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  • Writer's pictureMaren Hunsberger

Backpacking in the Lake District and Saying Goodbye to London...For Now!

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

The end of this last on-campus term in London sprinted by in a flurry of deadlines, plans, trips, packing—I feel like I blinked and there were two months left, blinked again and two weeks remained, blinked again and I was on a plane. This term I finished both my website and my documentary. I'll be hosting my web project as a tab on this website as soon as it's ready—I want to make a few final tweaks to it before it goes live, and I still have to figure out how to use my new web skills to upload it on here!

I'm really proud of the documentary we created. It's about 13 minutes long and will be published in a few weeks on my YouTube channel, as soon as we get the permission of everyone who's in it to go public. On the last day of documentary class we screened all the films made by everyone in the class, and it was so rewarding to see the final products! We had all seen each of the other groups laboring away for weeks next to us in the editing room, and we tried to keep each film's theme under wraps until the screening so we could enjoy them all with fresh eyes. Everyone worked so hard and produced something really meaningful—they all looked like real movies, which was kind of surreal!

During the last two weeks of term I was also packing up all my things and planning how I was going to get everything from London back to California. I'm proud to say I've downsized quite a bit, and only kept the sentimental items and clothes that really make me happy—intercontinental moving really makes you realize what you need and what you don't, and it was a valuable experience. Looking at what I had when I arrived and what I have now as I'm leaving, I think the change reflects how both my personal style and my attitude towards buying and acquiring things have evolved this year...but that's for another post.

Now for the fun part! As a celebration of the end of term, some friends and I went on a backpacking trip in the Lake District, which is a famously picturesque national park in the North of England, on the border with Scotland. We didn't camp—all of us have camping gear, but it's at home in our respective home countries—so we through-hiked with all our clothes, equipment, and food, and stayed in beautiful places each night. We arrived in Penrith on our first day and explored the town there a little bit, stocking up on last-minute supplies—I ended up buying a water bladder and a water-proof backpack cover at a little mountain goods shop there to make sure I was totally prepared for my first through-hiking experience.

The route for our adventure

From Penrith we took a 20-minute cab ride to Rosgill, which was where we were staying on our first night (number 1 on the map)—there was no bus and it would have taken us about 4 hours to walk, so cab was our best option. We had booked an Air BnB there to stage from, and it was probably my favorite Air BnB experience I've had so far. It's rented out by a lovely family who are still in the process of renovating the inside of this several hundred-year old barn right there smack in the middle of the wilderness.

The place looks quite modest from the outside and yet the inside is gorgeously remodeled with some of the original elements, like old wooden beams above the doors, incorporated into the newer interior design elements. They had chickens wandering all over the yard and left us fresh eggs for breakfast, and our host helped us take a look at our map and told us the best route to use to get started on our first day of hiking.

That evening we went on a little walk over the hills to get a sense of where we were and what the hiking would be like, and met some wild ponies! These were some of the views from our wonderful stay there.

(Photo credit for this set of photos goes to Paulina Cerna-Fraga, one of my wonderful friends who is a very talented photographer and came on this trip)

On our first day of hiking we did a chunk of the famous coast-to-coast trail that runs from the East coast to the West coast  of Britain (or vice versa, depending on which way you decide to do it). We walked about 12 miles total from Rosgill to Howtown, which involved skirting the little Haweswater Reservoir followed by a climb of a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain up to the top of a ridge and then back down as we neared Ullswater.

We encountered ancient bridges, walked through miles of fields and hills, and encountered some friendly locals!

We had lunch after descending a little bit from the highest point to escape the wind. The weather was perfect—slightly overcast, warm at lower elevations and bearably chilly at the highest points. The remains of ancient stone walls and shepherd's huts were scattered over the hills, or as the locals call them, 'the fells', and added a haunting, though not necessarily malevolent, air to the landscape.

Had we kept walking all the way around Ullswater to Glenridding (our destination at the westernmost tip of Ullswater), we would have added about another 6-8 miles to our day, so when we reached Howtown we decided to take the ferry instead! This gave us some much-needed rest and relaxation, and got us to Glenridding with enough time to get some groceries for the next day and check into our lodging.

Because the Lake District is such a popular hiking and touring destination, many of the local farms have added lodging and camping host to the list of duties they perform in addition to the centuries-old tradition of sheep-farming. We stayed at a lovely establishment that had a tent camping area, a camper van park, and a bunkhouse, which is what we stayed in. The bunkhouse really did have bunk beds, stacked three beds high, and we all felt like we were kids at camp again! It was comfortable, clean, affordable, and exactly what we needed for the night. We had dinner that night at a pub in town called the Traveller's Rest (I say 'town', but after Penrith where we got off the train, towns in the Lake district mostly consist of a singular pub, a shop, and a scattering of farms).

The northerners in this area of England, which is called Cumbria, speak in a unique, thick dialect and accent which was really cool to experience, and everyone we met was so friendly and gave excellent advice and directions to us clueless foreigners asking which way to go across the fells. I was really proud of us, actually—we navigated by the compasses on our phones and the amazing waterproof map that Katie bought, and by intuiting which landmarks were which. Up in the more wilderness-y areas, the path was not well-marked and was difficult to follow, and we strayed from it several times, especially on our second full day of hiking, but we always found our way to where we wanted to be. It was very empowering to be able to find our way and navigate like that! I've definitely improved my map-reading and directional navigation skills simply by practicing them so much more this year, both in the city and in nature, and I hope to continue doing so with more trips like this!

(Photo credit for these pics to Paulina Cerna-Fraga; In the center pic from left to right: Paulina, Jane, Jessica, Me, and Katie)

On our second day we decide not to climb Hellvellyn, the second highest peak in England, as it might take too much time—Jane and I needed to make it to Keswick in time to catch us bus back to Penrith so we could get on the train that would take us back to London, and the rest of the girls were going to do the highest peak in Britain the next day anyway so they didn't want to push it too hard. Instead we made our own way up and over the ridge down toward another lake called Thirlemere. This day was shorter, only about 7 miles, but with more intense elevation change. The views from the top of the hills here were just stunning. The sky seemed so big and everything was so quiet and peaceful—it was perfect for making my mind be still and encouraging me to just be present in the moment and enjoy this, right here and right now, and not think too much about the impending change.

Coming down the other side of the peak towards Thirlemere, the clouds opened up and the sun spilled out, giving us a spectacular view out over the valley and its farms. We caught the bus across the road from the pub pictured below, The King's Arms, and rode in a tired, contented heap to Keswick. With its high street full of shops and its bustling supermarket, Keswick seemed like a veritable metropolis after the modest, sleepy towns we'd passed on our trip so far (Keswick and Penrith are just off the map I've included earlier this post, to the North of where we'd been hiking).

This is where I had to say (a temporary) goodbye to some of the most special people I've ever met so that I could head back to London, do my last packing, and head out to the airport the next morning for my flight back to California. Not everyone in this friend group could make it on the trip, but I feel so lucky to have gone on this Lake district adventure with such inspiring, strong, fun, and did I mention INSPIRING?! friends. Everyone on the master's course has changed me and my life in ways I never could have expected, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I have so many thoughts and feelings about what grad school and the people with whom I got to share it have given me, which I'll be writing about in another post. But for now, all I can say is—thank you not only for an incredible trip that I'll remember forever, but also one of my favorite years so far. I love you all so much, and I'll see you again soon!

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