Nature’s Healing Power
by Sophia Smith
Yorkshire lass Laura Grace Conway talks to Northern Life about how capturing nature helps her heal from life’s twists and turns
Laura Grace Conway and her 15-year-old son, Ayrton, use nature to heal from life’s cruel blows. Laura set up her social media page, The Roaming Hind, during lockdown, spending her days hiking in Yorkshire, and occasionally hopping over the borders into Lancashire, Cumbria and North Wales.
The Roaming Hind features stunning landscape photography, trip ideas and blogging, showing her ‘roamers’ how they can get a sense of escapism. “Everybody is battling something these days, whether its mental health, finances, or parenting. My advice is to get outdoors. I knew the best way for me and my boy to escape and heal was to spend as much time out in nature as we could. If we can do it on a budget, anyone can!” said Laura.
“My father had an interest in photography, he had a lot of film gear back in the day. I wanted to be a journalist and then I started using a darkroom to process film at Leeds Met Uni and discovered my love for photography. I got a job with one of my old tutors and the rest is history.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Laura calls photography a calling, not a career. “I’ve been a commercial photographer for years, shooting overseas and in studios. Covid hit and everyone began setting up mini studios and shooting their own products, they don’t need us as much as they used to!”
Your phone is also most likely to be the camera you have on you every single day… Laura proves you don’t need a fancy piece of equipment to produce magnificent work.
“All the photos and footage on The Roaming Hind page has all been shot on my iPhone. You don’t need to spend all that money on intimidating gear.”
Living in Carleton, near Skipton offers Laura plenty of opportunities to stride out into the great outdoors, with her pal Monty, an energetic ‘patter jack’.
“If I walk high enough on the moors, I can get above the mist looking down over Skipton. I stand there in awe every time at the beauty of sunrises and sunset,” smiled Laura. “You become so immersed, and your day just starts on a positive note.”
A proud Yorkshireman, her father made sure she grew up with the tempestuous Yorkshire weather and breath-taking views. “My dad’s a massive countryman. We’re originally from Halifax. I come from a long line of walkers and hikers, growing up in the farmlands in the Ripon area was a totally different lifestyle. I know the difference between country and city life. I really wanted my son to grow up in the Yorkshire Dales.”
One of their favourite places for a regular visit is Malham, in fact, it was Laura’s image of Malham Cove that recently featured on BBC’s Look North. “Ayrton loves to go to Malham, his father grew up in Airton which is funny with his name. We call our trip to Malham ‘daddy’s drive’,” paused Laura. “We miss him so much.”
Ayrton’s father, Syd Wilson was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and after a brave battle passed away aged 35, in 2019.
“We grew up together and spent many happy family holidays together in Pwllheli, North Wales. We drifted apart for a few years but when I was studying at university in 2002 we reconnected and the rest is history. Everyone used to tease us and say it was written in the stars.”
Ayrton was born in 2007 and the pair were married the following year. “Things changed though, we stayed together for Ayrton’s sake, trying to do the right thing, but we realised that we’d be excellent co-parents and friends and this would work for our son.” In 2010 the couple divorced, their decision being mutual. Six months after Laura and Syd split, Laura had gone to Jersey for her first photoshoot. When Laura arrived home, Syd shuffled in through the front door with Ayrton and told Laura the heart-breaking news. “I have cancer, it’s terminal, Syd told me. My mouth just dropped; I feel sick when I think about it. Those last few years were the best. He would still walk through the door and shout ‘hiya wifey!’ We’d have birthday meals, picnics, movie nights, we were still a family just in separate houses. Making sure that Ayrton has those memories was our goal.
“Whenever we see a rainbow, we think of Syd, and Ayrton shouts ‘daddy’s here!’”
When Syd passed away in 2019 his sister rang me to tell me, five minutes after he died a double rainbow appeared. You latch onto it, and it makes you smile. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll take myself off to the river or the moors. Whenever we see a rainbow, we think of Syd, and Ayrton shouts ‘daddy’s here!’ “There’s been a lot of time in emotional distress feeling alone and a rainbow has appeared. It snaps me out of it and tells me to put my big girl pants on and get on with my day! “He taught me a lot, I was fire, and he was ice. We balanced each other out and needed each other for different reasons. I grab life by the hands now because Syd’s death taught me that you only live once.”
It was around 2009 Syd and Laura realised their son wasn’t hitting his milestones. “All the other kids at nursery were walking and talking,” said Laura, “Ayrton just wasn’t there yet. He was 18 months when he learned how to crawl, on my wedding day, for the first time! It was beautiful.”
They had their suspicions and after investigation Ayrton was diagnosed with autism.
“Autism was quite a scary thing when he was little, we didn’t know much about it. Over the years I just tuned into the fact he will do things at his own pace. It’s so important that he feels safe and “I make the world fit around Ayrton rather than force Ayrton to fit around the world not judged. He’s such a happy and loving person to say he has gone through so much.”
“I make the world fit around Ayrton rather than force Ayrton to fit around the world”
“Nobody else can write that book other than you. Listen to your instincts because as a parent you will know, you know better than anyone on the planet as their parent. As much as we tried to work with a routine, I tried to pull away from that, a child needs room to grow.”
Laura pulled Ayrton out of mainstream school when the pandemic started and managed to get him a place at Brooklands School in Skipton.
“I wish I had done it sooner. Mainstream school was not for him, sitting him down in a trigonometry class won’t work. Brooklands focuses on life skills like cooking, shopping and banking. All those things which we take for granted. They teach him how to be independent as he becomes an adult. I can be a protective mama bear, but he needs his space to learn.
“I make the world fit around Ayrton rather than force Ayrton to fit around the world. I nurture him like a garden rather than carve him like a sculpture. He’s the most loving and gentle soul. Although his speech and understanding skills aren’t great, he also hates loud and sporadic noises and birds, so I have to find the best places for him to walk,” said Laura.
“We’ve been through a lot, it’s not just one trauma, it’s trauma after trauma. With the pandemic it was so easy to recoil into the home bubble. Getting outside really helps. Everyone is battling something we don’t always know about and if I can influence someone to make small changes it’s worth it.”
To view more of Laura’s stunning images go to The Roaming Hind on Facebook or https://www.instagram.com/theroaminghind/