Mindfulness and me: Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

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Over the last few months, I’ve been on an unexpected journey into the world of mindfulness. I say unexpected because initially, I didn’t think mindfulness was for me. It sounded too worthy, like kale smoothies and cauliflower pizza bases. But mindfulness followed me like a puppy, wagging its credentials under my nose whenever I squandered my time on Twitter and Instagram. I ignored it at first, but when I began to notice people I respected extolling its virtues, like the brilliant Elizabeth behind Margot and Barbara, I gave in. I started reading those articles I’d been ignoring and after unpicking what mindfulness actually meant and how I could apply it to my life, I realised I’d judged it unfairly. Because in theory, mindfulness sounded pretty simple – and pretty beneficial. Notice what’s around you. Live in the moment. Enjoy life more. What’s so worthy about that?

But as simple as its sounds, mindfulness is easier said than done. The idea of focusing your awareness on the present moment is a lovely idea, but when your head’s pulsing with the deadlines you haven’t met, the washing you haven’t done, and the heartbreaking atrocities that dominate news headlines, there’s not always room left to remember to stop and notice the veins of a leaf on your walk to work.

Still, it was worth a try, right? So since February, I’ve been trying to ‘live more mindfully’. I’m not going to pretend that my life has been transformed, that I’ve swapped playing on my phone for meditation, or that I no longer wake in the middle of the night panicking about that email I forgot to send. But the very act of trying to pay attention to what’s around me has led to moments where the din is temporarily silenced. Moments where I do stop to watch the sun set on my walk home from work, eyes glued to the horizon as it sinks like lava behind a hill. Moments where I smile as I watch daffodils swaying in the wind like a troupe of cheerleaders. Moments where I look up and freeze, even if just for five seconds, mesmerised by pastel pink blossoms against a cyan sky. Yep, I’ve become that person – and I’m loving it.

mindful living

mindfulness

Living mindfully

Do more of what makes you happy
Inspired by these fleeting moments of serenity, I started thinking about the bigger moments in my life: how I spend my free time. Too often, I get in from work and slump on the sofa, defeated by another day in wonderland. I tell myself I’m chilling; that I need to give my brain a rest, but it’s counter-productive. The act of doing nothing actually makes me feel more stressed, guilty that I’m frittering away my precious free time. So I’ve been asking myself ‘what really makes me happy?’, and trying to do more of that. So far, so good. I’ve started sewing again and nearly finished that dress I started making two years ago. I’ve been plotting the ending of the novel I started writing during my MA in Creative Writing. I’m returning to the dozens of half-written blog posts about my 2015 travels and attempting to finish at least one of them. And I’ve started cycling again.

Cycling makes me very happy. I‘ve talked in the past about my love of cycling, which was inspired by the Tour de France fever that gripped Yorkshire in 2014. Two years later, that love has endured. Lazy Sundays have been rebranded Cycling Sundays in the Farrell-Watson household, when we pack our bikes into the car and head to the Yorkshire Dales. The moment I start pedaling on those country lanes I can feel my head empty, the week’s stresses scattering behind me as those fleeting moments of calm become hours.

Cycling in the Dales

Pootler, and proud
When I first wrote about my foray into cycling, I said I wasn’t a proper cyclist, and to some extent, that’s still true. To me, ‘proper cyclists’ are the lycra-clad, Strava-mad speedsters that race past me as I’m struggling up hills in my lowest gear. I don’t have a fancy pants bike, I still don’t know what a derailleur is, and upon recently discovering that my brakes were disconnected, it took me several YouTube videos and about ten exasperated phone calls with Rob (who is a lycra-clad, Strava-mad, ‘proper cyclist’) before I could figure out how the hell to connect them again.

But who cares? I may not be a ‘proper cyclist’, but I’m proud to be a pootler which, in my opinion, is the best kind of cyclist. Yep, I’m that one that takes an hour to cover the distance a proper cyclist could cover in fifteen minutes, stopping about five times on the way to take pictures of newborn lambs and daffodils.

And actually, I’d argue that us pootlers have the advantage, especially when the Dales are our backdrop. With my head up and pace steady, my focus is not on the speed of my journey, but the journey itself. On a recent cycle from Kettlewell to Halton Gill, 20 miles were completed slowly over three hours. The Strava elite would provably have seen this as a failure, but I felt like a champion. Because those ‘slow’ 20 miles gave me the chance to absorb the wonderful details that make cycling in the Dales so utterly perfect.

Details like snow-speckled slopes, reminiscent of icing sugar dusted on a freshly baked cake.

Yorkshire Dales cycling - Kettlewell to Halton Gill

Sheep donning their rainbow Spring coats.

Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

The wobbly footsteps of a newborn lamb.

Yorkshire Dales cycling

The scribble of dry-stone walls on windswept fields.

Drystone walls, Yorkshire Dales

Some of the best moments were when we stopped cycling, like enjoying lunch under the beams of a 17th century pub in Litton with this happy face.

Cycle pub lunch - Queen's arms, Litton

Discovering an Honesty Box Tearoom. Yep, that’s a thing in Halton Gill.

Katie's Cuppas, Halton Gill

Katie's cuppas - honesty box tearoom

Sitting on the banks of the River Wharfe and listening to the classic Dales’ soundtrack – rushing water, singing birds, ruffling grass.

Hawkswick, Yorkshire Dales

Swooning at this beauty of a house nestled in the foothills of Littondale.

Dream house, Yorkshire Dales

When we got back on our bikes for the last few miles, the sun was beginning to set. As we cycled, the clouds parted to let through the last of the sun’s rays, transforming the fields into a canvas splattered with a spectrum of golden greens. Those last few miles were my favourite,

Yorkshire Dales sunset

Yorkshire Dales cycling

Live your life with eyes wide open
The best articulation I’ve read about living mindfully was written by the wonderful folk behind Flow Magazine.

“It’s about living your life with eyes wide open. Looking at what’s happening right now. Enjoying ordinary things, small pleasures and less worry.”

When you work out what those small pleasures are to you, living mindfully becomes a doddle. Because when I’m cycling in the Dales, watching the fields rolling past me and feeling the breeze against my skin, nothing else matters.

Yorkshire Dales Cycling

What does mindfulness mean to you? What are your small pleasures? And what do you do to worry less and enjoy more?

A day at Beacons Festival

festival-reviewdest-yorkshiredales

At the age of 23, I decided to take early retirement from festivals. I had LOVED going to festivals so it wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but I felt like my hand had been forced. It was Leeds Fest, 2009, and I’d just woken up after a less-than-successful night’s sleep in a mildew-ridden tent. But it wasn’t the smell of damp that woke me, or even an overpriced beer-induced hangover. It was our neighbours.

“So, what did you get in your GCSEs, then?” one male voice squeaked, followed by a cacophony of responses; some gloating, some ‘I’m-too-cool-to-care-about-exams’ nonchalant. GCSEs? What did that make them, FIFTEEN?! No. No, no no. Their chorus droned on and on until they were told to lower their voices by an older-sounding voice. Thank GOD. I peeked my head out of the tent door to see who it was, ready to shake their hand and offer them a beer, but I stopped myself. That older voice didn’t belong to a fellow disgruntled camper, it belonged to one of two chaperones accompanying a group that looked barely old enough to be in high school, let alone sitting GCSEs.

That was it. I was too old for this. Festivals, it seemed, were to be one of those activities that I’d have to admit defeat to, along with wearing crop tops and dancing until 3am. I would always look back at them with fond memories, but they were no longer for me. I was no longer for them.

But things change. Dancing until 3am has made a triumphant comeback in my life, thanks to the ingenious swapping of sticky-floored clubs for my best friend’s kitchen and a fully-stocked fridge of chablis and cava. The crop top has also crept back into my wardrobe, albeit styled more conservatively with a high-waisted, midi 50s-stye skirt and only a slither of midriff on show. And over the last few years, I’ve been forced to reconsider my blanket festival veto after realising that maybe, I’d just been going to the wrong festivals. As I’ve travelled through my 20s at startling speed, I’ve discovered that there are so many other festivals to choose from; festivals that, like my newly demure crop tops and chablis-fuelled 3am dancing, offer a different, varied and more fulfilling experience for my older self than the teen-filled hell that made me swear off festivals for life.

Festivals like Beacons.

CREDIT: Giles Smith

CREDIT: Giles Smith

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The Yorkshire Grand Départ, cycling and me

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I am not a cyclist.

I don’t know my hybrids from my roadbikes, I don’t have a clue what a derailleur is, and I used to think pannier was a misspelling of my favourite Indian cheese. I really wish that was a joke…  Until three weeks ago, I’d been on a bike for a grand total of about ten hours in the last ten years, approximately nine hours of which were spent on the floor. I’d blamed uneven paths, dodgy weather and, on one occasion, a pesky bunch of Vietnamese frogs whose cacophonic chorus of ribbits totally ruined my concentration. But it wasn’t them. It was me. I just wasn’t into it.

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Cycling in Vietnam – I didn’t exactly look the part, did I?

I remember the exact moment this changed. I was rattling through Cambodia on one of many long bus journeys during a six-month round-the-world-trip in 2011. I’d just finished reading an amazing book, so I reached into my bag to pull out the next. It wasn’t there. DISASTER! Luckily Rob had had the foresight to bring a spare, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. It was called Thunder and Sunshine, the second part of a round-the-world bike adventure undertaken by someone called Alastair Humphreys. A story about cycling? So not my kind of thing. But Rob insisted. “Just give it a try. Trust me”. Begrudgingly, I opened it and started reading, convinced that I’d give in by page three and spend the rest of the journey trying to doze. By the time we arrived in Siem Reap, I’d nearly finished it – all 340 pages.

Thunder and Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys

Thunder and Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys

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A ‘Tour de Food’ in the Yorkshire Dales

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Last month, I came across Maptia for the first time. What. A. Find. A treasure trove of travel stories, it’s a website that offers a new, and very beautiful, way of telling stories about places. I’ve since become rather obsessed, and I’m absolutely delighted to have bagged myself an invite to become one of the site’s founding storytellers.

Maptia

My first Maptia story is about a journey through the Yorkshire Dales. Inspired by the Tour de France fever that’s swept through Yorkshire since it was chosen to host the race’s ‘Grand Départ’, I spent a day exploring Stage One of the route this Spring. Mine wasn’t a cycling pilgrimage, though. I didn’t even take a bike. My visit was motivated by something else that makes the Dales special. Its food. Visiting Bedale, Hawes, Masham and Jervaulx; I discovered amazing communities preserving centuries-old traditions such as cheesemaking, brewing and breadmaking. And I was only there for a day.

I’ve included a few photo highlights below, but you can read the full story over on Maptia. I hope you enjoy.

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