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. 

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

The First Step on my Slow Living Journey

A recent trip to Edinburgh, as the seasons changed from summer to autumn, was so beautiful and so very necessary after an intensely hectic, fast and stressful summer. Just 5 days in the smaller, slower, quieter setting of Edinburgh gave me a chance to let all the crazy of summer settle down. 

I've been thinking about starting this project since I set off on my last big adventure, almost a year ago now. I even did an online course for blogging newbies. I felt inspired, excited and a little bit scared but as always life managed to get in the way and I put it on the back-burner for a little while.

Well, Edinburgh gave me the time to think a little more seriously about diving into the world of blogging for real.

For a while, I've thought that it would be great to have a platform to share some of my thoughts and stories about the way I travel and live. That is, a little slower than your average, with an emphasis on taking the time to notice the moments and listen to my body.

Hopefully, there are some people out there who will be inspired by some of the stories I pick up along the way.  

Pentland Hills, Edinburgh 

Pentland Hills, Edinburgh 

As I'm currently not travelling, (fingers crossed not for long) I thought I'd start with the idea of 'slow living' in its many forms - ethical living, conscious living, voluntary simplicity or downshifting. Mostly I don't have a definition for what it is. But the concept of it is attractive to me, I have always loved the idea of slowing down and valuing the quiet moments in an ever-busier world.

It's something that has been an important part of the way I travel since I first got the travel bug when I was 18.  But now I'm discovering what it means to implement that into living my life more slowly not just when I'm travelling.

So, here it is, my first step into this new and slightly bewildering experience.

Are you interested in slow living, or wild travelling? Sign up to my mailing list to keep up to date with my journey or connect with me on my social media channels below.