Travel writer Simon Raven sits down with Ann Louise to delve into the details of how her Scandinavian roots inspired an adventure of a lifetime.
From fashion in London to gourmet coffee in Yorkshire, Ann Louise Roswald, co-founder of the family-run business Baytown Coffee Company, is accustomed to reinvention.
The mother of four children, it would be the spontaneous decision to sign up with her close friend for a charity challenge in northern Scandinavia in the winter that promised to be her greatest adventure yet.
1. Why Scandinavia?
I always felt a yearning for Scandinavia and the cold. I was raised in the UK, but I was actually born in Sweden. My father is Swedish from Gothenburg . We moved to Yorkshire when I was 8 months old, to Scarborough, where my mother was from. My elder brother and sister were 8 and 6, both bi-lingual. I felt quite envious of that, thinking back. We would visit Sweden, and I have many amazing memories of those trips. Travelling to this magical land of snow and icebergs in the winter. I have vivid memories of visiting my grandmother and picking wild strawberries in the countryside. My siblings’ connection with Sweden was obviously stronger because of their age, and maybe in a way I felt deprived of a life growing up there. A little longer would have been great. Sweden was such a huge part of my family's identity, and I wanted to believe that the Scandinavian blood was strong in me. The chance to travel to Scandinavia and prove that to myself was all too irresistible, it was an opportunity not to be missed!
2. How did the trip materialise?
The trip was served up to me online. The power of online advertising! I celebrate my 50th birthday next year, so maybe I was feeling a desire to challenge myself in some way. When I first moved back to Yorkshire from my London life as a fashion designer, it was on many levels a huge shock. The plan was to spend more time outdoors, and I had to get used to the harsh winds again, and the unpredictable weather that wild Whitby frequently throws at you. I realised one day that I needed a good coat. I found one in red, the Fjallraven Expedition coat, designed in 1974, the year I was born. Maybe subconsciously the word "expedition" stuck in my brain, because over time I became obsessed with the idea of going on an adventure.
The new coat in my life, arrived around the time I began running for exercise with my friend Ruth. We met each week, and just kept running further and further. If we weren’t running together we were comparing our runs and generally motivating each other. We spoke of different challenges and how maybe we should tackle a half marathon in Galway or a bike hike. But this word "expedition" kept niggling in the back of my brain. I love the snow and I love skiing beyond anything in the world. Googling for the red expedition coat, no doubt brought me into the line of sight of the online advertisers. They targeted my social media feed with an advert for an Arctic Expedition; a test of endurance under the northern lights, with the promise of Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, something I'd longed to try. Ruth loved the idea. The plan was set. We signed up for the trip without really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for...
3. Where exactly did your journey take you? What did the trip involve?
We flew into Tromso, Norway to climaise into Scandinavian life. We then met our fellow challenge companions collected our equipment and drove to a cabin in Finland which was our base for the 3 day challenge. Each day we were either in Sweden, Norway or Finland.
On the first day, we embarked on a circuit from our cabin, navigating the snowy terrain on fat bikes. Clocking in at around 19 miles, it may not sound like a hefty cycling distance, but in the Arctic conditions – as our guides constantly reminded us – it was no ordinary 19 miles!
Day two unfolded with a Nordic skiing adventure covering 14miles to reach our camp within the Arctic Circle. There, we set up our beds in classic polar expedition tunnel tents provided for the occasion.
Camping in the Arctic Circle was nothing short of thrilling. Our enthusiasm carried us through the night, and we awoke to frozen hair and over a foot of fresh snowfall!
The third day was dedicated to a snowshoe hike up Mount Saana, followed by a 13-mile trek to the 3 Nations Cairn for the triumphant finish. Once we crossed the finish line, a most welcome sight awaited us – cold beer!
We were then whisked away on snowmobiles, back to the comfort of our cabins for a much-needed hot shower.
4. Were there moments when you thought you may have to quit?
I think myself and Ruth set off with a similar kind of attitude, there was no way we wouldn’t complete it. The first day was Fat-biking. Two feet of snow had fallen overnight which made it virtually impossible to ride the bikes. The weather was grim, blustery grey and any of the beautiful crisp blue skies and idyllic landscapes from the day before were nowhere to be seen. The visibility was rubbish. Quite a few people on the challenge with us ditched the bikes and hiked instead, or quit. It was understandable, as it wasn’t pleasant at all, but we stuck with it. We conquered our first challenge.
5. How did you prepare for the trip? Are you a particularly sporty person?
I wasn't sporty at all in my youth, but got into surfing and yoga later on. I used to cycle everywhere in London, which kept me quite fit. After giving birth to my first child, I discovered running was simply the easiest way to get out and exercise. I became addicted. I recently developed achilles tendonittus which made running training difficult for a time. Thanks to the advice of my personal trainer Mic, I focused instead on hiking, and building stamina for the 8 hour long days of exercise in the Arctic circle. In addition, I routinely went to spinning classes, hiit, strength training and yoga twice a week. Every Friday I would meet Ruth and hike at some pace along the Cleveland Way. The severity of the landscape could not have prepared us better as some parts are literally like climbing a mountain!
6. How did leaving your family and responsibilities impact you?
Couldn’t get out of the door quick enough! (Only kidding)
The organisation involved in leaving the family was insane. It was like planning a military operation, ensuring all the children were in the right place at the right time. Food ordered and prepped, but knowing fine well that my husband Nick would probably just take them to the pub for their tea. Something that was strange was the sense of release and freedom I felt being away. I have been on trips with female friends before, and I have left the children at home, but this was the longest time I had been away without them. It felt different. Maybe having a schedule planned by someone else was the head break I needed. Any parent, or person with a lot of responsibility for others, carries around a huge weight on their shoulders. To be free, for a short period of time, of managing the daily logistics of your loved ones was in a way a relief. I missed my family like crazy of course, but to completely disappear on an adventure to the frozen north, where to some extent it felt like my own personal survival was the main concern, was exactly what I needed. We both returned from the trip feeling totally refreshed, which is bizarre when you think the challenge we were putting on our bodies.
7. How did your journey from fashion to coffee materislise?
I could go on forever, but basically my son Harry became poorly. It meant we needed to make some decisions fast. We had just celebrated the arrival of our third child, so it made sense to look at downsizing the business. We left London and moved to Yorkshire in 2011. My Husband had always had a passion for coffee, and right from the outset he had his eye on one of our outbuildings to become a coffee roastery.
In the beginning, I worked freelance on various projects incorporating my textile designs into interiors. I became more involved in the creative side of the business about 2 years ago, and recently directed the rebrand of Baytown and the new website, which was launched last year.
8. Did leaving London and moving to Yorkshire inspire you to live a more active, healthy life, or were you already a lover of the great outdoors?
No, I was already a huge fan of running and yoga. I just exchanged the towpath of the canals in East London and the Thames, for the rugged cliff tops of the Yorkshire Coast. Skiing has been a passion of mine for many years, which started with trips to Sweden as a child?
9. Did you take coffee with you on your journey? Have you always been a coffee fan?
Wherever we go we take coffee! I started drinking coffee very young. The aroma of freshly ground beans transports me back to my Scandinavian roots in Sweden, visiting my grandparents. It’s one of those life luxuries I would almost certainly need to take with me, if this interview were Desert Island Discs!
10. Any plans for more adventure? Where would you most love to travel next?
Absolutely. We have booked to go with Ratrace again next year to Croatia. It will involve kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, cycling and run/ hiking. We are also planning a ski safari in the Dolomites for my 50th Birthday. The perfect celebration is with snow and ice.
11. Yorkshire is famous for a good cup of tea. Does Yorkshire water also enhance the taste of a cup of coffee?
Baytown tastes nice wherever you drink it!
12. Do you now feel a bit closer to your Scandinavian roots after your trip to Norway?
I think trying out traditional activities like Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, and connecting with the wild unforgiving landscape, has definitely re-awoken the Swede in me.
There were numerous times during the trip when I wished I’d had my ski’s with me to race back down the slopes we had hiked up. The desire to ski it seems is fairly hardwired in me. I see an adventure in the future there!
I would have loved to spend more time exploring the cities and towns in the Arctic Circle. Tromso was incredible, we visited the public sauna and swam in the sea. The Scandinavian tradition of the sauna and ice swimming is hugely enjoyable. I cold water swim in Whitby now, almost everyday, and sometimes visit the pop up sauna on the beach. I’m not sure if that now makes me more Scandinavian!
13. One final question. If you had to choose between life without coffee or life without adventure, which would it be?
Unanswerable! Although, I’m not sure I could give up coffee.* It's important to note this challenge was dedicated to the memory of Seb Smith. Ann Louise and Ruth would like to express a big thank you to everyone who sponsored them. All donations went straight to the charity, and they covered their own expenses for this endeavor. Together, they raised an impressive total of £3250.23 for Children With Cancer UK, a charity that is very close to their hearts.