Our Engagement at Cascade d'Ars

I remember chatting with my sister back in November 2015, probably sitting at my mum's kitchen table. Nik and I were about to go off travelling for 3 months in Colombia and Peru. We had been together for just over a year back then and were embarking on our first big trip together. Half joking, my sister said something about who she would be really angry if Nikolai proposed at the top of some mountain in the middle of nowhere where we would have no reception to be able to call her and let her know. I laughed it off and didn't really think about it again.

So, it's fitting that at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in France Nik got down on one knee and popped the question. It's almost like the passing remark my sister made 18 months ago foreshadowed this life changing moment. 

I feel like mountains are such a central symbol in our relationship. 

When Nik went to India and Nepal he hiked the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas. I was at home frantically trying to finish my degree and write my dissertation. We were miles apart in both physical and mental circumstance. I was sitting in my house not seeing or speaking to anyone for days on end surrounded by my books, buried in my thoughts. Whilst Nik was hiking (at times alone) through crazy beautiful mountains. Most days Nik would check in from wherever he was laying his head for the night and send photos or show me the view of the most magnificent mountains, but also tell me about his homesickness, feeling alone, and how his body was tired and sore from pushing it too hard.

We were both facing challenging and overwhelming emotional and physical hurdles. Being so far away and at times so alone in our own struggle was really bloody hard.  But in the end, the distance also made our relationship stronger, it helped us build trust and have empathy for each other.

Then, last year, whilst we were hiking in the Andes together Nikolai gently and lovingly encouraged me through the hardest, most physically and emotionally challenging thing I've ever done.

I’ll never forget the first day of the hike, we set off onto the trail full of expectation and anticipation. I had never done anything like this before so I was thankful to be in good company with Nik and three friends, two of whom were pretty much professional adventurers. But, the first day brought with it a pretty quick reality check, I knew I wasn’t going to find it easy but I had no idea how hard the altitude would hit me, and then, of course, I slipped on some rocks, injured my toe and my boots started rubbing. After hours of hiking, we made it to camp and it started chucking it down. We hurriedly set up camp only to find our hired tent had numerous broken zips making it little more than a draughty plastic bag for 3 of us to sleep in. Not the best way to start.

That first night we were all exhausted, in pain and hungry but the thing I remember most is how Nikolai went out in the pouring rain to fetch water from the river and get the pot on to boil while all I could do is curl up in the tent trying to warm up. I'm pretty sure the meal he made us that night was most amazing pasta and veg sauce with garlic bread ever cooked on one dodgy camping stove! 

On the second day, about ten meters from where we had packed down camp, I stopped and broke down crying. I just couldn't fathom 5 more days of hiking like the day before meanwhile, Nik was hurrying off like the mountains were his natural habitat unaffected by the high altitude (we all decided his spirit animal is a mountain goat as a result). For most of the five days, I whinged and whined and felt frustrated that the altitude was killing me whilst not bothering Nik at all. 

I have never felt more broken than I did on that hike and I felt like the worst version of myself. I’m sure Nikolai was deeply frustrated at times, but I hardly saw it, instead whilst I felt weak and afraid, Nik told me I was strong and brave. He could have walked ahead and left me behind but instead, he took my backpack and slowed right down to my pace gently nudging me along, cracking jokes with me, stopping when I needed to rest and hugging me when all I could do was cry because I was struggling to catch my breath in the thin mountain air. 

The hike was tough, but it wasn't all bad. When the mountains broke through the thick rain clouds we found ourselves walking through scenes that could easily be found on the front of National Geographic. We sat eating our dinner awestricken by the glaciers surrounding us. We worked really hard to see and experience things that most people only dream of.

When we had finished the hike, I had been pushed right to the edge of my physical and mental capacity. I had been well and truly in 'the stretch', that place where you learn the most about yourself. At the end (after having to push our bus out of a small landslide) we were sat on the last leg of the journey back to Huaraz and I distinctly remember feeling so exhausted, dirty and gross but deeply proud and so grateful for this amazing man who swallowed his frustration and with great empathy showed me what love looks like on my absolute worst days. 

All this to say, we have a history with mountains.

For us, mountains hold stories, strength, struggles and dreams. Mountains have separated us and brought us closer than we’ve ever been. We have been pushed and tested and made stronger. 

So, it really is no surprise that on this trip to the Pyrenees we wanted to fit in some hiking. 

After rising early in the morning and catching a beautiful sunrise from the balcony of our Airbnb, we drove to pick Jason up from the airport and drove a few hours south to Aulus Les Bains where the trailhead to Cascade d’Ars lies.

We started off on the picturesque trail, as we walked higher into the mountains the path underfoot gradually turned to melting snow. Being my mother’s daughter I became anxious (and grumpy) because the sight of melting snow could only mean AVALANCHE. As we hiked the path grew steeper and narrower, whilst I got grumpier, and I’m sure Nikolai got more nervous.

At the top, we were met by spectacular views of the waterfall and snowcapped mountains whilst we were surrounded by crisp white snow with the tops of coniferous trees sticking out.

I'm standing there snapping some photos, thinking these will be great for Instagram (I know, I'm that person) whilst Jason, Simeon and Laura casually made themselves scarce. Then, Nikolai, rummaging in his bag, got down one knee and I’m there blissfully unaware. He produced from his bag a beautiful ring and asked me to marry him. I was so surprised, I thought he was joking at first, and then it sunk in and was overjoyed and overwhelmed. It was emotional. I cried, of course. 

I don’t think I can fully express how it felt. I’ve tried writing it down but I’m not skilled enough a writer to put it into words that make sense of it all. 

It was both magical and really awkward because we're both really awkward. So, we're there making really ridiculously excited giddy faces at each other, and the ring won't fit me because my hand is all swollen from being at a higher altitude and we keep falling over in the snow and Jason and Simeon are trying to take photos to capture the moment. It was very classic us! 

The story doesn’t end quite there though. After our little engagement photo shoot, (thanks Jason and Simeon), we walked back to the car all giddy and excited, had a little snow ball fight along the way. The five of us got in the car and got ready for our drive back to the house and we thought 'hey let's take the scenic route home'. About half way along this long, dark, winding mountain road we took a corner and drove straight into the aftermath of a small avalanche. And there we were, newly engaged and stranded on the snow covering the road. It was now pitch dark and the wind was picking up promising a full-on storm would hit any moment and we’re stranded on this dark mountain road! 

We all went from giddy excitement to super-efficient, we-need-to-get-the-hell-out-of-here mode very quickly! We started pushing the car to no avail. Then, we dug snow from under the car with our bare hands and we prayed no trees would come tumbling down on top of us. Eventually, we gathered nearby fallen branches and dug them into the snow creating enough traction for the car to get out. 

After what felt like a long time, Simeon managed to reverse the car out without sliding off the edge of the mountain road and we were free of the snow and driving back home. Of course, five minutes from the house we see a sign saying the scenic road was closed due to snowfall.

Still, we got home with stories to tell and we lived to tell our engagement story!

If you made it to the end of this post thank you for reading! I wrote a more informative less gratuitous post about the holiday we took a few weeks ago. Check it out if you want links to the Airbnb and other things we did on our trip. 

N x

*photos in this post are a mix of mine and Nikolai's and our engagement photos were taken by our lovely friends Jason and Simeon. 

Silencing Comparison and self doubt

Is it just me or does January just drag on and on? The slight whisper of more light and longer days give you a glimmer of hope but still, the sun sets early, it's cold, dark and very grey and it never seems to end. 

I started January with the promise to myself of more adventure. Small adventures though they might be I was determined to embrace them and make time for them. The month started strong with trips to the countryside and the beach but as I got settled back into work and life took over I grew ever more exhausted and reluctant to leave the house.

At the beginning of last month, I also promised myself I'd carve out time to continue being creative, writing, and taking photos. Then somehow, three whole weeks flew by without a blog post and with barely any time to take photos (due largely to the complete lack of light) I was feeling uninspired and a bit blue. 

Honestly, I started beating myself up a bit about not being consistent with blogging and started comparing myself to other people in the blogging world. Eventually, that lovely voice inside of me started saying "Nonki you're not good enough, you're not consistent enough, you're not talented enough, you don't work hard enough" and all that other rubbish.

First signs of new growth at Greenwich Park, London

First signs of new growth at Greenwich Park, London

We all have that voice right? And we all fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to our peers and the people who we perceive as more successful or better than us. 

If you have the tendency to let that voice take over and to compare yourself to others I have a few words of encouragement for you:

You can shout louder than doubt 

If you consistently tell yourself you are worthy and valuable you will stop believing the voice that tells you you're not good enough. Make your positive voice louder than any other voice.

Your contribution is enough

Even small steps towards your end goal are moving you forward. Whatever you are contributing to push yourself forward is enough and it is meaningful. 

Your voice is valuable

It can feel like your contribution is just adding to the noise or like there's no space for it but remember that your story and your truth are unique to you and that makes them of value. 

If I repeat these ideas to myself I find I can silence the voice in my head that gets me all bitter and twisted and I find myself celebrating others instead of feeling smaller than them and not good enough.

I hope this encourages you too. And I hope it encourages me, so I don't feel too paralysed to create because I really love it and ultimately it brings me joy.

What do you do when you feel down or you start doubting yourself to keep your creativity flowing?

Let me know in the comments or on my social media channels.

Escape the city: Bewl Water day trip

Looking for a little wild travelling this winter? 

We've got no solid plans for any big far away adventures this winter so I'm staving off the travel urges with small adventures right here in the U.K. If you're looking for ideas for perfect weekend day trips that take very little planning and will still feed your desire for a touch of adventure stick around. 

First up head to Bewl Water in Kent for a short walk or a spot of water sports!

For the last few years on Boxing day I’ve dragged myself out of the food induced coma to get up and go for a short walk somewhere lovely. It lifts my spirits so much to get outside with friends or family and take in the quiet and stillness.

This year we went for a short drive to Bewl Water in Kent and it proved to be the perfect place for a winter walk. If you live in London its definitely worth making your way out there for an afternoon of walking.

The only set back is you have to drive there as it's pretty far from the nearest train station (You could probably bike there from Tunbridge Wells station though).

It was also the first proper outing for my new Fujifilm x100t (which I’m loving) and the weather was perfect for photos, I even got in front of the camera!

We got to the reservoir at about 2pm far too late to try and walk the whole 13 miles round the water! But plenty of time to have a nice walk through the surrounding forest and back along the water’s edge. 

As we headed back the sun was setting over the water, so we stopped to watch from the reservoir wall before we headed back to the car and then home for some dinner and a hot cup of tea. 

If you’re looking for somewhere to head to for a winter day out this is a great spot. Easy to get to (if you have a car) and easy going walking, (lovely for kids). 

There are toilet facilities at the car park (which costs £2) and there is a small cafe if you need to warm up after.

They also offer water sports facilities and a boat that runs in the summer which sounds like a lovely idea so I’m thinking its worth heading back in the summer too. 

Check their website for more details and driving directions. 

Happy walking 

The importance of reflection: 2016 a brave year

I realise I've done this backwards somehow. I posted my 'it's 2017 look forward to the year and set your goals' post a few days ago and now I'm posting about reflecting on 2016. 

But I guess that's how my brain works so here goes.

I am lucky enough to work for an organisation that values reflection as core to its everyday functioning. In every meeting, training session or presentation we are always encouraged to reflect. 

We teach the young people we work with to reflect on their achievements and challenges they have faced. And so we challenge ourselves to do the same.

I have learnt the importance of reflecting on my life and I've been doing a lot of that over the last few weeks. 

For Christmas I received a large print of this stunning photo from Nikolai. Taken by our dear friend John at a moment that I will never forget.

We had been hiking in the cold and rain for a couple of days at this point. The air was thin and John and I were struggling massively with the altitude. There is nothing like the feeling that you simply cannot get enough oxygen to your body to keep you going at barely a gentle stroll. 

On the second day I had wanted to turn back, finding the altitude overwhelming, with an injured toe made worse by the thin air stopping it from healing. After some tears and a lot of encouragement from the other 4 in our group we pressed on, together.

On day 3 We took a rest day to help acclimatise before we headed over the mountain pass at 4,750 metres the next day.  At this point, we had barely seen the views surrounding us because of constant cloud coverage and pretty steady rain. 

Exhausted and in pain, I was feeling pretty beat up and spent the day in our tiny broken tent resting and writing. Then suddenly the clouds broke, as if appearing from nowhere we were engulfed in the most spectacular views of the glaciers. For a few brief moments we were awestricken by the beauty and magnitude of where we were.

Just the 5 of us sitting on these rocks in the middle of nowhere. 

Santa Cruz trek, Peru - Mountain Pass

Santa Cruz trek, Peru - Mountain Pass

Shortly after, the clouds returned and the mountains hid from our sight. We got back into our little tents and the next day we pressed on to pass over the mountains shrouded in fog and clouds. 

For many people (myself included) 2016 was a year highlighted by grief, fear and hatred. But looking back I'm reminded that it was also a year that people pushed through to show each other and the world love, grace and kindness.

There were so many stories of people coming together to fight against hate and fear. Be it at Standing Rock, the Alberta tar sands, the fossil fuel divestment movement or with Black Lives Matter.

I know that for me love won over hate in 2016. For sure, this year I felt like turning back and giving up so many times. But I didn't.

On reflection, I choose to remember 2016 as the year that despite being broken, bruised and afraid, we encouraged each other, we pressed on together and we chose to be brave. 

I hope that we can remember how brave we really are and be inspired to keep being brave no matter what 2017 brings our way.

Go wildly & slow

N x

Gratitude in the Face of Pain

For the last two weeks, I've been hiding from the world. I honestly think I've been recovering from a broken heart. The results of the American election threw a curve ball at me that hit harder than even Brexit could have. 

I couldn't figure out why it hurt me so much, it felt deeply personal and I had no words to articulate the pain. There have been so many voices screaming into the void over the last two weeks, some useful, some not so much and I couldn't figure out how to add to them. I also couldn't get online and start acting like everything was normal.

So, I just remained quiet. I cried a bit. I got really angry. I stayed in bed way longer than I should have.

Then last week I went to celebrate some amazingly talented musicians I get to call my friends and the launch of their new record label in the beautiful St. Pancras Old Church.

I was overcome with emotion and gratitude for the beautiful, diverse, loving life I get to be a part of. 

The Cordillera Blanca, Peru 2016

The Cordillera Blanca, Peru 2016

2016 has been a pretty tough year, it has taken so many of our most loved musicians and left us with the hot steaming mess that is Donald Trump and Brexit.

On a personal level, I've had a few face-down-in-the-dirt moments this year. 

So, I started focusing on all the rubbish, which is so easily done. Leading me to forget that it has also been a year full of wonder and joy. I travelled all over Colombia and Peru, I took a slow boat down the Amazon, I went trekking in the Andes, I started this blog, I've learned so much and grown so much.

So, instead of allowing the crappy bits of 2016 to steal my joy I have decided to actively choose gratitude in the face of pain and negativity. 

Some of the things I'm grateful for today

If you've been having a tough time of it lately I hope you can find some peace and joy in the small moments of beauty that surround your everyday. 

NIGHTINGALE
I built my house beside the wood
So I could hear you singing
And it was sweet and it was good
And love was all beginning

Fare thee well my nightingale
’Twas long ago I found you
Now all your songs of beauty fail
The forest closes ‘round you

The sun goes down behind a veil
’Tis now that you would call me
So rest in peace my nightingale
Beneath your branch of holly

Fare thee well my nightingale
I lived but to be near you
Though you are singing somewhere still
I can no longer hear you
— Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing