Spotlight Interview with Harrison Ward: “How the fells saved my life”
PICTURE CREDITS: Daniel J Toal, Kenny D Block and Andrew Barlow
In 2016, self-styled Fell Foodie Harrison Ward, found himself at rock bottom.
For the past seven years in York he’d been drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol daily, his weight had ballooned to 22 stone and his relationship was coming to an end. Four years on, life is unrecognisable.
A good friend and walk up some of The Lake District’s most stunning fells saw Harrison turn his life around, one step at a time and one mountain at a time…
“I’d suffered from depression from quite an early age, at its worst I had suicidal thoughts. I had jobs in the hospitality trade and by the age of 18 I was working behind the bar and that’s when I discovered alcohol” Harrison tells me, I’ve driven up to Ambleside to meet him on Monday evening in March. The original plan had been to go hiking together and do some filming of him on the fells, the weather has had different ideas.
We’ve already cancelled two meetings, storms and floods had hit parts of the North West particularly hard in recent weeks, so I was taking my chance to get the interview in the bag….considering we went into lockdown two weeks, it was probably a good call.
Harrison’s built up quite the social media following in recent years cooking restaurant style meals on the side of a mountain. He speaks openly about his past battles with depression and alcohol addiction in a bid to help others:
“Though I’d kept my depression a secret from family and friends, alcohol became another way to sort of sedate this illness I had in my mind. Alcohol was initially taken to self-medicate my thoughts but in the end, it became my poison.
“It made things seem okay, it made me the person I thought I wanted to be, it silenced the thoughts in my mind. I didn’t see it as a problem at first but as tolerance increased, more and more it got in the way and it became the priority in my life but it wasn’t really up until the point that it all changed that I came to terms with the fact that I’d fallen into alcohol addiction”.
Seven years of drinking took its toll on Harrison’s mental wellbeing, physical health and his relationships. In June 2016, everything came to a head when his girlfriend left, what started out as a plan to win her back, became a complete lifestyle change and Harrison describes as a “right turn”.
“It was that moment I decided something needed to change, initially I thought I’d try and win her back, I was going to cut it out of my life, change how I was living and it was the start of a complete right turn in my life
“I went through the withdrawals, I left, I went to my aunts who lived outside York and decided that I could no longer live in this environment. I left behind my job, my flat, friends I’d made in this town, I just upped and left for Cumbria.
“I decided I was going to leave this life behind, I had to if I was going to become cleaner, better version of myself and who I wanted to be”.
Straight away Harrison threw himself into fitness, joining a gym, running and cycling but it was a weekend in Cumbria where the next big change happened:
“My best friend turned up on my doorstep and said he was going to take me for a hike. He parked up at the base of Blencathra, quite a large mountain in the Lake District, I took one look at it and thought “How am I going to be able to get up here?” he basically dragged me up this mountain and slowly but surely I’m getting to the top and it was a big, big struggle I’d just come from a completely different lifestyle. Eventually we made it to the summit and before I got a ‘well done’ or even had chance to catch my breath he just turned to me and said “Helvellyn next week”. I don’t remember how I responded but a week later it was the same again, he turned up at doorstep”.
“It was hard, my fitness hadn’t improved that much, it was a glorious, sunny day and again with determination I plodded along and eventually made it to the top and it was that moment where there was a big switch. I’d already decided to change my life and get rid of alcohol but being at the top of Helvellyn on this beautiful day, looking over the top of Striding Edge, it really ignited a new addiction in me, I had a love for this activity which was hiking and walking the hills really. And it went from there”.
Since then, Harrison hasn’t looked back. Hiking the fells of The Lake District became his new way of life, 11 months on from deciding to turn his back on alcohol for good, he found himself at the starting line of first marathon:
“Four years on, the hills have become a big part of my life and I’ve embraced it. As I lost weight, I rediscovered my passion for cooking, I was taking extravagant pack lunches on my walks and this is where I started to set up a bit of a social media profile where I was originally sharing an anonymous journey of how I was finding the views and the hikes and what I was having for a packed lunch and the meals I was having and it developed. The next thing I got a little camping stove and I’m on top of these mountain summits that I’d struggled so hard to get up with restaurant ingredients to cook a meal at the top”.
The Fell Foodie blog was born, to begin with Harrison remained anonymous and didn’t share any details of his past with his followers, it was just about the fells and the food. He now does talk about his depression, often being invited to take part in conferences on mental health, he says the fells saved his life:
“It took until the two-year anniversary of my sobriety to share my full journey. I look back now, and I’m stranger, my life is completely different now but it’s one I’m much more thankful for.
“For me that challenge of going up some of these steep hills was quite reflective of the struggle I’d had myself to come out of these dark times and moments of helplessness. Reaching that top, there’s a real sense of achievement”.
Favourite meal to cook on a mountain?
I’ll give anything a go
I’m planning on doing pizzas in the future maybe getting a little pizza style oven
I’m inundated with requests with people who want to come hiking with me and try the food.
Favourite Mountain to climb?
I’m still finding them, and each mountain has something different.
A memory, or a view in particular, people who you’re with or somewhere I’ve wild camped.
Views wise Fleetwith Pike is a favourite overlooking Buttermere
Snowdonia is a gorgeous part of the country
And Helvellyn (pictured) always been a favourite, I think it’s one of the ones I’ve been up the most it never fails to be a challenging hill with great reward
Each one is always enjoyable.
“You’ve got to want the change for yourself. If you don’t completely want to pull yourself out from this moment, then it’s going to be an even harder struggle. People will rally round, but you need to take those steps and as it is with a mountain those small steps will lead on to bigger steps”.
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Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm
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