Meet the Expert – Athena Mellor from Ramble Co

20 mins read
Athena Mellor - ramble co
Ramble Co Athena Mellor

The first in a new series of Meet the Expert articles sees us chat to the founder of Ramble Co walking site, Athena Mellor.

Athena started Ramble Co, then called Ramble Guides, online in 2017. She would explore regions of the UK, from the Peak District to Snowdonia to the Outer Hebrides – charting her walking routes, the best accommodation options she found, sites of interest, and the best places to eat and drink along the way.

What began as free guides posted online has grown into two published books, on the Peak District and the Lake District, with two more in the pipeline (one on the Cairngorms and one a guide to walking, more broadly, with children – from the best kit to the best carriers). Her collection of 15 guides is available online for Ramble Co members for only £5 per month – perfect to inspire a budding love of hiking, or indeed as a one-off purchase to give plenty of food for thought for an upcoming holiday.

We caught up with Athena to ask her what she thinks makes the Lake District so unique as a landscape, to hear how she fell for the freedom of the fells, and to discuss the value she puts on getting outdoors as a family.

Athena Mellor - Ramble Co
Athena Mellor – Ramble Co

From deserts to the green grass of home

Brought up in the heat of Dubai and Australia, Athena remembers immersion in nature as central to her childhood, even then. “We’d go to the bush and have barbecues. It was all forest – but a very different kind of forest from here, with eucalyptus towering overhead. Beautiful birds would flit around, and kookaburras would sing.” She moved back to West Yorkshire, where her parents originated from, when she was nine. It was a culture shock, but the British landscapes immediately felt like home. “The scenery felt very welcoming,” she recalls. “I loved how different it was. It was culturally hard, but I felt immediately at home amongst the landscapes, and we continued our outdoorsy lifestyle. We moved in with my grandpa, who had a big garden that backed onto woodland, so we would go and play in the woods.”

Adventure was instilled young. “My parents had cycle toured the world, so I grew up with those stories of adventure”. They spent plenty of time travelling, visiting countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. “They were all very “normal” places to visit from down there”, Athena adds. “My parents loved travelling with us.”

In search of a road less travelled

After graduating from UCL, Athena cycle toured herself. “I wanted to do something adventurous”, she recalls. She spent the next few months cycling down America’s west coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then down the length of New Zealand. “Cycling is great; going at a pace whilst you’re covering a lot of distance, but you’re immersed in the landscape, experiencing everything whilst moving.”

Ironically, it was during this cycle tour that she discovered her passion for hiking. “On a rest day I would go hiking”, she explains, “and started to fall in love with it. I found that I really loved the break from the road bike – I wanted to get away from the roads.” Her passion remained upon her return to the UK. “I wanted to explore more on foot. I would take Oslo, my dog. Walking helped me through the post-adventure blues when I got back.”

Taking steps into the future

Like many graduates, she felt a little unmoored when student life finished. Following her sister to Manchester, she felt drawn to the escape of the countryside. “I could easily get the train out. A few times a week I would go walking in places like Edale. I began solo walking. I loved the feeling it gave me.”

She started sharing these solo walks on her personal instagram account. “I’d always been into photography” (Athena’s father had been a talented landscape photographer himself, having racked up plenty of covers for Lonely Planet and National Geographic) “ – and people were interested in my adventures. People would ask me a lot about it, so I began sharing tips on solo walking, and my routes, etc.

“I started planning solo walking trips for myself to the Lakes, and Snowdonia. To plan those trips I found I was using so many websites – a walking site or map, then blogs for food spots, and another site for accommodation – I was consulting so many different resources. I thought, this needs to all be in one place. There was a gap in the market for people who wanted to be outdoors, but wanted to add a nice cafe or pub into their trip! So I decided to do it myself.”

Athena Mellor - Ramble Co
Athena Mellor – Ramble Co

Rambling becomes serious: Ramble Co guidebooks

Athena started Ramble guides online, in 2017, sharing online guides to different national parks. “I would share the hikes, where I’d eat, and where I’d stay. When I set it up I always knew that doing a book would be my dream, but I didn’t know how to get to that point.” Over the next three years, she continued to build the Ramble site whilst working part-time in outdoor stores. Her unique approach was to create guides that looked beautiful, appealing both aesthetically and practically – bringing her love of days outdoors to a broader audience who weren’t solely interested in the walking.

Living in Sheffield at the time with her partner Harvey, Athena chose to create a real book and the focus would be the Peak District. “I decided to self-publish because I wanted to do it quickly,” she explains. “I knew exactly how I wanted it to look. I already had a following. And I didn’t know how to get a publisher! There were three people involved – me, the designer, and the printer. I had to figure it all out for myself.”

“I didn’t know how many copies I would sell, but I thought even if only one hundred people bought my book, it wouldn’t matter. I loved making it. I published in December and was sold out on my first run by Christmas. It became a financially successful thing to do, which meant I could do another!”

Full of beautiful images and guides to the best eateries and accommodations alongside brilliant walking routes, it had a unique appeal that so many walking books don’t. “I describe Ramble Co as being for the modern explorer,” Athena explains. “That doesn’t mean young or old, but that it focuses on the joys of spending time outdoors and making a whole day, weekend or even week around that.”

Her first book was firmly rooted in her solo walking adventures. “I did the Peaks guidebook by myself,” she recalls. Having welcomed her beautiful daughter Aife into the world in 2021, her second project – the Lakes guide – became more collaborative, utilising the strengths of her partner Harvey and sister Annapurna, and working around family life.

Life in the Lakes

Having been served notice on the property they were renting in Sheffield, Athena and Harvey began the hunt for a new home. “In the back of my mind, I knew the next book would be the Lakes”, Athena admits, and a fortuitous job offer for Harvey in Kendal seemed the perfect answer. They decided to settle in the Lakes.

“I’d just found out I was pregnant, but still wanted to do my book,” Athena recalls. It was a difficult period, through the lockdown restrictions scattered through this period, but Athena remembers tackling many of the Lakes walks she would publish in her book through the last months of her pregnancy. Aife was born in October 2021, and from this point on there was another Ramble member. “There were no solo walks in this book!” she jokes. From her initial passion for solo hikes, her trips became completely family-focused. “I was breastfeeding,” she explains. “We did the walks in the book as a family.” Athena finished her Lakes guide in early summer of 2023, and published it in September. Speaking in early 2024, she has yet again sold out of her first run, and is deep into writing her third guide on the Cairngorms.

Athena Mellor – Ramble Co

Family Life in the Lake District

“We’ve done every walk in the book with Aife, bar one”, Athena reiterates. Although the Ramble guides are not aimed solely at families, they are perfect for families unafraid to tackle the great outdoors (with some cafe stops along the way, too). I ask her what she thinks makes the Lake District so unique. “It’s amazing, because there’s such a range of fells,” she explains. “From serious hillwalkers’ fells to family-friendly fells, there’s something for everyone.” It’s also accessible. “So much of the Lakes landscape is owned by the National Trust”, she points out, “so there are so many accessible sites of interest. These are places everyone can get to. You don’t ‘have’ to walk anywhere to get access to these incredible landscapes.”

“There’s real heritage too,” she continues. “The Lake District really has its own microculture, with farming, history, and literary history – the likes of Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth. The National Trust was born here. The Lakes are a place you can visit all year round”, she maintains. “It’s spectacular here in winter, and it’s still family-friendly if you have the right gear for your kids. Autumn and early spring are wonderful too.”

“I love the more barren hills and high fells where you can look out upon such dramatic, spare scenery. But the lakes themselves give the landscape its shape, and the green farmland – full of sheep and daffodils – are all beautiful in their own way. Everywhere you go you’ll see a different kind of landscape.”

She considers the Lakes a space of ever-shifting change. “From every height of hill you have a different angle on the landscape. You could spend a lifetime exploring the Lakes and never truly have experienced it all. Every season, every weather, provides a totally different view and experience of the same place. It would be wonderful to hike every Wainwright, in every season,” she muses – “it would be completely different each time.”

Ramble Co advice on Lakeland family adventures

  • Start small.  “For your first walk with a baby or child, choose something well within your comfort zone – low level, not up high”, Athena advises.”You’re learning how to travel in the mountains with a child, you don’t want to have to worry about weather or navigation. The more you do it,” she continues, “the more you learn – about how to dress them, what they need, their habits. The more you do it, the more confidence you’ll gain.” 
  • Gift time outdoors to yourself. Life as a new mum can feel so daunting. Walking was a true gift. “I suddenly felt like myself again”.  It was a reminder of the “me before baby”, she remembers, “but now I get to bring my daughter along – it’s amazing that I get to share this with her”.

Pick a hub. For people planning a holiday in the Lakes hoping to get the family outdoors, she advises finding a ‘hub’ for the day and planning your activities around that. “Don’t put pressure on a massive walk”, she suggests. “Be somewhere nice, outside. You can have a picnic, go to a nice café. There are plenty of places you can go for a walk or swim, and work a short walk into your day rather than focus on the walk alone. A hub like a National Trust site will usually have plenty of waymarked walks which vary in length – plus you’re never far from the hub if you need to head back”.

Ramble the Lakes and beyond

Athena’s print guides are available from local independent book stores, and from her online store. Ramble Co membership is also available from her site, which gives access to her existing 15 guides, members blogs, and instore discounts, as well as discounts with some big brands, for example, Vivo Barefoot. 
The Lake District has so much variety, with so many different fells, that you can easily adapt to what the kids need and what you need. If you’re coming to the Lakes for a holiday, or need some ‘day out’ inspiration, a Ramble Co month’s membership is only £5 – cheaper than a coffee and cake – or purchase her beautiful book.

Follow Athena on Instagram here for lots of tips, stories and inspo on walking in the Lakes with family!

Some of Athena’s top National Trust family walks in the Lakes:

Allan Bank

Once home to William Wordsworth and National Trust founder Canon Rawnsley, Allan Bank is not a typical NT property – the landscapes and grounds are a real focus here. A small informal art gallery and large indoor mural space give you a ‘hub’ activity, whilst the woodland grounds are a great start to your walk (keep your eyes peeled for the red squirrels who call Allan Bank home).


Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell

Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell provide a 4.5 mile trail walk with elevations to keep you excited, as well as the thunderous roar of waterfalls. Pass through lush and verdant woodland before you emerge through the conifers at Gowbarrow’s summit, taking in views over Ullswater. Get the walking route from the NT link below:


Tarn Haws & Home Fell

This is a good toddler one as your child will likely be able to walk the safe path around Tarn Hows easily, and then you can get them in their carrier for a walk up the hill. It’s a Wainwright too, and ‘bagging your first Wainwright’ can give your little ones a real sense of pride. There are lots of nice picnic spots along the way, too, making a perfect day out. Tarn Hows is also buggy-friendly. Get the full 9.5km route below.


For more family-walk inspiration, Athena recommends Elterwater (“beautiful, flat, and buggy-friendly”), High Dam (“an easy walk up, and you can go swimming too!”), and Orrest Head (“short, and accessible”).
Check out the Ramble Co site now for more family walk food for thought!