The Lake District: A Wild Year


It’s a good week when there’s a programme on about the Lake District, but it’s an extraordinarily rich one when there are two. To add to Tuesday’s BBC4 presentation of Terry Abraham’s excellent Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, last night BBC2 gave us The Lake District: A Wild Year, produced and directed by Simon Blakeney and narrated by Bernard Cribbins.

This latter programme sold itself on its time-lapse photography aspect, a year in the life of the Lake District compressed into a single hour, not to mention some fantastic micro-photography of things that nature doesn’t usually allow us to see, and in one viewer’s case would actually have preferred not to see. Tiny, predatory jumping spiders joined shots of lambs emerging from ewes, baby slugs exuding from collapsing eggs, exploding seed pods blowing unwary caterpillars about like First World War troopers exiting trenches courtesy of their own side’s shells.

Though the programme did go some way to redeem itself over the slugs and spiders with wonderfully sharp photography of red squirrels, making my hear melt as always.

This aspect of the programme was applied to the flora and fauna, of which there was too much of a concentration for my personal preferences, with the frantic, yet smooth, time-lapse stuff being reserved for fell and valley scenes, all clouds boiling across skies of all colours, and shadows scurrying between flashes of concentrated sunlight. Oh, that that other native fauna of the Lakes, the everyday tourist, also got the time-lapse stuff, roiling into the Windermere waters for an annual swim, whose duration but not direction was specified, or flooding onto and off the Lake steamers with a jerky rapidity that suggested that any moment the soundtrack would cut to the Benny Hill theme.

No, the noisy musical soundtrack was not the highlight of the documentary, but that was part of the price of populism demanded by being shown on the more exoteric landscape of BBC2. As was Cribbins’ commentary, which was trailed in advance as sensitive but tended more to the banal, treating everything with an underlying levity that suggested it might not be entirely interesting without being mildly sent up. Or am I simply not sufficiently unspecialised (i.e., ignorant) an audience.

Cribbins was the only voice heard in the programme, aside from occasional hubbub from tourists. The locals featured – farmers, shepherds, dry-stone wallers – remained silent. This actually added to the atmosphere in the sequence where the shepherds in Langdale gathered to bring the sheep down from the fells for the shearing: all these strong, steady, silent, lean men, using their crooks as walking poles, making their unhurried and reliable way up the paths as they have done for centuries became iconic in their steadiness, their timeliness. Men doing their job, without fuss or bother.

Naturally, I could have done with far more of the fells, but then that’s me. There were cloud-chasing scenes in most of the major valleys, though with a concentration upon Windermere, Grasmere and Great Langdale. But there were shots of Derwentwater, Mardale and Haweswater, the Buttermere Valley: brief but glorious.

The programme’s year ran from April to April, from lambing to lambing, the traditional farming year, but its year of filming was the year of that terrible December, of rain, storm, flood, devastation, disaster. Though it opted for a decent brevity for that section, the programme was nevertheless serious and open. It tore my heart again to see it, to think of my beloved country being so cruelly treated: the worst was a private sequence, in a car in the rain, tearing along the road east of Thirlmere, faster than the conditions might warrant as safe, ploughing through flooded stretches that came up almost to the vehicle’s bonnet: until it stopped, for floods draining irresistably off the slopes to the right, spilling earth and rock and wall across the road in an unnegotiable collapse.

But lambing was the beginning and lambing was the end, though the repeated footage  of black-woolled Herdwick lambs bouncing up and down with uncontrollable energy was the same at start and end, suggesting that only one generation was filmed. And fittingly, the last word came from a dozy lamb, lying on the ground, moving only its head around, until it looks directly into the camera and emits one falsetto bleat.

No, there’ll never be an ideal Lake District documentary until I do one myself, assuming time, opportunity, finance and talent, the last of which being probably the most tendentious aspect, but A Wild Year did more than just do until the next one, however far off that is. I miss the Lake District. I miss it all the time. Things like this refresh my memories and that connection of spirit on which I subsist.

More, please, and soon.

 

Life of a Mountain: Blencathra – TV debut Tuesday


A heads up for those of you interested in the Lake District: BBC4 will be showing Terry Abrahams’ Life of a Mountain: Blencathra on Tuesday evening, 14 February, from 9.00 – 10.00pm.

Like the Scafell Pike film broadcast on BBC4 in 2015, this is an edited version of the full-length film, available on DVD, which runs to two hours. I haven’t see the edited version, and to be honest, I didn’t think the film, overall, was quite as good as Scafell Pike, but it’s still superb, and programmes about the Lakes are not so common that we can turn our noses up about any of them, so treat yourself and watch this, because you will enjoy yourself.

And there’s another Lake District documentary on Friday this week: riches!

On a Sunny Day: a Hayeswater Round


Hayeswater: to be rounded
Hayeswater: to be rounded

Given my current status of fitness, not to mention the stability of my right knee, I’m reliant now on my memory for the kind of long, peak-heavy walk I used to organise for the last walking day of my twice-annual holidays. When it came to peak-bagging, the Fairfield Horseshoe was one of my best tallies, eight summits in the course of a day, but that didn’t set my record. There was one walk on which I went one better, visiting nine summits in a single walk that was better than I’d originally planned. And a walk that had at least a claim to being semi-original.

By that I mean that it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Wainwrights as a recognised walk, unlike the Fairfield Horseshow or the Mosedale Horseshoe. It is a horseshoe, of its kind, but when I came up with it myself, from a study of the Far Eastern Fells, I actually called it the Hayeswater Round.

It was an obvious piece of design and I calculated that I could reach eight tops, none of which I had previously climbed, starting and finishing at the village of Hartsop, tucked away in its little valley off the side of Patterdale. And, in keeping with my basic instinct about such things, I proposed to walk anti-clockwise.

This meant starting off by scaling Gray Crag, a narrow, steep-sided, steep-nosed fell at the end of a flat-topped ridge emanating from Thornthwaite Crag.

The direct assault on Gray Crag from Hartsop was steep and long.  This kind of ascent did not seem the most sensible for the start of such an ambitious day, and especially one that promised to be very sunny, so after studying the relevant chapter, I decided to approach the ridge a little more obliquely. This meant leaving Hartsop by the track to the filter house, crossing the beck there and completing the ascent to the shores of Hayeswater, where the path petered out into nothingness.

The early stages of this were hot and dusty and a bit of a grind, but by the time I was in Hayeswater’s narrow valley, there was fresher air, the grass was sweet underfoot, and the sun sparkling off the water was delightful.

There were no paths on this flank of Gray Crag, so I simply took a sighting on the skyline behind me, at a suitably gentle upwards angle, and set off across the grass, trying always to angle up. Once I gained the prow of the ridge, there was nothing for it but to start the serious climbing, scrambling between outcrops, until the gradient eased and the rest of the ascent was just an uphill stroll.

Gray Crag’s shape is that of a promontory. I had a long, lazy gentle stroll, crossing a disused wall three-quarters of the way along, until the final rise onto the top of Thornthwaite Crag, whose summit lay half right, distinguished by its monumental cairn, Thornthwaite Beacon. This was an ideal spot to take lunch, under the sun, with a gentle breeze and gentle slopes all around, especially when my next top was going to be the highest point of the walk.

Thornthwaite Beacon
Thornthwaite Beacon

From Thornthwaite Crag, it was an easy, mostly flat or very gently graded, grassy walk to High Street, along High Street. I strolled back from the massive cairn, descending into the grassy bowl that lay back from the head of the Hayeswater valley, and onto the whaleback of High Street.

This was the old, the famous Roman Road, high above the world, the place where troops in armour, with red cloaks and leather sandals, had once marched, from Ambleside to Penrith. This is the place where the walker of imagination, with romance and history in their souls, can close their eyes and hear the jingle of metal, the creak of leather, the murmur and tramp of the Legions, out above the world.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t conjure them into my mind, to trick my eyes and ears. It was just me, curiously alone, on a broad path that leveled out below the summit, by-passed it on the west by some distance, that I had to leave and struggle up featureless grass to the broad, flat top. The Legions would not come to me in the Twentieth Century.

I had left the Legions behind, and the history that should have swept around me at this point was that of the countryfolk of the valleys, Racecourse Hill and the annual meet of the dales folk, climbing out of their valleys for three days of revels, of conversation, games, racing, courting, trading and all those things we take for granted, but which then was denied by the daily struggle to earn a literal living.

That should have been evocative too, but once again I couldn’t conjure the visions in front of my eyes. It was just a flat, green top, with a cairn on the highest point, and an edge to the panorama that was a long way away all round and revealed nothing of those adjoining valleys and little of the fells beyond.

It ended up being a long walk east from the cairn before I got a glimpse of Haweswater lying deep in the curve of Mardale. Because this was the last lake I got to see, years after first visiting the Lakes, because I had to badger my family into holidaying in a completely different part of the Lakes than usual before they’d even drive out there, because it is remote and distant and it feels as if you have to drive out and back in to even visit Mardale, I’ve always had a fascination for Haweswater above all the other lakes, and it was essential that I see it on this walk. It didn’t look in the least impressive from that angle. I couldn’t even see the distant dam because the valley curved so much.

I decided I didn’t need to return to the summit so angled back to meet the wall just above the surprisingly steep descent to the surprisingly narrow Straits of Riggindale, beyond which it was a long haul up to the summit of Rampsgill Head, with its splendid view of the wide-open, very straight but not particularly interesting valley of Ramps Gill.

The Straits of Riggindale
The Straits of Riggindale

My next destination was Kidsty Pike, whose odd, angular peak was not far distant. It was similar to crossing from Swirl How to Great Carrs in the Conistons, except that wainwright had set no time trials on this ridge route. I ticked off Kidsty’s top having really seen little of the best of the fell. I assumed I would one day make a return visit from the valley, on a more entertaining ascent, but though I did that for High Street, and had a brilliant day of it, I never got back to Kidsty.

Technically, like Wandope in the Coledale Horseshoe, this was not part of any geographic Hayeswater Round, but was too close to pass up. However, it was the furthest point of my planned route: except that it was still only early in the afternoon, I had gained a lot of height, and it was only three-quarters of a mile up the ridge to High Raise. This was a fell I needed to claim at some point, but which appeared to be quite a distance away from valley – or more pertinently road – level.

It meant an extra mile and a half I hadn’t budgeted for, but on the other hand I was here, I had the time and it was too convenient to ignore. I tramped north on the continuation of High Street, along an open, empty, rounded ridge, without incident or excitement, until I was level with High Raise’s top and diverted off to the right.

High Street and Kidsty Pike from High Raise
High Street and Kidsty Pike from High Raise

It was, or so I thought at the time, my 100th summit. When I checked my records on returning home, I discovered I had miscounted. No. 100 had gone uncelebrated, back on Kidsty.

Having diverted so far out of my way, I needed to get back on track, so I tramped, with a slight bit of trudge creeping in, back to Rampsgill Head. There was no need to return to its cairn, so I contoured pathlessly across its northern face, aiming to pick up the path for Patterdale, descending from its summit.

This brought me out at the foot of the Knott, and another Wainwright time trial: anyone full of the joys of spring should be able to make it from the wall corner in two minutes, a test I passed, just, though as I was full of the joys of early September, I claim a special exemption.

I still had two more tops on my round, the first of which was Rest Dodd. This is the key to The Nab, deep in the Martindale Deer Forest which was, in those days, firmly out of bounds. I had no plans to make an attempt on the hidden fell from its reasonably innocuous rear, not that day and not after the miles I had covered, though I would come back several years later and collect The Nab.

But on both occasions I quickly found Rest Dodd to be a tedious and draining ascent. Some fells are like that, with no seeming reason. they do not have steeper flanks, or rougher ground, but the walk drags, and the energy is depleted quickly.

This first time, I was dropping down from The Knott’s little top and heading straight across the Patterdale path, downhill in a straight line, to a deep dip in a small dell, with virtually no level ground, just an immediate climb, still following that straight line, to the top of the walls angling across Rest Dodd’s Hayeswater face. Even the short climb up unmarked grass, where the two wall ends form an angle that, for no apparent reason, do not meet, was tiresome, and i spent little time on the summit of Rest Dodd, enough only to study the ground northwards into Martindale, before retreating down the other wall until I regained the Patterdale path.

Tarn on Satura Crag
Tarn on Satura Crag

It had been a long day and a long walk, and I had been under a strong September sun the whole day. I was growing leg-weary and welcomed the gentle gradients of the path as far as Satura Crag. After that, it was a case of leaving the path for the trackless ground to the left and picking Brock Crag’s summit out of the indefinite outcrops on the edge of the valley.

Unfortunately, the day had just been that little bit too long and that little bit too sunlit. The valley wall down towards Hartsop was steep, and the tracks zigzagging exposed to the sun, and I was sudfdenly out of the breeze that had kept everyuthing cool. It was stuffy and unpleasant and I wasn’t more than a third of the way down before I was struck with a blinding headache, a good old-fashioned razor blade across the eyeballs job, which tended to blur my recollection of the final stages.

Of course, I swallowed a couple of tablets the moment I had got my boots off – nothing but nothing precedes removing the boots at the end of a long day in the fells – but it made for an unpleasant drive back to Keswick, with the headache still paining, and my stomach starting to churn, sufficiently so that at one point, exiting the Matterdale valley, I had to pull up and crouch in the verge in the belief that that days sandwiches were making a break for it.

But such misadventures are all part of days in the fells. The inclusion of High Raise may, in retrospect, have been ill-judged, but it took my tally for the day to nine summits, and I have never had some a productive day before or since, and I have never been in a position whereby I could have revisited it. So I regret nothing and remember with glee my own, self-designed, Hayeswater Round.

The Sight of Hills


(I am currently confined to the flat with stomach gripes and a persistent diarrhoea that has me shambling towards the loo far more often than I like. Unable to work, I am busying myself with bits of digital housekeeping, which has led me to a short piece I wrote a couple of months ago but never got round to posting.)

 

From where I sit at work, on the fifth floor, I have a view of a small section of the Pennines as they border the eastern flank of Greater Manchester. As views go, it’s not inspiring, not when compared to the vast majority of the skylines in the Lake District, which does have its dull patches but only a few. It keeps me in touch with the hills.

A long time ago, when I needed to undertake two years of Articles of Clerkship to qualify as a Solicitor, I found myself visiting the City of Cambridge, for an interview with the City Council. I was not successful and it was a long, long day of traveling, three hours on the train each way: Manchester to Birmingham to Ely to Cambridge, Cambridge to Leicester to Sheffield to Manchester.

Though I’ve more recently had enough acquaintance with Cambridge to come to like it and feel comfortable there, my first response was a combination of awe and disquiet at how flat the landscape was. That was emphasised by the downwards journey: waiting for my connecting train at Ely, and traveling across the edge of the fens on my final leg impressed upon me how wide the horizon was, and that there was no horizon, not as I understood it, from our holidays in the Lakes, from the bus into Stockport and the line of hills bordering it when the bus crossed the edge and started to descend into the Mersey Basin.

I was glad not to get that job: I couldn’t imagine how I could cope without the sight of hills.

A Newlands Day


Newlands Valley
Newlands Valley

I have the terminal by the window today which means that, despite the double-glazing, I have the faint sensation of cold on my right hand side. The past few days of spectacular blue-sky clarity have greyed over, and I’m once again drifting elsewhere.

Monday was the anniversary of the first of the storms that devastated Glenridding. The damage the Lakes suffered that day, and in the weeks that followed, is by no means resolved: I understand that of over 550 bridges damaged or swept away by the floods, no more than about 150 have been repaired.

I missed my annual November trip, to places like Ambleside and Grasmere. My outing in sunny May never went further than Penrith, and whilst the fells surrounding Ullswater looked good in the spring sun, it wasn’t the fells that were damaged.

More and more, I find myself dipping into my recollections of walks, good walks, long walks, walks I’ve not yet gone into on these blogs. One such, an extended circuit of Newlands, landed me in a fair amount of potential trouble before the day was over.

I used to organise my weeks away on the progression from a leg-stretching short walk on the Sunday afternoon of arrival building up to a big walk on the Thursday, involving either one of the Lake District’s major fells or at least something that went on for miles with multiple summits I’d never previously collected.

A circuit of Newlands, starting with Maiden Moor, going round to Hindscarth, with a permissible diversion to Robinson and back, was perfect to wrap up this week. I planned to start and finish in the Newlands Valley, parking near to Little Town, at the foot of the Catbells approach to Hause Gate.

Though there was a shortish, pathless alternative route to the ridge, it was a nice day and I was happy to follow the orthodox route, steep though it was, to the ridge. Fellwalking isn’t about the shortest route, especially not at the beginning of the day, and it was sunny.

I reached the ridge after some decent exercise, and automatically looked in the Catbells direction. It was tempting to pay a visit, not having claimed Catbells before now, but sensibly I decided to save it until later. Indeed, I ended up saving it far later than I ever intended, since I was determined to take my lady to its summit and wouldn’t spoil the moment of discovery.

Dale Head from Maiden Moor
Dale Head from Maiden Moor

Once on the Western Wall of Borrowdale, which is steep and difficult to access, the way is easy and gentle, with no gradients to be concerned about. Maiden Moor’s top was a tilted field whose highest point was another of those that can’t be identified without sophisticated measuring equipment that didn’t exist that far back. I strolled along its upper edge, not hugging the edge, in order to lay a realistic claim to hitting the top, then dropped slowly down to the col that bridged the gap to High Spy.

That section of the ridge was surprisingly narrow for two such broad-based fells, but High Spy, as well as being higher, was also a bit more orthodox in shape, with a defined summit.

This was still more of a prelude to the highlights of the walk, which were going to be the triumvirate of Dale Head, Robinson and Hindscarth, three fells of similar height and design, throwing long ridges into Newlands. Borrowdale’s Western Wall was an approach, leading up to the business part of the day.

From High Spy there was a roundabout descent on pathless grass, curving to the west to come down to Dale Head Tarn, the only tarn in the whole of the North Western Fells, and that right in its lowest corner.

Across the outflow lay the direct ascent to Dale Head, famously tedious and looking from here as if its reputation wasn’t built on exaggeration. I had no intention of tackling that corner, not when an easier route was available, but that easier route proved to be a very odd experience in itself.

A faint track lead away from the head of the Tarn across grasslands. I say track, but there was little more than flattened grass to indicate that people ventured this way, and within a few moments I was out of site of the tarn and feeling as if I had passed into another world.

The route led through a shallow valley, barely describable as a valley. The way was silent, and the ‘path’ progressed a series of short levels, broad swathes of grass defined only by shallow growth of grass. The path twisted and turned gently, in stretches of fifteen to twenty yards. But for the evidence of this route underfoot, barely discernible except when you had your boots on it, I might have been the first person ever to come this way. I had the sense that if I were to have an accident here – which would have been very difficult to contrive – I would never be found.

For a fellwalker as enthusiastic as I was, I did have a few incipient fears: an inclination towards vertigo, a touch of claustrophobia. I had not previously demonstrated any susceptibility to agoraphobia, but on this one occasion, I felt awfully exposed. My pace increased, subconsciously, to get me out of here as soon as possible.

Eventually, the fence posts marking the route from Honister Pass to Dale Head summit, and a few people ascending that way, came into view ahead. I made directly for it and turned uphill on a famously easy ascent, to the summit.

dale-head-rangeDale Head dominates its immediate scene, and the head of Honister. It has a brilliant, massive cairn, directly above the full-length view of the Newlands valley, its only flaw being that it is right above that vista, with very limited traversing room round the cairn to get an uninterrupted photo. Given my incipient vertigo, I didn’t even think of trying. But it was a great view.

After a break for lunch, I resumed the trail. Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson lie in parallel, in that order east to west, but Hindscarth’s top lies off the ridge, projected further towards Newlands. The ridge, which narrowed quite sharply at one point, coinciding with a burst of rather fierce wind, crossways of course, that had me stepping carefully, dips and rises to the back of Hindscarth, and then curves away further west, to swing round to Robinson.

I’d planned to use Hindscarth, and the ridge over the remarkable Scope End for the descent, so for now it was on again, dipping to the low point on the ridge and then climbing a rather flat, broad-based and somewhat tiring ridge to the summit of Robinson. It was hotter than before, the walking was not inspiring, and by the time I reached Robinson, I was suffering the beginning of a headache and starting to regret including it in the round.

There was nothing to do from here but to turn back, cover trodden ground and regain the back of the Hindscarth ridge. A direct descent to Newlands would mean omitting a summit that would then end up isolated, not to mention leaving me with a lot of road-walking in Newlands to get back to the car. Nor was the ridge descending from Robinson anything like as an appealing walk.

So I trudged on. My head started getting worse but, more than that, I was starting to move very sluggishly. Looking across the curve at the head of Little Dale, there was the possibility of contouring across, avoiding the climb to the midpoint of the ridge, but taking into account how heavy-limbed I was getting, and the absence of any track, it didn’t seem worth the minimal gain it would make.

Hindscarth, Scope End, Robinson
Hindscarth, Scope End, Robinson

So I plugged on, joined Hindscarth’s ridge, made its cairn and sank down thankfully. But in doing so, I had used the last of my energy. It was four o’clock, and though there were still hours of sunlight ahead, the air had changed. Evening was slowly making its presence felt and I was alone. Conspicuously, everybody else on the fells – and there had been plenty about all day – had suddenly vanished.

I contemplated resting. I could afford a half hour or so, a bit of sleep, refresh myself a little. But there was nowhere to lie, to shelter but the stones of the summit and, to be truthful, I was only too conscious of the risk in falling seriously asleep, hours of it, and waking in twilight or darkness. So there was nothing for it but to move on.

Like the traverse of Glaramara under my sweatshirt turban, I have very little recollection of the descent, which is a terrible shame because, even in my exhausted state, I could tell this was a cracker to walk. But I just couldn’t take in my surroundings, not when at every point I was focused on my boots and where they were being placed. Scope End came and went, and the descent grew steep once more, sliding towards Newlands.

Eventually, I got to ground level, and trudged wearily back to the car. It was blazing hot, having been in the sun all day and accumulated such a concentrated dose of heat that, when I opened my cool box to extract a drink, the carton of milk had turned through about 540 degrees, and the tub of margarine was a sloppy brown liquid that nobody in their right mind would dream of imbibing. Back to Keswick, having poured away and wiped up everything I possibly could.

I never got round to repeating the main part of that walk, and enabling myself to properly experience the Scope End ridge. The Dale Head group were collected, and whilst I was still collecting Wainwrights, there were no walks that could be extended to reincorporate any of those summits.

Once I’d reached the end of that particular road, and was free to just wander where I would, circumstances, as I’ve previously said, combined to limit my prospective walking years to only a handful. I walked the Western Wall once, basing myself at Grange, following the mining track that ran under the walls of Castle Crag and turned up to the heights, returning over High Spy, Maiden Moor and Catbells (which I’d finally got my lady friend to the top of), and back via Hause Gate to Grange.

But despite the straits I found myself in, it was still a brilliant day and a great walk, and a good thing to remember on a slow, grey December day in Stockport.

An Embarrassing Incident on Latrigg


A great view, but...
A great view, but…

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…

It isn’t just paranoia: The Lakes 2016


In ordinary circumstances, those of you who follow this blog would have received an e-mail, late this evening, regaling you with the events of my fifth annual Birthday Week Day Out in the Lake District.

At some point, early on, I would have made the by-now traditional, self-deprecating remark about my paranoia about missing the train due to my reliance on public transport. This is the year it stopped being paranoia.

I had the same plan as last year: the early train, change at Oxenholme, bus to Grasmere and at least venture onto the slopes of Helm Crag. How I might fare from there, given my overall lack of energy, the increasing amount of gyp I am suffering from my right knee and the fact that it’s supposed to be snowing in the Lakes was impossible to tell in advance, but if I wound up snug in the Ambleside Tavern, drinking, reading, watching it sluice down like last year, I would at least be there.

When I travel by train, to make the fares manageable, I book well in advance, and I book specific singles, the cost of which is usually pretty much fifty percent of an All Day Return. Of course, these are inflexible: if you miss your train, there’s no waiting for the next one.

I’d packed my bag carefully last night. The train, like last year, was 9.16am at Piccadilly Station, and I planned to be at the bus stop for 8.00am. That would leave me kicking my heels around the Station for at least half an hour.

Unfortunately, I just missed the 8.00am bus. However, I had built in ample leeway, and as my stop is only the fourth outside Stockport Centre, it wasn’t as if the bus had any time to be late.

But the 8.10 bus didn’t show up, and the 8.20 didn’t arrive until almost 8.25. That cut drastically into my overlap. And the rush hour traffic had had so much extra time to build up and every stop was full of queues waiting. We jolted slowly onward. I conscientiously avoided looking at my watch continually, but that meant that when I did check the time, it was horrifying how much had elapsed for how little mileage covered.

Of course, once you’re moving as slowly as that, every little thing that can delay you delays you. The sinking feeling had long since sunk. On Hyde Road, we were overtaken by the 8.30 bus.

When I eventually jumped off the bus, diagonally across the busy junction outside Piccadilly Station, it was 9.15am. Exactly one minute to get across the road, up two flights and round to the furthest platform: there has never been a time in my life when I could have done that. But the train had been five minutes late last year, with all the consequent effects of that, and if it was late this year, I could still get there.

And late it was, but by only three minutes this time. Which proved to be literally ten seconds fewer than I needed: I was charging down the steps to platform 14 when I saw the doors shut. I pleaded with the guard but they were locked and once they’re locked they stay locked until the next stop – in this case, Oxford Road, but I had no hope of getting there in time. So I had to stand on the platform and watch my train and my Annual Day Out leave without me.

And that’s why, instead of being at Windermere at this moment, I’m at home, writing this. Though it’s cold outside, the sky is wonderfully blue, clear and serene, with cotton ball wisps of clean cloud around the edges. I joke with myself about it being paranoia, but it isn’t paranoia this time, and how early do I set off next year? How much time is enough time to get somewhere simple and easy to reach. Do I camp out overnight on a bench at the Station? Do I get my money back for the tickets I can’t now use? Of course not.

Happy Birthday Me.