2021 Highlights: My Year in Pictures

Emily Woodhouse Adventure Stories, Comment and Opinion, Living Adventurously

Another year, another highlights post. This feels like it is going to be really difficult to do. Because, honestly, I feel like nothing has happened for the bulk of 2021. I spent 6 months trying to find a place to live and the next 6 months dealing with post-move chaos. While previous years are usually marked by trips away, especially abroad, I haven’t had any of that. The furthest I managed to get from home was Cumbria. So we’ll see how this highlight reel goes!

As ever, do remember that this is just that: the highlight reel. And even the slightly negative bits are still the highlight reel. This year has been rough for many of us. You would have guessed that 2020 would be worst, but apparently not. Maybe it’s that everything has been “unprecedented” for so long that we don’t know how to think any more – or plan, or hope, or expect. Personally, for me, this year hasn’t been as rough as 2018 (which, you won’t be able to tell at all from my review post) but still a very challenging sequel to 2020.

And, of course for the new readers: here are my previous reviews for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, should you be generally curious! I’d really recommend the full story-mode 2020 review, having just re-read it myself.

January – Snow Bivvy!

I saw in the New Year from a bivvy bag on my local hill. Talk about jumping in at the deep end. It was my first night in a bivvy and we were sleeping on snow. This is a classic example of a calculated risk that went really well. It’s tempting to always tell people to be extra cautious and cancel plans in unusual or bad weather – which I am still going to do! But if you know yourself and your limits well, do a risk assessment (we weren’t far from civilisation, it was done snowing) and decide to go ahead… well sometimes you get it right.

This will go down as one of my most memorable starts to a year ever. We lay on the hill in our bivvy bags, watched the fireworks, swore good riddance to 2020 and drank hot chocolate. In the morning, the sunrise was spectacular. My camelbak froze, I melted the snow underneath me overnight and had seriously sore abs from the half-sitting position the night before. But it was so worth it.

As a recap for those who have read the 2020 post, at this point I’d been offered my job back because the furlough scheme had been extended. However, it was advised that I should keep finding other work, just in case, while being on full time furlough. I accepted and was delighted to be back on the good ship MBA.

However, in January I was given notice by my landlady that she wanted me out the house. Thankfully the requested 2 months wasn’t legal and I had six months to find somewhere to live. With my parents selling their house too and my brother renting on the other side of the country, I really had to find somewhere new sharpish.

February – Guidebook Checking

I was booked onto a winter mountaineering course in Scotland with the AAC, but it got cancelled. Travel restrictions just weren’t in anyone’s favour. Our regular winter trip got cancelled too, for similar reasons. If I remember correctly you couldn’t have more than a few households in a bunkhouse together. Instead, I spent this month working on route checking for a guidebook of short Dartmoor walks. It actually made a nice excuse to get out for small walks with my parents and friends. Especially for taking my parents to places they’d never been to before – and in some cases neither had I!

For February, I had to choose this photo. I asked my Dad if he could take a quick picture of me on my smart phone. He didn’t quite get the tap action right and managed to activate the quick-burst function. So I am the proud owner of 100 photos of this same shot. Serves me right for asking really!

This month was also dramatically taken up with trying to find somewhere to live, realising I couldn’t rent (landlords all selling up as housing prices soared) and trying to find a bank that would give a mortgage to anyone on furlough.


Not a lot happened in March on the adventure front. I gave a talk in Ellis Brigham’s online series, in conversation with Jenny Tough. It was great to meet Jenny, it seems like we have quite a bit in common, but I wasn’t quite in the zone for it. I’m always really critical of my speaking events – and am far too weirded out to listen back (it is on YouTube) – but I feel like I could have been more articulate. I’d spent most of that day in tears of desperation when the only house I could afford went to another buyer with more money and I couldn’t see how to get out…. Hang on a minute Emily, this is supposed to be the highlight reel. Let’s stop that right there.

Basically, splitting my belongings between friends’ garages and living in a tent was looking like a very real outcome. I went back to work 2 days a week for first time since mid-September (notwithstanding all my freelancing). Plus I was doing business mentoring about Intrepid Magazine with some lovely ladies at Innovate Edge. It is so useful to have another perspective as a solo founder.

April – “You can go your Slow Way…”

I can’t believe that I haven’t written a full blog post about this, but I walked a Slow Way with my friend the day the routes were released. As much as I think Slow Ways are important, we were both pretty sceptical about the route. It was predominantly on country lanes and a long stretch alongside a main road. Our song for the day was “We’re gonna die!” chanted with cheery enthusiasm. However, I can confirm that we did not die. We walked to a place that I’d never have considered walking to, in only a few hours. There was only one really sketchy road crossing and a close call with a tractor pulling portaloos (what a way to go). All the routes are in beta, so I’d highly recommend having a go and giving feedback in your local area.

Also, Via Ferrata Cornwall invited me to come and try out their course. Full story on the blog post, but it was a fun little day out and a great use of an old quarry. Brilliant that England has a via ferrata south of Cumbria now too.

Aaaaand, I finally found a house! After having my heart broken a couple of times and putting in something like five or six offers on places – outbid on every one, well above the asking price – I had one accepted. The rollercoaster of house hunting was finally over, right on my absolute deadline date. I’d decided that if I hadn’t found anything by the end of April, I would pack up my stuff and go walk across a country instead. Maybe not the most sensible fall-back option in a pandemic, but that was all I could think of.

Still, I now had an accepted offer on the house and a month and a half left of my lease.

May – I Cannot Wait to Stop Renting

In May, I did a podcast with Catie Friend, which was really lovely. I don’t do podcasts much but she really put me at ease. That was really nice while I was actually mid (another) house disaster. I’d put in an offer, had it accepted but then discovered the mortgage company had changed its Ts&Cs to not include furloughed workers. I was back at work for 4 days a week but that wasn’t good enough. There had to be no furlough on my payslip. Luckily, I managed to frantically find something else within a week or so (tip: have a good credit rating people).

Then, there was the maggots. It’s hardly a highlight, but it’s certainly the most memorable event of the month. Enough to solidify that, even if I’d been forced into buying, I was absolutely done with renting. The story is told in full gory detail for my Adventure Squad but in short: maggots dropping out of the loft hatch by the hundreds. Maggots the same colour as the carpet. I lost count after 150. And then there was the plague of blue bottles… stop it Emily, HIGHLIGHTS!

June – Saying Goodbye to Home

I have very few pictures for June. It was a disaster of packing and moving. I was so sick of the maggots that I moved back in with my parents, supposedly for only a couple of weeks while I completed on the new house. Then there were complications (read: bank subcontractors not talking to each other) and I ended up staying longer. This would have been fine except my parents had sold the house we were all living in, couldn’t find anywhere to rent either and were moving out at the end of the month, putting everything into storage.

So let’s just say there was chaos and leave it at that. Instead, here’s a beautiful picture of my childhood bedroom that I’ve known for some 20 years. I wish I could have cut the room out of the house and taken it with me.

July – Summer Holiday!

tryfan from glyders

Repeat after me: highlights, highlights, highlights. There were two days of homelessness, while I was on the MBA team meet-up in a glamping wood near Dorking. It was fantastic to see everyone again, make pizzas and learn what a Swedish Candle is… I came back to Devon and moved in the next evening (in the dark and the rain, obviously). The house was rammed full of stuff, including my parents’ double bed, but we had a roof over our heads. It was done. People even sent me flowers and a box of flapjacks – a high contender for the month’s photo.

Then, a few weeks later, I went on an impromptu trip to Wales with friends. I’ve called this a Summer Holiday, mostly because of the novelty of being in the mountains in high summer. It was also the most fun I’d had in ages. But I was actually working remotely from the hostel and also collecting photos to use on other pieces. On the Saturday we did a big scrambling day up Tryfan on some grade 2s and then back round to Llyn Idwal. I wasn’t physically tired, but I had to ask my friend to lead about halfway round because I was just so mentally exhausted. It didn’t make sense at the time. “That was the most tired I’ve ever seen you,” said my friend. In hindsight, that was my first day off the entire year.

And also in July I bought a chest freezer, which I feel makes me officially an adult. (And the fact that I’m so excited about it proves otherwise!)

August – Leading the Two Moors Way

In August, I did the Two Moors Way, Devon’s coast to coast from Wembury to Lynmouth. I have half a post written on this, so expect it any time soon. This was work, again – do you sense a theme? But it was good fun and particularly interesting to be doing a multi-day trip like that as an ML. Particularly with adults. Most of my mountain leading work at the moment is with young people, so it was great to be back in an adult group. It’s just a different dynamic when everyone’s older than me.

I’ll save the spoilers for the blog post, but it took us 5 days to walk the 102 miles. If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen some of the photos already. Generally decent weather with the rain-pocalypse in our final few hours. The most memorable scene being standing in a carpark near the finish, everyone drenched with dripping waterproofs, eating last night’s doughnuts and marshmallows, in great spirits psyched for the finish.

September – Starry Starry Bog

wild camping dartmoor

I don’t even know what I did in September. But the highlight is that I took my brother camping on the moors. Although, I’m starting to doubt whether it was in September because it felt like right on the edge of summer – so maybe the first week? We made a trek right out into the middle of nowhere, got there about 11pm and went to sleep. Yeah so maybe leaving after dinner wasn’t the best idea. But despite all the tripping over into grassy bog holes, the sky was incredible. Poor photography, incredible evening – the entire Milky Way stretched out above us. What a way to end the summer.

Also notably, the furlough scheme came to an end and I wasn’t made redundant. I wasn’t exactly expecting to be, but once bitten twice shy – this time I wanted to be at least prepared, in case.

October – A Big Leap

Turns out I have no landscape photos from anything I did this month. So here are some pictures of a batch of squash buns I baked for Halloween (recipe here). This month I requalified my Outdoor First Aid. It comes up for renewal every three years and this was my fourth time doing the course – which is a bit scary to think, actually!

And the big one, of which time will tell whether it’s a highlight: I quit my job and took a big jump into the freelance world. I wrote about this in depth on How to Quit a Job you Love. It was not a decision I took lightly – nor knew I was going to make at the start of this year, but the stars seemed to be aligning and sometimes you have to make a dash and find out.

November – The Lakes and London

At the start of November, I headed up to the Lake District with a rough plan to walk and bus my way from Braithwaite to Windermere. Why? Well kind of to get out, but mostly to fill the gaps in photos for my Trail Magazine commissions for next year. This image is me enjoying my favourite view in the Lake District. The edited version is better – it looked far more orange-y autumnal in real life.

On the way home I took in Kendal Mountain Festival – a first for me. It was lovely to catch up with people in real life, never mind go to some great talks and film screenings. Plus I’m glad I decided to do it on the way back, not the way up. The following week it snowed.

Then, after a couple of days at home, I was off to London for an Off Site Safety Course at the Royal Geographical Society. Not many people have heard of this course, but I tend to explain it as an “expedition planning and logistics course”. It’s a bit more than that, covering everything from planning to incident management and liability – in situations from a primary school day out to a 3 month jungle exped. But I found it very interesting and somewhat reassuring that a lot of the things I was doing, without formal training, were in line with best practice.

Also it has to be said that the Ten Tors season started – our first since the pandemic. Fingers crossed for an event in 2022.

December – The Floor!!

LOOK AT MY FLOOR! My parents moved out in November and I wanted to fix up my downstairs floor in the couple of weeks before everyone came back for Christmas. Long story, but the carpet was completely mouldy and moth ridden, so it had to go. I was left with a concrete slab covered in paint/plaster/glue to work on. But, miraculously, the paint arrived early and I had enough time to do three coats just before the first guest came. So here’s a Christmassy photo to celebrate, but never mind that: what a gorgeously smooth griege floor, eh?

Also, if you see the Guinness World Records book on a shelf, flip to the Roundup page in the Adventure section. I’m the first entry 🙂

Hope you had an uneventful end to 2021 and wishing you a 2022 that bears any resemblance to 2019,