Life Looks Better from Up High

I’m not having the easiest time right now. Nothing serious; nothing life-changing or worth complaining about. Just the usual perfect stress-storm that whips through a life every few months or years, the pesky combination of factors that sometimes align in just such a way as to be a bit too much all at once. Enough to upset the equilibrium of life.

My daughter has left home. We have lost, inexplicably, our beloved cat, and we are slowly giving up hope of finding her. Work is super busy and I don’t, therefore, seem to have time for all the people outside of work that need me. I feel I am giving no one the right amount of attention. A hundred little things, like bees, have been creating a swarm of discontent in my head.

After we came back from France, we had one day off work left, and having done a lot of hiking recently with my best friend, I knew wanted to use our free day to climb a mountain. Just two things stood in the way of me doing it: the weather forecast (heavy rain) and the place where I live (barely so much as a hill for miles in all directions).

No matter. Two hours in the car brought my husband and me to the Peak District, with all of its cliffs and hills. The rain, which had lashed the windscreen for most of the journey, eased to a polite trickle as we parked the car. It felt like a sign. We decided to go for it.

We hiked a six-mile loop which included a full ascent of Mam Tor, the “Mother Hill” of the Peak District, and a descent along the “Great Ridge” which juts proudly from its summit. At times the ground was so wet, slippery, and covered by loose rocks that we could do nothing more than quite literally put one foot, gingerly, in front of the other. We couldn’t talk or think and the only sound was of our careful breathing.

The sign at the bottom of Mam Tor, England
Image source: author’s own

At other times the path was clear, the sun peeked through the black clouds and painted gold stripes on the hillsides, the wind whipped past us in bursts of sudden cheeky gusts and there was nothing to feel but alive.

View from halfway down Mam Tor
Image source: author’s own

From the summit, I looked around me in all directions and remembered how small and insignificant I am. I was the same size and shape as all of the other ant-like humans I could see crawling up the sides of the other hills in the distance, or at the bottom of the hill I was on.

There’s something so comforting, I think, in acknowledging the vastness of the world and the smallness of our place in it.

I recently heard an interview with the feminist historian and author Helen Lewis in which she said that when she is feeling stressed or low, she invariably reads books about history, reminding herself how the cycles of political frustration we feel so trapped in reoccur through the ages; and how small our part in them really is. It’s the same, for me, with the countryside. When I look at a mountain or sea that has been the same for so many generations before mine and will remain so for long after me, it helps me to be more present and to breathe more deeply.

And so it was when we climbed that hill. When we sat down at the end, after two hours of hiking, and ate our fish and chips I felt cleansed from the inside. None of my problems looked the same anymore. The new angle was refreshing.

And that is the tip I now pass on to anyone else with a similarly piled-high life-plate. If things start to feel a bit too much, there are many worse ways to press pause and to reset than by climbing a mountain or a cliff, getting away from it all quite literally, and looking at all the issues and problems from that new perspective.

Breathing the different air, emptying your mind, and letting nature take some of the burden for a bit.

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