Winter climbing in the Lake District

March 21, 2019 — by elcaminobracelets0


As we journey from the bright lights of Newcastle (following a somewhat raucous birthday celebration) towards the bustling market town of Keswick, we marvel at the sheer beauty of the English Lake District and the amount of snow cover on the surrounding peaks. It’s Easter weekend and this trip is as spontaneous as it is unplanned. Our next destination is decided as we pull away from the car park near the Gateshead Bridge on Good Friday.

Here at El Camino, hiking always features very high up on the weekly agenda. With no set schedule or any pre-booked accommodation, we journey to the Lake District in search of challenging hikes, sweeping views, and rewarding post-walk pints.

January to March is by far the quietest time to visit The Lakes, but the winter weather dramatically affects the conditions in the mountains and the terrain underfoot. Understanding weather patterns is an essential part of winter climbing coupled with appropriate equipment and mountaineering experience. With a desire to conquer one of England’s highest peaks, we decide to spend the weekend attempting to summit the spectacular and awe-inspiring Helvellyn.

Standing at 3117 feet, Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England and can be approached by a number of different routes. Keen to navigate the mountain via the steep ascent of Swirral Edge, we call upon the skills and know-how of Lakeland Mountain Guides. At this point, Easter Sunday gives out the best weather conditions with a forecast of good visibility, bright sunny spells, light wind, and no snowfall. We plan a 9am start the following day but in a bid to get our legs warmed up, we decide to spend the afternoon exploring a little closer to home.

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Situated just 3.5 miles from Keswick, Cat Bells offers panoramic views of glistening lakes, rolling hills, tree-lined valleys, and local villages. Notably one of the most popular fell walks in the area, we find it to be the perfect introduction to hiking the Lakes. Walking from the centre of Keswick, the short yet rewarding hike takes us along winding country lanes and across cattle grids before scrambling up a short, steep rocky pathway to the summit. It’s easy to see why this route is so popular with families, groups of friends and couples. The hike is easily accessible and we are swiftly rewarded with unrestricted views over Keswick and Derwentwater.

Making our way back, we follow a different route back to Keswick and this time, we hug the edge of the lake. Arriving back to the bustling town filled with fellow walkers and their fluffy friends, we find ourselves stopping off for a couple of well-deserved local ales at The Wainwright Pub. That evening we also eat at The Square Orange Cafe and enjoy a fusion of European-inspired tapas and freshly stone baked pizza. In a bid to conserve our energy, we have an early night to get some much-needed rest before the next day’s adventure.

The following morning we meet our course leader Matt of Lakeland Mountain Guides in the small village of Glenridding nestled on the shores of Ullswater, the second largest lake in the Lake District. We park in the tourist information centre car park and pack our rucksacks with all the necessary winter climbing equipment including crampons, helmet, ice axe, warm layers, gloves, food, and drink. Joined by Matt’s trusty Labrador, the four of us set off on the 6-7 hour expedition.

Passing the Travellers Rest Inn and a series of cottages, we cross sheep filled fields and stone pathways. As we learn of Matt’s climbing experience and his recent ventures in Nepal, we reach the icy shores of Red Tarn lying at an altitude of 718 metres. Formed by a melted glacier, it’s located on the eastern flank of Helvellyn and is one of the highest lakes in the Lake District. Red Tarn is also overlooked by two iconic ridges, Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, the latter being our chosen route to summit the mighty Helvellyn. It’s here we meet other climbers and those touring with skis. The favourable weather conditions and spells of bright sunshine have attracted locals and visitors alike. We admire the crags on Helvellyn’s walls and spot a group to our left climbing Gully 2.

We make our way over to the bottom of the col between Swirral Edge and Catstycam, taking a quick break on a rock to fix the crampons to our hiking boots. It’s here we learn more about the kit and begin the winter skills training sessions. Matt talks us through the equipment, teaches us movement skills on snow, ice and rock, and briefs us on basic navigation techniques. It’s at this point we begin to understand the importance of ice axe self-arrest and how to put the life-saving skill into practice.

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Continuing our ascent, we zigzag our way up the col with striking views of Helvellyn to the left. Slowly becoming more comfortable in our crampons, we begin to get to grips with the notion and our climbing becomes a little more fluid. The path we take gradually weaves off to the left and we start to carefully pick our route across the snowy ridge of Swirral Edge. We suddenly become aware of how important each step is that we take, and just how fundamental our ice axes are. Navigating the ridge is exhilarating, and the grandeur of the winter landscape is simply spectacular. We question why we have never done this before. We pass others hiking the ridge from the opposite direction and Matt bumps into an old friend. It’s at this very point we realise you need a good head for heights. The climb to the summit via Swirral Edge is certainly not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo. The friendly chatter does, however, ease any anxiety and we soon forget about the drop beneath us.

As we near the final steps of our climb, the broad and flat summit plateau of Helvellyn awaits us. We stand up tall, drink in the incredible views and feel an overwhelming sense of achievement following our first winter mountaineering experience. Looking over to the west, Matt points out the view of the Pennines and Scotland. We stop for lunch in the stone shelter which protects us from the wind. It’s here Matt decides we should take an easier route down. Initially, we spoke about ascending via Striding Edge but the icy conditions underfoot would make it more challenging than he feels we would be comfortable with.

Having refuelled for the hike back to Glenridding, we set off and take the route via Lower Man and White Side. The track takes a broad path over rolling peaks and it gives us the opportunity to really soak up the fine vistas on offer. The descent then turns back towards Glenridding and we amble our way down the zigzags of Keppel Cove. Before long we’re passing the remains of Greenside Mine, one of the largest mines in the world, and have just one mile to go. A final 15-minute walk down a broken track throws us back into Glenridding where we shed the heavy rucksacks and stiff winter walking boots. We bid farewell to Matt and drive back to Keswick extremely satisfied with our achievement.

We can confidently say, we have a fair amount of hiking adventures under our belt, but winter mountaineering is far more demanding than summer hillwalking. The whole experience was challenging, rewarding and memorable. It is undeniably one of the most unforgettable experiences and we cannot recommend it enough!

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Get to know Tom

October 26, 2018 — by elcaminobracelets0


1. How did you meet Candace?

I met Candace when we were working in Meribel, France. It’s a small ski resort in the French Alps. We were both working in different bars in the evenings and snowboarding every day. It was awesome.

2. What is it like to work with your best friend?

It’s great! Who wouldn’t want to work with their best friend?!

3. How do you and Candace brainstorm new business ideas?

We don’t really brainstorm, we’ve always found that the best ideas come to us when we’re not trying to find them. We weren’t trying to think of a business idea when we started El Camino so we’ve just carried on that ethos.

4. What does your average day look like?

I like waking up early and before I do any work, I like to take my dogs to the beach. If we get there early enough we often have the beach to ourselves which is the perfect start to any day. After that I’ll work through the day, sometimes in the office, sometimes at home, or sometimes where I’m travelling. After that I’ll take the dogs to the beach again and see some friends, it’s a good life.

5. What has El Camino taught you about yourself?

It has taught how to problem solve. I’ve picked up many new skills in this department along the way. When we started El Camino we faced issues that I’d never even thought existed before, but luckily we’ve managed to overcome them all and learnt something from all of them.

6. What is the biggest business challenge you have faced so far?

The biggest challenge for me was giving responsibility to other people as we grew the business. El Camino is our baby. Collectively, we have built it from the ground up.

I have always found it hard to hand over certain tasks to other people. Fortunately, we’ve built a great team who all care about the brand.


7. Business highlight since launching the brand?

The first time we saw someone we didn’t know wearing an El Camino in the street. That was a great feeling.

8. If you were not running El Camino, what would you be doing?

I’d still be travelling!

Before we launched El Camino I was travelling and working around Europe, those were wonderful times but I wouldn’t change anything now, I love being a part of El Camino.

9. What brands do you take influence from?

We don’t really take influence from other brands. We steer El Camino in the direction of what we like in life. We’ve built El Camino in a way that represents what we’d like to see from a brand.

10. Who is your biggest inspiration?

I wouldn’t say I have a single big inspiration. I think it’s possible to learn something and be inspired by everyone I meet in one way or another.

11. Where do you see yourself in five years?

We’ll be continuing to grow El Camino in a way that is true to our roots, and in a way that ensures our staff, our lovely customers and ourselves all get a fair deal and are enjoying the brand.

12. What colour El Camino do you wear?

I wear a black El Camino, I’ve had it since we first started back in 2013. I don’t think I could be parted with it now.

13. How many friends and family members wear El Camino?

All of them! Before we officially launched El Camino we gave them all products to test out so we could get honest feedback. Friends and family are our best critics.

14. Lastly, what is the most memorable story you have been told by an El Camino customer?

I love it when people propose using an El Camino Custom Step. That has happened a few times since we launched the brand.

It’s amazing to see how the product we have created impacts someone else’s life in such a big way.


Talking with Candace

October 26, 2018 — by elcaminobracelets1


1. How many countries have you visited?

Iceland was number 30 for me in September (2018). The more I travel, the more I learn of other places. This fuels my passion for exploring.

2. Most memorable country you have visited so far?

Guatemala, it was action packed! We hiked through the jungle, floated down rivers in tubes, played on rope swings, went cliff jumping and explored caves by candle light. The country is stunning, the people are kind, and we loved eating fresh guacamole at every opportunity.

3. What’s your favourite city?

Barcelona. I lived there for two years, so I really got to know the city well. It has so much to offer for everyone, from its culture, art and history, to it’s delicious restaurants, quirky bars, and famous night life. And to top it off, it’s a city with a beach on the Mediterranean. What’s not to love?!

4. How many languages do you speak?

Two, English and Spanish. I used to speak French pretty well growing up but unfortunately, I completely stopped speaking it when I was twelve. It’s true what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’d love to pick it up again though.

5. What Steps are you wearing on your El Camino?

I have divided the countries that I have visited between four different El Camino bracelets. There is one however that I never take off. This has the places that are especially meaningful to me.

It includes the following Steps:

Canada – This is where I was born and raised.

Spain – I spent the majority of my twenties exploring Spain, and it’s also where the idea of El Camino was born.

Meribel – This is where I did my first snow season and of course, met Tom.

Cornwall – The place I feel so privileged to call home.

Central America Region Step – I fall in love with every country I visit in that region.

Atlantic Ocean Step – The ocean that joins the two places I call home.

6. What is your favourite thing about traveling?

Meeting new people, experiencing different food and cultures, learning languages, finding new adventures, pushing my limits, I could go on forever.


7. What is your favourite travel memory?

It would have to be the time I travelled to Laax, Switzerland. I was living in Barcelona at the time and I remember really missing the snow. So I googled ‘best place to snowboard in Europe with hostel.’ Laax repeatedly showed up in the results.

At the time, I was working in a youth hostel on a fairly low wage. With a bit of saving, I was able to get there. I went alone and had the time of my life. The snow was amazing and I ended up making friends from all over the world. One I’m still very close with today. It’s my favourite memory because even though snowboarding in the Swiss Alps sounds like the most expensive thing in the world, I was able to do it on my own and on a budget.

8. Toughest moment? Toughest travel moment?

When returning from the Philippines back to the UK last year, I got food poisoning just before I reached the airport. I had four flights following that and it felt like the longest day of my life!

9. What can’t you travel without?

My El Camino of course! I feel naked without it.

10. What are your top five items to take on a trip?

Head torch – Always very useful. Made for moments rummaging through my backpack in the dark.

Water bottle – I’m always looking for water refills to avoid buying plastic bottles.

Coconut oil – It has so many uses so I never travel without it.

Camera – To capture all those amazing moments on my trip.

My laptop – El Camino allows me to work around the world so it comes everywhere with me.

11. What’s the best piece of travel advice you have received?

Go with the flow. And I completely agree, it’s how I’ll always travel. It’s nice not to have any plans sometimes and to just see what happens. It allows for freedom and flexibility. Also, there’s a lot of stuff you can’t control when travelling (like the weather or promises of 3 hour bus journeys that take 12), so I think it’s always better not to get stressed out and just go with it.

12. What is the worse?

Plan every detail of your trip.

Sure planning is necessary to some extent and it does ensure you don’t miss out on certain things such as staying in your favourite accommodation, or eating in a particular restaurant, but I feel that planning every aspect of your travels can be restricting.

Amazing opportunities often arise unplanned.

13. What country is top of your bucket list?

New Zealand. I love adventure and NZ has that written all over it. I’d love to jump in a campervan and tour around. Wild camping, hiking, canoeing, climbing, sky-diving, and whatever other activities I come across.


The El Camino Bio

October 22, 2018 — by elcaminobracelets2


El Camino launched in the Autumn of 2013. Developed by Canadian born Candace Kellough, and Oxford raised Tom Lane, the buzz for the travel jewellery brand began shortly after this. Hitting headlines across the Canadian print press and among popular travel bloggers, El Camino quickly became a much desired accessory for travel enthusiasts.

The El Camino journey began one sunny May afternoon following a 10km hike across arid land and the rugged coastal paths. Candace and Tom were on an adventure with a loose aim to reach Monaco before the end of the summer. They departed their journey in April from Barcelona with no set route or itinerary. This is how the pair liked to travel. It allowed for flexibility and spontaneity.

Carrying a small tent and only the bare essentials, they set up camp that evening in an area known as Sa Tuna. The pair went about their usual routine – Candace would pitch the tent while Tom collected wood for the fire. Settling down to cook some much needed food to refuel for the next day’s adventure, the pair began to reminisce about previous travel experiences. They were enjoying the complete lack of electricity and modern technology. It allowed time for talking, thinking and creativity.

“We came up with the El Camino concept when hiking the beautiful coastal route between Barcelona and Monaco,” says Candace. “We were sitting outside our tent one evening in June struggling to remember the countries we had visited. As we began to list the places we had travelled, we would find ourselves forgetting exactly where we had been.”

It was at that very point that the travel loving duo decided they would do something about it. Picking up their travel journal, Candace and Tom began to brainstorm ideas. They wanted to create a product that would help document travel experiences.

“We knew that bracelets were a popular purchase for travellers, so it made sense to create a product around this trend,” mentioned Candace. “We wanted to help people remember the amazing countries they have visited.”

The pair worked into the night, jotting down thoughts and potential concepts. They sketched a series of bracelet designs and made notes on how it could represent travel memories from around the world. At that stage Candace and Tom never imagined it could become a lucrative business.

“We had visions of our friends and family comparing travel bracelets and sharing stories of past adventures.” reports Tom. “We imagined the great conversations that would come from it.”

That summer passed by in a flash. Memories of days spent hiking, swimming, cooking and camping filled their minds. Their travel journal was bursting with stories, and the rough drawings of a potential bracelet project were still evident.

Candace and Tom returned to the UK in early June of that same year. The pair started to experiment with bracelet designs, making one-off samples and exploring different weaving techniques.

“The original batch of bracelets were given to close friends and family,” says Tom. “Each bracelet carried a selection of beads, individually engraved with the names of different countries, islands, cities and landmarks.”

Word of the bracelets quickly spread. Friends were telling friends, and excited family members were shouting it from the roof tops. It was at this point that Candace and Tom decided to name the project. With a nod to its Spanish roots, the pair settled on the name El Camino, meaning route, bypath, road, track or trail.

“We felt El Camino was the perfect name for the brand. It captured everything the bracelet project stood for,” says Candace. “The support we received in the first few months of launching was overwhelming. It’s something myself and Tom will always be so grateful for.”

In the early days of El Camino, Candace and Tom covered all aspects of the business themselves. It wasn’t unusual for the pair to be working a minimum of 14-16 hours each day.


“When we officially launched El Camino, we were based at Tom’s parent’s house in Oxfordshire,” mentions Candace. “The business operated from a spare room above the garage. It was surrounded by trees so we called it our treehouse. We both handmade the bracelet cords for the first 18 months but we soon realised we needed help. It’s such a time-consuming process and once El Camino started to take off, there just wasn’t enough hours in the day for us to be running the business and making the bracelets.”

Candace and Tom took on their first employee in November 2014. Relieving the pair from hours of bracelet weaving, they finally found extra time to focus their attention on other parts of the business.

“It was such a relief to find our first helper,” Tom states. “It gave myself and Candace the time to develop other aspects of El Camino. We are pleased to say that she is still working for us today, and she loves the travel lifestyle that bracelet weaving allows her to have.”

In 2015, Candace and Tom decided that it was time to move the business from leafy Oxfordshire and lay down roots in Cornwall. Missing the ocean, they decided they wanted to spend any free time they had on the beach. El Camino HQ can now be found minutes from the rugged Cornish coastline in Newquay.

Since those humble beginnings, El Camino has developed into a much-loved travel bracelet brand that provides for customisation and storytelling. The brand may have grown in size since 2013, but it goes without saying that the core factors of the business still remain the same – the bracelet cords are lovingly handmade by men and women across the UK, the stainless steel Steps are engraved by the same gentleman who lives just minutes away from Tom’s parent’s house, and the glass Region Steps are handmade in the English countryside.

Travelling brought Candace and Tom together. It shapes how they live their lives, and inspires them to build the El Camino brand. The plan moving forward? To continue making memories across the globe and sharing their inspiration with other travel enthusiasts.