Taylor and I headed out for our first adventure together, just the two of us, since the move to England. We borrowed camping gear, rented a car in Oxford, and hit the road! We had an idea of where we might go and what we might do, but for the most part, decided to wing it. As long as we made it back for our half marathon in two weeks we would be fine. I usually enjoy the comfort of knowing where we will sleep at night, but it felt incredibly freeing to hop in the car without plans, knowing we will figure it out together. This was Taylor’s first time driving a manual car in five years, and first time driving on the left side of the road ever. Every so often I’d hear him hit his right hand against the car door as he reached for the stick, or see him reach over his left shoulder to put on his seatbelt. A lot of prayers were said that day. There were a few minor close calls, but we survived! Without any cellular data, we used a map of Great Britain downloaded the night before to navigate the old fashioned way. This app (only two dollars!) was a lifesaver. With GPS tracking we could follow where we were on the map the entire trip.
The first stop on our journey was the Lake District: England’s largest National Park. We drove through Windermere to find a campsite outside of Ambleside to pitch our tent. A large single-lane road with two-way traffic, a rock wall on one side and thick woods on the other, eventually lead us to the farmhouse we were searching for. We arrived with a credit card and three pounds at a cash-only campsite, but thankfully the owner was kind, let us spend the night, and agreed to let us pay the next morning. We thought we were smart to camp and save money, but the official campsites were so expensive! The average cost to sleep on the ground in our own tent was thirty dollars/night. If that’s the cost of camping, imagine how much a hostel there would cost. After eating a hard-boiled egg, granola bar, and apple for dinner we cocooned ourselves in double sleeping bags and went to bed.
The next morning we woke to a beautiful, sunny day: very rare for this time of year in the Lake District. We set off on foot from our campsite along dirt roads through the rural Great Langdale Valley, surrounded by rolling green hills, mountain peaks, and countless sheep. It was absolutely enchanting. On our hike up Stickle Tarn to Pavey Ark we saw shepherds and their dogs herd groups of sheep from one piece of land to the next. The mountainsides were sectioned by rivers, waterfalls, and miles of old, stone walls to keep sheep on the correct farmer’s land. From the summit we saw lakes, mountains, and paths for miles out ahead. From that height it is difficult to really soak in what your eyes see. We sat and enjoyed the view for a while, but unfortunately it could not be bottled up for later.
The second stop on our journey through the Lake District was a town called Keswick. Our first night there we met a man on holiday (vacation) from London named Jim in the common area of the campsite. He bought us some bread to have along with the soup we made that night, and invited us to hike with him and his girlfriend the next day. We didn’t know this guy, let alone his Malaysian girlfriend, Shea, but said YES to meeting people along our adventure and were super happy that we did. As we walked and talked with them throughout the day we learned about their lives and listened to their stories. Like us, Shea quit her job and has been traveling across the world for five months now. Later that evening while making soup again, Jim invited us to the pub afterwards for a drink. He treated us to two pints each. The four of us, plus another friend we met that night, Dave, had a great time talking with one another. The kindness and encouragement from strangers was greatly appreciated and very humbling.
We said goodbye to our new friends and the Lake District to head four hours north into Scotland. After driving through the beautiful valley of Glen Coe, we stayed at a campsite in Fort William, next to the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis. That night we went to a nearby pub to get Internet. We sat by a father and son who struck up a conversation with us. After hearing our story they bought us each a pint and we spent a few hours talking with them about Scotland and it’s traditions. Even though they spoke English, their Scottish accent was so strong that Taylor and I had a difficult time understanding them.
The following morning we set off from camp to hike Ben Nevis. It took us about three and a half hours to reach the top, which was cold and covered in a large cloud. We explored the old weather observatory towers alongside a man wearing a kilt, drinking Strongbow cider, and holding a bagpipe. On the way down Taylor began picking up trash people had dropped along the way. The act proved to be a great conversation starter. We met a bunch of people on the way down, one of which offered us a place to stay for free at her farm near Birmingham. After our hike, we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant. Taylor ordered the traditional Scottish meal special, Haggis (ground sheep) Neeps (turnips), and Tatties (potatoes). It’s a new favorite! Afterwards we found a pub to watch the England vs. Wales rugby match alongside locals. The game was very close and competitive, so the atmosphere of the bar was super fun to be a part of.
Dirty and tired of paying to sleep in a tent, we decided to try our chances at CouchSurfing. Michael, a man from Badicaul, just outside of Isle of Skye, offered to host us for a few nights at his home. Upon arriving we find out his name isn’t Michael, but actually Donald, and that he is a local policeman. He invited us in, offered us tea and biscuits, showed us our bedroom, the kitchen, washer, etc. It was the best feeling in the world to be welcomed in to a warm home. Instead of allowing us to go to the grocery store he insisted we take showers and start a load of laundry while he made us dinner. We found out later that Donald gave up his own bedroom for us to stay in. This was just the beginning of the gifts and blessings this kind man gave us on over the next few days.
Taking Donald’s suggestions on where to go and what to do, we spent two full days exploring Isle of Skye. It was an absolutely beautiful, dramatic place. Some parts of the island were green and lush, while others looked like another planet, barren and raw. We drove to various parts of the island, hiked to beautiful beaches and rock faces, and explored bothies (small camp cottages). We were blessed to have amazing weather for this location and time of year.
What really made the last four days of our trip so great, however, was the newfound friendship with Donald, his generosity, and the others staying with him that we met. Every morning he made everyone a large, hot breakfast and sent us away with snacks and a flask (thermos) of tea for the day. One night he took us to a local restaurant and treated us to the best mussels and seafood platter we’ve ever eaten. Local musicians played traditional folk music (uilleann pipes, pennywhistle, mandolin and guitar) in the pub that night. Taylor was almost in tears because he was enjoying the experience so much. We were able to contribute by cooking a few meals and doing dishes during our visit, but it was impossible to pay Donald back for everything he gave us. He warmed our hearts and ignited spirits. His hospitality inspired us to really take advantage of this opportunity that we have to travel, and to host those in need of a place to stay once we have a home again.
We decided to stay an extra day with Donald on his last day off from work to explore Applecross with him and another couchsurfer from France, Maxime. We had a fantastic time driving and walking around together, causing all kinds of ruckus and shenanigans with the local policeman around town. After only knowing Donald for a few days it was sad and difficult to leave, but it was time to make the twelve-hour trek back south to Witney to get ready for our race.
On the way home we had plenty of time to reflect on the past two weeks. What stood out the most on our trip was not just the beauty of places we went, but the wonderful people we met along the way. We never would have met most of these people or had such a great time with them if we had stayed in our comfort zone. It’s not necessarily appealing or comforting to agree to hike with people you don’t know, or to sleep in someone’s house that you’ve never met, but sometimes that is what it takes to build relationships and community. The hike could have been awkward, our couchsurfing experience could have been horrible, but that’s the risk that needs to be taken in order to truly experience, grow, deepen, and expand. Our French friend Max said it very well, “You have friends all over the world. You just have to go meet them.”
How can you take action, step outside of your comfort zone, and say YES?
What are you missing out on due to your fear of momentary discomfort?
What will you gain by putting yourself out into the world more?
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