So here's the thing. If you come from a small Northern European country called Estonia, you are blessed with having good Internet, black bread, very little sunshine and almost zero interesting landscapes.
On normal day when you're busy trying to learn the intricacies of how to build products that people care about, you accept the fact that you leave your home when it is dark outside and it is still dark when you return. But once every now and then you realise that we're still just highly intelligent apes who sometimes yearn to be close to the nature.
My time for such a realisation had come once again. So here's what I did – or to be exact, what I posted on Facebook on a random Friday evening as I was visiting the UK:
"It's 5:15pm. I'm all alone on a train that will take me 4 hours north from London to the middle of nowhere (apologies James). I have no-one waiting for me and I honestly have no clue where I will end up being tomorrow or the day after. I am scared and excited at the same time.
All I have with me are a few pairs of sock, underwear, an extra T-Shirt, a toothbrush, a deodorant, a pair of pyjama pants with little stars on them, a camera and a tripod.
I made the final decision only a few days ago. It was irrational, somewhat un-budgeted, out of my comfort zone - but at the same time, every breath going through my nostrils gets fresher by the minute.
Now, maybe for some of you this might seem like a normal way to start a weekend. For me, it feels crazy, unplanned and raw.
Yet, there have been so many times I've said "one day I will go and take photographs at the Lake District"....so this week I decided to say the hell with it - that "one day".....is today.
I promised my friend Mo that regardless whether I take good or bad photos, I will send them to him regardless. Because taking those photos is not the real point, is it? It's about really doing the things you've always wanted to do.
So, I encourage you to be a little crazy this year, be a little irrational and take one thing you promised to do "one day"....and just do it.
I'm off for the weekend. See ya!"
As I arrived in a little town called Keswick, or as some might call it – the biggest town in the Lake District – I was tired and very confused. What the heck am I doing? Although feeling a little lost and disoriented, with the help of Google maps I found my way to Dalkeith guesthouse, a small three-story building amongst dozens.
The front door was locked when I arrived. Should I ring the bell? I was about to press the clicker when a grey-haired man rushed out of the kitchen to turn the knob. "Welcome to Keswick!" said the main while conjuring a warm and wide smile on his face.
He directed me to bedroom number four on the top floor. After showing me where the cookies, the kettle, extra pillows and heater dial were, he left me to my thoughts. It was 8pm and as soon as my head touched the pillow, it was filled with dreams.
My eyes seemed to have opened at 6am without needing any assistance from the alarm clock. I had exactly 90 minutes to grab a quick shower, get dressed and navigate my way to the nearest lake. The roaring tummy was tamed with the two packs of cookies next to the kettle and off I went.
Not long after I left the guesthouse to navigate my way to the lake, my virtual "being off grid" turned to a reality. My phone decided to switch off and reset – no more 4G, no flashlight, no awareness of time nor location. Oh well.
Luckily a few Keswickians walking their dogs were kind enough to show me the way to one of the most highly valued spots in the whole area – The Friars Crag.
The Friars Crag
All the photographs above were taken from The Friars Crag. In fact, it looks like 90%+ of all the photos I took that day were taken in that same spot. And rightly so.
Even though I barely moved 20 meters in the first three hours, the light changed so drastically that it looked like I had arrived at a new scene every 15 minutes. I was really happy.
A couple of lone walkers and a few couples came to visit the half-island on the lake to greet the day. It turns out that it is very rare to experience a weather without a single cloud at the Lake District. Some people even gave a numerical estimate – the weather we had on that day only exists on one or two out of a hundred!
25km around the lake
The soul of my boots decided to partly part from the rest of it, making my toes ever so slightly feel the cold that was covering the ground. But that did not matter.
I could feel my mind exhaling of all the thoughts that normally take up processing power. I was fully focussed on my surroundings, the light, the lack of it, the mountains, the frost and the lake.
The walk around the lake took the better part of the day. A quick lunch in a pub by the lake was enough to keep the body fuelled until sunset. Oh, and my phone woke up again! And I managed to call the Mrs. and see what home was like – turns out the sunrise had even reached Estonia!
Even though the walk was refreshing, not many spots proved to be good ones for photography – the Crag had spoiled me! So now, my new mission was to get back to Friars Crag, after having walked around the lake of course. With every hour that passed, my pace increased to really make it to the spot on time. Turns out that 25km takes more time to cover than I initially anticipated.
Some might say that I was late. I on the other hand feel that I arrived just in time. The mountains that the sun had lit up in the morning suddenly became silhouette material for pictures that a lot of photographers consider to be against the rules since it's shooting against the sun. But so what.
Although I normally try to keep myself behind the camera rather than in front of it, the scene opened an opportunity to use my tripod and the 10-second timer functionality to also capture my physical presence in that wonderland.
The sun had set and I was ready to go back to the guesthouse. I packed my things, took a quick last look at the Crag and was feeling really grateful and peaceful for having been so lucky to have experienced such a beautiful day.
And then I heard the duck mafia again.
I had to climb down a slippery slope of rocks to reach the beach where they were hanging about. I was feeling lazy and really did not want to unpack my gear. And at that exact moment I remembered my dancing teacher Aivar's golden words "When you have all the energy in the world and you are really happy, it's easy to do a few good dance moves. It's when you're very tired, exhausted and you feel your body hurting everywhere – and you then still go for it – that's what distinguishes the great from the good."
4 minutes later my gear was out.
A quick simple meal deal from the local Co-operative was to be my dinner that day. To my great surprise when I reached my room at 7:30pm, I discovered that the family had left a slice of what they called "Victoria Sponge".
With that warm act of kindness now settled in my tummy, I closed my eyes at 7:50pm only to open them again ten hours later. I had just had a fantastic day.
A "normal" day
Having seen the clouds slowly starting to cover the mountains like a soft blanket, I was very anxious to go back to the Crag the next morning to see what Derwentwater looked like on a normal day.
I cannot hide the fact that I was surprised how disappointed and happy I was at the same time. I was disappointed because the scene did look really dull and grey. The only photograph that I ended up getting was when it was still dark and blue outside.
At the same time, I was screaming with joy, figuratively speaking of course, as I started to appreciate the luck I had had with the weather on the previous day. An already great memory suddenly became an extraordinary one.
So there we have it. By the afternoon I was back in London, making my experience at the Lake District only a single day long. But that one day was more than enough to fully charge my batteries and refresh my brain (as well as my phone).
Was it worth the £150 that I ended up spending on the train ticket, the little room in the guest house and the food? Without a doubt.