A couple of my workmates have, very recently, treated themselves to virtual reality headsets, which they’ve been showing off at work. I had no idea the technology had become so cheap, but then I don’t keep up with such things because I am economically challenged as to technological advancement.
When the chance came for me to try one of these headsets on, I politely declined, remembering one of my most embarrassing experiences out walking in the Lakes, which took place on, of all fells, Latrigg. Let me explain.
It was a lovely, dry, sunny afternoon. It was probably the first time I climbed Latrigg, which suggests either that I’d spent the morning lazily transferring from Ambleside to Keswick or else that this was so far back that I still believed I didn’t have the stamina to go walking every day on holiday.
Whatever the circumstances, I had parked at the Latrigg roadhead and, for the only time, I had walked directly up from the back, saving the glorious views for the last minute, as I reached the gentle crest of the summit. That’s the only advantage of that route: it’s simple, direct and easy, but it’s deadly dull, and you feel confined, between the featureless green slope rising before you, and the vast green slopes towering behind you.
For once, and precisely because this was such a gentle walk, and a gentle fell, I was carrying with me my Dad’s old binoculars. He’d carry them around when we were walking. I remember him and his elder brother taking turns from the weir at Stickle Tarn, to focus on climbers on Pavey Ark, and especially Jack’s Rake. Or studying the climbers on Dow Crag after we’d fetched up at Goatswater again. Or trying to get me to focus on the Napes Ridges from Down in the Dale in Wasdale, failing to pick out Napes Needle.
So here I am, stood on Latrigg’s gentle crest, pushing my glasses up to my forehead, and putting the binoculars to my eyes. And within five seconds, having to drag them away from my eyes, because I was struck with the most awful vertigo. I felt like I was falling forward, through the binoculars, my stomach was going, my balance, I literally could not keep the binoculars up for a second longer.
This was already upsetting, but I decided that it was the absence of any foreground that was responsible, making me feel that I had nothing under my feet. So I retreated a couple of steps, backing off the crest without impairing my binocular vision and leaving myself a couple of uphill feet between me and the foreground falling away.
It was just as bad. I couldn’t force myself to look for more than, at most five seconds, even though the reality was that I couldn’t fall forward, nor damage myself if I did.
I took another step or two back and lay down. On my stomach. My body lying flat on an uphill slope, with my elbows on the crest and focussed upon Keswick below and I brought them to my eyes and, arrrgghhh! I was lying uphill, I was in the most comprehensively unfallable forward from position that could physically be contrived and I still couldn’t stand looking through those binoculars for literally more than a handful of seconds, because I was falling, falling through them, falling from height, nothing beneath or below me, faaallliiinggggg.
On Latrigg. Bloody Latrigg, of which there are no more than half a dozen fells in the whole of Wainwright that are lower and certainly none as innocuous, and I am scared to the point of quivering and cannot, cannot, simply CAN NOT do this.
I mean, it’s very simple. Despite the fact I’ve climbed all the _Wainwrights_, and some of them by the sporting routes, I have done this with incipient vertigo, which I have been able to master at all times, as long as I have been able to see ground underneath my feet. Put binoculars to my eyes, remove the sight of the ground, and my eyes override all other physical sensations and start screaming. I cannot look down through binoculars. I have never carried them into the fells since.
And the same goes for a VR headset. Take away my ability to see the ground beneath my feet and the feel of the ground beneath my feet, or of the reclining chair beneath my bum, and I cannot cope. It’s embarrassing. But not as much as it is to have a panic attack on Latrigg…