Continued from Part Five…
There comes a moment in any weekend event when the carefully cultivated sense of order breaks down… no matter how good the plan. At that point one looks to ‘heaven’ knowing that the success is in the ‘laps of the Gods’.
The man striding up the hill from Great Salkeld towards Long Meg Stone Circle possessed a brain whose capacity for the solution of additional problems had ceased…
You can only do so much to anticipate what might go wrong. This is different from careful planning; which provides a framework which should be resilient, and above all else, elastic.
The companion who was having difficulty walking was, to the best of my knowledge, still somewhere close to Lacy’s Caves; and being looked after by some, if not all, of the walking party. Even with their help, she might be unable to walk out of the Eden Valley.
She was later to write to Stuart and I that there must have been a remarkable amount of ‘elastic in the system’ to bring things to a successful conclusion. At the time, it didn’t feel like that…
The Saturday of the Journey of the Hero workshop had gone very well. The problems were entirely about how it was ending…
To the best of my knowledge, I was the only one not still ‘trapped’ in the Eden Valley. Somewhat hot and sweaty, courtesy of my self-imposed route-march, I was approaching the Long Meg Stone Circle – where all the cars were parked. Other than breathing deeply and being hot, I felt okay. There was no sign of extreme fatigue. My concern was entirely for the companions farther back along the route.
A glance at my watch showed I had made it back in record time. But there was none to lose. It seemed unlikely that we would be making our early dinner appointment at the Shepherd Inn, Langwathby – the next village, but a million miles away in problems. A prime Saturday evening booking cancelled… they would be rightly annoyed.
I located my car keys in the backpack and opened the door… It’s amazing what sliding behind the wheel of your car can do for the spirits when you’ve spent the past hour walking at a near-run. Now, finally equipped to get somewhere fast, I could begin to put a rescue into effect. Down in the village the large gate was padlocked and I would not be able to take the car on its return mission without solving that first.
I glanced at the Long Meg stones and made my silent prayer, again. Then drove off down the steep lane back to Great Threlkeld.
Five minutes later, I swung the car round the corner and into the small road by the village green to find that three people were sitting on the bench, looking at the arriving fast car. Stuart was one of them. I couldn’t work out what had happened but was relieved to see at least some of the party. They were equally surprised to see me, and explained that they presumed they had been just behind me on my self-enforced march.
It transpired that the lady with the walking difficulties had made a determined effort to have another go at it; and found out that her Covid-suppressed leg muscles had begun to respond to her needs! She was somewhere behind on the trail but being assisted by one of our strongest hikers. In my absence, the problem had begun to resolve itself… There’s a lesson in that, I muttered to no-one in particular…
It seemed there was nothing I could do to speed up the situation, so the critical path shifted to getting everyone who was here back to their cars.
Without delay, I ferried them back up the hill to Long Meg. I was about to set off, again, back to the village, when one of the party approached me looking glum and shaking her head.
“I appear to have lost my car keys,” she said in a low voice.
She’s an experienced lady, and hosts workshops of her own. She looked downcast, conscious that the slim possibility of getting to our dinner had just evaporated…
Stuart and I looked around the car, then got down on the ground to see if the keys had dropped beneath. Nothing. Meanwhile, the lady without the keys was searching every pocket she had, including those of her backpack. It was fruitless…they were not there.
The three of us mentally retraced our steps to think where they might have been dropped. She said that, after locking the car, they were always placed in a certain pocket of her walking jacket. She patted it, silently.
“One of my daughters lives close by. She said, brightening. She took out her mobile. “She’ll not be surprised…”
I always admire self-deprecating humour. In the face of difficulty, it’s a noble thing.
Stuart sighed and said, in the way he does when he’s wearing his Reaper’s look, “Lacy’s Caves… we all sat down for that tea and chocolate…They might have fallen out there!”
No-one responded. The implications were ‘too horrid’, as a long departed mentor would have said.
I took stock: we did have enough seats in the available vehicles to get us all to the Shepherd Pub in nearby Langwathby. We were short two people, one of whom might be limping along the river trail.
It was 17: 40. The dinner table was booked for 18:00. It was Saturday evening; they wouldn’t hold it long.
“I’ll drive back into the village” I said. “You never know, the final two might have made it that far.”
I got into my car, again, opening the side window to catch any last-minute developments. The companion without her car keys was phoning the daughter with the spare set. I could hear the cackle of laughter at the other end.
It was beautifully good-natured. We would be okay, even if we had to dine off fish and chips, standing on the pavement in Penrith…
I drove down the lane, again. This was beginning to feel like the central character in Gerard Hofnung’s story of the bricks… If you’ve never heard it, it’s ten minutes well spent.
The lady with the limp and her stalwart protector were sitting on the same bench. She looked fine. I had a growing sense of amused unreality.
“I’m fine, Steve. My leg started working, again. Just lack of exercise… I should have done some training before the weekend!”
I thanked her protector and we climbed back into the car. I was about to set off for Long Meg when a different plan presented itself…
I dropped them outside the Shepherd Inn in the nearby village of Langwathby with instructions to secure our table and delay things as long as possible. If we were thrown out at that point, we had at least battled and lost. Dinner in that delightful pub was to be the high point of the day and I wasn’t going to surrender it, lightly.
I went back up the hill to Long Meg… (See I told you you’d like the Bricklayer’s tale)
The lady without her keys was standing behind her car, talking with her daughter. The keys being brought seemed to be a minimum of an hour away. All hopes of the nearby dinner were vanishing.
She turned to lean on the back of the car and – to her visible surprise – the boot swung up and open…
“That’s not supposed to happen,” she remarked, quietly, to her bemused daughter on the other end of the line. “I think I know what the problem is…”
Stuart and I looked on in astonishment as, saying nothing, she walked to the driver’s side and pulled the handle. The door opened. It hadn’t been locked…
Flashing me a ‘please don’t say anything until I’ve had a drink’ look, she reached down into the well of the door and extracted her keys…from where she now knew they’d been, all along.
“Done it again,” she murmured to her daughter, who was still on the phone. “Thank you!”
Nine minutes later, our party arrived in Langwathby and parked by the village green, next to the pub.
As we crossed the threshold, I looked at my watch. It was one minute to six…
It was a lesson in the art of the possible – as long as you let the possible happen. A lesson that Stuart and I are unlikely ever to forget… It was also an excellent dinner.
The morning after, we would be climbing a mountain… but not exactly in the way we had planned…
To be concluded in Part Seven.
Other parts in this series:
This is Part Six.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.