Monday, 9 September 2019

Come on Legs, Come on Head, Come on Heart

"And in the darkest hours of urban depression, I will sometimes take out that dog's eared map, and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that I was once a free man on the hills."

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays, 1912

Edale, Derbyshire
I want to tell you a story.  It is about how I set off to walk the Pennine Way but didn’t get very far.  It is the sorry tale of a man who has lost his ‘mojo’ for what has been his passion for 48 of his 62 years.  Walking in the hills.  But do not despair, oh reader, for these posts, (there will be a couple), are not all doom and gloom despite the initial introspection.  There may even be messages of hope in here.  Forgive the following rambling paragraphs.  I need to clear my head.

Image result for tom stephenson pennine way guide cover
It was all Tom's fault
In about 1976 I bought Tom Stephenson’s guide to the Pennine Way.  The Pennine Way was Tom's love child.  I dreamt [Click on that linky thing , but only if you are aged over about 55] of walking Tom's Pennine Way.  When?  Dunno.  But I walked many other places. The hills of my youth in Shropshire, with my bestest school friend.  We went off to university together and I’m seeing him next month down in the Brecon Beacons, with other uni friends, friendships rekindled recently after a long gap.  These renewed acquaintances have brought me much pleasure.  I had some wonderful friends at school and university.  Look after your friendships people.  I went almost forty years after university before I made more real friends.  I have this belief that friendships are most lasting when they are based on shared deep experiences, such as those gained when everything is new.  This might involve things like your early trips into the hills, or when you are living away from home for the first time, such as at university.

My walking progressed from Shropshire to other places.  The Berwyns.  Snowdonia.  Glencoe.  The Alps with my university mountaineering club.  Coast-to-coast across Scotland on five TGO Challenges.  The TGO Challenge is, for many, another intense experience that creates lasting bonds of friendship, as it has done for me.  I also had a few trips to the Pennines and the Peak District over the years.  However, the latter never really inspired me.  It always felt bleak, unwelcoming, even in the sun.  That is a reflection on me.  I am sure millions would disagree.  But my heart was in the Lake District.  The Lakes  had become my obsession since early forays with my school cadet force.  I would hitch hike there at every opportunity in my sixth form and college holidays to hike or backpack alone in the fells.  They were relatively quiet then.  The Band up Bowfell, now a major highway, was still an intermittent track, for example.  I never spent a 50 pence piece for twenty or thirty years.  I saved them towards the house I would buy in the Lakes.  A job opportunity, in reality a poor career move, allowed me to move to work in Cumbria in the late 1980s and I could at last walk the fells almost whenever I wanted.  The Pennine Way was well and truly on the back burner.  Tom Stephenson’s guide went to a charity shop, in pristine condition, no mud on the cover, no dog eared corners, out-of-date.
UCW Aberystwyth  Mountaineering Club in The Otztal Alps, Austria, 1977

A pretty 19 year old in the Otztal Alps crossing a glacier to the spectacularly located Bresslauer Hutte (???) in the left middle of the photo. Crikes, was I ever that young? 

This year I decided it was now or never. I had to walk the Pennine Way before my declining fitness and increasing age prevented it. The idea actually excited me. Of course it should have done, or why bother?  But I was more than semi-conscious that some of my walking was starting to feel like it was being done out of habit, a chore.  Especially the long, arduous days that things like my last two TGO Challenges had entailed.  I planned a moderate schedule.  18 days.  Several wild camps, a similar number of camp sites and 4 B and Bs.  I managed just 4 days.  At times the weather conditions were desperate.  Within four hours of starting I had to make a long diversion off Kinder Scout down to the valley to assist another walker who was in quite some difficulty and which knocked my plans.  But it was not the weather conditions or my legs or lack of fitness that did for me.  It was not my head, or lack of skill or my ability to adapt or solve problems.  No, it was my heart that gave up.  Not in the medical the human sense.

Any human heart?  No, just mine.  Not up to the job.

That’s the introspection over, for now at least.   I promise the following posts will be back on track. The normal inane Fellbound rambling.  There will be tales of rain of biblical proportions, of wind, such wind and of damsels in distress, rescued from certain death as darkness descended, with descriptions of endurance that will make Ernest Shackleton look like a complete wimp, of athletic young Austrians stalking our hero, and of the best sausage and bacon bap every made.  Oh.  And music.  The tale will end in the final post with a piece of music that will, I promise, make you want to dance.  Even the dads out there.  You'll hear it and want to dance with exuberance and hope and it will renew your desire to achieve your dreams.  I’m off to play it again before I write anymore of this nonsense…and it's not Showaddywaddy or The Proclaimers, I promise you.  But it jolly well could have been.


  1. Love it!
    Everyone has off days, for reasons you can't fathom at the time. When you set yourself a schedule and you fall behind it nags away at you. Clawing it back might appear to be a success at the time, but it rarely is, as it takes a lot of grit and hard work when you had planned it to be a jolly jaunt.

    I made a massive mistake of micro planning my LEJOG for each and every day for the four months of the walk. It seemed sensible at the time as folk wanted to walk specific days with me, and I had to fit the TGO Challenge in the centre of it.

    I'd never plan it like that again. These days I would allow myself a time limit and plan to walk for three quarters of the time, so the schedule could be more flexible. Miserable weather could be sat out in a nice warm pub or hotel, and the Mojo would be rekindled.

    You're spot on about the Challenge too. Having that fixed two week schedule does mean that buggered days need to be caught up, but of course this can be done by skipping a few hills.

    I'm currently on a TGV heading for Avignon for a week of pooling around Provence on Bronwyn Brompton. This should be a gloriously happy trip. No huge days. Ah. But there is Mont Ventoux to pop up and over.


    Put it down to experience David, and plan a happy trip somewhere warm.

    Look after yourself my darling!
    Mwah, mwah!

    1. Thanks Alan. Have a super time in Provence. I do hope you and Bronwen are very happy together.

  2. Honest and heart-warming sir.
    Minimal comment here.
    All the things I said in my email.
    If you ever fancy another bash at it, and want a dangerous Mad 'n Bad companion 🤔 Just sayin' 😁

    1. Thanks Andy. I have replied to your e-mail by other means!

  3. A brave decision and a brave post - it's hard to walk away (so to speak) from a long walk and you inevitably wonder if you've done the right thing. For me, weather has a big influence psychologically especially at the beginning of a walk - from the sound of it, you've had dreadful conditions and it's really tough to stay motivated.

    But my guess is that you're not done yet.

    1. Hi Ian

      Thanks for the comment. Ironically the weather had turned very much for the better when I jacked it in, and the day I enjoyed most was the day with the worst weather, which proved very enjoyable. The human brain is a very strange thing. Well mine is!