25th July 2006
I found myself again over the weekend. It took 400 driven miles, 15 walked miles, 2000 feet of ascent and my two best friends to track me down, but I’m delighted to announce that I’m back.Figure 1: By the shores of Buttermere, Lake District.
During my teens and early twenties, I would walk. Long, rambling walks in the UK’s National Parks or the interior of Iceland. I was an artist back then, producing work based on walking, geological phenomena and maps. My spare time was all about sketchbooks, photography, wandering, thinking, and being fascinated by anything and everything, whether it be moss, bees, mountains, waterfalls or anything else I stumbled upon.
In early 2000 I bought my first computer - a bubble iMac. I didn’t realise at the time, but that was the end of everything. I gradually spent less time outdoors as my workload increased, and I was reluctant to go off on long meaningless walks. I became so absorbed in all thing “Web” that I slowly began to ignore calls from friends, use excuses to avoid weekends away, and failed to see how my erstwhile fascination for the smaller, more natural things in life was of any relevance to the fast-paced life of an oh-so important web designer.
I slipped up. Lost the path. Became disoriented. I lost sight of the things that made me what I was.
To celebrate the fact that my book is almost finished, and to avoid tearing a hole in my friendships with Olly and Mike for a final, irreparable time, I got in the car and made my way to Dufton, a tiny village just inside Cumbria and just outside the Lake District in the North of England. At Dufton I met up with Olly and Mike (and Mike’s girlfriend and good friend of mine Lucy) for an 11.5 mile hike up to High Cup Gill, a symmetrical and virtually perfect high glacial valley on the Pennine Way.Figure 2: Strolling near High Cup Gill.
30 minutes in, and my lack of fitness was evident. Years of sitting at a desk has left me severely unfit and unable to breathe properly whilst ascending sharply in 90 degree heat. Sweat? I might have lost a stone. Lesson learned - don’t ignore one’s health in pursuit of one’s career goals. Keep fit, exercise, and don’t turn into a fat bastard.
Up on High Gill Nick, as we sat eating posh Italian ham and crusty bread, I was beginning to feel like my old self again, but it wasn’t until much later in the evening, down in the sun-soaked meadows that everything began to click back into place. I’d been chased by flies, stared out by cows, and was finding it very difficult to keep cool - overheating and totally bereft of water (I even had hallucinations). Dragging my feet through the ninth or tenth mile, with Olly hanging back to make sure I was alright, I decided to stop, and Olly stopped with me.
We looked around. The weather was perfect - still, evening sunlight with long shadows. Mountains and fells all around and not a sound, aside from the occasional bee. I folded my legs to let the muscles rest and soaked everything in. This - all of it - was what I had been missing for the last three years - and it was something I’d already had, but had chosen to sideline. I’d put work before happiness, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Later that evening, as we knocked back Shandies and tucked into quality local food at The Stag Inn in Dufton, I felt alive again - like I’d not felt for a long time. I was exhausted, and clearly in need of much more exercise, but it was as though I’d rediscovered my power, and I was totally overwhelmed.
The following morning, after some full-fat breakfast and gallons of tea, we made for Buttermere, deep in the Lake District National Park. Buttermere is reached via a ridiculously narrow pass through the mountains, with barely enough room for two cars to pass, and right of way given to sheep, dogs and farmers. As I wound my way along the pass like some kind of slow-mo rally driver, I knew it was a different me, and I think the others sensed it too.Figure 3: Refreshments in Buttermere village.
Buttermere is idyllic. Just one tiny, unobtrusive road, a quiet village and glorious mountains, with the lake finding it’s level in the bottom of the bowl. We spent a couple of hours walking the circumference of the lake, just talking, strolling, thinking. The perfect wind-down after the exertion of the day before, and enough to prevent the old legs from stiffening completely. The company of good friends (who always care, no matter how much I do to frustrate them) with awe-inspirning views, good weather and time to think was the tonic I needed, and the tonic they made sure I got.
So, I feel that I am back in the land of the living. I’m itching to experience things once more, and make better use of my spare time. No longer will I stress over work, nor sacrifice my spare time in pursuit of something I haven’t yet been able to define. It is time to wrestle back the old me and start enjoying life again, and that will start with fitness, friends and fascination.
Does this tale have a moral? Maybe. Do not lose yourself to the internet, design, Apple products or (for the really sad ones) computer games. Get out there, look at dragonflies, walk until your feet bleed, and cherish your friends. Say “No!” when you need to, and “Yes!” when you really mean it. That is what I’ll be doing from now on, and I’m going to fucking love it!
If you have time, visit the Flickr gallery.
Time well spent. Thanks for taking the time and having the honesty to write this up. I think a lot of us who work on the web need to be reminded of what really matters in life.
# Steven Hardman responded on 25th July 2006 with...
I had a similar experience recently which opened my eyes. I have discovered the importance of balancing my computer-ridden life with other things… nature in particular… so I know exactly where you are coming from. I’ve discovered that getting out there and seeing the beauty of the world helps inspire me in almost everything else I do.
An interesting read. Think I’ll turn off my computers for now, go outside and breathe some fresh air.
Eloquently put. It’s just too easy to be lured inside by that psiren called work - especially being a designer. How I miss those hills in the Lake District…
I’m one step ahead, Simon.
I live in Blackpool, which is nae but an hour’s drive from the Lakes (Lake District). A short tootle up the M6 and quicker than a Londoner’s commute, I’m starting a hike up the side of a mountain.
I got the walking bug at college - ironically, when I’d learned to drive! I tend to spoil myself rotten with at least one trudge up a mountain a month.
Speaking of Buttermere; there’s an awesome ‘short’ walk (which happens to be mostly vertical!) - you can see it here:
You start in Buttermere village, then head south, through Burntness Wood from here, you head up stone steps zig-zagging up the side, to Bleaberry Tarn and finally up to High Stile. From there, you’re either (depending on the weather) above the clouds seeing the other peaks, in the clouds - or more preferably witnessing the most stunning view I can think of.
Sorry for the length of post, but I thought I’d share that with you - oh and welcome back to the great outdoors.
I used to be into mountain biking in a big way…
A combination of no time, and (mainly) a very odd, and quite worrying, clicking sound from my left knee that resonates through my whole body on every down stroke has put me off some what.
I haven’t been on my bike for getting on two years… I still can’t sell it though.
I need to get to Scotland.
# Olly responded on 25th July 2006 with...
Aww, it wer’ good wern’it?
Beautiful Colly. Just beautiful sage advice. I know I’ve been neglecting my friends - both near and far - for pretty much the same reasons you have. Must do something about that asap. Must get out on the bike. Must get fit. Must rekindle relationships.
The open air can’t be beat. Nor can full-fat breakfasts in the lakes, but only if you burn them off. Cycling is the future. On and off-road.
Turn off the cordless phone and leave the mac at home. There’s more to life than pixels.
I wish we had such good places to hike nearby, the nearest “hikeable” place is maybe 500 kilometers away, way up north…
Good that you had such a great experience. :)
It’s as if you’re describing my life exactly… I’ve lost something, somewhere along the “way”, which I only remember and rekindle when I take time out and see some wide open spaces. I totally empathise with every, single, word!
# Simon Collison responded on 26th July 2006 with...
Everyone: Thanks to all of you who get this article. I’ve been feeling really good since the weekend, despite several factors trying to pull me down.
I appreciate all your responses, and the same goes for those that have emailed me about this. Rock on!
# djn responded on 27th July 2006 with...
I live on the edge of the Lake District; a place called Kirkby Lonsdale (very nice it is to!), sometimes it torturous for me as i sit here hunched over my pc burning the candle at both ends whilst wanting to be in the great outdoors.
I suppose it’s something i take for granted and I often forgot that I gave up on city life (before it really started to be honest) to live & work in such beautiful surroundings.
Sounds brilliant. But as with any other quantizing of life’s idiosyncracies—like budgeting money or scheduling your week—you’re going to have to allow for horrendously busy work times. Saying “Never again” isn’t going to be adequate aegis. Maybe you shouldn’t be too stressed out about being stressed out.
Wow, I love unique games like this. I used to play Ports of Call a lot, and really enjoyed the sequences where you steered the ship yourself, so I can’t wait to see how this one turns out…
# Simon Collison responded on 8th August 2006 with...
djn: Been through Kirkby Lonsdale a few times. beautiful place. Lots of motorbikes last time I was there.
Adidas: Hey man, thanks for the link to the page about stripping linoleum. Very useful. Absolutely no fucking clue what your comment is going on about however…
# djn responded on 8th August 2006 with...
Yep, it’s motorbike central, especially this time of year! & yes it’s a pretty cool place!
# BJJ responded on 10th August 2006 with...
Reading this article made me realize what my “Lost” feeling has been for the past 3 years. Thanks for writing it. Inspiring.
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