Every year since 1984, I’d taken a week off in early September to go walking in the Lakes, but not this year. The instability of my professional career hadn’t yet taken hold: I’d finally gone to my bosses and, highly nervously, put forward my case that, despite their promises, I had not been properly rewarded for what I had done the previous year to save their bacon when they’d had to abruptly let another Assistant Solicitor go.
They agreed (knowing, as I did not, that negotiations for the ‘merger’ were already under way, that I was wanted as part of the package, and that it was little skin off their nose to pay me more), and gave me a 25% raise in salary. That amount of money coming in made this the ideal time to take on, with minimal pain, a mortgage.
In the first week of September, when I would normally be up a fell, I took the possession of the keys to my first house.
A month later, with things a little more settled, I took a late week off, headed for the Lakes. But October was a poor time for weather and walking. I managed a cold and bleak walk whose highlight was the ascending ridge, to Steel Fell, and remember the sudden attractiveness of the sodden Greenburn valley, as weak sun glinted off a hundred runnels, filling the eye with light, but the only real pleasure of the return ridge was that it was the one I had seen from Helm Crag, on my return to the summits years before. I’d looked at it then, lacking the plan or ability to explore it, and now it was underfoot, and a return to Helm Crag to conclude.
The next day, even more gloomy, I paid a brief return to Latrigg and, without removing my boots, made an awkward segue into the Eastern Fells, stopping twice in different locations to climb each of Great and Little Mell Fells: grassy humps at the outer edge of the wild country, and of little or no interest. So much for October.
I would miss out on a September week away again the following year, again due to my house: I took a week off to decorate and returned to the beginning of the end with my new firm, my senior partner having taken my absence as a chance to go through my room with a fine tooth comb, demanding I deal with everything within seven days, on pains of an implicit threat of dismissal. I’ll admit to having underperformed in certain areas, but to nothing like this extent. What finished it for me was that, whilst I was gone, he had moved my desk to a more ‘efficient’ position in the room: i.e., square to the wall, not at an angle.
I got everything done as he demanded. But I also started looking for another job.
That’s taking a step out of sequence, for I did have an April/May break, and one with mainly good weather, although I made a foolish mistake that spoilt the week for me.
I had done my leg-stretcher, and by a pleasant route not depicted in Wainwright, this being because, as I discovered when I returned some years later to introduce a lady-friend to delightful little Gowbarrow Fell, it was across private ground, and the gate giving access was now padlocked.
The following day, I set off on what should have been a glorious expedition. From Seathwaite-in-Borrowdale I would ascend by the glorious highway into the hills that is Esk Hause, paying my first visit to that crossroads in the sky, the tilted platform that carries Lakeland’s highest Pass and a confusion of routes that demand ultra-care in mist.
And I would return along the northernmost extension of the Scafell Range, over unnoticed Allen Crags, and the sonorously named Glaramara.
My mistakes were compound. It was too high, hard and long a walk to tackle so soon in the walking year and I was tackling it on a day of surprising April heat, a burning sun, a lack of wind. Sense should have made me turn back from Esk Hause, but Allen Crags was only a hundred feet of climbing. And I really should have retreated then, but, come on, that’s a longer way round than going over Glaramara, so let’s get on with it.
I have little or no memory of the walk. I was exhausted under an unmerciful sun, dehydrated, head aching, trying to shield my head by tying my sweatshirt into a makeshift turban. I was nauseous and stumbling, as close to heatstroke as I’ve ever come. My only liquid was a single can of Coke, which it seemed unwise to drink given how my stomach was churning. Yet, on the final descent into Borrowdale, with a long field-path walk yet to come, to the car, I had no choice but to succumb and drink it.
It was warm, and ‘furry’ to the tongue, but the biggest surprise of all was that it settled my upset stomach down and enabled me to get back, safe, but seriously debilitated.
And that was it for walking the next day, no matter how good the weather. I did get out again the day after, in Langdale, aiming for the Central Fells’ High Raise, the flat centre of the Lake District. It meant another ascent of good old Mill Gill, and then a hugely enjoyable scramble up the narrow confines of Bright Beck.
In defiance of the heat, at the tiny head of the valley, a gigantic snow pudding had formed. Left over snow, in a shaded corner, on a lacing of vegetation that a complete idiot might have wriggled under, to be passed to get onto the ‘ridge’. What a contrast to Glaramara.
I still planned a Big Walk, but it was denied me. Between unbearable heat and haze – even the nearest fells were like pale blue cardboard cut-outs – and a twisted ankle (my left, the usual suspect) early in the ascent, there was no prospect of the Mosedale Horseshoe that year.
The picture is of Allen Crags with Glaramara behind, taken on what seems to be an equally bleached out day, from Ruddy Gill, at the head of the approach to Esk Hause via Grains Gill. Of course, I don’t remember any of this!