|The summit of Bowfell, August 2010: almost the scene of a very unpleasant incident!|
I often wonder whether I am alone in the completely selfish attitude I hold towards going on to the hills. I get the impression, on the flimsiest of evidence, from comments in outdoor magazines and from blogs and tweets, that many dedicated and regular hill goers are liberal (with a small letter “L”), and incredibly tolerant of their fellow beings. I envy this attitude but have not yet mastered it. But perhaps many others really do share my views?
This is where I admit to my crabby, undemocratic spirit and intolerance. I love the sense of peace and solitude that I get on many of my days on the hill. I try to seek out areas that I believe will be empty, especially at weekends and holiday times. Even in the
Lake District there are still quiet places on summer Bank Holidays. But with the growth in popularity in hillwalking, with better roads and more car ownership, the hills have become far more crowded in the 40 years I have been wandering them. Solitude is harder to find for us all. And, thus, I have to admit to a sense of hypocritical intolerance towards my fellow man when I am out doing what I enjoy most. I am happy to pass the time of day with other solitary walkers, provided it’s not for too long and I can sit and enjoy a snack in silence. But the presence of chattering groups pushes me to lung bursting, leg aching exertion to put distance between them and me.
It is not just the lack of solitude that inspires my Wainwrightesque attitude, although I have not yet stooped to his depths of turning round and pretending to pee to drive away those attempting polite conversation. It’s also the erosion, the litter, the reminders of civilisation and all the thoughts that the latter brings to mind, that so disturb the sense of tranquillity. And in this, I let myself develop an irritation when I should be seeking calm. Being on the hills should be therapy, not an instigator of angst.
These attitudes, of course, are completely hypocritical and have grown as I have aged. I cause as much erosion as the next man (although I like to think that competent hill walkers do not do so). I certainly destroy the solitude for other walkers, who perhaps are viewing me with the same antagonism that I too often view them. Perhaps the answer and the solution lie within me. I need to develop big T tolerance and not just small L liberalism.
Until I master this I will continue with my unuttered barbs and jibes, always contained, and mostly hidden behind a cheery greeting or snatched conversation. Such as near the top of Bow Fell on a wet, cloudy day last year.
“Do you know where we are”, I was asked, "my GPS battery is dead”.
“Yes thank you”, I replied.
“Oh” said he. “Could you show me on the map?”
“No problem – we are about here”.
“Thanks” he said. How did you know that without a GPS?”
“Because, Dumbo, I have a map, a compass, a brain, and I use all three”.
Of course the last line was not spoken, just thought. I simply said “Oh, you know….” and smiled and waved the map and went on my way.
Later that day I met another lost group near Esk Hause.
“Is that the path down towards Borrowdale?” I was asked.
They were actually heading towards Eskdale. It would be a 40 mile taxi ride and a £60 fare if they got it wrong. The hidden philanthropist in me emerged. But I was so tempted, oh so tempted, before I heroically sent them off north to Borrowdale not south to Eskdale, and my self righteous sense of goodness exploded within me, and repeatedly returned on future outings. Until I ended up completely disoriented on Red Screes one awful claggy day this August.
So what’s so great about
? Well, in short, my selfish desire for solitude and the chance for enjoyment mean that I relish every television advert for Alton Towers , every leaflet I see for a National Trust House, every brown road sign pointing the way to a tourist honey pot. Good luck to them all. Pull in the crowds. Pull them in by the million. Offer all comers a fabulous experience. I genuinely hope that all who go to them have a wonderful time and repeat their visits. I hope they find the prospect far more enticing than grinding up a steep fell side. You see, I do wish my fellow man well. Alton Towers