REFLECTIONS: ATHENA MELLOR
Based in the Peak District, writer, photographer, filmmaker and Ramble Guides creator Athena Mellor loves nothing more than a long hike in the hills. Better still if it’s in the middle of winter – or under the stars. She considers walking alone, eco psychology, and finding a body of water to float on her back and watch the sky...
I feel very connected to the elements and to the natural world. I’m at my most calm and content when I am in them, surrounded by them and consumed by them. I love to feel the power of nature; though it can sometimes be terrifying, it is also so humbling and I think that feeling can have a profound effect on us as humans.
I have been writing about my outdoor wanderings for three to four years, and decided to document them in video format two years ago. It is since I started my YouTube channel that I found a way to make a career out of my passions. The more interactive and personal element of telling stories from the Great Outdoors through video allowed me to connect to a wider audience. I never thought I could be someone who inspires people to get outdoors, I’m just a normal girl who loves to share her passions. This year, I published my first walking guidebook to the Peak District and have had an incredible response to it. I already can’t wait to do the next one.
I became really interested in the relationship between mental health and nature during lockdown. The intrinsic link between the two is something that I have felt to be true for a long time, from my own personal experiences, but it was during lockdown that I was given time to be more kind to myself and to establish healthy habits, such as grounding and journaling. I also came across a course in eco psychology that I felt incredibly drawn to follow. I’m still in the very early stages of learning, but I find everything so fascinating. Two elements I’m particularly interested to explore more are the way women are portrayed in mythology and folklore with regards to nature, and natural navigation – the natural instinct of human beings to navigate, and the way we can follow signs in nature to find our way.
Finding a body of water when out in the hills is like discovering an oasis. It becomes a natural place of rest; somewhere to sit down and take in the view. On a more practical level, it is somewhere to offer a source of drinking water, and maybe a swim. A body of water also gives a landscape scale. I love to be in the mountains and look down on a lake, to really feel the grandeur of the nature around me.
My mum often tells me that I could swim before I could walk. She says that when she first put me in the water, I naturally did frog-legs and was happiest just paddling along. We lived in the U.A.E. and so I spent most of my early years by a pool or the ocean, swimming was a key part of my childhood. I swam competitively for much of my youth, and so water took on a different role. More recently, as an adult, I have started doing more outdoor swimming. I must admit that I am not accustomed to cold water (perhaps a result of growing up in warmer waters!) but I love being in water in nature.
These days, I am much more of a floater than a swimmer. I like to lay on my back and watch the sky from the water, it’s a wonderful feeling. I really want to train myself to swim in colder waters comfortably next year, using the power of the breath to stay calm.
I love walking alone in nature; it is always when I come up with my greatest creative ideas, or where I have time to reflect on recent events. I’ll happily admit to talking to myself while walking alone, in a meditative state that I find so healing.
Within about an hour of meeting my now boyfriend of three years (in a cafe in Scotland) we were out walking in the hills together. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to go walking in the Scottish mountains with a random stranger, but for me it felt more than natural. Our relationship was forged in the wild, and going outside into nature continues to be an essential part of how we interact. We walk, swim, climb and camp together outside, and have long conversations about work, life and our future while wandering along together.
Winter is actually my favourite time of year to go hiking. I love the cold, fresh days and feeling really at one with the elements. I absolutely love hiking in the snow and recently completed a winter skills course in the Scottish Cairngorms so I could have more confidence hiking throughout winter in all conditions.
There are a lot of elements you have to be more aware of when hiking in winter – unpredictable weather being the main one. Most accidents happen in the mountains when people get lost, so I’d really recommend getting confident with navigation to prepare for winter hiking. Having warm and good quality gear is also really important, and always ensure your rucksack is packed with extra clothes, food and water, a head-torch, first aid kit and other ‘emergency’ supplies. Just getting out on some low-level walks is a great place to start, or walking up a local hill that you know well under the winter stars makes for a magical experience.
I love that feeling of getting home after a long winter hike and feeling a little tired, achy, hungry, but also so fulfilled from being outside all day. I’ll start by making myself a hot drink, then run a bath with my favourite land&water products (I love the bath and body oil!). I’ll light some candles and probably watch something on YouTube while letting my body soak in the warm water. Then a hot dinner and a film on the sofa under blankets with my dog, Oslo, will be how I spend my evening.
I think the pandemic has meant more people have come to appreciate getting outside, and how valuable it is for our mental health. During the first lockdown, so many people started to notice the birds singing, bluebells filling forest floors, and the value of just getting out on a local wander. I, for one, was forced to slow down and actually took time to appreciate the changing of the seasons and all those simple, small details that would usually be overlooked. I do think it was a valuable time for many, and I hope that people will continue to appreciate our natural surroundings, and also want to protect them.
During lockdown, I established a really positive morning routine that allowed me to take things a little slower and feel grounded in the mornings. I really think that there is something wrong with the traditional 9-5 structure of working life. It gives you so little time for yourself and your own health needs, especially if you also have to spend up to an hour commuting to and from work. Working at home during lockdown meant I could spend a few hours to myself each morning. I’d start by walking Oslo in the local hills or woods, then come home, make a cup of coffee, sit on my bench outside and write in my journal while listening to the birds. Journaling allows me to process thoughts and reflect on recent events in such a beneficial way. I’d then do 5-10 minutes of grounding, just taking time to be present and be with myself before letting in the online world, emails, social media and everything else that comes with our modern lives. I find so much value and calm in this simple morning routine. I must admit that I got out of the habit of doing each of these elements when life started to get hectic again, but I am working on regaining that time back for myself this winter.
I have a huge reading list at the moment, mostly books I have been inspired to read from my eco-psychology course. I’m currently reading Losing Edenby Lucy Jones, which is all about the positive influence of nature on our lives. There are a few YouTube channels I also really like to watch that inspire me to live in a way that is more connected to nature; Jonna Jinton lives a beautiful life in the Swedish wilderness, and Isabel Paige lives close to nature in the American mountains. I really hope to inspire people with my own videos to live an outdoor life, at one with the natural world.
I set up Ramble Guides as a way to share the places I was discovering when visiting new outdoor places in the UK; not just the hikes, but also the lovely cafes, traditional pubs, great campsites, hotels and B&Bs. I found that when I was planning a trip somewhere new, I was having to use multiple sources to find everything I needed, so I decided to make the guides that I would want to read if I wanted to spend more time exploring the UK’s National Parks. I wanted to facilitate the process for people to get out hiking and visit our beautiful British wild places, while also inspiring people to lace on boots and get into the outdoors in their own country. The vision has stayed very much the same, and I am so excited to have published my first guidebook this year.