44 metres off a mountain

February 22, 2024

'How often do you do the things that light you up? Why don’t you allow yourself to do them more often?'

These questions have underpinned the focus of my personal and spiritual development over the past twenty years. This year I want to get closer to allowing myself to play out more.

I am passionate about freedom. Everybody should have a degree of choice to do what makes them happy and to explore their creativity. Everybody should have the space and encouragement to find that thing which, when they focus on it, time disappears.

Everyone has the right to a home, food, enough money for a few luxuries, and time to enjoy themselves. English Philosopher John Ruskin stated this during the nineteenth century at the height of the Industrial Revolution as he challenged the industrialists and policymakers of that period.

We are living in the aftershadow of that time. Many of us in the Western world are fortunate to have some or all of these things Ruskin spoke of, and yet we are not feeling free. We are caught up in our own minds and conditioning, putting others before ourselves and prioritising work above all else, sometimes to the point of breakdown.

My passion

One of the things that lights me up is trekking in beautiful landscapes. When I am up high I'm in a different world. When I descend and regroup in a local pub, nestled in some village hidden away in the valley, a weary contentedness envelops me. I am truly in my happy place in these moments.

When I first discovered this passion of mine, back in my twenties, I would trek most weekends and every holiday. I recruited my then-husband and various friends and would set off locally for two to four-day treks across the Lake District and Peak District. More adventurous trips took me to Scotland, taking on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Outer Hebrides.

I begun my spiritual awakening during this time, and I expect trekking had a big part to play. Sleeping out in forgotten valleys and mountaintops does something to the soul that I can’t quite put into words. It felt like a homecoming for me.

Then, suddenly, it all stopped. I developed a pain in the balls of my feet. When it came on, it was like walking on fire. One weekend, whilst on a 3-day trek in the Derbyshire hills, it got so bad I had to abandon the trip and catch a taxi back. After that, I stopped walking for the best part of 10 years. The most I could manage was 2 hours, and without a backpack.

I tried all sorts of fixes, both through the NHS and privately. I had casts made of my feet, I was filmed walking on treadmills, and all manner of bespoke insoles were created for me. The next step was steroid injections, which I refused, and at this point, I gave up trying to find a solution. I decided to look at it from the viewpoint that perhaps there was a deeper underlying reason why I was being stilled. Maybe I needed to stop, sit down and watch? So, I did this instead. I still adventured into the national parks but kept low down in the valleys, meandering short distances through meadows, woodlands and rivers instead.

Taking on 30 mountains

Fast forward fifteen years to now, and I have set myself the goal of climbing the Yorkshire Dales Thirty. These are 30 mountains located within the Yorkshire Dales, up here in the north of England. That is quite a comeback.

I am struggling to get my head around aspects of this challenge, but it isn’t the physical side of things anymore. I nailed that several years ago by switching from conventional to barefoot shoes.

I was eventually diagnosed with intermetatarsal bursitis, which is a swelling in between the bones of the feet leading into the toes. But, it only comes on if I force my toes together, which conventional shoes do. If I spread my toes out, like nature intended, then I have no pain. Now I can walk upwards of 10 miles in a day without getting foot pain. If you are interested in reading more about barefoot shoes, I have included some useful links below. They fix all sorts of foot 'problems', although I have come to learn that the problem isn't with the feet, it is with the footwear.

It turns out that, like me, my feet don’t like to be put into a vice.

So, if it isn’t the physical limitations that have the potential to get in the way of my goal, what does?

What stops me is the mantra in my head: ‘I haven’t got time.'

Governed by the bell

I had a conventional education. This meant that, like most other children, I started going to school at the age of 5, where a bell instructed me to do certain things at certain times of the day. I had to be there at 9am. I had a certain amount of break time in between lessons. Then, the final bell at 3pm told me I was allowed to go home. I had six years of this at primary school and seven years at secondary school, so that is eleven years in total. At secondary school I had a long journey there and back. This meant, and I can still remember the exact timings now, the alarm went off at 6.37am, I left for the bus at 7.35am, I arrived at school at 8:30am, I left school at 3.25pm and arrived home at 5.30pm. All through the day, at intervals of 35 minutes, the bell would sound, instructing me to do something. This is over 10 bells a day!

The importance of time, routine, and scheduling was literally rung into me.

This is a very unnatural way for children to live. Children have only been doing this en-mass for around the last 150 years. But it works very well for the system, as it produces an onslaught of workers who are content with working for the bulk of their days, weeks, years and lives governed by the bell.

This routine was reinforced when I started working as an adult. 9am starts and 5pm finishes. Over time, it turned into 8am to 6pm and then 7am to 7pm. It creeps up slowly, doesn’t it, this feeling that we always need to do more? For many years, I had to account for every 15 minutes of my time, billable to a client. I was a clock-watcher. Time was everything to me, and I had to use it productively.

Now I work for myself and have done for the last thirteen years. I am my own boss and I can rewrite the rules if I like. I do try. Yet, if I am not sitting at my desk at 9am, a negative feeling arises in me. I feel I am doing something wrong. I feel like I am not being productive. I feel like I am not doing what I should be doing.

So, how is all this relevant to my goal? Well, to climb these 30 mountains, I will need to prioritise trekking. I will need to drop things and head out into the hills instead of sitting at the desk. I will need to spend more time playing and less time working.

For those of you who have read my book The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma, you will know exactly how hard this is for me to do. This is my spiritual work.

The need to put work above all else is ingrained into me. It is literally encoded into my DNA. I have inherited a strong work ethic from my ancestors, along with a core language within me of ‘I need to work at all costs; otherwise, I will die. There is never going to be enough’. I speak about this a lot in my book if you want to learn more about this.

So, this is a biggie for me this year.

I excitedly shared my vision with someone at Christmas. I had only told a couple of people, so this was a tender green shoot that needed some nurturing.

However, rather than encouragement, my ‘I have I got time’ angst was brought up and vocalised during that conversation. As I enthusiastically spoke of my idea, I was met with the response: ‘have you got time to do that Nicola?

It didn’t entirely knock me off course, but it could have done. I started to question whether I should commit to this. I have been mulling this over now for almost two months, weighing up all the what ifs and should 'I's. I have found my way through now.

After all, what is life if we don’t make space to do the things that bring us so much joy? I have been brought up to believe that work is more important than play. And that I need to work in order to earn the reward of time off doing the things that I most want to do. This year I want to turn this on its head.

Mountain number 1

So, on my 47th birthday at the end of last month, I took on mountain number 1. It was the largest, Whernside, at 736 metres. A mountain is classified as a hill 600 metres or over. The mountains in the Yorkshire Dales aren’t big, and some only just make the mark by a whisker, literally, But nevertheless, you do feel it when you are ascending, or at least I do, and it takes a good couple of hours to reach the top of some of them.

It was the most glorious day and unseasonably warm for my birthday. Whernside is an Anglo-Saxon name, and it means ‘hillside where millstones are found’. The mountain majestically stretched up in front of us. From other viewpoints, Whernside doesn’t look especially spectacular, but this profile was striking.

We were up in less than an hour, and then it was a ridge walk. I love ridge walks, as it always feels like I get a bigger bang for my buck!

There was ice at the top. The cold wind I was expecting on the way up was actually on the other side. It was bracing and time for the extra layers and thick gloves to come out of the rucksack.

On the way down we were treated to one of nature’s spectacles. Two short-eared owls flew their courtship dance in front of us. They swirled around together against the warm orange glow of the low winter setting sun. Just moments before, we saw a sparrowhawk swoop down and steel the catch from one of the owls. We were rooting for the owl in that encounter: poor thing losing its supper in that way. This loss didn’t seem to bother it though, as it teamed up with its mate to dance just moments later.

Then we saw groups of starlings flighting right over us at speed, heading for the coast. Perhaps they were on their way to Leighton Moss, just a few miles from our home on the Silverdale coast where we watch the most extraordinary murmurations.

As we dropped down towards Ingleton, the sky lit up on fire. The reddest sky I have seen for a long time. It was the grand finale for us as we returned to the campervan for dusk.

Those important 44 metres

Last weekend I thought I had traversed a second mountain. Jason and I climbed Aye Gill Pike, which rises above the beautiful village of Dent in Dentdale. This area is less visited than other parts of the Yorkshire Dales being a little further to the west and set back from the tourist trail.

It was another superb day. Winter walking gives the best light, as the sun stays low in the sky. We had the whole landscape to ourselves, only meeting one other person in the early stages of our climb.

It was only after the descent that I realised my 'mistake'. We didn’t actually climb a mountain. Aye Gill Pike stands proud at 556 metres high, 44 metres off the all-important mountain status. So, the first lesson I have learnt here is to do my research! But, although we went a little off-piste with my goal, it gave us the most marvellous vista of at least ten of the mountains I am going to climb. We were surrounded by them, looking across to the Howgills to the northwest, Knoutberry Haw and Tarn Rigg to the north, Calf Top to the southwest and Great Coum, Crag Hill and Whernside to the south.

We finished the day with cake and tea in my little red van. It was the perfect ending, as nothing is quite like the full little red van experience.

During this walk I started to flex my imagination about the 29 mountains left to climb. Putting a goal in place opens up possibilities I probably would have never thought otherwise.

I thought about the practicalities of trekking over several days, taking one route across the Dales and then coming back again. Just moments after this idea popped into my head, we passed the only walker we were to encounter that day. He was on a 5-day trek from Kendal to Hawes, stopping at B&Bs. The coincidence was not lost on me! I debated whether to carry my tent and sleep up high like the old days, or opt for more comfortable B&Bs in the valleys. I thought about which I might take on solo, and which to recruit Jason for as my trekking companion.

One of our plans is to carry out a pilgrimage to Ingleborough from our home village, which we can see from over 20 miles away. Ingleborough is, I think, the Yorkshire Dales' most striking mountain. Aerial photographs show the remains of hut circles and it's thought to have been an Iron Age Hillfort. I wonder if they could be huts built to accommodate people who undertook pilgrimages to the sacred tabletop mountain. I will share more about this theory another time.


I also reflected a lot about the concept of a ‘heartland’. Jason introduced me to this idea when we first met. A heartland is a place that has the most significant importance to someone. Since learning about this, I have always considered the Yorkshire Dales my heartland.

After all, I moved up from Kent in the south of England to the north when I was eighteen because of this landscape. When I was a child we didn’t take family holidays as my dad was too busy working. Then, when I was 11 we took our first holiday and it was to the Yorkshire Dales. I was so bowled over by the beauty that I wanted to come and live here as an adult. Since moving up, I have lived in Manchester, Cheshire and south Lancashire but always made regular trips to the Dales. Then, fourteen months ago, Jason and I moved up to north Lancashire, and we are just a 10-minute drive away now. The Yorkshire Dales has finally become my stomping ground.


At our Emergence online Imbolc celebration earlier this month, we talked about looking ahead to the coming year and setting a goal. Culturally this is encouraged at new year, setting new years resolutions. But the depths of winter isn’t the best time to do this. The onset of spring is.

I expect you are noticing the subtle changes as nature wakes up. Every few days now, it seems like I'm encountering another ‘first’. Last week I saw my first blackthorn blossom and lambs. This week it has been the frog up on the moorland and daffodils in the garden.

As nature slowly moves into action, it's time to breathe life into those dreams that have been coming through during the winter. We can start to give our goals life.

So, this month I have started to climb some mountains. I have upgraded my iPhone so I can take better photos and have a longer battery life, which I need as I use my phone for route planning and navigation, along with my OS map and compass. I have reflected on my blocks, so I can be one step ahead of them. I am starting to talk about my dream. Over the winter I have been having regular sessions with a physiotherapist and am doing daily exercises to strengthen the other part of my body that would hold me back: my ankles. Due to injuries, they prevented me from walking long distances for quite a few years until recently and the physio has solved that problem now. My personal trainer has designed me a programme to help build up my muscles so my legs can carry me for longer distances, which will mean I will be able to climb mountains for consecutive days. And I am testing out my trekking kit and considering which items to buy to add to it.

Early spring is the ideal time for planning, testing out, and creating new ground for this year's dream to come into reality.

So, what is your dream? What vision do you have for this year? What do you want to achieve? And what steps are you taking to bring it into a possibility? Now, as we slowly move towards the Spring Equinox, is the time to start to give these things some life. Now is the time to Emerge.

After all. What is life about if it isn’t to do the things that bring us joy?

Keeping in touch

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to keep in touch and aren’t on our mailing list, click here. Scroll to the bottom of the page to enter in your name and email address.


Anya’s Reviews website is an excellent resource for finding barefoot shoes.

Finding My Feet is a blog I wrote several years ago when I first discovered I could trek again through wearing barefoot shoes. Here I talk about Vibram Fivefingers. Since then I have discovered Feel Grounds and Joe Nimbles (my favourite walking book is the wandertoes), which are both excellent trekking boots.

My book ‘The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma’ can be purchased from our website here. I share my story of how I have found my way to personal freedom by healing inherited intergenerational trauma that has been passed down the family line.

We have our free ‘Working with the Wheel of the Year introductory course here. Mystery School members have access to the Working with the Wheel of the Year foundation course here.

Upcoming online events

If you like the sound of working with the Wheel of the Year to help bring your dreams though into reality, keep an eye out for our live events throughout 2024. We are holding a celebration at every turn in the Wheel. The next one will be “Spring into Being” held at the Spring Equinox, on Wednesday 20th March, 7pm. 

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty in north Lancashire, England.

Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. Thankyou for this blog Nicola, it is in line with what I have been contemplating lately, which is "what do I actually enjoy doing in life?"

    I decided to give up alcohol seriously 5 months ago and this has opened new and intriguing doors for me which I would never have dreamed of stepping through before, like creating a mens circle and joining a singing class for example.

    I read this blog after completing Jasons mini course on deepening our nature connection, and I must say that i am so grateful for the passion that you both have for nature. There is nothing better than coming home from work and opening the mystery school, it is both comforting and educational! I took a lot from the spiritual protection course too, I liked how it had a cautionary air about it, not to be taken likely but most intriguing.

    I intend to keep nudging myself out of my comfort zone this year, comfort as I knew it is changing, as I emerge into something new. I will always have a soft spot for a country pub with an open fire, the ales were good but the opportunity to maintain the vibration holds more value now. Warriors lead by example and I've had plenty of time to sedate myself over the years, so I am taking the bull by the horns at 44.

    Blessings to all


    1. It is so good to hear your story Chris, thank you for sharing where you are. I am really impressed you have been off alcohol for 5 months. Well done – that is amazing. Jason gave up a year ago and so I am familiar with what a big thing it is to do. I am excited for where asking yourself the question: ‘what do I actually enjoy doing in life’ will take you. Taking the bull by the horns at 44 will open up so many opportunities for the rest of your life. All just brilliant 🙂

  2. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your life, dreams and aims. As I’m approaching my 78th year, I appreciate the value of having dreams and aims more so. I used to love walking in the countryside but haven’t been quite so adventurous as you. I walk quite slowly these days, get a little breathless, and go for shorter distances …..on the flat! But I feel so good afterwards, and the walking poles certainly help me.
    I will watch out for your posts, and encourage you to keep writing…and keep walking!
    Time passes so quickly.

  3. Lovely to hear of your plans,Nicola. Well done for following your passion.
    As someone who had plantar fasciitis for nearly a year, I know how limited mobility can become very depressing. Thankfully,it's never returned. I'll be interested to read about the barefoot shoes.
    I live near Masham In the Dales so if you are nearby and fancy a cuppa, give me a shout 😄.
    I'm planning to explore the wilder areas of Wales this Spring in my campervan.

    1. I haven't heard of plantar fasciitis so I just looked it up. How fortunate that it didn't return. I wonder what brought it on? The barefoot shoes are amazing. I am such a fan! Thank you so much for your offer for a cuppa. I will deff bear that in mind 🙂 Your campervan adventure sounds wonderful 🙂

  4. Thank you for this Nicola. I found it really inspiring as I’ve set a similar goal this year which is to go on as many adventures with my GSD dog,Jake especially on the Malvern hills near where I live. He’ll be10 this year and we’ve had some amazing adventures over the years. So this year we’re going to walk the remaining hills that we haven’t already done as well as discovering new walks which we’ve already started doing. Like you said, there’s something special about being up high and I always find it exhilarating and very spiritual.


    1. This is so lovely to hear Richard. I am excited for you and Jake. Reading your comment here has inspired me to walk the other hills that didn't make it to mountain status too, eventually 🙂

  5. It is lovely to read about your life. So inspirational. Yes your explanation of Heartland is so important. Thank you for your courage and energy Nicola.

  6. Hi Nicola,
    thank you for sharing.
    Having experienced a similar upbringing to yourself regarding work ethic and time I too have been on a journey of shedding the habitual generational beliefs. It’s been one of the hardest things I have experienced in letting go of as also my father was very regimental and a perfectionist. As I am now 51 years old I have had a realisation dawning on me for the last couple of years that I am heading into the second half of my life and that it’s time to create the life I want and what I feel fills me with light and love. I am a creative person so I have felt very contained and suffocated with no room or time to breathe so I decided to turn it on it’s head and wandered the beaches of North Wales for a year. I still hear the voice inside, I need a job, I must get a job, creating silly things won’t pay the bills and messing about with pipe dreams won’t get you anywhere!!
    I am the only person that creates for a living in my family so I have always felt the not clever one but I now feel the extremely blessed one who can play all day at work. Choosing my own way I want to work and having the choice to create what I want. When I feel the things I want to create have run its course I get curious about other things and love learning new skills.
    Sadly my father has Alzheimer’s now and still can’t cope without his watch on.
    I wish you good luck in your challenge and your inspiring words. It has definitely given me food for thought and encouragement to start walking the Snowdonian Mountains and face my fears of getting lost.

    1. I have loved reading your reflections here Kaye, thank you for sharing. It sounds like we have a similar experience from childhood and are both working on letting these beliefs go. I am so excited for your beach walking in Wales. What a marvellous adventure 🙂

  7. I love how you have taken us step by step with you as you adventure forth, to show us how you are going to climb your 30 mountains. It is inspiring to hear how you are not letting your old narratives stand in your way, but are using this year to create new ones that are healthy and open up pathways to freedom, just like your book.
    I too was taken to the Yorkshire Dale's as a child. It really seems to me that the places you go to in childhood echo and resonate in your soul and make a deep and lasting impression there.
    The place I went to was 'Eleanor's Cottage' in Gayle. A heartland place for me – I named my only daughter after this place. Days out in the Dale's still feel really special to me. A reverberation seem to happen and I feel more rooted in myself.
    The theme that came up for me this year at the Imbolc Ceremony was Connection, connection to myself, to friends and to the land itself. I've already made a start with this, but maybe I need to do some more formalised preparations and think of the steps I am going to take and what this vision will look and feel like as I complete this year.
    Wishing you lots of magical moments as you journey through your 30 mountains.

    1. Ah, a fellow Dales lover from childhood. I have found this really interesting to hear. I love that you have the theme of connection from Imbolc. Thank you for your kind words about my blog, and yes… a path to freedom just like my book 🙂

  8. What an inspirational blog Nicola! Thanks for sending and look forward to hearing about the next escapade!
    As for me, I'm off to fulfill a dream to reconnect with dear friends and sacred earth in Australia! Fly next week to my world will literally be turned upside down!
    Love to you both as always xxxxx

  9. Spreading the feet and pushing off: I remember trekking with camels in the desert, observing how they laboured more on rocky high ground (where humans in walking boots fared better), but then in soft sand how they ploughed ahead towing us behind them. I was fascinated to watch their feet literally expand as they touched the sand, then retract as they moved forward on to the other foot.

  10. Hi Nicola, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I love how you make ideas or dreams birth life, just one thing, one step at a time with research, preparation and planning, you help to slow me down..as I can jump in and set myself up for failure before I have started. I live near Leeds and love the Dales, I have walked up Pen y Ghent a good few years ago now, just loved the wildness and sense a special sacredness with mountains. In 2017 I was diagnosed with auto immune arthritis although I control my health issues really well, I have pain in my feet and last year suffered was diagnosed with same condition as you, still have problems and have to be careful with shoe fittings but you have just offered me a lifeline with Barefoot, thank you so very, very much I shall look into that!! Also, since last year I decided at Samhain to work seriously with the Wheel of the Year, already the difference to the way I think, or plan, and seed my dreams have made such a difference to my life. I feel more confident and in control than I have since 2017. I could say so much how grateful I am to you and TWOTB. Thank you x x Looking forward to reading more on your journey with the mountains. Love for now xx

    1. Hi Bethan, thank you so much for your comment here. I am delighted you are working with the Wheel of the Year now and already seeing the benefits. And I recon the barefoot shoes will be a lifeline for you – they were for me. Totally life-changing. They have come on so much in recent years too, so there are loads to choose from nowadays. And thank you so much for your thanks. This is lovely to hear and you are most welcome!!

  11. Great inspiring blog Nicola! The Yorkshire Dales is too 'my Heartland', having first visited when I was 10 years old on a Family camping trip. I've managed to get up there at least twice a year ever since! Coming off the AlM from 'down South' and through Bedale and then seeing the beautiful Dales landscape unfolding before your eyes will never cease to make me emotional and experience that real feeling of coming home. We always like to take a pilgrimage walk to Castle Dyke Henge, just outside of Aysgarth, it sits in the most stunning position and it's nice to spend time there and see 'my' Hawthorn tree, he stands watch over the Henge, keeping it safe. My dream is to one day live in the Dales, but until that time, I look forward to each and every time I visit.

    1. Oooo, I haven’t heard of Castle Dyke Henge. I have just looked it up. Thank you. So you approach the Dales from the other side. I don’t know that area too well, but I know what you mean about catching that first view. You describe it beautifully, fellow Heartlander 🙂

      I think I might have created a new word there, Heartlander. I like it!

      I love that the Yorkshire Dales is your heartland. And yours is a lovely dream to have.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here, Heidi.

  12. That was truly inspirational Nicola. What an edifying read I too love Yorkshire dales both parents were Yorkshire. You’ve made me realise I must do more of that . How great it would be to do some walks with you two and like mindeds! That was a good tough story. The feet / the remedy/ the van the pub/ the views! Can I buy any of your photos? I’d love one of the dales. ? We’ll done on living with integrity x

    1. Thanks so much for your note Anita. Now there is an idea! A romp together up in the hills. I love that your parents were from Yorkshire. My nan and grandad from my mums side are, and I grew up hearing tales of how fabulous Yorkshire was. I bet your mum could make the best Yorkshire Puddings, right? My nan could. My grandad used to have them as a starter, and a main every Sunday. Apparently that is a Yorkshireman thing?!

      I am rather humbled that you would like to buy one of my photos. If course 🙂 I will be taking plenty more so maybe there will be one that ‘jumps’ out at you.

      Thank you again 🙂 x

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