Hiking In The North West Of England: Women Afoot With Sarah James
Updated April 2021
Welcome To Women Afoot
An Inspirational Series!
Women Afoot is a monthly series that brings you inspiring stories from women hikers and walkers from all around the UK
Series 1, Article 1 – Sarah James
Next – Zoe Langley Wathen
Let’s Go Hiking With Sarah James!
Sarah Regularly Hikes In The Peak District And Lake District National Parks
Sarah’s 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 Story: Hiking In The North West Of England
An Outdoor Instructor Changed My Life!
There was a time in Sarah’s dim and distant past (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, but when she met an Outdoor Instructor her life changed: a love for the outdoors took root when she began camping and hiking in the north west of England.
Sarah, now 37, works full-time for a national organisation, 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’s Top 3 Places For Hiking In The North West Of England
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!)
“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.”
“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 (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 Walk To Date?
Sarah’s favourite walk was her first backpacking trip on a National Trail: the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was “pretty amazing!”
She took on the 87 mile Hadrian’s Wall 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 UK Hiking Resources here.
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 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”!
If you’re thinking about ‘popping your wild camping cherry’ in the UK sometime soon, I’ve written a comprehensive guide that’ll give you all the info you need:
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
“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…”
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.”
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
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 that year alone!
And Her Favourite 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.
And don’t forget inspiring Instagrammers too:
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
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.
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 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!
One More Thing! Can You Help Me?
If you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed chatting to Sarah, please, please, can you give it like! I’d love it if you share it on your social media channels too, or even pin it to your hiking 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!
Thanks my lovely, you’re an absolute star! But before you head off
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Next – Zoe Langley Wathen
HeadRightOut Podacster Zoe Langley-Wathen inspires midlife women to face their fears and build resilience in the great outdoors. In this article, she shares how her own hiking journey began and what makes her tick, along with awesome recommendations and tips for hiking in the UK.