Series 2 – 26: A Time of Confusion


My relationship was going so well that, on my birthday in 1988, we got engaged secretly. Then, between Christmas and New Year, we abruptly, and on my part unwillingly, broke up. The relationship was restored, by accident, on New Year’s Eve, but the stable times had gone. The engagement was never restored, the relationship was never again stable. My career was entering a time of instability: my firm would ‘merge with’ (be taken over by) a more modern rival, my seeming position of professional strength would be undermined by a megalomaniacal senior partner who I distrusted intensely, and when I made a move to advance myself, I unwittingly placed myself in the worst environment I have ever experienced, under a senior partner even more hateful than the first.
Such chaos could not be kept out of other aspects of my life. Walking in the Lakes became bitty and awkward, and after the peak of 36 summits in the single year of 1988, I would add only 21 more tops in the next two years, and nothing more than a four peak day in those times.
Those years are not without memories that outshone the general discomfort of the times. There were no signs to begin with of the coming disruption, in a low-key May holiday that saw me move into the second half of the Wainwrights: a leg-stretcher with unexpectedly superb views of Crummock Water, another clean-ridged expedition into the North Western Fells on a sultry day, when the view I was expecting to see turned out to be absurdly accessible, coming less than a hundred yards from the end of the walk, by the car.
I took myself off for the second time to remote Longsleddale, my target being the Lakes’s two most easterly summits, Grey Crag and Tarn Crag. Grey Crag offered views inward that barely stretched past the other side of the valley, yet its overview over miles of moorland, looking out to the Howgill Fells and the Northern Pennines was potentially limitless. But the fell’s lack of height and the difficulty in getting good conditions made it a disappointment.
Descending from Tarn Crag to the lonely depths of another of Lakeland’s Mosedale’s (there are six: it means ‘dreary valley’, and this was not the one that is misnamed) I extended the walk to include Branstree, overlooking Mardale. It meant a long, dull trudge uphill by a wall to the infinitely flat summit, and an equally  long, dull trudge downhill by another wall to, to the top of Gatescarth Pass, from where I returned down Longsleddale to the car.
The easiness of the descent left ample time to contemplate the scene. The only other time I had been there was in my last family holiday. We had ascended Gatescarth from Mardale, and climbed Harter Fell from there. To reach the summit we followed an old fence uphill from the Pass, onto the subsidiary Adam A’ Seat, and thereafter over pathless grass, meandering onto the summit ridge near the third cairn, with its spectacular view of Haweswater.
They say that the hills are eternal. I understood it a different way on that walk: that the days we spend in them are eternity themselves. They don’t count in our lives, they are each and every one of them the same. I hadn’t been here in almost fourteen years: an overgrown teenager about to enter his last year at University, an overweight, bearded Solicitor aged 33, with a crumbling relationship. But no time had passed between those two days, because they had been spent in eternity that wouldn’t change if I were to return in 23 years time (I wish!)
This strange feeling was so strong that it overwhelmed the evidence that those two days were not one: the wide, obvious track slanting directly from the head of Gatescarth, ignoring the rise and fall of Adam A’ Seat, and heading directly for the ridge and the third cairn.
It looked as if it had been there for centuries. Fourteen years ago, there was no trace. It was my first real understanding of what people like me were doing to the fells.
The next day I made a steep-sided ascent of one flank of Caiston Beck, on the opposite side of Patterdale to the Hayeswater valley, crossing Scandale Head Pass and ascending to Red Screes, high above Kirkstone Pass. It was a fell that would become important to me years later, scene of the climax of the comic novel that finally grew out of that foolish manuscript I’d written several years ago.
The descent was equally knee-crackingly steep, but I had things on my mind. For some years, half a decade in fact, I had been an eager, and somewhat respected, contributor to British Comics Fandom, a BNF (Big Name Fan). I’d written articles, letters and reviews with eager if occasionally naïve enthusiasm, attended Conventions and Marts, mingled with similar-minded folk, and been a mainstay of the two highest-circulation fanzines of the day, FA and Arkensword.
But I’d also gotten a life when I began my relationship. And even if that was in trouble, I was changing. I wanted to direct my writing more towards my own inventions, rather than praise or criticism for other people’s work. I was no longer on such good terms as I had been with a number of my fandom friends, including the editors of those two ‘zines. And I was astute enough to recognise that I had more or less run out of things to say. I had commented on virtually everything I felt worth commenting upon, I had expressed all my opinions by now.
Descending over Middle Dodd, staring deep into the heart of Patterdale, I came to the conclusion that it was time to let go, to ignore the petty feelings and general irritability, and retire. So I went home, and did.
The picture is of the path from the top of Gatescarth Pass, towards Harter Fell. Tarn Crag and Grey Crag form the background. I don’t know the date of this picture, which is of no part of the walk I took that day, but sit and stare at it for a long time, and reflect that when I passed that way in the year of my 20th birthday, there was nothing but thick grass, and a wire fence to guide the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.