Harrison Ward, also known by his Instagram handle as Fell Foodie, is a hiker, mental health advocate and outdoor cook based in Ambleside, Cumbria.
On Instagram, Harrison posts a variety of images and short videos that combine his various mouth-watering dishes with backdrops of some of the Lake District’s most breath-taking views.
Behind this, Harrison also has an inspirational and moving back story with fighting depression and alcohol addiction, that he now shares openly with his 15.3k followers.
After moving away to York for university and working in various pubs, he was at his worst. Drinking 20 pints a day, smoking full time and weighing 22 stone, all of which were ways of dealing with his depression.
But now, Harrison celebrates over 5 years sober.
We got the chance to sit down with Harrison, to talk more about his journey, success and advice that he has for young people struggling with their own mental health...
To start with, tell us a little bit about you and your journey
I’m Harrison Ward, an outdoor cook, hiker and mental health advocate. I love nothing better than heading into the fells or the Lake District and cooking up restaurant style meals on my camping stove up in remote locations, it wasn't always this way though, I had quite a major life change.
I've been suffering from a crippling sort of depression from around aged 13 or 14 now. At its worst, bringing thoughts of suicide and complete self-loathing.
This is something I'd battled with quite silently. I didn't want to speak to anyone or become known as someone bringing everyone down.
I worked in different setups in hospitality throughout my studies in school and again through sixth form. Upon becoming 18, I started working behind the bar more and this, of course brought access to alcohol more readily.
Initially the alcohol was great, it seemed to sort of shut my mind up.
It's very much so a rite of passage in this country, you know, as we all do, the going out on a Friday night on the weekend. But quickly it became a much bigger part of my life where I was really heading out most days and it got into my day-to-day life and started to run things.
When I did move to York for university, I quickly found work in hospitality trade once again and by this point it became my sole focus. I went from being inebriated most nights in the pub after a few pints to drinking before work, during work and after work.
My studies fell by the wayside and drinking became my priority. It was just a way I found to escape my own mind, so it was something that I didn't see as an issue.
I didn't see myself as an alcoholic at the time. I just saw myself as a heavy drinker or someone who liked to drink and for me it was my way of battling my depression without putting that burden upon somebody else and telling what the problems were, of course, I now know this is not the right way to go about it.
Upon coming back to Cumbria, I was completely open and transparent of my story on Facebook to friends and family and the outpouring of support I got from them at the time with them was instrumental to this to turn around.
Within that period of time, what was the final straw for you deciding to change your life?
There were moments for possible change, where I had peers, friends and family saying, ‘I think you're drinking a bit much’.
Really, I ignored it. It was something that pushed me back onto the bottle further.
I resented anyone trying to get in the way.
There was also a moment on my 21st birthday where in York after quite quickly leaving my studies behind, I was working, but I was quite solitary in terms of how I went about my business.
I had many different groups that I’d go between on my drinking outings. One group would go out for a couple of hours and then go home and I’d carry on to the next group and carry on again.
Before I knew it, I'd been out from lunch time until 4 in the morning, so they didn't really see the full extent. So, on my 21st, I had a lot of friends come up to celebrate in York, school friends and whatnot, and it was a big 5/6 day drinking session as such.
It was really hard to go home again after that point. It dawned on me that I was due to be alone in this city once again, just me and my mind. I’d also put on a lot of weight and was using drinking to cope.
I just decided that I couldn't go on any further and upon walking home from the nightclubs that evening, went to a payphone, picked up the phone and called my mum to say goodbye, I had plans of just completely ending it right there and then.
I'd suffered a lot with sort of suicidal thoughts and had not wanted to be here for many years and that was the point I didn't feel like going any further, but I was thankfully talked around at the time.
I think it was a bit of a cry for help initially, but I really wasn't ready to change, so I took myself off back to York and carried on that lifestyle I'd been leading for another five years.
During this time, I got into a serious relationship, but I was living two lives and it was like two relationships, one with her and one with the alcohol.
This all really came to a head when I was unfaithful under the influence and during the breakdown of that relationship came the realization that I'd become someone that I didn't believe I was, going against my morals and taking advantage of the loyalty of someone that I deeply cared for at the time.
That was a big awakening for me.
It came with the realization that I had become an alcoholic and this was now controlling my life and I was powerless to it, and so if it wasn't for that change, I'm not sure where I'd be.
The heavy drinking culture in the UK and especially at universities, does feel like it's normalized to a great extent.
Do you think that universities in general need to do more to support?
I think it's certainly something that could help, but I do think it is a bit of a rite of passage. Though I don't drink myself anymore, I haven't become anti-alcohol, but I do think obviously there is a big culture of binge drinking.
If universities could put more about it out there to young people, then certainly I think it would be a good thing.
But you've also got all the student unions throwing those cheap drink offers at you as well, so as well as it being something that would be good to educate on, it's also hugely accessible and I think trying to convince 18, 19, 20-year-olds at that time and go ‘Well, just calm yourself down there.’ It's the last thing they listen to, isn't it?
I don't see drinking as too much of a problem, it’s nice to have a drink with friends or a few beers in the clubs, but if it’s becoming a daily occurrence and your sole focus then, certainly yeah, having support would be a good thing.
What advice would you give to a young person struggling with their mental health and looking to make changes to their life?
I think the first thing I'd say is that they’re certainly not alone. You really do think you're the only person in the world suffering when you go through it.
Although it's easier said than done, reaching out to somebody, whether it’s family or close friends or people that may inspire you, or medical professionals too, there's some fantastic help lines and call centres that are there just for you to spill those thoughts out.
Realizing you're not alone and talking is a huge aspect of it.
Tell us more about your love for hiking, how much of an impact did the Lake District have on your life?
Growing up in Carlisle, I really neglected the Lake District.
I hadn't really been hiking at all, but after coming back to Cumbria from York, a close friend of mine turned up on my doorstep after I'd been completely open with why I'd come back, and he said we were going to go on a hike. I had no idea what to expect.
I didn't have any gear, so I put on like a pair of trainers and an old pair swim shorts to walk in. Then he said we're going to hike up Blencathra, one of the higher mountains in the Lakes. He took one look at me and said I wasn’t in the right gear for it and took me off to one of the outdoor stores on the way and got me a pair of boots, which was great.
Heading up there initially, was a very difficult thing to do.
I'd lost that substance I was using to sedate my mind, so I was battling in my own head, pining for my ex-relationship and I didn’t really know where I was in the world anymore. Heading up those hills gave a bit of a structure in terms of a destination and where I was heading, if only for that day at least.
That one hill became, two hills, became three hills and it really sort of felt a bit like a physical manifestation of what I was going through, so that uphill struggle and battling with your own mindset.
Putting one foot in front of the other and gradually reaching that summit point a d enjoying the views from down below, I discovered a sensation that I really liked from hiking.
That feeling of achievement became quite addictive in itself, and so in terms of the Lakes and the location, that activity was a huge, huge benefit to my mental health and turning things around.
What made you decide to bring your love for food and hiking together in to create your Instagram?
I found a job in the area, and I'd moved to the Lakes full time. I didn't initially plan to move into the lakes, it just seemed to open up for me and I took it when it came. I then set up a little Instagram account and started sharing the views I was seeing.
Initially it was packed lunches I was taking, so I'd be cooking packed lunches the night before, but quite extravagant lunches and packing them up and taking up them to the hills.
I came up with the name Fell Foodie at the time, and I didn't share my name or face, I just shared what I was seeing and the food I was cooking. This got a little bit of a following and after a while, I think it was the anniversary of my second year sober, I decided to share my whole back story.
Somebody actually said, why don't you start cooking from scratch up there, as a bit of a joke, but I'm not one to let things lie! I bought a stove and I started cooking up there.
For me, it was just a new way of taking that passion to a new height and spending a bit more time in nature rather than just rushing to the top, getting the selfie and running down again.
Cooking is probably my earliest and longest passion, I've described myself as completely self-taught, but along the way I've definitely had mentors or people that I've learned skills from.
If you could say something to your university self, what would you say?
People often say, ‘do you regret getting to where you did, how much you drunk and the money you spent’. I mean, I flushed away thousands of pounds on this addiction and put my body through quite a few things both weight and health-wise.
But I see it as an investment to this next stage and I think at the time that was my survival mechanism. It was my way of getting through my own detrimental thoughts and without that outlet, I may not have been here in the first place to talk about it now.
The one thing I think I’d tell myself is just simply the word ‘stay’.
I’ve had some great experiences since, looking back at what I've achieved since and becoming the person I wanted to become and I’m very much someone that is enjoying my life now.
It doesn’t always have to be those dark days, there is light ahead.
Harrison will be speaking at the Keswick Mountain Festival this weekend.
You can find Harrison on his Instagram here to keep up with his exciting future plans.