Take a hike - physicists in the Lake District

Posted on Tuesday 6th May 2014

Authors: Emily Aveyard and Rebeckah Trinder
Acknowledgements: Jessie Venables, Alexandre Coates and Eloïse Céline Brown

Nestled amongst the peaks in the beautiful English Lake District, situated alongside Coniston Water, you will find the hidden gem that is the Raymond Priestley Centre. Owned by the University of Birmingham, the outdoor pursuits centre accommodates staff and students hoping to escape the hustle and bustle of the Edgbaston campus and enjoy a few days in the scenic setting of Coniston. The centre has the facilities to host up to 45 people and to allow for a wide range of team-building activities including rock climbing, sailing and hiking up the nearby mountain, ‘The Old Man of Coniston’. The School of Physics and Astronomy organise an increasingly popular trip to the centre every February, and I was one of the lucky students who was able to attend the beloved weekend away!

Leaving Birmingham on a Friday afternoon, we arrived at our destination a few hours later, allowing time for a scheduled pub stop en route! Once at the centre, we unwound from the week before with a few games of ping pong and table football against fellow students and lecturers, before heading to our beds. 

Saturday started early, and after a communal breakfast, we dressed up warmly and gathered outside the centre, ready to begin our excursion up The Old Man. The fresh air ensured we all stayed alert, and during our climb we passed streams, waterfalls and the occasional mountain sheep! Sub-zero temperatures and limited visibility meant the trek challenged us all, and upon reaching the first peak, we battled 30 mile-per-hour winds! However, at the 800 metre summit, we were treated to unparalleled views and a great sense of achievement! Whilst the ascent was difficult, the descent was enjoyable – we made the most of the snowy slopes by sliding down them for a fast and fun way down! The evening was spent at a local pub, where we recounted the day’s adventures over dinner.

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Photos: Peter Jones and Eloïse Céline Brown


Sunday had a slower pace, with some of the group deciding to stay at the centre, whilst the rest chose to go on another, less extreme walk. Lasting a couple of hours, the walk took them along a section of the stunning Coniston Water, and then on to the nearby village of Torver. There was one final pub visit, this time to The Wilson Arms, where the physicists enjoyed “the most enormous but delicious pub fish and chips”, before, exhausted and full, we all boarded the bus back to Birmingham.

Without a reading week to revive batteries for the weeks ahead, a weekend away in the Lake District gave physics students the chance for a well-deserved break. The change of environment from the Birmingham campus bustling with students, to the vast, open expanses of the Lake District allowed us to forget about work and deadlines, and focus on our surroundings, our friends and ourselves. However, an opportunity for relaxation was not all we got out of the weekend in Coniston. 

As the trip was attended by staff and students alike, ranging from first year undergraduates to PhD researchers, lecturers and even the head of School, it was a perfect opportunity for everyone to get to know each other.  Outside of the walls of the Physics buildings and away from the grounds of the university, the less formal atmosphere helped break down any barriers students may feel in approaching those outside of their own age group. Conversations started both whilst climbing the Old Man of Coniston, and sitting in front of the fire on the Saturday evening, consequently allowing new friendships to form and old ones to be renewed.

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Photo: Peter Jones


The Raymond Priestley Centre is a vital asset to the University, and departmental trips provide students with an engaging experience where they are able to develop their teamwork and leadership skills. Furthermore, a visit to the Lake District will improve your appreciation of nature and the outdoor environment, and a little bit of fresh air and exercise never hurt anybody! The weekend away, for us, as for all who visit the centre, created a unique opportunity for students to integrate with their department and allowed for the fostering of friendships – something that continues to benefit us long after we have left Coniston!