Singer-songwriter Bella Hardy describes how a childhood spent playing in the Peak District has inspired her award-winning career in folk music
“I had a part-feral existence”
It’s no exaggeration to say that growing up in beautiful Edale, Derbyshire, has shaped my whole life. At the start of the Pennine Way, Edale is seven miles long and home to about 350 people. It was so far from any cities, it felt like our own little world. As a child, I practically lived in the mountains and would say I had a part-feral existence. My dad ran a youth hostel with an activities centre attached, so I spent hours outdoors.
I climbed the mountains, canoed in the lakes, played by the rivers and made dens in the forests. Rain or snow wouldn’t keep me inside. My dad loved folk music and taught me some of the traditional songs. I loved the storytelling, the tales of lost loves and tragedy. Some of the songs have never even been written down, only passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. My life revolved around the outdoors and my growing love of music.
“We called ourselves The Pack”
My parents sang in a local choir, so I joined that, too, and my mum gave me my grandad’s old violin. I joined a school ceilidh band and ended up going along to a folk summer school when I was 13. By the end of the summer school, my ceilidh band had turned into a group of 12 young musicians, and we called ourselves The Pack. We toured the UK and appeared on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2003.
Still, any chance I got, I’d be walking to Crowden and Woolpacks. I’d take my dog, Polly, a novel and a notebook. If it was warm enough, I’d just sit down and take in the landscape. Often words would pop into my head and I’d note them down. At 16, I started to write the lyrics for my very first song, Three Black Feathers. Finally, at 18, I left Edale and had a break from music while I studied English Literature at York St John University.
“I felt too far away from the countryside”
After finishing my degree, I moved to London and worked as an events planner. I wasn’t scared of the big city, and I knew my way around, but I felt too far away from the countryside and from my beloved mountains. It made me feel swamped and miserable. I also missed singing regularly, so I decided to make a go of being a musician and went to study music at Newcastle University.
While I was there, I joined the hillwalkers’ society and enjoyed trips to the Lake District. I walked up Skiddaw and Scafell Pike, and loved the views from Catbells and Borrowdale. I don’t feel the need to conquer the landscape, I just want to enjoy it. My walks inspired me and, after finishing my Masters at Newcastle, I released my first album. Night Visiting was a combination of traditional folk music and my own original songs. The album included that first song I wrote, as a teenager in Edale, which went on to receive a nomination for the best original song in the Radio 2 Folk Awards.
“I’ve always felt that being in the countryside helps my music”
Since then, I’ve been performing on the folk music circuit. In 2008, I performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the first Folk Prom. I released my second album, called In The Shadow of Mountains, in 2009, which was a tribute to Edale. In February, I was overwhelmed to receive the Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year award. I’ve now released my sixth album and am still touring, writing music and taking inspiration from traditional songs.
These days, I live in Edinburgh, but I regularly travel out of the city to soak up the beautiful countryside of Fife and around North Berwick. If I don’t have time to travel, then I can walk up Arthur’s Seat and enjoy the spectacular view. I just sit there, let my mind wander and enjoy the peace. I’ve always felt that being in the countryside helps my music. It stops my mind growing stale and lets my creativity fly. Even if it’s a misty day and you can’t see the scenery properly, just being part of the landscape is a wonderful and inspiring thing. However, my favourite place to be is Edale and I still return at least once a month. It’s rich with childhood memories but also inspires me to write new songs. It will always be part of me.
INTERVIEW: Kerry Harden
Find out more about Bella Hardy by following her on Twitter @bellahardy. Do you have a story to tell about a life-changing walk or how walking has transformed your world? Contact us at email@example.com.