|The photo is a view of a misty Goldscope Valley and Newlands from Dale Head, 2010|
Well it wasn't quite love at first sight but pretty much so. I had been on the occasional day trip to the Lakes whilst at primary school. But it was my first proper visit in Easter 1973, at the age of 15, when I travelled up to what was then still Cumberland in the back of an army 4 ton truck with the school cadet force. That is when it really happened for me.
My first memories of the area are hazy. I recall leaning out of the back of the lorry into the nightime darkness of Borrowdale being violently sick and wanting to die. At that time I used to get badly travel sick, but this was compounded by the diesel fumes that had been pumped in to the back of the truck through the open canvas all the way up the M6. I suffered badly and noisily. By the time that we arrived at the Hollows Farm Camp Site I was really ill. My mate, Rob Strachan, put up the tent for me as I stood around, feeling helpless and not helping, waiting to be able to crawl into a very grungy army issue, sleeping bag.
By the next morning I felt on top of the world. In those days you could camp right up to the River Derwent at Hollows Farm. Rob and I cleaned our teeth and washed in the river. The sun rose over Grange Fell. I was alive and in love. Never before had I been aware of such beauty. Never before had the air seemed so clear. Never had views been so sharp. Never before had I sensed such contentment.
For the next seven days we walked over the fells, climbed on the crags and canoed on the rivers and lakes. I was no stranger to hills. I had walked and walked and walked over the hills of my native Shropshire. Rob and I would cover long distances each weekend over the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and the hills of the Welsh Marches. 50 miles in 20 hours was my record. Rob was always faster and stronger.
But the fells were different. These were to be savoured, to be worshiped, to be loved from the outset. Almost 40 years later I can still recall so many of the views I experienced that week, the feeling of freedom, the first visits to the summits that have since become my regular companions, the same summits that can now suffer from our over familiarity, and which can can leave me feeling guilty after a day on them. Guilty because I sometimes find myself looking forward to the end of the walk rather than savouring every moment of their company. Guilty becasue I sometimes shun them through lack of will and effort. Guilty at this lack of constancy from me to them despite all that they have given to me.
So I recall with all my senses the excitement and perfection of the Buttermere, Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head route back to Hollows Farm. The adrenalin and fear as I did my first rock climb, Donkey's Ears on Shepherd's Crag. I still picture the vital foothold on the severe traverse of the final pitch, with my teacher, Ernie Goddard, guiding me to it with calm instructions from his relaxed stance a few feet away; I could still picture that foothold when I led that same pitch 25 years later when I took up climbing far too late in life. I recall the excitement as a group of us canoed through the reeds of the delta where the River Derwent meets its namesake lake. And I still recall the joy and sheer teenage exuberance as we later canoed in the glorious early evening sunshine, of that perfect Easter week, on the too shallow Derwent by the camp site. The place from where, one day, my ashes will disperse and float downstream to settle in the shallow waters of that delta on Derwent Water.