Life moves in mysterious ways - these were the words of wisdom from my old mate David via Messenger that may just have changed the course of my summer.
I’ve known Dave since I was about 18, and even though I’d not seen him in decades, by the power of social media, he saw that I was back in Cumbria and sent me a message.
“It’s Shake On The Lake on the 6th. A lot of the old crowd are going, and it’d great to see you!”.
I’ve been trying to get to this annual for years, and not managed it. In aid of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, Dave puts on a boat party on Ullswater Lake, a night of music, dancing and fundraising on one the lake’s famous steamer boats.
Escaping to the Ullswater Way - Photo Gillie Sutherland
It’s only a week away, so that’s the decision made for me. The planets have aligned, and due to a cancellation, I’m able to go.
It’s also my only concrete plan, other than getting down to Devon for the 20th, I don’t actually need to fly back to Croatia in between, so I decide to hang around a while and make it into a bit of an adventure. I’m only working online the next couple of weeks, and my students will enjoy the change of landscape too, I reason.
It takes me about five minutes to find the nearest campsite to where the boat leaves from, and I check myself in for 4 days.
The only flaw in my plan is that there is no Wifi, so I have to go into Penrith and get a SIM card so I can Zoom my classes.
This is my first hint as to why I’m here.
Whilst I’m chatting to the friendly assistant in the Vodaphone shop, it strikes me that the U.K. for me now is a place to go on holiday.
Whilst most people are jetting off to places like Croatia for some sun and sea, the break I needed was a trip to the rainy Lake District.
A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes, but it’s more than that.
Since I’ve been living in Croatia, I’m different. I’m stronger and I’m wiser, I’ve slowed down and I see things from a new perspective.
“It must be a much more relaxed way of life over there”, the Vodaphone guy enquires.
It is, I explain, on the most part. I show him my “Polako” tattoo, and a wave of longing rushes over me. I realise I’m homesick for Croatia now.
My lazy morning coffees watching the cormorants, floating like a starfish in the beautiful Adriatic Sea, long fish lunches cooked outside on an open fire, washed down with cold, local white wine, and evenings spent chasing the best sunsets.
That’s home. Croatia is home, and this is just my Great British (rainy) summer holiday. I’ve even got socks on with my sandals, out of practicality more than anything else.
In spite of the weather (it’s 8 degrees when I get up at 6am), I’m loving every minute.
The campsite is at the base of Helvellyn, the mountain I hold closest to my heart in the whole of the U.K.
It’s full of active, outdoorsy types, cheerful in their disposition, and always open to a chat.
Happy Campers indeed!
I realise that wherever I am in the world, people that exercise and that love nature, these are my people.
There’s a constant waft of bacon sandwiches around the camp, getting me excited for my breakfast as I finish my class in the morning.
When I set out on my first hike, I’ve no idea where I’m going, but I have my OS map, and I know I’m on the Ullswater Way, the hiking trail around the Lake which inspired the words of William Wordsworth.
I’m drawn to Aira Force as my first stop, as I’m thinking of the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes and Krka in Croatia, and I’m hoping for some good photos.
Aira Force Falls - Photo - https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
After the hike to the top, I’m at THE spot, the highest point of the incredible Aira Force falls, and the unthinkable happens. The battery on my phone dies, and I have no other camera (or means of communication with the rest of the world - this part is a relief!).
So I just soak up the moment, this is where the magic happens.
I feel the energy of the place and I feel a part of it all - the landscape, the trees, the waterfalls, the fells, the lake, and even the sky.
This is it. This is what is written about in all those poems and prose, before it all became about taking the best photo.
We miss so much by looking at life through a lens. Seeing is only one of our senses. It’s the full body experience that creates the most powerful memory, the energy is imprinted in every cell of our being, not just our mind’s eye.
Inspired and rejuvenated, I carry onto the next leg of the Way, and onto Gowbarrow Fell, where I enjoy alternating sunshine and rain, like a true British summer’s day. Yet it spectacular. I didn’t remember it being so utterly breath-taking. Did I really grow up here? Why didn’t I appreciate it back then?
I enjoy chats along the way, with humans as well as animals, including myself. But it’s an encounter on the way up that really wakes me up. She’s timeless, she has an energy about her that defies her age (although I’m guessing mid 70s), and there’s a wisdom about her that I’m sure comes from these days solo hiking.
Noticing my awe at the scenery, she asks if it’s my first time here. I tell her I’m from the area originally, but that I appear to be here re-connecting to my roots.
She asks where I’m headed, and I answer that I’m not sure, but maybe to Pooley Bridge.
“There are a few paths”, she tells me, “and there are signs on the way, but you can just see where the wind takes you”.
I’m thinking she must know me, as that’s fairly much how I love to travel.
I make it to Pooley Bridge, ready for a shandy. Having covered over 20k up and down fells, I realise it’s like Highlander. I remember it’s coming to the Lakes for the first time next July, and I realise there’s more than one reason I’m here. To connect the two places I hold so dear - Velebit mountains and the Lake District.
Anyway, I’ve completed one side of the Lake, so the next day, it’s clear what I need to do - the other side. I’m so energised, it takes me just over 4 hours to cover the 25k trail, which includes numerous stops for chats, some rock scrambling, hydration, and this time I even make time for photos, although not forgetting those moments to just soak up the energy.
When I get to Pooley Bridge, I have the words of Joni Mitchell in my head.
I’ve seen “from both sides now”.
There’s only one remaining route - and that’s down the middle, on the water.
The party on the boat is pure magic, and I pretty much dance the whole 3 hours we are on board, with friends I’ve not seen in far too long, yet it still feels like yesterday. I notice how no-one seems to have changed that much, but everything just seems that much better than it ever did.
It’s my favourite night of the year so far, and I’m almost crying with gratitude for where I find myself.
Croatia is home, of that there is no doubt, but this is my holiday, my retreat, another step on my healing journey, and it’s exactly where I’m meant to be.
Life really does move in mysterious ways.
Read more Gillie here...
Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Cavtat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.
To find out more about Gillie go to www.behappyfit.co.uk