Heart of the Lakes: A Heart Shaped Travel Experiment
How do you like to journey? Are you a planner? A dreamer? A dictator? Have you ever given creative control of your trip to someone or someTHING else? We recently put a cycle tour in the hands of an app and set out on a mission to create and follow a route in the shape of a heart. As an experiment in travel it’s an interesting one, creating a journey shaped not by contour nor road network nor gradient nor any of the normal things you might take into account in planning, but rather dictated by a desire to create a virtual shape on a virtual map. And to do this by making your way through the real world. This kind of journey takes you down roads and trails you might normally never choose, to see things you might never otherwise see and encounter people you might otherwise never meet. It gave our journey in The English Lake District shape, meaning, an output and a level of challenge we would probably never have planned in for ourselves, taking us out of our comfort zone and into creative new territory…
This hill does not make sense
We are in Hawkshead climbing a hill. Hawkshead Hill. It’s not a really big hill but big enough to make us all puff and some of us stop. Logically it is a pointless climb, back up a hill that we sped down the night before. But the GPS reminds us it’s not pointless. There is a point. And not just a point; there is a whole darn shape to it. On the map on the app in front of me I can already see half a heart already behind us and another half to complete today. Once we reach the top.
A heart shaped ride
We are cycling in the shape of a heart. Why? Because we wanted to see what was at the heart of The Lake District. Because it seemed a poetic way to do it. Because we can. We’re using an app called Strava to both guide us and plot our progress along a heart shaped route we sketched out on map and app the day before. It’s fun, a little bit artistic, and a little bit frustrating at times. Especially when you have to do a 5 mile detour in the dark on a spooky country road to get to your accommodation for the night, and then do the same detour back uphill in the morning to get back onto your heart shaped route. But perhaps that’s the price of art dahlings.
The map on the app
Strava is a functional smartphone app (available free for Android and iOS) often used by runners and cyclists to plan, record and share training routes and statistics. The app tracks and records your activity using GPS and creates a virtual map and stats in a form you can share with others on the Strava website. It’s an app that has also captured the imagination of creative walkers and cyclists who have been using it to draw pictures in the landscape, something I first heard about when Huff Post did a feature about a cyclist who cycled a route to produce a picture of a giant bike in the New Forest. That bike shaped map got me thinking.
Perfect for a #poetinmotion
If you read this blog regularly you’ll know I’m not an app geek but there was something about the creative potential of this one that caught my attention. I recently became the “Go Lakes Travel” Poet in Residence; otherwise known as #poetinmotion. It’s a creative project that aims to produce poetry to inspire visitors to The Lake District to consider using sustainable transport to get around the area. As part of this, over the next few months, I will be travelling around The Lake District in a range of car-free ways in search of poetic inspiration. I wanted to kick start the project with a cycle ride and when I saw Strava instantly fell in love with the idea of showing my love of the Lake District by drawing a heart in its landscape; on a map, on the app, and then for real on a bike.
The challenge of heart shaped reality
On map and app our heart plan looked beautiful, a little distorted perhaps but definitely recognisable. But a map is not reality. And the reality was something else; beautiful, yes, but with rain, hills and darkness. The ways of the heart are never quite straightforward. Making a shape with your miles means you have to stick to a route, even when you have run out of time, darkness has fallen and the short cut would be much quicker.
It’s a strange and simple pleasure watching your shape emerge on your smartphone screen. The first curve took shape as we cycled along the bank of the River Crake. We carved the side of a heart riding in the rain on the east banks of Coniston, stopping for hot chocolate and sticky toffee pudding at Ruskin’s house, Brantwood. We broke our heart a little (don’t all good hearts get broken from time to time?) as we detoured down (and back up) Hawkshead Hill to stay at the Youth Hostel near Esthwaite Water. We shaped the tip near Wray Castle before starting to close the loop on the banks of Windermere, riding into the heart of darkness to complete our mission.
A lovable tour of The Central Lakes
Turns out, despite the challenges, our heart is a fine tour of the Central Lakes. As well as riding on the shorelines of both Windermere and Coniston, two classic Lake District lakes, our heart shaped route insists we detour on less visited trails, taking in places we might not normally visit; flat backroads around Backbarrow and Haverthwaite, fine riverside paths by Leven and Crake, hilly struggles at Ghyll Head and Cartmel Fell. We also call at places we have been talking about visiting for too long but never got around to, like Wray Castle and the new West Windermere shoreside trail. Watch this video, find out how we used Strava, and see what a treat you get when you cycle follow a heart in the Central Lake District.
More than a cycle ride
The journey turns out to be more than one of our regular bike tours though. It’s somehow bigger than me and my bike. It’s like family art therapy; our experience dictated by a heart shaped sketch. Once we set off we have no stress of route choice, just the discipline and exertion of following our chosen shape, the satisfaction of watching a little work of art slowly and subtly appear, and the ultimate thrill of watching dots marking start and finish collide in cyberspace. Then when we finish our heart acquires life and meaning beyond our ride; captured by Strava, it is shared online, available for all to see, to admire, to follow for themselves, to test themselves against. (There’s even the facility for people to compete against us, to better our performance, which I know won’t be hard!)
Our map is a labour of love, a record of our love for this place and something that will last forever. Isn’t that what we all want in love?
A poem from the heart
The experience inspires a poem too, for my #poetinmotion project. It’s a love poem of course; to Strava and of course to The Lake District. A poem of a journey of the heart. In the shape of the heart. Written in, from and about a place that has totally captured mine. For ever. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps take a journey of the heart for yourself. If you do, do leave a comment and let us know.
Heart of the Lakes
by Kirstie Pelling © 2014
The heart shapes the journey. Like the poets before me, I record my love
of The Lakes. Not in their words, or mine, but curves and fine lines on a map.
Freehand at first. Without heed of contour, or traffic free trail. I trace
Cupid’s shape in the space between Lakes. Before doing it for real. On an app.
I tap GO on Strava, manoeuver my bike onto still, empty lane. I slice through
light mist. Hill at my heels, I feel the ridges and fells. I know this terrain;
from paddling the arteries of the English Lakes; the Leven and Crake,
where salmon and sea trout nibble on bait as fishermen scan the sky for rain.
On Coniston’s bank it arrives in folds. In this flat white light, jetty holds
horizon’s weight, before Brantwood takes shape; a firefly in the dusk.
I inhale the woody warmth, drip-drop the day on Jumping Jenny’s floor
while night falls outside, balancing on prickle of conker husk.
In a smudge of track and a sludge of dark Hawkshead Hill appears,
a last minute dash of hopes. Aching muscles battle the slope. And I win.
Deep sleep. New morning. Esthwaite is shrouded in cloud. While sheep
keep the view neat, a shard of glass attacks my tyre mid spin.
On the screen too I pay for my stay. The heart appears broken
until Windermere fills in the other half with its new cycle path.
This track was once a secret getaway. But today I share the trees,
roots and leaves with welly boot kids. They splash in mud baths
while I swiftly weave round the seam of the lake; digital doodles
scrawled in my wake. GPS beating in time with my pulse. I bike on.
Ignore the sweet lure of the honeypot town. Catch ferry at Sawrey
while tourist boats circle Brockhole and Bowness like hungry swans.
One last steep incline, unwind at Strawberry Bank. And then back
to the little stone bridge where my journey began. My job almost done.
Searchable, shareable, adorable, wearable. A GPS sketch in dots.
Now the red lines join up. I press STOP. A heart, in art, on my home.
Etched by my bike. The words to my poem. The shape of my love
of the Lakes. Forever inscribed. And downloadable now on your phone.
Follow the heart
To see the route I cycled go here: http://www.strava.com/activities/213951062
To follow this route go here: http://www.strava.com/routes/1109355
To see the video of our journey go here: http://youtu.be/yisXVbvvb9M