It’s an early winter morning in November. Despite my reluctance, I leave the comfort and warmth of my duvet behind. Pulling on my hiking boots, I walk out my front door towards the path that rises into the Cumbrian hills behind my house in Ambleside, the heart of the Lake District.
There is clarity to the morning light of winter. A soft gentleness which feels a world away from the brashness of summer. When the sun has yet to rise above the mountains, the faint outline of the nearby hills is etched on the skyline like chalk on a blackboard. Below, the village is still sleeping, the street lights twinkling before switching off one by one. A plume of woodsmoke drifts silently through the air from a solitary house, the first signs of life in the valley below. The sky glows with the promise of dawn.
As I climb further into the hills, I notice how a thin layer of frost has transformed the crisp amber bracken overnight, accentuating each leaf into sharp detail. The leaves are a stark contrast to the lively, showy days of summer when the emerald bracken engulfed the hillside, thick and junglelike. The heady days when the sun began to burn bright from 5am.
The ground below my feet is cold and unforgiving; patches of ice have formed from the pools and puddles from previous days of rain. A lone tree clings to the slope, naked and skeletal, a silhouette of its leafy form of spring. Winter has stripped this landscape down to its bare essentials. A raw, stark beauty.
It used to be a struggle to get out for my morning walks before work in the darker months of the year, to battle the Lake District’s ever-changing elements. Why would I swap the comfort and warmth of home for the often bone-chilling winter mornings to walk in the hills? But the more I have persevered with the weather, the more I find that these winter mornings of solitude in the mountains bring a quiet, grounding relief.
November is full of busyness, of making plans. Social events in the run-up to Christmas and the rush to tie loose ends up before the year draws to a close. But up here in the hills, these demands fall away. The biting north wind nips at my cheeks, burning and flushing them scarlet but making me feel alive and energised. I feel fully present in my body and mind rather than lost in my thoughts that often drift towards my never-ending to-do list.
The landscape demands my attention, asking me to be vigilant of ice, mud or obstacles. I concentrate on which is the best path to take. Away from the noise and distraction of conversations, both physical and digital, I am free to let go momentarily. I tune into the world at that very moment. I watch the weather patterns sweep over the hills, the clear amber skies suddenly turning grey, thick and heavy with the threat of rain or perhaps a dusting of snow.
Some mornings a quiet mist envelopes the whole valley making it feel eerie and mysterious. Some mornings the rain is sideways and brutal, soaking me through to the bone and some mornings, the skies remain a soft, muted grey with the sun barely rising. Every morning though, I return to the hills. And every time I return home, I feel a quiet sense of achievement and completeness. A deep grounding between myself and the earth, a calm connection quietly restored within me at the darkest point of the year.
Rebecca is a writer and hillwalker based in Ambleside, find her on Instagram at @lookwithneweyes and at www.lookwithneweyes.com.