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How do you find tranquility in busy places?

Written by Kirstie Pelling

How do you find tranquility in busy places?

On a rainswept day in The Lakes, we take up Tai Chi. But while other people might have their first lesson in this ancient oriental practice in the privacy of a village hall, our family is taking the plunge in public. Our mission; to help explore and promote Secret Windermere by boot, bus and boat, as part of a local initiative to find tranquility in busy places…

Tai Chi at the station or supermarket anyone?

Instructor Paul Underhill

“Imagine you are the Queen. With your right hand you need to wave from your carriage to greet your subjects. And with your left, you stroke the corgis,” says today’s roving Tai Chi instructor Paul Underhill.

Does traditional Tai Chi involve corgis? Or has he just added them for this session because it’s Jubilee week? I’m not sure about that, but I am realising how difficult it is to wave to a subject and stroke a small dog at the same time. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. If I was the Queen I’d have to lose the dogs. Or just nod.

The passengers on the bus seem impressed with our efforts. They clear the steam from the inside and peer out at us with big smiles on their faces. And it’s not just because we are waving at them; we’ve now moved on from royal gestures to flapping our wings. Very, very slowly.  Just like a pigeon in slow motion.

Tai Chi Windermere

9am outside Windermere Station and Supermarket and we’re learning Tai Chi

Why are we flapping our wings in public?

Today we’re learning Tai Chi in an attempt to explore how its possible to find peace and connection with nature even amongst the bustle of a tourist honeypot at half term. Our roving Tai Chi teacher along with his more experienced students Debbie Mason and Julia Weston are running drop in sessions at various locations around Windermere. Along with moonlight canoeing, electric biking and ghost walking, this is part of a series of public events for the Secret Windermere Project, which is about highlighting and celebrating the quiet treasures of the area.

Windermere Station at nine in the morning is far from quiet; the tourists are pouring in to catch the buses to the big Lakeland attractions and people are setting off to work, but this doesn’t put off Paul. He walks us through some basic moves while our kids try and stand on one leg and I imagine my fingers are feathers.

As the rain sets in we climb onto the top of an open topped bus and head down to Bowness soaking up the wind and the rain. It turns out to be very appropriate as ten minutes later down at the waterfront I am encouraged to imagine I’m a flower shooting up and blossoming. I’m better at being a damp plant than a waving Queen; there are less duties involved, and soon I’m concentrating on my breathing and gentle movement.

Tai Chi Windermere

Down at Bowness, the movement continues. Slowly, gently, peacefully.

We’re all flowers together today…

But Secret Windermere, part of the Windermere Reflections initiative, isn’t just about finding tranquility; it’s about helping others to explore it too. Stuart is on a recruitment mission and within seconds he has dragged over three Chinese people who have obviously been flowers in public before. While English tourists watch from a distance, the Chinese have no such reservations and throw themselves into sprouting with abundance.

The National Park Centre at Brockhole is our next stop after a ferry journey across Windermere. Before a picnic lunch, we learn more of the 18 step Tai Chi Qigong moves in front of the adventure playground which is packed despite the persistent drizzle. We match that drizzle by becoming a ‘big wave;’ pushing our energy through the air. Above us, others are pushing their energy through the air on a zip wire from the new Tree Top Trek accompanied by the regulatory shrieking. But we are quiet and contemplative; I’m starting to get into this outdoor Tai Chi thing.

Tai Chi Windermere

At Brockhole amongst the greenery it’s a little easier to feel connected to nature

A physical movement but a whole body experience

Another family join us with their ten and eleven year old children, dragging their Grandma along. “I’m feeling very emotional. Like I could cry,” she says, as we finish off the session. She’s reassured this is normal by Debbie, “It’s a physical movement, but very much a meditative process, and it can bring on all sorts of emotions like laughing or crying.” Debbie has been one of Paul’s students for many years, and now teaches it herself in Skipton. “It’s really changed my life. We live such a fast life, full of rush, rush, rush and stress, stress, stress. We need to learn how to switch the brain off.” Paul agrees. “Tai Chi is about restoring the balance to our lives.”

Our final session is on the shore at Waterhead, in the pouring rain, but the kids don’t mind. They’re focussing on their breathing; learning to be totally still like a ‘standing pole,’ for whole minutes at a time. By now on a day out, they’d have been fighting and bickering, but they are quieter than normal as we practice gazing at the moon.

Tai Chi Windermere

Peace and tranquillity on the shores of Windermere

Today we haven’t seen much in the way of secret places, but we have experienced peace in some of the busy ones. (I don’t imagine ‘peace’ and ‘Bowness’ are often used in the same sentence.) And we have escaped from real life for several hours. We finish off by being cafetiere plungers, pushing energy deep into ourselves. Then we rub our stomachs to seal it in. Thankfully no one asks me to pat my head at the same time.

A clean, green day out

As we take our leave I feel peaceful and realise it’s not just about the Tai Chi. This has been a clean, green day out. We’ve used boats, buses and  boots and no-one’s had to take the stress of driving. The Go Lakes sustainable travel initiative recently revealed it’s logo and slogan  – “Drive Less. See More” – and I really think we have.

The 555 bus to Burton is busy, but on the top deck, there is an aura of calm. And it’s coming from me.

We end the day in the rain having learnt a few of the secrets of Tai Chi

How do you find tranquillity in busy places? We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.
This post is part of our Family Adventure Capital Season. We’re exploring different ways families can adventure together in and around Cumbria, sharing ideas and inspiration to encourage families to get out, get active and adventure together.

Got some ideas for things we should try? Let us know.


You might also like these other posts about adventures in Cumbria:

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Well to me Martial Arts means respect and discipline. I have trained in different Martial arts now for well above 15 years.
    I have seen numerous people appear and disappear but one thing that I have noticed will be the respect and discipline which has changed those peoples perception of life.
    Little ones that have started that might be on the wrong side of the tracks, always in trouble and no idea how to respect other kids.
    Put them in a controlled environment with discipline and fighting and they soon start to understand.

    Martial arts is a way for kids and adults to get rid of their aggression without hurting or bullying anyone.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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