Enjoying the Queer Outdoors

time to get muddy with Lakes Queer Adventures

“I love rolling around in mud, climbing up trees, and running around, that’s all I can say.” 26-year-old Tessa Higgs laughed as she said it, but it’s obviously true, and with this passion and her partner 28-year-old Sami Padley, they’re on a mission to give queer people the space to do just that. “I grew up in Cumbria in a quiet market town. I was in scouts, and my family is quite outdoorsy,” Tessa continued. “It started because there’s not a lot else to do, but I discovered being outdoors is actually fun and good for my wellbeing.” “But when I went off to university in Manchester, I sort of forgot about that.”

Returning to Cumbria during the Coronavirus lockdown, it didn’t take Tessa long to decide reconnecting with the outdoors was important. “I wanted to rediscover what I used to do as a kid, what used to bring me joy, and what felt accepting of you as a person, no matter your gender, or sexuality.” Tessa had the outdoors on her doorstep, however, she soon discovered that finding spaces for queer people in the South Lakes was a challenge.

“There’s Carlisle as a hub, and Barrow as a hub, but there wasn’t a lot in the middle at the time that I could find,” she explained. Sami’s experience was similar, moving to the county after university in 2018 but struggling to find queer connections. “I was living in the middle of Ambleside and I hadn’t lived anywhere as rural and beautiful, but I realised there weren’t a lot of places to meet other LGBT people, or even know that they exist.”

This shared experience and love for the outdoors, combined with meeting other queer people at a Kendal Mountain Festival LGBTQIA+ screening was what sparked Lakes Queer Adventures into existence in November 2021. “We basically got the few friends that we had who were queer, and we bullied them into coming to events,” Tessa laughed. “And we’re like, ‘just tell your friends because it will spread eventually.”

From the outset, the group offered a non-gendered space, with a focus on making activities accessible and fun for everyone, and without the emphasis on competition that sometimes comes with outdoor pursuits. “There’s quite a few barriers for LGBT people in getting outside,” explained Sami. “We’re non gendered as well, whereas lots of sports tend to be. So especially for me being non-binary, I don’t have to try and fit into either a men’s or women’s sports club, I can just turn up and fit in instantly.

That emphasis on finding connections with other queer people has also led to group members organising their own activities too, and Tessa and Sami believe this can only be a good thing. “You get groups of people who end up being really good friends, and they just go and do the things they enjoy. We’ve had craft nights that have just happened because people have realised, ‘oh, we like doing this thing, so let’s just go and do it together,’” Sami said.

Looking ahead, the pair have plans to develop this approach, building the confidence of group members so they can lead their own activities, and ultimately changing the story being told about queer people. “The narratives we hear on social media, in the news and in books and films, are often trauma stories, and those stories are important because they highlight real things that happen to real people,” Tessa explained. “But at the same time, I want to show queer people doing good; not just surviving but thriving.”

That intention, set by Tessa and Sami, is in part about developing the queer leaders of the future and demonstrating that blossoming as LGBTIQA+ in Cumbria is not just possible, but preferable. And they’re keen to stress that adventures aren’t just limited to what you can do outdoors. “That’s where our name comes from,” Tessa said with a smile, “because an adventure can be anything.” @lakesqueeradventures

Words Duncan Hodgson

Images Sarah Hewitt