A Brief Reconnection
Written by Kevin Merrey // Photography by John Summerton & Kevin Merrey
Snow falls from a stark white sky as we wordlessly pick our way through gullies, scrambling over boulders and crags towards the saddle between two peaks. After an hour of hard climbing, we stand for a moment at the top before picking the pace back up and heading north over grassy fells and bog. We settle into a rhythm, and enjoy a perfect trail run alone in our thoughts as we zip across the ancient terrain. The memories and stress of the year fall behind us with every step as we soak up the tranquility and stillness around us.
Life in lockdown felt unnatural, and over the months the burden of stress compounded in our bodies. Living in the south, far from the mountains, possibilities for nature escapes and travel disappeared. I believe that our affinity for travel is innate – a compulsion inherited from our most ancient ancestors who lived as nomads, roaming the earth. To me, not moving around freely never felt natural. I long to explore, to discover new places.
As soon as it became possible again, a trail-running getaway in the hills beckoned. We would stay in a cabin in the Lake District, where we could disconnect from the new norm, and reconnect with the old.
After a long drive up from the south of the UK, navigating motorways once again heavy with traffic, I meet my trail-running buddy halfway. Mile after mile of boring roadworks, tarmac, and service stations are soon replaced by forests, mountains, and lakes. Already we can feel the stress of the pandemic washing away as we drive along the wooded shores of Windermere, with occasional views of green hills revealing themselves between the trees.
Our timber-clad abode for the trip lies to the west of this magnificent body of water, hidden cleverly from view, nestled in a rugged hillside surrounded by large trees and rock outcrops. The van tyres crunch on the gravel drive as we pull up at the bottom of a set of long wooden steps, which beckon us on up to the cabin. I kill my trusty camper’s engine and a blissful quiet falls upon us; just the birdsong and a soft breeze to welcome us as we grab our kit and head up the steps to our retreat.
The cabin itself is a masterpiece of design and engineering. With its multi-levelled structure, spanning three different living spaces, the building sits on the side of the craggy hillside in such a clever way – it’s almost as if it has grown out of the rock, truly blending in with the landscape. Surrounded by large trees, it is almost impossible to see from the quiet single-track lane. Only once you ascend the steps up to the cabin is its timber form revealed in all its glory.
The timber theme continues inside, with stylish furniture and decor making for an instantly comfortable and relaxing place to be. We drop our kit and spend some time wandering around, soaking up the views from the deck. Then it’s time to make an adventure plan. We look over maps to decide on the next day’s trail run over a few beers and some amazing locally sourced ingredients delivered from the award-winning Henrock restaurant. We find a perfect route to explore, and are brimming with excitement to return to nature and cover some ground.
The morning arrives with mist and sleet, but even the weather cannot tamper our excitement to get out into the hills. After a strong coffee and hearty breakfast, we kit up for the day ahead, pulling on lightweight waterproof trousers and jackets – the perfect kit to protect us from the elements while allowing free and easy movement on the hills. Finally, lacing up our On Cloudrock Ultras, we are perfectly kitted out for the rugged conditions and changeable weather.
Starting at the base of a steep hillside and heading up through a forest, we take our first steps back into freedom. After 10 minutes of working our way up steep rocky steps, with the sleet now turning to snow, we come to a waterfall thundering over rock and fallen trees. Onwards we climb until the trail levels out at a beautiful tarn, feeding the waterfall below with pure, cold mountain water. We skirt around the water’s edge, through a dark, shady woodland before exiting at the base of the mountains that rise up majestically above us, their peaks hidden in a swirling veil of mist.
Every now and again we are treated to a break in the mist, and stare in awe at brief glimpses across the Lake District to more mountains on the other side of the huge post-glacial valley below. Eventually, after a few hours of running, scrambling, and exploring, we start to make our way back down from the mountain, through the forests and lowlands. And before we know it, we are back at the camper sipping on a well-earned coffee whilst chatting about the day’s escape.
That evening back in the cabin, with the log burner fired up, we relax and chat about the strange times we have all lived through recently, and how lucky we feel to have been able to get away and spend some time at the beautiful cabin and in the mountains.
The next morning, far more clement weather greets us. So, before we pack up and head back into the maelstrom of motorway traffic beyond the national park, we take a short hike up into the woods behind the cabin. The early morning sun lights up every aspect of the forest as we wander through the moss-draped woodland, making the most of our last few hours in the Lake District.
Although our stay in the cabin is over, our thoughts turning back to busy work schedules, the trip has done what it was supposed to do. It has disconnected us from the stresses of modern-day life – if for just a brief moment in time – and reconnected us with our ancient lands and primal instincts to travel and explore.