness to the place, to the experiences and the people I shared it with. Which on the surface is wonderful, but deep down is an unstable foundation on which to build.
Happiness, a real stable sense of happiness, needs to be drawn from within rather than externally.
People and places can only bring so much.
Sitting on the banks of Friars Crag today made me realise this inner happiness has quietly grown within me during lockdown – on those early mornings of mediation on the verandah overlooking Esthwaite Water, in the hours spent writing at Moss Eccles Tarn, on solo runs and hikes in Grizedale Forest.
Stepping away from a place, even when you love it, gives you the chance to change, to grow, to develop. And returning can be a marker, to see how far you’ve come.
I’ll always hold a candle for Keswick, in the same way you always do for your first love, that person who you share your ‘firsts’ with.
In the long run, you forget all the fights and misunderstandings and are left with the happy memories; the memories on how they’ve helped you become the person you are today.
And of course, this will be in no way my last visit to Keswick, I’m only a short bus ride away in Ambleside now. I still have fells to climb, summer days of wild swims, memories still to be made.
But the difference is, that even if it’s shared with friends, with family, with lovers…. the happiness will now come from deep within me.
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