The more I travel, the more I discover that a memorable experience is not achieved by following a prescriptive path laid out by an amalgamation of travel guides, tourism committees and trivial popularity—paths well worn and smoothed out by the stream of holiday goers understandably following the most recurrent recommendations. These experiences have their value, they float to the surface for a reason and often reveal important historical and cultural information. However, the deeper, richer moments require for their catalyst the ingredients of spontaneity, chance, and a receptivity to that which cannot be predicted or planned for. The more I take the hand of uncertainty and let it guide me along its vertiginous path, the more unexpected wonder unveils itself.
An impromptu camping trip to the Lake District perfectly embodied this philosophy; we booked a train, grabbed some supplies and early next morning wound our way north.
Arriving in Windermere we purchased a whimsical and thoroughly unhelpful map, drew a rough circle and started along its circumference. We ferried across the lake and marched into the wilderness.
The freedom and exhilaration of leaving the predefined route—of venturing into the unknown—cannot be understated. Our day to day lives rarely lead us away from the manicured, anodyne environments of our towns and cities; ask yourself when you were last in a space that hadn't been meticulously planned and moulded for a societal purpose. After a few hours of trekking, never knowing what might lay over the next hillock, we decided it was probably time to find a camping spot. A few places seemed promising, but as we ascended a small craggy hill and, upon reaching its zenith, witnessed the sprawling vista that it overlooked, we knew we had found the perfect campsite.
As we awoke the next morning to the predictable sound of drizzling rain, we decided to leave our tent where it was and explore sans baggage. We picked a mountain on our map called the Old Man of Coniston and set off, passing through peaceful villages before the path up the mountain transitioned into wild, Tolkienesque terrain. Winding our way through lush, mossy hills with ancient stone jutting out, we surveyed the vast undulating landscape painted in dull yet magnificent hues. Halfway up, a lake surrounded by sheer cliff faces emerged with a thick cloud hanging above. As we climbed up into the cloud it surrounded us, dragging us into a white void that stripped away all spatial awareness, reaching the depth of its viscosity at the peak of the mountain. The view must have been incredible, but we had to appreciate it with our imagination.
We headed back to camp on exhausted legs and sore feet, the night quickly approaching. By the time we had filled our stomachs at the only pub in town that was still doing food, darkness had descended. With no other options, we followed the winding country road armed only with the torches on our phone and the virtual location of our tent, a lonely dot in a region of uncharted green. The surroundings were thankfully familiar to us until we came to a line of short, thick trees we definitely did not remember. I followed my friend as we pushed away both the overgrowth and our increasing unease. We crossed a small stream, and as he released a long branch lined with thorns, it whipped back and lodged itself firmly in my forehead. He span around and a brief, stunned silence passed before I yelped and tugged at the branch gripping defiantly to my face. Stumbling out of the thicket, and having survived the arboreal onslaught—albeit with a crimson spot of blood oozing from my head—we finally spotted our tent and scrambled inside to slumber's welcoming embrace.