It has felt like early summer these past few days with sunlight absorbing into my skin with a serene ease. It was last Thursday and I woke up to the birds singing, and something like life moved through the air. Cold and still and bright with a change of season. It was then that I realised signs of growth were all around me. Snowdrops bloomed and buds started to appear on branches, all of these subtle changes that were hard to believe I’d missed.
Plans to pick up my friends on the way over to the Lake District had been made, and I rushed to leave on time. Only a month had passed since my last visit with Robyn, but I already craved the intimacy of mountains around me. I can still remember visiting the Lakes for the first time with my dad, after he’d convinced me to go fell walking with him. We drove through Glenridding and Patterdale, weaving in-between the narrow roads lined by trees and lakeside cottages. We’d hike above Ullswater, sometimes taking a dog or two to enjoy the walk with us. I loved these day trips, and found myself wanting to go back for longer and explore more single track roads and hidden spots. I must have spent about three weeks there last year, visiting in spring, summer, autumn, and again in early January to see the snow hugging the peaks. It lay like a blanket, the mountains in hibernation for the coming spring.
The drive over was slow, full of half-term traffic, but I didn’t mind much. Music danced out of open car windows and wind whipped at my hair. I was really looking forward to this trip, excited to show Ragib what the Lakes were like because he’d never visited before. Brent, Craig, and I arrived at the campsite together, and we quickly found the shop to check in. Sarah from The Quiet Site greeted me, and handed over the keys to our accommodation. Taking them excitedly, we were shown up to the Hobbit Holes that we’d be staying in for the next few days.
We had a quick tour of the inside, which consisted of a massive bed space, toilet, sink, fridge, kettle, microwave and lots of shelves. The hut was a lot bigger than I’d expected, with warm floors from underground heating and a beautiful map of the Lake District, drawn in a Tolkien-like illustration. Leaving Brent and Craig to settle in and load up the fridge, I went to pick up Rag from the train station in Penrith. I asked him what he thought of the views already, and we both commented on the heat haze that blurred layer upon layer of distant mountains. One of my favourite things to witness when I travel with friends, is their genuine appreciation and awe of their surroundings. Rag always puts a smile on your face with his heartfelt, and almost childlike, amazement.
The sun was already hiding behind the mountains as we arrived at the campsite. We all sat outside on our picnic bench, eating and planning what to do over the next few days. I knew immediately where I’d take the guys for sunrise, I wanted to share one of my favourite spots in the Lakes with them. A place I’d discovered in October 2017 with my friend Chloë - who I miss loads now that she lives in Australia. We all agreed to get up early the next morning, and set off just before six to make it in plenty of time. With that sorted out, we headed down to the bar, planning to chill for the rest of the evening.
Warmth emanated through double doors, and we were greeted by the sight of people talking and laughing together. Some kids were running around, playing pool with their friends, and there were plenty of dogs eager to have your attention. Fairy lights were strung up around old wooden beams, accompanied by taxidermy animals balanced there or hung on the walls. Two stained glass windows stood either side of a huge fireplace in the middle of the room. You could feel the heat of the flames as they caressed rosy cheeks, and I listened to the crackle of sticks blend into the conversation. The whole feel of the bar was so interestingly rustic and intimate, with relics, books, figurines and iron tools tucked onto window ledges, or hidden in the corners of the room. We went up some stairs and sat underneath an old bear skin, taking everything in with a feeling of curiosity.
I met with Daniel, owner of The Quiet Site, shortly after arriving at the bar. He told me about the future plans for the grounds, with a huge focus being on sustainability and renewable energy. I loved hearing how passionate he was about the development of the campsite, and was eager to learn more about the environmental aspects. Currently, all of the water from showers, sinks and toilets filter through four reed ponds to purify, the water is then recycled and reused. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels are also installed, supplying electricity for the entire site. During June, July and August, all of the electricity is provided by these solar panels. The excess power collected over summer is then stored to use throughout the autumn, and sometimes the winter months. A biomass system also provides the energy on site for heating, powered by fallen trees within a ten mile radius. The logs are turned into wood-chipping, becoming the main material that is used within the biomass system. I’ve also been talking with Daniel about organising an event to plant trees on some of his land, to help balance what we take from nature, and what we give back.
Re-joining the guys upstairs, we all sat around for a while, enjoying the cosy environment and attempting to teach each other card games. Ragib took a look at my editorial images from ‘the end,’ and we fine-tuned some of the lighting issues. As the early evening started to morph into night, we all decided to head back to our accommodation, admiring the view of our Hobbit Hole with its orange glow leaking through circular windows. It was surprisingly comfy on the bed, and despite taking a hut for myself, the room was warm and cosy. I felt a little guilty as Brent, Rag and Craig had never met each other until that afternoon, and I wondered if they were thinking the same thing. I tried to write or read for a while, but my eyes started to become heavier and I gave up, surrendering to the sleep that had been threatening to take me all evening.
Five o’clock came, and I bounced out of bed to get ready. I packed up my equipment and props, knocked on number 14 to see if the guys were ready, and went to load up. Completely forgetting the time, I greeted Brent from my car before panicking about waking someone else up, and reducing my voice to a whisper. Clearly, I’d been their alarm, and they hurried to get ready so we could set off. Packing up a balanced breakfast of water and cookies, we entered the destination into our gps and I led the way in my Aygo.
After one wrong turn due to an out of date map, we arrived at the car park just as the sky was turning pink. We shared the two cookies between us and scoffed them down, grabbing our backpacks and camera gear. The car park was abnormally busy for 7am, and we soon discovered a local photography group had chosen to meet up for sunrise there too. Around twenty people and a few dogs were by the tarn, tripods and filters mounted, pointing towards the same photogenic peak. We greeted some of them, started taking our own photos, and petting the excitable dogs who were just as happy as us.
I’m not sure what the time was, but the light was becoming more golden. I took the guys over to one of my favourite spots. We all clambered up the big mounds of grass, rock and heather, frozen by the sudden wind that caught us. I wandered off to climb up the biggest mound and almost fell a couple times, accidentally placing my feet in loose ground. I could see for miles from up there, and I watched a stream weave between the hills into the distance. The wind was so strong that it almost forced me over, and I couldn’t help but laugh and sing into the air, wondering how far my voice would be taken. It’s strange, but I always feel so high, spiritually, when I experience something powerful within nature. I have a theory that we are actually much happier in the rawness of the outdoors because it is our most natural environment, and where our earlier ancestors spent their lives.
With a chorus of comments about being hungry and cold, we drove to Ambleside for breakfast at Copper Pot. We sipped at hot drinks and ordered our food, managing to squeeze in on the last free table. Laurel and Hardy were being projected onto a white wall, and we talked about how far technology has come. The rate in which consumables are produced, bought and binned really scares me. I believe it is a matter that needs to be talked about and resolved, otherwise we will run out of places to put our rubbish - haven’t we already?
Feeling a lot more alive with food in our bodies, we spent the rest of the day exploring and taking some photos in the bar with Harry. As sunset neared, we all headed over to Derwent Water, making a small fire and skipping rocks on the lake. I don’t think any of us wanted sunset to end; beautiful shades of pink and purple gripped at the clouds until all trace of light had gone. Slowly, we packed away our things to return to the campsite, and said our goodbyes to Harry and his dog, Coco.
We conversed with the couple we were sharing the table with, and enjoyed the live music. Brent and Craig shared a bottle of wine, and I taught everyone how to play Rummy. It was so relaxing in the bar, and the warmth was much needed after a couple hours out in the cold. Sleep was starting to catch up with us, as we talked about how amazing the day had been. A couple hours slipped by, and at that point, I think we were all pretty shattered. We walked back up to our beds, and marvelled at how clear the sky was. I pointed out the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt to everyone, and Ragib looked up, openmouthed, explaining that he’d never seen the sky that clear before. On a complete whim, we decided to attempt some astrophotography, with a total amount of zero knowledge between us. Luckily, I’d brought a tripod with me and managed to get a couple half-decent shots I thought I might be able to play around with. I left the tripod with them and abandoned the cold for the comfort of my bed.
The next morning came after a deep and undisturbed sleep. Everyone was up again before sunrise, and we spotted some cloud inversion hanging over Ullswater a couple miles away. The lads jumped into Craig’s car, and went down for sunrise. I hung back, hoping to capture something nice from higher up. ‘Nice’ turned out to be a massive understatement, as the whole of the valley was ablaze in a velvety golden light. By the time the guys got back, I’d set up our cooking stuff, and suggested a breakfast of fried eggs or pancakes. We all took turns cooking, attempting to make a perfect runny yolk and laughing at our failure. Brent made pancakes with strawberries, and we all dug in hungrily. The morning was so calm whilst we sat outside, enjoying the heat of the sun on our backs. None of us wanted to leave the campsite, and we reluctantly packed up our stuff and gave back the keys, agreeing we had to to do this again.