Thursday, 17 November 2011

What the Fells Have Taught Me

Well we've been up here best part of a year now and as my profession is that of a sort of teacher I think it's time I reviewed the things I've learned thus far in our new life.

First of all I've learned to walk up hills, sounds easy enough but within a month of getting the house keys I got myself a shocking case of shin splints and was grounded.  Walking on the level was OK but there isn't a lot of level around here.  I suppose linked to that is the fact that I learned that Cartmel is further than you think and it's best not to try and sprint back over the fell when you've had a bucket or so of wine as that's what kicked the shin splints off. (The walking, not the wine).

Secondly I've learned to walk in the dark.  Where we previously lived there was a large nature reserve next to us Fleet Pond and it provided a handy shortcut to the railway station meaning that after long liquid nights out in London or Basingstoke we could use it as a short cut home, but it always scared the bejeebers out of me walking around there in the dark.  We have now been stuck out on several fells after dark and I'm beginning to get the hang of it.  Still not 100% comfortable with the experience but I'm getting used to it.  Maybe I need a hip flask.

And it's not just dark on the fells, the little track outside our home is unlit and there aren't many street lights along the nearby road either, so I've sensibly invested in a Legoman keyring and if you squeeze his belly light shines out of his feet.  Who says I'm not well equipped.

Thirdly I've learned about wildlife.  I've learned that sheep are the dumbest animals on the fells.  Sorry, but it's true.  There have been sheep and hikers on the fells for generations and yet they still look surprised to see you.  I've learned that cows come in two main varieties, bored or nosey and so will either track your progress with a menacing air of hoody-esque detachment or follow you in groups to the nearest gate.  I've learned that Slow Worms aren't and that Adders are quite pretty but best not approached.  I've also learned that deer may be cute but they make the rudest noises when rutting (Bambi had to come from somewhere) and they are masters of disguise, hiding out on the fells all day and appearing through the mist to scare the hell out of you after dusk.  Lastly on the wildlife front I've learned that there are no words adequate to describe how annoying midges are.

Fourthly I've learned how to read a map properly and use a compass.  To be fair I could do that before but my wellbeing has never depending upon it as it does now.  I've also learned that compasses can be unreliable, they are only required to do one job and that is to point north, and although mine failed to do that recently we still made it home, thanks to my in inbuilt gin homing device.

I've learned about outdoor equipment.  I know all about taking care of our waterproofs and I've learned that sliding down fells on your backside is expensive.  I've also learned that I'm an old fuddy duddy when it comes to walking boots and after several attempts with non-leather boots I finally found my perfect match with my lightweight leather Brasher boots (and I'm still not getting paid to plug them!)  I also learned that proper waking boots require proper woollen socks unless you have a fondness for large weeping blisters.

And lastly I've learned about inversions and how unpredictable they are.   We managed to see one over Windermere and, flushed with success, got up at 6am the next morning in an attempt to see another one over Ullswater.  We failed but I did learn how cold it can be before the sun comes up.

So what's left to learn?  Well with winter looming ahead I plan to learn what hiking in the snow is all about, though I'll be starting gently on the lower fells I know well before attempting anything too lumpy, and I still need to learn how to pace myself better and not go tearing up every fell like an excited 6 year old.  But then, maybe there are some lessons I'll never learn.