Harrison Ward AKA "Fell Foodie" - Craving for the hills
Craving for the hills
“There is something primal about cooking in the outdoors.”
My name is Harrison Ward, perhaps better known as Fell Foodie. I’m an outdoor cook and can often be found creating restaurant style dishes, in my local Lake District mountains, on minimal equipment. Creating different variants of food has been a lifelong passion after being introduced to it via my Grandma. Despite having never trained it has become a mainstay of my life with skills being honed during many years working in the hospitality sector, studying cookbooks and practising at home. When a new craving for a life outdoors took hold, it seemed only natural to take this love out onto the hills too. But prior to June 2016, this lifestyle couldn’t have even been imagined.
From the moment I hit puberty I collided with a huge sense of self-loathing, lack of motivation and darker thoughts. An overnight introduction to the world of depression. Externally, I was a confident, outgoing individual but this mental battle was kept a secret well into adulthood. Activities I loved became chore like and when alone I could only dream of an escape from my now torturous mind. Food still proved a brief outlet, both creatively and through consumption but gaining a job behind a bar at 18 finally offered relief.
Alcohol seemed to sedate my mind enough for detrimental beliefs to be forgotten, albeit temporarily. I loved being able to be social again without doubting myself.Had I solved my issues by discovering a cure?It felt that way.
A move to University followed and with it, a deeper introduction to a culture of drinking. By this point, this supposed liquid elixir was taken as a daily dose but my reliance on it was due to increase. My studies fell to one side as drinking became my priority. However, it wasn’t the party lifestyle, it was a way to self-medicate, my way of surviving this crippling depression. By age 20, I was regularly consuming 20 pints a day, had taken up smoking and had swollen to over 22 stone in weight. What entered my life as a sly medicine had become my poison.
On my 21st Birthday, after celebrating the way I knew best for many days, reality struck. My lifestyle had become unsustainable and the black dog had firmly polluted my outlook. In the early hours of one morning, under the influence, I picked up a payphone to call home to my Mum. I only had one word I wished to say.
I had frequently fought with feelings of suicide but felt I could no longer carry on.Thankfully, this was not to be the case. Unfortunately, I was also unwilling to change my ways and seek help so continued a daily drunken sedation for another 4 and a bit years.But, it wasn’t until the breakdown of a romantic relationship that I finally came to terms with the fact that I had become an alcoholic. It served as a personal catalyst against all my unhealthy vices as I seeked to free myself, body and mind, from this stranger I had become. The 6th June 2016 was to become a new beginning.
I returned to my roots in Cumbria and vowed to remove alcohol from my lifestyle, throwing myself into fitness as a distraction. I became very open about my struggles with those close to me and was overawed with the support I received. At the start of my second week of sobriety, my close friend Ryan appeared on my doorstep on the premise of taking me on a walk. The concept of where we would be walking hadn’t really passed my mind as I donned a pair of swim shorts, an old jumper and my Lonsdale trainers. Ryan took one look at me and said I couldn’t go dressed like that but this was all I had and all my money had gone on clearing initial debts from leaving York. It soon became apparent that this walk was to be in the Lake District and more specifically up Blencathra. En route via the M6, we pulled over at a local outdoors shop, I tried on a pair of boots and Ryan took them the counter and purchased them. It was a powerful moment that I will never forget and a huge act of support and kindness. The journey continued and we pulled up at Threlkeld at the base of Blencathra, the new boots were donned and the uphill march began. I was still very much in the throes of withdrawal, pining for my ex love and incredibly unfit yet slowly but surely more altitude was gained.
Eventually, amongst a clouded haze, the iconic summit ring came into view, I turned to Ryan amongst expecting praise however heard, “Helvellyn next week?”.
A week rolled by and the scenario was familiar. Boots on and ready for a steep climb to the top of Helvellyn via Thirlmere. This could not have been further from the life I was leading only weeks before but with each step, progress was made. It felt like a physical manifestation of my own journey and uphill struggle. Reaching the top was a contrast in weather to Blencathra. A glorious bluebird day with barely a cloud in the sky. As I looked eastwards over Striding Edge with Red Tarn below it felt like something twigged in me. A new addiction had been ignited, a love of hiking and the outdoors. In the weeks that followed, Scafell Pike followed as did many other wainwrights. Trips to Wales and Scotland came next as Snowdon and Ben Nevis were hiked via Crib Goch and the CMD Arête respectively.
This new love of hiking and general activity soon merged into running. I couldn’t run a bath at first but 1km became 3, became 5, 10, 15 and then somehow I was convinced into signing up for a marathon. Only 11 months after this dramatic turnaround, I was lining up at the start of the Brathay marathon. What followed remains one of my hardest challenges but I came through in just over 4 hours. The 22 stone alcoholic I left behind was now a 15 stone hiker and marathon completer nearly a year sober.
In the years that followed, I continued my hiking path and begin anonymously sharing my experiences via Instagram. Photos of my dinner, hiking lunches and hiking views would adorn my grid but it wasn’t until I bought a camping stove that ‘Fell Foodie’ really began to grow. My love of cooking I touched upon earlier and had now merged with my new love of the outdoors. My passion for different cuisines and techniques were taken into the hills and attempted to be replicated on minimal equipment. I enjoyed the interaction and inspiration I gained from others from hiking or food backgrounds but most of all I enjoyed relaxing in nature and creating something delicious to enjoy and refuel with.
On the eve of my second sobriety anniversary, I decided to share my tale and struggles publicly via my account. Once again the outpouring of support and resonance was astounding. What used to be my secret was now my story. If by being open and honest with my experiences I could help just one other person, then it made my hurdles all the more worthwhile. What followed was never expected. I have since been featured in Trail Magazine, Metro, BBC and on ITV sharing my mental health journey. My life is so vastly different now and sobriety and the outdoors that play a key part. But it is now cooking outdoors in the mountains that has my attention and commitment. If the mountains saved my life, it is getting outside and refuelling with hearty fare that keeps enhancing it.
Why not give it ago next time you head out into the hills.
Follow Harrison on Instagram