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Sarah James, hiker from the NW of the UK beside a finger post on the Hadrian's Wall long distance national trail

Women Afoot With Sarah James

Hiking In The North West Of England

Updated November 2023

Sarah on a rocky edge with her arms above her head

Photo: Sarah Conquering Striding Edge on a solo hike

An Outdoor Instructor Changed My Life!

Sarah’s orginally from Blackpool and she tells me that pre 2008 the idea of being outside was completely alien, a time when ‘outdoors’ meant memories of childhood trips to the beach. But then she met an outdoor instructor and her life changed. She began camping and hiking in the north west of England and her love for the outdoors took root.

Sarah, now 37, works full-time for a national organisation, but back in 2015/16 she was in a job she hated – a situation many of us can relate to.Regular physical activity can help relieve stress and walking is one of the easiest ways to get moving, which is what Sarah did. And these little steps eventually led to her passion for hiking and hill walking.

Fair Weather Views

North Manchester offers fairly easy access to four National Parks (The Peak District, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and Eryri (Snowdonia)), but The Lakes is Sarah’s favourite and she’s on a mission to bag all 214 Wainwright fells (BMCs Wainwrights for beginners). 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 hill walking in the mist on a prearranged group hike, because “it’s about the view”. And when hill walking has to be fitted in around work and annual leave it’s those views that motivate you and get you going back for more.

When I asked Sarah what other challenges she faces her answer suprised me.

The Price Of Travel

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!

Sarah says she spends a significant amount of her adventure budget on her car because it gives her the freedom to explore further afield, and public transport isn’t a viable option. In fact it can be virtually impossible, not least because services to rural areas (including national parks) are limited or non-existent. (The cost of public transport is eye-watering too so if you’re planning a long-distance hike I recommend you read this before you book your travel How To Plan A Backpacking Trip: Including Best Price Travel)

However, despite ‘mountain-envy’ Sarah’s been on some incredible hikes and I asked her to share some of her favourites with us.

Sarah’s Top 3 Places For Hiking In The North West Of England

The Lake District

Buttermere

Buttermere (Visit Cumbria) – 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

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

Dovedale

“And a stay in Priest’s Hole Cave (Lifesystems blog) 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!)

Yorkshire Dales

Malham Cove

Malham Cove (Malhamdale.com) – 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 limestone pavement in the north west of England on a sunny day

Malham Cove

Go Local

Wayo Reservoir

“Everyday adventures are sometimes the best. Find 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 Walk (Great Briish Life magazine) (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.”

And Sarah’s Favourite Hike To Date?

Sarah’s favourite hike was her first long distance backpacking trip on a National Trail: the Hadrian’s Wall Path (National Trails website). It was “pretty amazing!” She took on the 87 mile hike with friends over 7 days, staying in hostels along the way.

If you’re planning a hike on a long-distance trail check out the The Only Guide To Hiking You’ll Ever Need and the UK Hiking Resources page, which includes links to all the resources I use when I plan my own hikes.

Sarah standing in front of a white Hadrian's wall finger post that also points to Kildystart 293 miles and Ypres 468 miles

Plotting And Planning Ahead: Where’s Sarah Headed Next?

Another long-distance walk is on the cards, 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

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 2020). There’s also the matter of popping her “wild-camping cherry” and a stay at YHA Black Sail (YHA website) 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”!

You might also like these comprehensive 10 Mile Hike guides:

Offa’s Dyke Path (with a section across the Brecon Beacons)

The South West Coast Path

How To Plan Your Hike On The South West Coast Path The Easy Way (in 100 mile sections)

Guide To Wild Camping

Plotting An Escape!

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

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…

Sarah's sat in the entrance to a cave in the dark reading a map by torch light

Plotting a route from Priest’s Hole Cave

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”.

Finally, I Asked Sarah Her Top Tips For Beginners

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.”

Mountain Rescue do a fab job, but save them for real emergencies – like a broken leg.

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 that year alone!

A group of  9 people, including Sarah, and a dog  on a very snowy, rocky mountainside

And Her Favourite Place To Find Hiking Inspiration is…

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

Top Insta Tip

Instagram is full of inspiring images but it’s not always easy to remember where you saw them. However, there’s a handy little bookmark 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!

Get Social: Where To Connect With Sarah

Find Sarah on Instagram @sarahj_outdoors where she shares inspiring pictures of her hikes, climbing and wild swimming adventures as well as her life in the north west of England.

Sarah smiling at the camera, wearing her hiking gear including a bright yellow headband

Thanks Sarah

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 hike

So, what’s next? Well, if hiking 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!

Read more from the series: Women Afoot

Ko-Fi

I love to bring you inspiring features like this one, as well as comprehensive guides, to inspire and help you plan your own hikes – all for free! But if you could buy me a Ko-fi to help me reach my latest fundraising goal that would be awesome. A ko-fi costs as little as £3 and it totally makes my day. You can make a donation in the box below without even leaving the page!

To find out what my current fundraising goal is head over to my Ko-fi page, which is where I also share regular updates about my local walks, planning bigger hikes and anything I think you might enjoy – it’s like a mini personal blog. I’d love you to join me and my fab supporters there – come on over!

Thanks so much for your support – I really do appreciate it.

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Happy hiking, Stephie x

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