Featured Image: Hike in the north west of England with Sarah James

Women Afoot! 12 Women 12 Conversations Infinite Inspiration

Series 1, Article 1. February 2020

Hiking In The North West With Sarah James

I’m so thrilled you’re here to meet Sarah, our first ever Woman Afoot!

Women Afoot is a brand new monthly series where I get to share some awesome, inspiring conversations with women hikers, walkers, backpackers and wild campers from around the UK – how cool is that! Very cool, that’s how cool! First off, if I can contain my excitement for a few minutes, let’s go for a hike in the north west of England with Sarah James.

Who Is Sarah James?

Sarah James hiking in the north west of England, pictured on Striding Edge
This is Sarah James! Conquering Striding Edge on a solo hike
Sarah is a herdie loving, Wainwright-bagging hiker based in Manchester who regularly heads to the beautiful Peaks and Lake District National Parks for her dose of the outdoors. She’s one inspiring woman, so read on and be prepared to get outside!

Sarah’s Hiking Story

An Outdoor Instructor Changed My Life!

There was a time in Sarah’s dim and distant past (well, pre 2008!) when the idea of being outside was completely alien: a time when ‘outdoors’ meant memories of childhood trips to the beach (Sarah’s originally from Blackpool), which sounds familiar to a lot of us. But then she met a an Outdoor Instructor and life changed: she began camping and hiking and a love for the outdoors took root.

Sarah, now 37, works full-time on a help-line, but back in 2015/16 she was in a job she hated, a situation most of us can relate to. It’s well known that regular physical activity can help relieve stress and walking is one of the easiest ways to get moving, so that’s exactly what Sarah did. And these little steps led to a passion for hiking and hill walking in the north west of England.

Fair Weather Views

North Manchester offers fairly easy access to four National Parks (The Peak District, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and Snowdonia), but The Lakes is Sarah’s favourite and she’s on a mission to bag all 214 Wainwright fells. But it’s not a race; it’s simply a way to explore The Lakes and enjoy everything the area has to offer, whether it’s a forest walk in the rain (“mmm that smell”!) or a good scramble. She describes herself as a “fair weather hiker” and will only go up a hill in the mist on a prearranged group hike in the north west, because hill walking “is about the view”. And when hill walking has to be fitted in around work hours and annual leave it’s those views that motivate you and keep you going back for more.

The Price Of Travel

Once you get the walking and hiking bug it can easily become a life-long passion – one that can empty your pockets on a pretty regular basis! One of the most significant costs is travel, which is crucial if you want to explore more than what’s on your doorstep. Unfortunately the UK isn’t known for cheap (or even reasonable) public transport costs and connecting services can be difficult to negotiate, even non-existent (this is especially true if you want to travel to or from rural areas, including National Parks). Consequently Sarah spends a significant amount of her adventure budget on her car, because it gives her the freedom to explore further afield. She says

Despite what people think, hiking is not a free hobby after petrol and parking expenses. I’m so jealous of people who have the mountains on their doorstep, but maybe one day I will too!

I can definitely relate to that – and I’m lucky enough to have the most fantastic coastline on my doorstep! Despite ‘mountain-envy’ though Sarah’s been on some incredible walks, so I asked her to share some of her favourites with us.

Sarah Recommends

Her Top 3 Places For Hiking In The North West

Everyday adventures are sometimes the best

The Lake District
Buttermere And Priest’s Hole Cave

Buttermere – whether you stay low, walking round the lake (an easy 5 mile-ish walk) or explore the surrounding fells, I love the quietness of this part of the Lakes, and it’s stunning. It’s also a lovely place to swim.

Rannerdale Bluebell Walk (in Buttermere Valley) was one of my highlights of 2019. They are truly beautiful and smell divine.

“And a stay in Priest’s Hole Cave (Dovedale) was one of my favourite nights out and the closest I’ve come to wild camping.” (It sounds exactly like wild camping to me Sarah!)

Yokshire Dales
Malham Cove

Malham Cove – absolutely stunning scenery and if you’re into wildlife you may be lucky enough to see peregrine falcons. I feel so grateful to have watched them hunting and feeding their chicks on one visit.”

Malham Cove, a view from the top
Malham Cove, a great hike in the north west of England

Go Local
Wayo Reservoir

“Somewhere local and special to you. Adventures don’t have to involve national parks, they can be on your doorstep. For me, this is Wayoh Reservoir (Lancashire) a place I loved to visit with our dog. This kind of place is the one you’ll make use of on the long summer evenings after work. Everyday adventures are sometimes the best. “

And Her Favourite Walk To Date!

Sarah’s favourite walk though was her first backpacking trip on a National Trail: the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was “pretty amazing!”

She took on the 87 mile hike with friends over 7 days, staying in hostels along the way.
Sarah standing under a finger-post on Hadrian's Wall Path
Hadsrian’s Wall Path in 2018

Plotting And Planning Ahead

Where’s Sarah Headed In 2020?

Another long distance walk is on the cards this year, but choosing which one isn’t easy! There are 2 contenders at the moment, but no firm decision. I really hope we get to follow along on one of her bucket list hikes:

Sarah’s Top 3 Bucket List Hikes In The UK Are…

But she also has a lot of hiking in the North West of England planned, including more Wainwrights (a goal of a total of 150 by the end of the year). There’s also the matter of popping her “wild-camping cherry” and a stay at Black Sail YHA in The Lake District – because “I’m sure not all room mates are as weird as the one I had on the Hadrian’s Wall Path”!

(PS if you’re thinking about ‘popping your wild camping cherry’ too, I’ve written a really comprehensive guide for women that’ll give you all the info you need.

Plotting An Escape!

That sounds like a lot of exciting stuff for 2020, but here’s nothing Sarah loves more than getting a map out to plot a route

I have a tendency to get overexcited and include another peak or two, forgetting that I have to walk the same distance back! I’ve felt the pain of this before, but I seemingly never learn my lesson…
Hike in north west England
Plotting a route in the Lake District

So Sarah keeps her routes flexible depending on the season and the weather – and who she’s with. She stays off the mountains in the winter months especially if there’s snow, but still loves hiking at a lower level where she knows her skills and kit won’t let her down.

Sarah’s partner has spondylolethesis “which restricts her a bit”, so she always has a backup plan, whether it’s an escape route, a simple willingness to summit another time or following a route with a pub nearby. (Who doesn’t do that?!)

In fact its her partner that inspires her to get outside the most. She “watched her go from active, to smashing her pelvis and not be able to get out, and then pushing through the pain and getting out anyway.

It makes you realise how easily it could all be taken away and that inspires me to keep going, as one day I might not be able to.

And Finally, I Asked Sarah…

Her Top Tips For Beginners

And this is what she said:

Learn To Use A Map And Compass

Sarah swears by a map and compass and wouldn’t go out without one, because “tech can fail you….I used to use the OS Map App but I’ve heard View Ranger and Kamoot are good”.

Know When To Call It A Day

Don’t be afraid to call it a day if you feel out of your depth, the walk will be there another day. Basically don’t risk calling out mountain rescue for ego. They do a fab job and will help anyone but leave them free to deal with genuine emergency calls (broken legs and such like).”

Hike With Others

Use social media to meet other people, they will help you with skills and it’s brilliant if you don’t have friends that like hiking.”

One of Sarah’s 2019 highlights was joining her first ‘Instameet’, a group walk arranged by hikers on Instagram. She went on to do 9!

And The Best Place To Find Hiking Inspiration

Instagram Is Top Of The List!

I love Instagram for inspiration and I save locations I like the look of to help plan future walks.

But Don’t Forget Inspiring Instagrammers Too:

Sarah nominates @adventurer.nic and @beckythetraveller  “as they have done some awesome adventures but are so lovely and supportive”.

Group of hikers in the snowy mountains
Sarah on her first Instameet group hike in 2019, with Becky on the far right and Nic 4th from right

My top Insta tip: Instagram is full of inspiring images but it’s not always easy to remember where you saw them. But, there’s a handy little book mark symbol on the right hand side under every image; just click on it to save it to your collection. You can find your collection of saved images on your profile page: it’s in the drop down menu on the top right. Happy clicking!

Hike in the north west of England - Sarah James in the Yorkshire Dales

Get Social

Where To Connect With Sarah

Sarah’s main social media presence is on Instagram @sarahj_outdoors, where she shares inspiring pictures of her hikes and life in the north west of England.

You might also see Sarah on Twitter but she’s ” a watcher not a poster” and mostly has the account for following @lakesweather updates.

Thank You My Lovely!

Thanks so much to Sarah for sharing her story, tips and inspiration; it was a real pleasure to chat and kick off our Women Afoot series with such an inspiring hiker. (You definitely agree, right?!)

So, what’s next? Well, if a hike in the north west of England is on your bucket list why not bump it to the top of your list and get out there this year? You never know you might even bump into Sarah on the hills! And if you do, say hi from me!

One More Thing! Can You Help Me?

If you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing it, please, please, please can you give it like on Facebook?! I’d love it if you share it on your social media channels too, or even pin one of the fab images to your Pinterest Board. Sharing is definitely caring – and the more we share, the more other women will be inspired to get outside and challenge themselves to enjoy and care for our stunning landscapes.

Pin Me And Keep Me!

Pinterest Pin, Women Afoot V1

Thanks my lovely, you’re an absolute star. See you for the next in the series of Women Afoot. Sign up to The Extra Mile update to find out who she is!

Happy Hiking!

Stephie x

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