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.

Surviving The Changing Seasons: Rest, Reflect, Retreat

I always find this time of year quite difficult for a number of reasons. The changing seasons mess with my body and make me feel constantly tired and pretty grumpy. The cold gets into my bones and I feel a good 40 years older than I am. And the growing darkness, that reminds me winter is coming, can cause me to retreat into my head and my bed and vow not to come out until spring.

Whilst this urge can be really unhealthy, and often I'll find I haven't spoken to another human being for far too long, I think there's some benefit in listening to my body and taking the time, as the seasons shift, to rest and reflect.

I think retreating can be the perfect precursor to handle a new season if it is done in a purposeful and positive way.

Retreating at L'abri, Hampshire

Retreating at L'abri, Hampshire

This year I did a little bit of hibernating in my bed with tea and a good book but I also made sure to get out of bed and find nice quiet places to reflect on the past season whilst looking forward. to the next

I'm sure loads of people struggle with this too so here are some of the ways I rest, reflect and retreat when the urge to hibernate takes over.

  • Leave the city and get outdoors - At the beginning of summer this year I spent a few days at the amazing L'Abri Fellowship in Hampshire and this weekend I went on a  two-day retreat with a group of creatives in Otford, Kent. The beauty of the countryside gave me plenty of space and time to walk whilst appreciating the wonderful changes in the surrounding nature that I so often miss living in the city.
  • Take some time off to reflect - If, like me, you know the seasonal shift messes with your mind and body then plan for it. This month I had a few unplanned weeks off from work and I am so thankful for them it gave me the chance to reflect on the last few months and make plans for the rest of the year. If I had known I would've booked a few days in one of the amazing places on offer at Canopy & Stars
  • Make time to rest and relax - As the seasons change (especially from summer to autumn) it is natural that our bodies and minds need some time to adjust. I find it really important to carve out space to rest and relax. Whatever it is you do to relax ensure you are giving yourself space for that. I recently went on a sourdough pizza making class (blog to come soon) with Nik that I found so fun. It was a great way to unwind and relax. 

Do you struggle with the changing seasons too? What do you do to keep yourself healthy and resist the temptation to hibernate? Let me know below or through the internets...