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Some Rest, Relaxation ... and Wainwrights.

Enjoying the view from Dodd Wood, Lake District on a  Lake District guided walking tour with Embark Travel.
Enjoying the view from Dodd Wood, Lake District.

I always struggle with being able to turn off, even when I turn off my computer or close down my emails I can never really relax or do anything without thinking of the long list of things I need to do or what else I could be doing with my time.

I know how important it is to take a break and have some R and R but when trying to build a business, especially in the current climate, there is always a million and one things that need doing. It’s always with some envy therefore that I wave Mark off each week as he goes in search of some more amazing walks and routes and comes back with some spectacular pictures and footage for the website and puts together some incredible videos of his adventures.

We decided last week therefore that I needed to log off in every sense, take some much needed time off and head off on a little adventure of my own. I think in all honesty a year of lockdowns has turned us all into some form of recluse or another, I like being at home, keeping to my own little schedule, but sometimes we have to say enough is enough, break out of the little comfort bubbles we’ve built over the last year, step away from our desks (or kitchen worktops or dressing tables or whatever we’ve been utilising) and have some actual fun.

We, therefore, packed up the van and headed off to one of my favourite places in the world; the Lake District. I always feel so tremendously lucky to live just a few hours drive from the Lakes and I’ve really missed heading up there over the last year or so, its spectacular views and breath-taking countryside really do make everything seem that bit brighter, almost instantly.

Views from Binsey, Lake District on a Lake District guided walking tour.
Spectacular views from Binsey, Lake District.

After a mandatory stop-off for treats in Penrith (resisting the urge to make a traditional stop at the famous John Norris of Penrith), we pulled up to our first stop which was to be Binsey. Mark has set himself a challenge of climbing all the wainwrights before the end of the year and so ticking off a few more over the next few days was our task; impressively Binsey (at 1,466 ft) was his 150th wainwright meaning he just has 64 left to conquer. In his book, Alfred Wainwright mentioned that the views enjoyed from Binsey far exceed the effort required to reach the top and this was certainly true; the views were breathtaking in every direction even with the mist and haze in the air. We then began our descent and decided to find a spot for the night, we would be sleeping in the van with our sleeping mats and bags, cooking noodles and hot dogs for dinner and heating water for my (many) brews over a stove – a real adventure in every sense of the world and in all honesty, just what I needed.

We slept wonderfully that night and were woken to a chorus of newborn lambs chatting away in the field behind us. After a lovely lie-in, a hearty breakfast and several brews we were all set for the day ahead. Our plan was to tackle 6 or 7 wainwrights all being well, it has been a while since I’d done a proper hike, I realised this as we started the steep incline straight from the off, I really started to struggle. Praying my second wind would kick in as soon as possible (or indeed my first) we soldiered on and were rewarded with some truly spectacular views from Longlands Fell (1,580 ft) across Overwater towards Binsey. The weather was incredible and (being blessed with the most Irish of Irish skin) I started to regret my decision to leave the sun cream in the van and debated whether it was worth the risk (and guaranteed burning) to ditch the fleece I had cautiously worn. After a brief pit stop (and lie down on my part) we headed off towards wainwright number two for the day, Brae Fell (1,920 ft). There are no straight lines in the Lake District which is a big difference between the Lakes and the Peaks. In the Peak District it tends to be one big climb and then a pretty steady walk along the top, the Lakes, however, is full of undulating landscapes and fells, to cover a small distance you may have to climb and descend several hills before you reach your destination but this certainly adds to its beauty and mystery.

Great Cock Up, Lake District on a Lake District guided walking tour with Embark Travel.
Great Cock Up, Lake District.

Our walk to Great Sca Fell (2,131ft) saw a dramatic change in the weather, big black clouds seemed to be chasing us down as we dashed (Mark dashed, I attempted to walk slightly faster than my usual snail's pace – I blame the short legs) towards the summit. On this occasion we were no match for Mother Nature and were greeted with a flurry of hailstones, at least the hail allowed us to keep relatively dry. On the (huge) descent from Great Sca Fell, we realised we had made somewhat of a ‘Great Cockup’ (pardon the pun) as while we should have stayed along the top to conquer two more wainwrights we’d dropped down again to the valley floor and began the ascent towards Meal Fell (1,770 ft). Undeterred we adjusted our route and set our sights on Great Cockup (1,720ft). Although the ominous black clouds continued to chase us down, we were rewarded for our efforts with some mesmerising views towards the mighty Skiddaw, with Barf and Lords Seat looking on over Bassenthwaite Lake. Having conquered 5 wainwrights and with Mother Nature hot on our tails we decided to call it a day and head back to our base camp, across open moorland, sweeping fells and alongside fields filled with newborn lambs. I couldn’t help but take a moment as I looked across the expansive countryside and appreciate that while this has been a terrible year for so many reasons, life really is quite wonderful and I felt so tremendously blessed to be building a company on something I love so very much and which can bring enjoyment to so many people.

Sunset over Bassenthwaite Lake, Lake District.
Sunset over Bassenthwaite Lake, Lake District.

We arrived back at the van having completed a not too shabby 18km, enjoyed our well-deserved lunch and several cups of tea. The rest of the evening was a chilled out affair, reading Harry Potter for the 78th time and just enjoying the prospect of not actually having to do anything (and not being able to even if I did.)

Although my legs were a little stiff and my feet a little sore, when we set off the next morning I felt ready to tackle the challenge that lay ahead. I’ve never done two massive walks on consecutive days but Mark was excited to show me some more spectacular views and I really didn’t want to miss out. We left the van and started our ascent through Dodd Wood, a stunning woodland with mighty firs and babbling becks, a wonderful start to any day. The walkthrough Dodd Wood, although beautiful was tough. Mark has been climbing mountains and hill walking pretty much continuously for the past few years and so pretty much skipped along the steep forest track and up to the first wainwright of the day Dodd (1,612) like some form of Disney character. I, who have spent countless hours in front of the laptop, did struggle, to the point I considered literally crawling to the trig point at one point. The views from the summit were incredibly impressive and really did take your breath away, as did looking across towards our next destination – Skiddaw Little Man. To little me having struggled up Dodd, descending again and starting the climb up to 2,837 ft literally felt impossible. We trudged on however, I really didn’t think I could make it, I nearly gave up several times and nearly cried several times more. It was a continuous ascent to the first stop which was Carl Side at 2,420m and then a tremendously steep scree climb up the side of Skiddaw to reach our next stop, it took (me) a long time. I have to admire Marks patience at this point, and it is things like this that ascertain to me that our Embark clients are going to have the most incredible adventure, he always walks maybe 10 steps ahead of me and waits patiently whenever I stop for breath (that happens a lot) he doesn’t despair but tells me to take a minute, catch my breath and affirms that I can do it and am doing really well.

Looking down towards Derwent Water from the Skiddaw Range, Lake District.
Looking down towards Derwent Water from the Skiddaw Range, Lake District.

We detoured a little from the plan when we reached the top of the plateau, I headed towards Skiddaw Little Man and Mark headed off to bag another one (Lonscale Fell) and skirt back to meet me at the Wainwright on his way back. I was beyond happy with this arrangement, as although the climb up to Little Man was tough, especially after the momentous effort we’d just undergone, the views were really something to behold. I was so grateful I got to take a seat at the summit, have a few minutes rest and appreciate the spectacular beauty that late before me (although I could have done without the wind and hail that kept appearing in little spurts, but hey we can’t having everything.) The last stop was to be the summit of the mighty Skiddaw, Mark had previously already conquered this momentous mountain (3,053ft) I however had not. Although the last push was a huge effort, I couldn’t get so close and not touch the trig point and chalk it off my list. The sense of achievement I felt when I reached the top and screamed out in adulation was incredible, it was without a doubt the hardest thing I’d ever done and even the hailstones smashing into my face couldn’t dampen my spirits.

As we descended back down the steep scree slopes looking across the Lake District from the majestic

Descending the scree slopes of the Mighty Skiddaw, Lake District.
Descending the scree slopes of the Mighty Skiddaw, Lake District.

Skiddaw Range the weather improved, literally, with every step and the sun was positively beaming when we reached Dodd Wood an hour or so later (the descent was considerably quicker than the ascent.) We got back to the van where I took my boots off and collapsed in a heap with a brew and a book, there was not a part of my body that did not hurt but that was most certainly outweighed by the sense of achievement I felt. Thinking back to when I was standing on Dodd looking up at Skiddaw, I really thought there was no chance I would ever reach it, and indeed there were several moments where I thought I might have to give up. Facing these challenges and pushing yourself that little bit further makes all your other worries disappear, for the first time in months I hadn’t recited my to-do list before I went to sleep or thought obsessively about the million other things I should be doing rather than relaxing. I’ve made a promise to myself that at least once every couple of months (perhaps even every month) I’m going to switch off and take some time off for a little adventure – after all, I’m running a walking tours company I shouldn’t feel too guilty about exploring some of the most beautiful places in the world, why should Mark get all the fun ….

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