A seal of approval

I wrote this in February for my creative writing class. As Harris seems to have happened so long ago, this might be the only written post about it that I might have.

When I was a kid, the first toy I remember always having was a brown, formerly fluffy stuffed seal called Üljes (‘hüljes’ meaning seal in Estonian). It wasn’t a nice looking toy but it was my favourite.  It had belonged to my sister Liina before it became mine. Liina being 10 years older than me, had outgrown it by the time I discovered it, so there was never a fight over the possession of our seal. By the looks of it, Üljes had been much loved before I got it. It was missing all its whiskers and due to a hole towards its back end, it was also missing quite a bit of the stuffing. I suspect it might have been fluffy once upon a time but by the time it became mine, it had lost all the fluff. As a toy, it looked pretty grubby but I loved it more than anything else. 

I don’t know whether it’s because of Üljes but seals as animals bring me inexplicable amount of joy. I always loved seeing them swimming around in their pool in Tallinn Zoo as a kid and as an adult. I could have watched them for hours.

In autumn 2017 I was visiting a friend in Southern California and she took me to La Jolla beach near San Diego. La Jolla is famous for its resident sea lions and seals that come to rest and sunbathe on the rocks there. I was so giddy as I carefully tried to negotiate the rocks to sneak just a little closer to the sleeping beasts without disturbing them. I think the phrase “best day of my life” was uttered by me more than once.

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In January, before going to Isle of Harris in Scotland, I googled whether there were any seals to be seen on the island and I was excited when I found out the answer. All the stress that came with the preparations for the trip was hopefully going to be rewarded with sightings of seals!

On Wednesday, my first full day on the island, I joined the Monk for a walk up Caepabhal and round the headland. No seals were spotted but then again it would have been unrealistic to have expected to meet one on top of a hill or chilling out on a high cliff. We did, however, meet a man who despite his Southern English accent claimed to be a local. The Monk settled into conversation but I only really wanted to know one thing, “Are there any seals to be seen at this time of year?” His pessimistic answer absolutely crushed my hopes for the week on Harris.

That evening after I told Newbs the devastating news, he patted me on the shoulder and asked if I was okay. I answered no. I was genuinely disappointed that the fellow on the beach had sounded so sure about seals not being around in January. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Despite it all, Harris was magical, with or without the seals. The mixture of snow, blue skies, wild mountains and turquoise ocean was medicine for the soul. After a few days of adventuring in the hills with the boys, on Saturday we all headed out in our different directions. My plan was to head from the cottage in Rodel to the shore and make my way up it towards Lingarabay. It was another sunny day and unlike the boys, I had no rush to get back to the house in time for rugby.

I leisurely made my way from one headland to another by picking up little sheep trods here and there. I stopped to watch the waves crash into some of the cliffs and to admire the view of the snow-covered mountains of Skye on the horizon. I sat down and had my lunch of snacks by a little frozen loch and listened to the ice crack as it tried to push the boundaries of the loch. The air was so fresh with a hint of salt. When I looked around, I could not detect any signs of civilisation around me.

Left to my own devices, my anxiety tried to cloud my head with its usual worries about everything and nothing. I got up and kept walking, negotiating slippery rocks and tufts of heather to keep my mind occupied with other things but I struggled to quiet it down completely. Coming round a headland, I was approaching an old croft, now standing stripped from roof and windows, built by a sheltered bay, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I had a nosey around it, imagining what it would be like to do it up and live there among the heather and sheep.

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Coming across the house meant I could pretty accurately place myself on a map and as it was afternoon already, I decided to start making my way inland towards the so-called Golden Road that would take me back to Rodel. I picked up a sheep track just by the bay and was carefully trying to avoid the ice rocks, when a noise from the sea distracted me. I looked to my right and saw a couple of dark heads swimming around down in the water. I sneaked a bit closer to the edge and rested on a rock. I’m short-sighted and stubborn about wearing glasses unless I’m driving, so I was struggling to see clearly who they were. Could they be seals? But the man on beach had said there were no seals….

At first I played down my hopes and thought that maybe they were otters, which would still make it an exciting sight. I was in the middle of making my mind up, when I heard a noise down in the water much closer to where I was sitting. I looked for a source of the sound and suddenly an otter popped its head out from under the water just by the shore, looked at me for the briefest of moments in what I can only imagine to be complete surprise, and disappeared back under the water. The animals in the middle of the bay were much bigger. That’s when I knew: the three heads surfacing from the sea here and there were seals.

I sat down and just watched in awe for a couple of minutes as the three seals swam around the bay. I started to make out their dark shadows when they were underwater and even caught a glimpse of a tail or two when they dived in. I took out my camera, careful not to make too much noise, and snapped a few photos for proof. I then texted the boys that I have found seals and that they shouldn’t expect me back in the cottage too soon. Unsurprisingly, I only received abuse regarding my eye sight in reply.

I felt so privileged to witness the seals swimming around. I had a huge grin painted on my face and I had to make a conscious effort not to giggle out loud. Compare to what I witnessed in California, this was a much more intimate show. Apart from a couple of sheep that looked confused about my presence, there was no one else around. It was just me and the seals. In that moment, I forgot about everything else.

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I must have sat there for about half an hour just watching those graceful swimmers go round the bay. One of them had hurled itself on top of a rock in the middle of the bay while the other two continued to circle around it. One of them swam quite close to me at one point and like the otter, quickly dived in the water again when it realised what it was looking at. Eventually I had to admit that I was getting cold and reluctantly, I got up and started moving again. I tried to tread carefully so as not to disturb the seals. It was their home and I was the intruder.

That half an hour in company of the seals was definitely the highlight of my trip. To have seen my favourite animals in the wild meant the world to me. People often think I’m joking when I talk about seeing seals and I can’t really explain why I like them so much. The only explanation that has any logic is my Üljes. A few years ago, my mum was going through the various cupboards at home and found it again. As far as old toys go, it was one of the worst looking in the bunch. In her newly found habit of decluttering, she was planning to throw it out. Luckily before she could do that, Liina saw it and rescued our toy. Üljes now lives with her, untouched by her children for whom it’s just a grubby old seal.

A week with Wainwright

I have missed the outdoors. It’s not that the outdoors had gone missing but I haven’t really felt like going out. So when I had the opportunity of an easy week at work, I made the most of it and headed to the hills on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Tuesday I had promised to take out the dogs, so I packed them in my car and headed to Askham and parked on the fell. It’s such a good place to have a shorter or longer walks and with views to Ullswater, it’s a great place for a stroll. As I had taken a beasting from Wiz a couple of hours earlier, I didn’t fancy a particularly hilly walk. However, it did offer me an opportunity to tick off a new Wainwright. If you’re not familiar with that name then once upon a time (in the last century), there was a man called Alfred Wainwright who loved the Lake District and wrote and drew pictorial guides for the Lakeland fells, altogether 7 books that describe 214 hills. So these hills are called Wainwrights and many people challenge themselves to walk up every one of them.

I haven’t been particularly bothered about ticking them off vigorously but as Scott and Leigh-ann gave me all of his books for my birthday, I have been looking more into it as an inspiration to get out. So last Tuesday (13th of April) I decided to walk up to one just on my doorstep that I had never done before – Arthur’s Pike (533 m).

It was a rather gentle stroll on the various tracks on the fell to join the High Street, an old Roman road that runs across the tops, and a bit of cross-country contouring to avoid going back and forth the same track. The view from the tops towards Ullswater and the Helvellyn range was gorgeous! The dogs were enjoying a good run around so much so that Tia was a bit stiff the next day. A nice 12-kilometre round in the afternoon.

On Thursday, my legs had recovered from the PT session and Scott asked if I wanted to take a ginger nut out. So I took my good pal Tia and we headed down to Haweswater. It being a sunny afternoon in Easter half term, the car park was busy. But as luck would have it, there was exactly one place for my car which saved me from having to park further down the road. I have been wanting to go up Riggendale, a nice ridge leading to High Street, for a while now. The first and only time I did that walk was with Scott only couple of weeks after I had moved here. As it is a lovely walk, I have kept meaning to do it again but never got round to it. So on Thursday (15th of April), Tia and I (aka #teamgingernut) headed up.

I was going at my own comfortable pace and I was pleased to find that I wasn’t feeling really out of breath or struggling. We kept a steady pace and I genuinely enjoyed the ascent (which I rarely do as it’s often a bit of a struggle). Mid-way, Tia found the tiniest, muddiest bog pool and dived in head first. I’m not even exaggerating, she did take a proper dive in and came out looking not so ginger. I guess the wasn’t that happy with being part of team ginger nut.

When we reached the top, I decided to walk over to the OS trig point at the top of High Street and have a quick sit down and enjoy the sunny afternoon. I then went over Mardale Ill Bell and down to Nan Bield pass. I’m pretty sure that that is where I also left Tia’s lead but by the time I discovered it down by Small Water, I wasn’t willing to climb back up again to retrieve it. So instead I ordered two new dog leads on Amazon as soon as I got back.

I made Tia go for a swim in Small Water because she was still pretty muddy from her previous dive and I didn’t particularly want her in my car like that. When we got back after a 3-hour walk, the car park was almost completely empty.

As I was feeling good after a few nice walks, I fancied a big walk on Saturday before my newly found enthusiasm died down. I was thinking about maybe doing the Kentmere Horseshoe, which would have allowed me to tick off quite a few new Wainwrights but when Scott messaged me that he was planning on heading to Langdales for a run and offer a lift, I decided to go that way instead. I love that valley – it’s so beautiful and there’s always enough to do there! This time I decided to tick off a few new fells as I was feeling confident enough to navigate on new tracks on my own for the first time in a while. I decided on Bowfell (902 m) and Crinkle Crags (859 m) and Cold Pike (701 m) – three new Wainwrights for me.

Once again I felt good and strong going up Bowfell and even overtook quite a few walkers. I didn’t feel out of breath or like I needed to stop for a breather, I just kept going. I decided to take a little climbers trod instead of the footpath that looked like it faded out on the map but I thought by looking at the hill, I would be able to still pick a way to the top. The trod turned right and at one point there looked like there was a path going up covered in scree but I decided continue on the path. I met another walker shortly who asked if I had seen his mates coming down on my way but I hadn’t passed anyone. He told me that the path leads to a few slabs after which you can scramble your way up. I didn’t quite fancy that and I also didn’t think it was a good idea with Tia, who was accompanying me again. So I headed back for a few hundred yards and went up the scree and joined the main footpath.

As I was nearing the top, I could feel the icy wind really picking up and trying to blow me over. The wind stayed with me all the way until I started descending. I quickly scrambled up the pile of boulders that’s the summit of Bowfell and headed back down the footpath towards Crinkle Crags. I was keeping warm in my new Mountain Equiment soft shell jacket as long as I kept moving. I quickly downed a sandwich and a piece of brownie on the ridge that is Crinkle Crags but it was only a few minutes’ stop before I had to get moving again.

I made it to the top and started to head down by following the cairns but they led me to an about 8 foot step that I might have been able to climb down on my own but I wasn’t even going to try it with Tia. She’s quite the mountain goat even as a nine-year-old labrador but that was way too much for her. So we headed back up for a few hundred yards and took the path that went around it instead.

On the track between Crinkle Crags and Pike O’Blisco, there were loads of people coming up. As Tia was being her stubborn self, I had to put her on her (new) lead just so I wouldn’t spend the whole way shouting her in (which didn’t work). She was just too keen on saying hello to every single person. I missed the path that went to Cold Pike, so I decided to beeline to it. I ended up picking up quite a clear path leading to the top that wasn’t marked on the map. I messaged Scott at the top that I was starting to descend and should be back at the car in an hour.

In reality it took me an hour and a half to get back to the car park. The descent was quite steep and the stones laid by Fix the Fells were so uncomfortable for downhill, so I ended up being slower than I expected. Also, I had underestimated how long the walk in had been from the car. I opened a gate to the farmer on a quadbike at the bottom and had a quick chat with him about the weather and spring in general.

Somewhere between Old and New Dungeon Ghyll, two young lads stopped me to ask whether the way to Scafell Pike (or Scayfell Pike as they called it) was signposted or whether they should take a map. It took me a good couple of moments to get my words out – the question seemed so unbelievably stupid. I told them to definitely, DEFINITELY take a map with them. “This is the Lake District,” I said, “There’s no signposts!” And that’s the truth, Lakes are notoriously protective about having signposts up, you do actually need to know what you’re doing. Just in case I also pointed out the way they needed to head because I wasn’t sure they’d be able to work that out by themselves. I just hope they weren’t another statistic for the Langdale Mountain Rescue…

I was back at the car park by 2.30pm – 5.5 hours after starting off. Down in the valley the wind was much, much gentler and it didn’t feel as cold, so I managed to sit down and have quick bite to eat before Scott arrived back about 15 minutes after me.

Those three days of being out gave me the energy to deal with what was quite a long and stressful week at work. I felt so stuck between being either at home or at work that on Wednesday I just needed to get outside, so I borrowed the dogs and headed down to the river for an hour just to save some little sanity I had left. I just hope that I somehow managed to retain some of that enthusiasm for being outside in the next couple of weeks that seemed be pretty stressful again…

A fool in the hills

What sweet luxury it is to have a weekend that’s longer than one afternoon and one full day! It feels like it’s been a long time coming…

Instead of taking it slow and resting, I decided to wake up at my normal time on Saturday morning and hitch a ride to Honister and have a little walk on the hills around there. I had prepped everything the night before: the bag, the food, my knee. I had ordered some kinesio tape and on Friday night I spent some time watching YouTube videos about how to tape up your knee. After a two big Saturdays in April, I suffered from horrible knee pain and ended up having to see a physio. The problem was my IT band which was too tight and had been rubbing against the bones in my knee and as a result became inflamed. I walked with a hobble for nearly a month. So I wasn’t really ready to go through it all again and pretty much taped the shit out of my knee. Spoiler alert: it worked!

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However prepared I thought I was, I hadn’t quite got it in my head how big the start of my route was going to be. I did consult the map and count out roughly 2 kilometres to the top of Dale Head and I calculated that it would be 400 metres of ascent. I was aware of these numbers but it didn’t quite hit me what it meant in reality. In reality, it was going straight up hill for first 2 kilometres; no warm up, no easing into it. I’m really unfit right now anyway and having suffered from an annoying cold, this was quite a struggle from the start. Half way up I considered throwing in the towel and turn back down. It felt so hard! A huge help for me was having my Garmin watch that helped me to assure how much more I have to take this struggle. There’s something about knowing exactly how far I’ve come and calculating how many metres of ascent I’ve yet got to climb actually helps me to cope with the hardship.

It took be roughly 45 minutes to get to the top of Dale Head (753 m). By that point I was dripping in sweat, majorly out of breath and feeling quite nauseous. So I beelined to the summit cairn and sat down in its shade to gather myself. It was about 8.30 in the morning and I had the top to myself. It was already a hot day. I think I spent about 15 minutes there just to make sure I was up for the day I had planned. I watered the dog and had an apple and decided to push on.

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I dropped down to Dale Head Tarn where Mac the dog could have a cool down and then headed back up to High Spy. A much shorter and easier ascent. I met two guys on the top of the hill there and foolishly said that I had done all my climbing for that day. I also shortly after met a family who said they hadn’t been able to pick up the path I had chosen for my decent. That didn’t fill me with much confidence as I am an expert in going the wrong way. So I took out the map, measured the rough distance and looked at my Garmin determined not to miss my turn. As it turned out, the path was clearly marked by two cairns and it was visible on the ground. It didn’t really take that much of navigation skills to pick it up. Nevertheless, I mentally patted myself on the shoulder and felt quite smug. Again, foolishly.

I loved that decent. There were plenty of bilberries and I took my time in picking them and stuffing my face with them. I also had a little sit down on a high point that offered spectacular views of Borrowdale and Derwent Water. And the best part of the decent was that my knee held up! The taping had worked!

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I decided not to go in the the village of Grange and just turn back towards Honister via the bridleway. All the smugness I had felt about my navigation earlier on the fell came crumbling down as I got seriously confused over bridleways and campsites and pretty much had to be led by hand to the correct turn by a sweet couple staying at one of the campsites. Well, that was embarrassing. Also, I then realised that I now was at the very bottom of the valley and I had to get back to Honister Pass which is at 356 m. So my climbing for the day hadn’t actually finished at the top of High Spy. Why I had though it would be an easy stroll back to the start when planning the route, I had no idea.

After the first kilometer or so, which I found really hard on the wide paved bridleway, the path actually narrowed down and turned into a really beautiful and enjoyable trail just under the crags. I had one last look of the map and made sure that I just need to stay on this track and keep to the right and it would take me right back to Honister. Again, a mistake. As when I came to a fork in the road, I just confidently kept to the right and started to climb up the path only to realise about 200 metres later that, actually, this wasn’t the junction I meant to keep to the right. However, there were people about and I was too embarrassed to turn around, so I continued to go uphill for another 200 or 300 meters until I could cross the stream and take the path on the other side of it to get back down to the bridleway. So much about my wonderful navigation skills…

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The slow but steady climb in the heat back to the start point made last bit of the journey just next to the road seem quite endless. I just wished Mac to pull me along a bit. However we made it back to the visitor centre just before 1 pm. This meant that we had about 2 hours until my Employer was due back from supporting a friend of his BG attempt. Mac seemed tired enough and settled down in the back of the van for much deserved nap. I had made him go into every bit of water along the route to keep him from over heating in this weather and I was pretty certain he was okay. Just tired from a good day out. I was also hot and tired and cuddled up with Mac.

Altogether we did 14.9 kilometres and ascended 931 metres, which in my books is quite a good day out. Back in Shap, I managed to drag myself for a half an hour swim before crashing into bed for a very good night’s sleep. Today I feel only a bit stiff and my knee is still showing no signs of distress. Also, I still have the whole of tomorrow off work, which is quite unbelievable luxury.

Sunset in Swindale

After a lazy day, I did decide to go walk over to Swindale just to have a sit down and think. It is one of my most favourite places in the the world. There’s something about sitting on the verge of that valley and looking around that just cuddles my soul. It’s both calming and it also stirs up plenty of emotions.

I had a great and much needed chat with a friend on Facebook yesterday and it gave me plenty of ideas to chew through. One of the drawback of stepping away from social media has been no longer being in touch with goes on in my friends’ lives. But a beautiful thing that has emerged is that in the last couple of weeks, a few people, whom I haven’t really been in touch with for a while, have messaged me because they haven’t seen me online and asking if I’m alright. It really means a lot to me. One of the reasons I felt I needed to step back from Facebook and Instagram was that it made me feel so alone and isolated. So to have people notice my absence has been a huge surprise to me, but in a very good way.

Anyway, at 7pm last night I packed my notebook, book, some wine, my badass wine glass and a few snacks in my backpack and headed towards my spot. There wasn’t a soul about except grazing sheep. I found a spot that gave a good view of the whole valley and settled in with my book and a glass of wine. As it had been an overcast day, I didn’t expect an amazing sunset but in the end I think I got what I came for.

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I got back home just before 11 pm. Straight to bed and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. With all the thoughts that ran through my head as I was sitting there, one certain decision that I made was to buy a new camera to take better photos and transfer them in a better fashion.

What’s real anymore

I’ve been away from Facebook and Instagram for a fortnight now. It doesn’t mean I haven’t opened either of them, I have. It has been either for work or just to quickly check my notifications. But all this has been just a quick check. I haven’t scrolled through any feeds or posted anything.

On the one hand, it has been a bit hard. I am so used to still killing time by scrolling and finding what else to do with this time has been a strugglr. I went for a walk and got some nice photos but couldn’t share them. I still feel like maybe I’m missing something important. On the other hand, it has been incredibly easy. In fact, I feel like I have proved my point that I can step away but at the same time I don’t want to go back because nothing has actually changed.

I also realised that one of the reasons I have stayed away is the lack of authenticity. It dawned on me when I was speaking to someone. They had been out snow boarding just a few miles away from here when we still had snow. They showed me a video of them throwing a wobble after face planting in the snow. What made me realise why I wanted to stay away from social media was what was said next. They said, “I was upset because I had had the longest run of the afternoon before falling down but that wasn’t on the video. And I felt, what’s the point, the video wasn’t even on!”

Suddenly the alarm bells started ringing. The experience didn’t have a point for them because it wasn’t caught video and therefore it couldn’t be shared on social media. Wow. Maybe it wasn’t meant so bluntly but it certainly came out like that.

That moment I realised why I no longer wanted to do things that I used to like such as going for a walk or a run. Normally, I would share my experience by way of photos on social media. I wouldn’t go for a walk just to get an Instagram post out of it, rather I would just want to share the beauty of nature and the amazing feeling it gave me (garnished with a healthy amount of showing off). However, I have noticed with certain people around me that the reason for going out lies in getting a great post out of it that would make their lives seems so awesome. And I don’t want to play that game. What’s the point of complaining the whole walk uphill about the weather and how hard if is just to then post a dreamy picture of looking into the distance at the summit. #blessed #somerandommotivationalquote #NOTREAL

I genuinely used to love being outdoors. I could go and just get a rest from my brain and I wanted to celebrate that because getting simple joy out of nature was such a healing sensation. Now I feel like that experience has been soiled by the Instagram hikers who go out to create an illusion of an outdoorsy life. I feel like the things I used to love are not real anymore. They’ve become the “cool thing” to do and I’ve never been cool in my life. I feel that if I were to post a photo of a walk it would be classed together with those highly thought through Pinterest worthy compositions and it would just make the experience not real. Summiting a hill wasn’t about the photo oportunity for me, it was about the experience of doing it and about that moment of sitting down, sweating and out of breath, and feeling like I had achieved something. I now feel like a liar if I were to do it. I also feel like if I can’t have an amazing photo out of the walk, I have failed in the eyes of the society.

It sounds stupid and full of bullshit, but I feel like there’s so little that’s authentic in the life around me and that people have become fake too. When you struggle with self-confidence and trying to fit in/belong somewhere, this fakeness is so difficult to stomach. It makes me feel incredibly lonely because I don’t trust anything or anyone to be real. I can’t really feel any connection with anyone around me.

Worst of all, it makes me feel fake and I hate it.

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How one “should” look at the summit

(Source http://pinterest.com/pin/387942955383280331/?source_app=android)

How I look at the summit (or in this case, half way up to the summit)

How I didn’t go to Mosedale

For a few days I have been planning to come here and write about my sorry state. Today is my one real day off (i.e. I only spent an hour replying to emails…) and I was planning to spend it on whinging and asking for cyber sympathy. But then instead I decided to get over myself a bit and go out.

I considered going for a run but with hindsight I am glad I didn’t. Instead I decided to walk down to Mosedale, sit on a bridge that goes over the beck there and have a good think. So I packed my hydration pack with only a map, some water and a thermos cup of hot tea, put on my boots and headed out. I slid my way down to Keld and on to the concrete road and headed up towards the hills. As I was walking up the track I saw a herd of deer in running away in the distance. There must have been about 15 of them. I have never seen deer in this part of hills and never such a big herd. It was easy enough to see them thanks to the overwhelming whiteness of the surroundings.

The sky in the distance looked ominous, it really looked like the weather was coming in. Good, I thought, it goes well with my general mood.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account was how difficult the walking over the moor would be in the snow. I couldn’t see anyone else’s footprints going the way I was going. Even without the snow, there really isn’t a visible path despite one marked on the map. So what I normally do is to make a beeline to the dry stone wall I am supposed to follow for a few miles where there is a track that makes walking easier. The ground is bog central at the best of times. Today it was also covered with plenty of snow. It is hard work trudging through the snow up to your ankles, it’s even harder when every other step you sink knee deep into the snow and the underlying bog. It felt like a metaphor of my recent days: I can walk through my days like nothing’s wrong and the bang! Suddenly I sink knee deep into self-pity that leaves me sitting on my arse looking stupid.

After what felt like hours I finally made it to the wall but the track I was hoping to find had also disappeared. The walking didn’t become any easier. I gave up on the plans of going to Mosedale. It would be too much of a trek in these conditions. Instead, I revised the route to drop down to Wet Sleddale and make my way home from there.

Hardly anyone walks that route, especially in the snow like we are having. It’s a bleak part of the Lake District, even the names on the map suggest that: Bleak Dod, Peat Hill, Bleak Hill, Wet Sleddale. I have yet to meet a more descriptive place name than the latter. However, in the untouched whiteness it looked less miserable and more just completely removed from civilization. The wind was coming from the west which meant that that it didn’t bring with it the noise of the M6 behind me and kept my crackling of snow from the herd of deer I could still see in the distance.

I kept trudging on, falling every now and again and getting my feet soaked in bogs. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to get my moment on the bridge in Mosedale but it was actually okay. At least I was out, which is more than I can say about the last few months.

By the time I reached the reservoir at Wet Sleddale, I realised that the sky had cleared and the sun was out. The nasty wind that has been blowing for about a week was gone. The surface of the water looked like a huge mirror reflecting the snow-covered hills. I have never seen Wet Sleddale looking so beautiful. I have been there a number of times and it’s not a spot you’d consider classically picturesque. Its charm lies in its bleakness. But today I don’t think anyone can argue how gorgeous this valley looked. And that made me feel better. It gave me a tiny glimmer of something resembling hope.

The clear skies also seemed to clear the dark thoughts that clouded my brain this morning. No, I’m not saying that I am suddenly okay and happy and cured. No. But this walk managed to save the day which would have otherwise been spent sulking on the sofa. The very least, it helped to pass the hours quicker.

Altogether I walked 13.4K over 3 hours 45 minutes.

Estonia – a flying visit

We had another week at the guesthouse this August booked by a group for sole use and since I had been “on call” for the previous one, it was my time to go away. Since my last visit to homeland had been in January, it was time to show my face again and save the real travelling for after the season ends.

It must be a sign of getting older but travelling is no longer as exciting as it used to be. I used to love airports, how simple and straightforward they are. I now find them annoying. Especially if you are trying to be frugal and spend the night there for an early morning flight. Glasgow airport is especially annoying because their benches have armrests between every seat so you can’t even have a sneaky nap. It’s also getting quite exhausting that I can’t get a direct flight to Estonia from this end of the country. So when you land in Riga, it’s still a long way from home. Previously I have flown to Tallinn, but since the flights were super expensive, I decided not to this time. So by the time I landed, I was not only bursting for a wee (I’ve never used the toilet in an airplane and refused to do it when it was only half an hour before landing), I was also sleep deprived and exhausted before I even reached home.

My mum and dad volunteered to pick me up and we had a roadtrip back home with a compulsory sea break near Salacgriva and a booze shop just off the border (alcohol is much cheaper in Latvia). I only nodded off a few times on the back seat and kept the parents company most of the way.

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A little indulgence in Paisley before the uncomfortable night at Glasgow Airport

After a good night’s sleep and a slow morning, I was off to Viljandi to meet up with my adopted family. J, who now lives in California, and I overlapped in our visits to homeland and as we hadn’t seen each other for a good few years, a reunion was mandatory. Especially, since she had got engaged a few days before we met and I was in for a chance to meet the lucky man for the first time. Before I stepped on the train, J asked if I’d be willing to do a kind of engagement photoshoot for them. I reluctantly agreed, mainly because they (and I mean, she) wanted to do it in the wetlands and I was dying to go there.

I was reluctant because I am not a photographer. I have a DSLR that I can barely use (it’s not even mine) and my photo editing skills end with moving the scales for light and colour settings on Google Photos. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and the setting sun created a gorgeous light. J & C were naturals at posing, so I just needed to point and shoot. In the end, I’m really pleased with the photos that I took.

Dips in to the marsh pool and a sauna later made for a perfect finish to the night. After a leisurely breakfast I went to see my aunt who lives just outside the town. I never told her I was coming as she is always home, so it was nice to surprise her. It meant a lot for me to go and see her, as I am never sure when will be the last time I see her. So whenever I’m in Estonia, I make sure to visit her. It warmed my heart to see her in good form and spirits and it gave me hope that I’ll see her again Christmas time.

Friday night was booked for a meet up with the girls from uni. I met K and K at the airport as they landed from their trip to London as well as S who had come straight from the office in Tartu just to hang out with us. We had a quick meal and then took a bottle of wine to the roof of the now empty concert hall Linnahall to watch the sunset. We ended our night in Telliskivi and after copious amount of wine, I was in bed by 4am.

Saturday was Estonian Night Run and in the morning I was really regretting signing up for it. Not just because of the headache and tiredness but also because due to various injuries, I had only been for a run a couple of times in months leading up to it. In fact, I remember the day I signed up for it, I went for a first big(gish) walk after injurying my foot at a wedding in May. I came back limping quite badly again. My foot seemed to be properly heal by the run. It was just my general physical fitness that had gone down the drain in the summer months and the five extra kilos I am carrying don’t necessarily help.

However, the run went much better than I expected. It had been really stuffy and scorching throughout the day but as I was standing in start among thousands of people, I could see the massive storm clouds gathering. I thought it would start raining before we’d be able to even set off, but it was only 10 minutes before I finished that the heavens opened up and the biggest thunder storm of the last few years took over. I crossed the finish line with a very pleasing result of 1:02:40 absolutely soaked. Very ladylike, I just used my mum’s rain poncho to give some cover while I changed every item of clothing in the middle of a parking lot in town center. I had felt really good and strong throughout the run and even my dodgy knee kept it together. (It could be that my knee was just so pleased about running on flat ground that it forgot to give me grief!)

On Monday, I my dad insisted on going for a road trip and we headed out towards Lake Peipus on the roads less travelled. I had only one request for the trip: I really wanted some pelmeens (a kind of dumplings). We stopped in Äksi Motel, which according the the placard by the church, was opened in 1989 and I don’t think much of it’s interior has changed since them. However, they had pelmeens on their menu and that satisfied my cravings. It was almost nostalgic eating there, reminded me the simple lunch canteens of my hometown where we used to have occasional lunches when I was growing up.

The weather didn’t exactly feel like going for a swim, so our main attraction by Lake Peipus was cruising through the villages and buying some local onions (the region is famous for their onions!) and smoked walleye as well as some pickled cucumbers to go with the fish. It was a real feast that night for dinner at home!

On Tuesday, it was time to pack my bag and head to Tallinn, to spend the last night with my sister and her kids. I got us some chanterelles from the new market at the train station and after we’d put the kids to bed, we tasted some wonderful craft beers and stayed up on the couch till way past midnight. The bus that took me back to Riga left at 6 o’clock the next morning and I landed back in Shap about 15 hours later.

I noticed a few things during my visit this time. Firstly, the first day or so, I slightly struggled with speaking Estonian. More than once, I found myself automatically saying yes or no in English in answer to the question. Secondly, I’ve really got used to the code of politeness here according to which you say generally greet the people you meet, say thank you if someone holds a door open or let you cross the road. Out of habit, I said hello to few people I didn’t know in my hometown and got a very stunned reaction from them. I’m no longer comfortable with not saying hello to people although I know it’s not about being rude. Finally, as I was on the train back from Glasgow towards Cumbria, I found comfort in the hills that defined the landscape. The vast and empty flatness of Estonia had felt a bit alien for me; I couldn’t grasp it. I am forever bragging to guests about how beautiful the wilderness of Estonia is and I truly believe it. But it seems that I need hills and fells and mountains to make me feel comfortable.

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It was an emotional trip being back, I found myself fighting with tears more than once. A tiny part of me had hoped that maybe it would bring me clarity about what to do next, but the truth is, I’m even more confused. I’m unsure where is home: is it here or is it in Estonia? Maybe it’s somewhere else all together?