Sunday, 13 January 2013

Why Am I Here In The Mist and Mud?

 As you have probably gathered by now I quite like mountains and walking. There are other things I am particularly partial too as well; beer, cheese, cricket, music however, the biggest passion is books. Boy, do I love books. I have hundreds of them. They are all over the house. I have to keep popping to Ikea for new shelves. Even though she quite likes a book herself it is driving Jo nuts. I have books on all kinds of subjects and all kinds of genres. I hate giving them away or donating them to charity shops as there is always the chance that I will read them again, and I do read some of them over and over again. I know the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy almost word for word. Fortunately there is a degree of overlap when it comes to books and my other interests; OK, granted there are not many books on cheese and once you get past the Good Beer Guide not many on that subject either. However, there are lots of books about walking and mountains!

So, of course, I have a couple of shelves of Wainwright books. There are the Pictorial guides, the Coast to Coast, the Pennine Way Companion and nearly all of the coffee table books he did with Derry Brabbs. I have a load of walking guides to various regions and guidebooks for different national trails as well as volumes of routes up mountains and county high points etc. I kind of see these as the “tools of the trade”, not as invaluable as maps (I should have put maps on my passions list, they are one of my favourite things in the world) but they are sometimes the spark that inspires a walk. I usually have one crammed in my rucksack when I set out and when we go camping we quite often have a mini library of relevant books in the tent with us.

However, as well as the practical books about walking there are also a number of books about the history, psychology and background detail of mountains, mountaineering, countryside and walking. I think these are the ones I like the best.

Pschology of walking? What’s all that about then? Well, to put it simply why do we go out and do something that is practically pointless? Why do we cover ourselves in goretex and wander around in the wilds in the pouring rain/snow/wind/hail? Why do we do something that has the potential to be incredibly dangerous? What is the point of climbing up a mountain? You could quite simply take the George Mallory answer of , “because it’s there” but today I read something that sums it up for me and reflects how I feel about walking. My latest acquisition from Amazon has been the Guardian Book of Mountains, a collection of cuttings from The Guardian relating to walking and mountaineering. There are obituaries of famous rock climbers and mountaineers, news stories like the Kinder Mass Trespass or the ascent of Everest as well as the demise of the aforementioned George Mallory. However, the one that particularly caught my eye was a leader article about the rise of the popularity of rambling and dates from 22nd January 1923. Entitled “Good Ramblers” it finishes with this little paragraph which, for me, sums up why I go outdoors when I could be sat watching Eastenders, Britain’s Got (Little) Talent or The X Factor.

to live submissively in great towns, without ever going out to get an embrace of mother earth and renew one's acquaintance with solitude, is a deprivation, almost a creeping disease. In an appreciable degree one is remade, and made better, every time one spends a long day among the heather or the peat; a coating of the almost inevitably incipient parasitism that comes of always living in a crowd falls from you; you breath deep and are yourself"

It will probably sound strange to a non walker but I’m just not at home when I’m indoors, in a town or away from the hills. Even being stuck in my own house for a couple of days results in me getting cabin fever. Picture the worst day you could have outdoors; cold, raining, windy, muddy – it would still be better, by a long way, than a being sat watching TV, or a trip to the shops, or a day at work.

On Friday I had a day to myself. Lacking company, a car or a great deal of funds I got the train the short journey to Glossop. From there I walked up Bleaklow, Higher Shelf Stones and Doctor’s Gate. It was cold, low cloud made navigation tricky, I got wet, never saw another person all day, it was boggy and in one or two places the peaty mud came over the top of my boots. Now some people would read that and think urghhhhh, others will look at it and think that sounds fun. That’s the difference between outdoors people and your regular kind of person I guess. It was a fantastically great day.

Now, that’s all well and good but there comes some problems with this kind of thinking. Problem number one is that enforced imprisonment in the house or at work does you no good. If the weather is horrendously bad, you’re poorly or there is some other reason you can’t get out then you start feeling ill at ease, jumpy and short tempered. Problem number two I find is that its sometimes difficult to relate to “regular” people; you know the ones at work who ask your opinion about who is going to win I’m a Celebrity or try to engage you in a conversation about the Trafford Centre. I just normally nod and smile a lot and try to answer noncommittally. This then leads to you developing a clique of like minded people; the kind of people who can join in a discussion about the relative merits of different map scales or the best route up some obscure hill. Of course I can hold down conversations on other subjects too; beer, cheese, cricket and folk music all make for great subjects to talk about with the cool kids at work.

One of the final articles in The Guardian Book of Mountains is an obituary of a young climber called Will Perrin, the son of Guardian climbing writer, Jim. He took his own life at the age of 24 and the implication was that he found life difficult to fit in to away from the mountains. Whilst that is, hopefully, an extreme response to outdoor deprivation I can kind of see how it could happen. As I don’t do any climbing then my chances of dying on the hill are somewhat reduced but I can think of no better way to go then sat on top of a summit, by a trig point or a cairn looking at the view. Unfortunately, you don’t usually get a say in such things.

I will leave the last word to master of outdoor philosophy, AW. Obviously he is writing specifically about the Lake District in this quote but it fits even if you swap the word “Lakeland” for the phrase “the outdoors” or even for any area of your choosing,

"Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other than calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.''


  1. Couldn't agree more. The quote from Good Ramblers sums things up perfectly! Some people don't "get it" but each to their own - it makes for more solitude on the hills. I recently posted a photo of me running in the remote Peak District on a beautiful, frosty, blue sky day and someone replied "are you mad?"
    No point replying to that really.

    1. No, not really. I think you either get it or you dont and nether the twain shall meet. I suppose it works the other way too, when people try to convince me of the merits of wandering round some shopping mall or watching a soap on telly. Give me a frosty, blue sky day in the Peak District and I will be more than happy

    2. Maybe we're mad. Why aren't we camping outside Meadowhell in the January sales to buy a 90 inch flat-screen so we can watch Eastenders omnibus sat on our bargain 2 grand sofa (which we queued overnight for in last year's sale!)

  2. Great post - not long since I had a fine walk round Doctor's Gate and Bleaklow from Glossop (my first visit). The cloud and rain eventually closed in, but it was a grand day.

    1. I have been up Bleaklow before, last year I went up along the Pennine Way and, to be honest, I was not impressed. However, the way I went ths time (up Yellow Slacks Ridges and over the top before coming down via Doctors Gate) made it a wholly different experience. I can see why its a Trail 100 now.

  3. It's the walks in terrible weather that are the most memorable.