Monday, 18 February 2013

Mind, Body & Soul

View from Place Fell
"Wow, from up here you can see the whole world!"  Those were the words of an excited dad to his sons yesterday as he stood on top of a snowy fell and took in the view.  I'm not sure you could see the entire world, but it certainly was an impressive sight; dozens of snowy peaks disappearing into the distance in every direction.  The clear blue skies, the sun with its first warmth of spring and the gentle wind, though cold, only added to the sense of perfection.

With the obesity crisis hitting the headlines and inactivity killing thousands there are no doubt going to be calls for everyone to be more active, and what better way to be active than hiking in the Lake District fells?  Of course hiking the fells is fabulous exercise, a 7 hour hike is better than any workout I've ever done, but fell walking doesn't just give you a physical workout, it gives you a mental one too.

"Are we there yet?" is the jokey cry one of us generally utters as we huff and puff up the first part of the ascent; maybe it's my age but it always takes me half an hour or so to hit my stride these days.  Stride found, things then settle down for a while as we wind our way upwards with regular photo stops thrown in for good measure, but it's not long before the battle of the fake summit begins and that really can be a mental challenge.

Is there anything quite so disheartening as thinking you're nearly there and then realising there's at least another two peaks to go before you reach the one you're after?  To add to the fun between you and the summit of your dreams may lie bogs, streams, howling winds, mist, rain or, as was the case yesterday, soft powdery snow which made conditions rather like trying to walk up a very slippery sand dune; this is when you need to dig deep physically and mentally.

Haweswater & Harter Fell
Shouting in frustration as you fall over for the umpteenth time, swearing loudly and even beating the fell with your walking poles doesn't do anything to help; trust me, I've tried.  Plus all of that stuff only serves to wear you out more quickly; a little positive focus is what's needed if you're to get to the summit in one piece.  Personally, when I'm done swearing, I often resort to songs from The Sound of Music to push me forwards and, if you're really unlucky, you'll be within earshot when I start belting them out.

Sun through the clouds from Helm Crag
All that physical and mental exertion is generally forgotten when you reach the summit, at least for a little while.  However many fells I climb the feelings never change; exhilaration, joy and, on many occasions, a sense of relief that we've finally made it.  Of course that's only half the story, descents can be every bit as tricky as ascents plus now you're feeling tired and, if it's been bad weather, you're cold and wet as well but if you stop concentrating mistakes can, and will, happen.

Beautiful moonlight.
Take yesterday for example, during our descent after slithering half a mile or so along a track we realised we were headed the wrong way and had to slither all the way back again; not what's needed but no good ranting, turn around, get yourself on the right path and keep going.  As it turned out we were so late that it was dark by the time we got back to the valley floor, thankfully it was a beautiful evening with a moon so bright we didn't need head torches to find our way to the car.

After 7 hours of snowy hiking we were both utterly drained but, on the bright side, we'd had plenty of exercise, seen the whole world, pushed ourselves when giving up would have been easier and had a fantastic day on the fells full of memories which no camera can ever capture, and that's got to be doing us more good than any prescription ever can.

On top of the Howitzer.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Idyllic or isolated?

St Martins Church, Martindale

Pretty much everyone has done it; been for a walk or a drive in the countryside, spotted a lovely old cottage in the middle of nowhere and dreamed about maybe living there. But the reality is what looks like an idyllic cottage on a warm summers day is usually a little less than idyllic in the middle of winter when practicalities such as getting to work, or even to and from the shops, kick in.

Downtown Martindale
It's something we pondered as we walked through Martindale during our recent Place Fell hike (more details of the actual hike are on the Cumbria24 news website here) but can I start by saying that neither of us are social historians, these are merely the ponderings of two mad ramblers.

The way we figured it out "being isolated" a couple of hundred years ago was maybe less of an issue than it is today.  Back then everyone was isolated, technologically speaking and, more importantly, they  were far more self sufficient than we are today.  These days people worry if there's no mobile signal and perish the thought of life without satellite TV and a decent broadband connection.

The views along Martindale valley
I'm not suggesting that technology is a bad thing, far from it, but it does seem somewhat perverse that the boom of communications has lead to idyllic places like Martindale becoming more cut off and less practical to live in.  There looks to be an old school building, long since deserted by children and converted into living accommodation and the beautiful chruch along the valley probably sees more curious hikers than it does devout worshippers.  So far as we could make out there were a couple of farms and permanent residences and the rest of the village appeared to be holiday cottages - presumably used by people trying to "get away from it all" but not wanting to stay away from it all for too long.

Interestingly since making the big move 2 years ago from the hustle and bustle of the south east to the peace and quiet of Grange-over-Sands our standards have adjusted; we now find Grange a bit busy, especially in the summer months, and peer longingly at some of the more secluded villages deeper inside the National Park.
View from Grange prom.

Not that everyone feels the same way mind.  On Sunday I needed to nip to the Spar in the village and I passed a youngish couple wandering forlornly past a row of closed shops (much of Grange is still closed on Sundays) and they weren't at all impressed.  "Maybe it's the time of year?" they mused.  I was about to helpfully point them to the gorgeous cream cakes at Hazelmere Bakery, the ornamental gardens and the prom when one of them paused in front of the estate agents window.  "I wonder how much the houses are around here?" she asked.  "Who cares?" came the reply "The place is dead and there's no phone signal, who'd want to live here?"  I left them to it, they probably wouldn't have appreciated the cream cakes anyway.