The distant call of home
Of mountains and me
In just over a year’s time I will be celebrating an important anniversary and come August 2012 ten years will have passed since I took my first nervous steps into a world that has become not only an all consuming passion but possibly the saviour of my sanity.
I remember that first day well and the passing of a decade has done little to dull my memories of those few hours I spent on Silver How, that diminutive fell which stands above Grasmere in the English Lake District. I remember slipping around on wet grass in my trainers, fearing an imminent demise on loose scree and marvelling at the view from the top, realising that up there I had come upon that which for 29 years I had so spectacularly failed to find. It had been waiting for me my entire life and I recognised it immediately, for though buried beneath a morass of mediocrity, misguided ambitions and wrong turns it had been calling incessantly over a gulf of both distance and time. Finally and at long last, I’d come home.
As a young lad I quickly became aware that the world I had been born into could be a cruel place of injustice, unhappiness and pain. I became obsessed with the possibility of nuclear annihilation, dwelled on my parents break up and wondered what my father, a heroin addict and regular guest of Her Majesty was doing now that me and mum were gone forever. Though lost and confused I hid my worries in humour, cheekiness, football and later a prodigious musical talent in which I immersed myself completely. But, come early adulthood I had discovered the anaesthetic qualities of illicit self medication and by my mid twenties added alcoholism to the mix. Though loved, popular and blessed with a handful of true friends I was lonely and disconsolate, wondering how the hell I had got into such a mess and had almost given up hope of extracting myself from it.
And then a strange thing happened; while visiting the local library I stumbled upon two books, ‘Wales’ by W.A.Poucher and ‘Fellwalking with Wainwright’. I took them home and before I knew it had a large fine to pay! Those books opened my eyes to real beauty and inspired in me a sense of timelessness which gave me a perspective transcending the modern day vision of how life should be and how far from fitting into it I was and could ever be. I was onto something.
I started thinking about the school holidays I’d spent back in Manchester with my large family and more to the point the journeys to and from these short breaks. Grandad would pick me up and unfailingly we would stop in the car park by the River Derwent in Baslow and then continue past Ladybower reservoir and over the Snake Pass. The wild environs thereabouts fired my imagination and sometimes when wind and rain lashed the summit I would drift off into those imaginings and wonder what it would be like to go exploring a land which seemed as remote and barren to me then as might be the North Pole or the Sahara Desert.
In Manchester I had many exciting things to do, shopping for trendy fashions in town, watching United or playing my uncles guitar, though on my return to Peterborough the things that stirred insistent within me were the mysterious hills of Peakland and the distant blue Pennines which often came unexpectedly into view around my grandparent’s house.
That, I suppose, was the start of it and though long forgotten those library books flicked a switch in my head, one which refused to switch back. Before long I became an ‘expert’ on the Lakeland fells even though upon them I had yet to tread. An obsessive by nature I slowly became engrossed in waking dreams of Britain’s wild places until I could think of little else. Two years passed and then a chance encounter brought about a reunion with a dear but long lost friend who unbeknown to me had been living in Grasmere and Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond. He too had fallen for the simplicity and truth of the hills and while I had been losing myself in books and magazines he had tasted paradise and was keen to share it with me having experienced for himself their healing properties. On the 10th of August 2002 we headed up to Manchester to watch United and after the match found our way to Grasmere where a night in the Red Lion Hotel was followed by our walk on Silver How. And that dear reader is, as they say, history.
And what times I have had, both with friends and alone among nature’s gifts…wild days on the Carneddau, endless summer days climbing on the crags of Lakeland, roaming the fells until the last rays of sun brought another joyous day to a close, Scottish winter days where the air was so clear I could see for fifty miles in every direction or dancing along airy ridges high above the clouds…almost too many to remember but each giving memories that will remain evergreen, and what’s more, health permitting I have so many more to look forward to. In a world where bad news seems all pervasive time spent in the company of the mountains makes any sadness a little easier to bear.
These days I rarely drink to excess and never use drugs. I am happier than I have ever been and credit the times I have spent in the hills for the almost miraculous turn around in my fortunes, that, and meeting the love of my life though some would say, only half jokingly that the mountains are my greatest love. However, what good is the freedom of the hills if there is no one waiting for you in the valley?
So why have I felt the need to tell you all this? The sole reason for writing about my adventures in this blog is not to impress my sofa bound friends with my ‘heroic’ deeds but to inspire them to seek for themselves the fun, excitement, camaraderie and peace that is to be found by anyone who chooses to look further than the limits of their home towns or foreign sun holidays. The wonderful set of islands we call Britain have so much to offer though sadly remain undiscovered by many of our countrymen. If you, like I did, feel lost or unhappy, confused or disillusioned then why not visit North Wales or Lakeland, the Peak or Scotland? Go on, why not put your boots on and give it a try?