At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, there really is something soul-uplifting about walking on the fells and hills. I love that feeling of pushing myself to the point of being uncomfortable; of having to really exert myself to get up the slopes; to have to struggle to reach the top. I like the thought of it all the evening before; something akin to fear, but not dread, more like excitement. ‘Will I make it? Am I going to make a fool of myself’ – it’s always there, that little bit of doubt. That whiny inner voice that tries to convince you that you can’t possibly do it – and the assertive voice that states firmly, ‘oh yes, I can! Why not me?’
I like the packing of the rucksack – loading in my butties and my flapjack; maps, GPS thingy, apple, water, waterproofs, woollies, hat, Buff(believe me, there is such a thing!!); mat to sit on, banana, gaiters, spare socks, compass….the list seems endless, and the pushing down of ‘stuff’, the rearranging of it all – it’s all part of the excitement of preparation. I love waking up early, stoking up with a big breakfast, the chatter with friends as we wait to go, (‘Do we put waterproofs in rucksack or wear them for now? Do I need my middle layer on? Have I put sunscreen on’) then nipping back inside for a last quick ‘widdle’ and then the setting off. There we go! That’s us – off for the day to conquer a small mountain!
So we set off from Rydal Hall that sunny morning in early May, led by Peter and Ann, an accomplished and experienced couple, with the gentlest of natures, lots of patience and a tangible love for walking. I picked their walk as much for them as for the fell we’d be climbing. They advised using sticks – well, Lou and I always use them anyway, if there’s any chance of a climb. We both have shot knees and, especially on the descent, feel the agony. I actually swear by them after doing the Oxfam Trail-Trek 3 years ago. They do take so much pressure off the legs and knees, and using your arms gives you a more rounded workout.
The walk we did is around 8.5 miles, walking along the Coffin route as far as White Moss, then crossing the road to walk along the river linking Rydal with Grasmere, through Deerbolt Woods and along the beach of Grasmere. A gentle start, watching dogs splashing in the waters, chasing balls and generally reveling in the morning sunshine. The good weather had brought a few young families out and it was pleasant having mid-morning coffee and flapjack on the lake shore.
Pressing on, we started to climb, gently at first, but gradually becoming steeper and the heart starts pumping, as we look back on views of the lake below. It’s worth the exertion always to be able to capture that view.
The walk then continues to traverse above Grasmere and Rydal to Loughrigg Terrace, where we meet the turn-off to the steep ascent path up the Fell. Bracing ourselves, we proceed and for me, every step I take I’m defeating all the voices that have proclaimed what I can’t do and I’m boldly stepping into what I can and love doing. I’m nearly 60 and I’m bagging a Wainwright! It’s steep and it’s rough and the path is eroded in parts, and sometimes I’m on my hands and knees pulling myself up, but, after taking a few stops to catch my breath and take a photo (always a great excuse to have a breather!) I finally make it! I’m at the summit, 340m (about 1,300ft) above sea-level. We’re delighted, Lou and I, every climb is another shout to the wind, of “we can do it!”
We don’t care much what we look like and that’s just as well, as we’re never really at our most glamorous on these occasions. We’re just happy to be alive and high up.
Of course, after the exhilaration of climbing up, there’s the business of having to get down! So, we’re off again, on the descent, poles bearing the strain of the steepness. Then there’s those moments of looking back and seeing where we’ve been. We did that!
We actually climbed that hill. Lunch in the sunshine, when we’ve descended a couple of hundred feet feels well-deserved and most enjoyable. Fruit cake tastes amazing on a hill!