A Country Diary
THE LAKE DISTRICT
Guardian August 8th 1994
Trudging round the Helvellyn tops on a scorching hot Saturday in July is hardly a recipe for solitude, peace and quiet but, at least, there were entertaining moments. As expected, the fells were “wick wi’ foawk” – hundreds of people crawling up and down the edges, little matchstick figures against the sky, scores milling about, shirtless, on the summit and long processions slowly moving up from the valleys.
We joined one procession on the Mires Beck approach from Glenridding, being passed by everybody because of our slow, measured tread but, eventually, re-passing every one of them since, unlike us, they stopped every 50 yards for a rest. They were all shapes, sizes and ages, the youngest of them a baby only a few months old, making the ascent in a rucksack, ingeniously fitted with an umbrella to provide shelter from the broiling sun.
As we passed one such recumbent figure – one of many similarly reclining – on Birkhouse Moor he confided to me: “They’ve avoided the follow-on” which, in the situation, 2,300 feet above sea level, did not immediately register. The man was picturesquely dressed in a sort of Viking’s helmet, with something like snail’s horns sticking up on top and he was listening to the Test match. Later in the day, as our routes criss-crossed, we kept bumping into him in different places and he kindly provided us with all the latest news on the game; this was before the dirty pocket incident.
Our last meeting was a few feet below the top of Catstycam when his helmet blew off in the wind – cutting short the commentary – but, fortunately, by dashing down the rocky north slope, he was able to recover it, undamaged.
All of this was exciting enough on a day when the views, obscuredby heat haze, were not as rewarding as usual and the familiar, crowded tracks not so appealing. Twenty years ago, when weekends ceased to have special significance for me, I swore that never, under any circumstances would I go into the lakes on a Saturday or Sunday, but this recent lapse was one of a few where I have broken my own rules.
The last picture I retain of a hot, tiring day is of three completely naked men sensibly immersed in a splendid pool in Glenridding beck, near the old lead mines – drinking cans of beer.
Deeply envious but lacking moral fibre – and, also, the pool was too small – we at least partially followed their example by hurrying down the dusty road to a favourite hostelry to try out some of their draught ale.
A HARRY GRIFFIN
The man in the “Viking Helmet” was me.