It was past four in the afternoon. We had been walking for over five hours. Despite our best smiles – and Joh’s chocolate – we were tired, very tired.
We were desperately looking for something – a path that should have been climbing up towards us from the steep lower slopes of the glacial corrie below. But paths – this far into a landscape – can be tenuous things, and all we could see, below and west, was the course of a stream, cascading down the valley.
Jon was pointing along the line of our high path, towards what I took to be a tarn, set high against the corrie wall. I had a mental picture of Jon’s map and knew that the far glacial wall was too high to intersect our present course.
“No,” he said, immediately understanding my glum expression, and pointing to a gap in the near ridge just left of my line of sight. “There!”
I looked… there. A small gulley acted as a cut-away to reveal what I had thought was the far side of the valley. But my perspective had been wrong. Revealed in the ‘V’ was a thin strip of path… climbing to meet the track we were on.
With something approaching joy, we powered up our weary feet and walked forward. In the end, we need not have worried; the two paths intersected not far from the corrie wall – which still towered high above us. We had no desire to sample the – undoubtedly stunning – views from its northern edge.
We joined the downward path – just a smattering of stones at this height – and began our longed-for descent.
The descending path was steep. Even worse, the path and the stream crossed each other all the time, meaning we had to pick our way across the larger boulders to traverse.
In places, the stream would suddenly drop ten, or even twenty feet, turning the way ahead into a partial waterfall. We knew that most walking accidents occurred on the way back from the heart of the walk: when the legs are at their most tired. There was still another four miles of the descent before we reached the level ground at the outskirts of Grasmere…
This is the kind of landscape that will constantly surprise you. When the main section of the descent was done, we sat by the stream – now a river – and had the last of the chocolate and the final sips of water. For some reason, our thoughts turned to the idea of a long, cold beer, reminiscent of the John Mills film ‘Ice cold in Alex’. The idea was potent and spurred us on.
Jon pointed to the top of the ridge, which was now above us and to the left. He thought that there may be a figure standing where we had rested so many hours before, looking down, ruefully, at the bridge… and choosing the long walk.
I raised the telephoto lens of the camera and and zoomed in…
To keep our spirits up, we chatted about our favourite sights of the day. Mine had been seeing the Lion and Lamb Rocks from above:
Bernie’s had been the hundreds of butterflies flying around a large but solitary thistle bush, close to Gibson Knot:
Kathy remarked that discovering that there actually was a path back along the valley had “been pretty special”.
Jon remarked that his was yet to come, but he could bear that cold beer calling from Grasmere…
We walked on, knowing that another hour would see us back at our start point in Grasmere.
Around the next bend, a familiar friend awaited us: the bridge we had last seen from nearly 500 metres above our present location.
To show her pleasure, the tireless Tess dashed across it and back to collect us.
We emerged from the glacial Easedale valley and into the farmland around the town. Another half hour to go. But then Bernie looked at her watch and realised we had only fifteen minutes left on the parking ticket.
We reassured her that, at this late hour, we were unlikely to get a fine, but she trotted off, surprising the three of us with her reservoir of energy.
‘Ice Cold in Alex’. The moment will live in our taste buds for ever….
Bernie arrived back with the car at the same moment the beer was delivered to our table. It was the best beer I’ve ever had…
It was 18:38. We had been walking for nearly eight hours – far longer than we had planned. We had covered eleven very difficult miles. But, we had done three of Wainwright’s peaks and made it home in relatively good shape.
What a day!
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.