25th July, 2006

What really matters

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.

By Buttermere
By the shores of Buttermere, Lake District.

Got Lost

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 it 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.

Without Friends, We’re Nothing…

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.

My friends
Strolling near High Cup Gill.

30 minutes in, and my lack of fitness was evident. Years of sitting at a desk have 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.

Back to Life

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.

Lo-fi refreshments
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-inspiring views, good weather and time to think was the tonic I needed, and the tonic they made sure I got.

Look at Dragonflies

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 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.

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