Mountains have a wonder-inducing effect on many to some extent, but it seems that Wainwright got one of the largest doses of this sensation ever (I remember driving into the Ogwen valley when I was 19 and getting a thrill of wonder at the sight of Tryfan – it blew my preconceptions of the UK out of the water that there could be such a real mountain here). It is difficult to think of a closer association between name and place than his with the Lake District.
I came to a saddle between two hilltops, where a friendly-looking oak invited me to rest. I had time on my hands. I sat barefoot in its branches and played my whistle, looking back down towards the valley and the estuary. I ate my lunch with my back to its trunk, and read my book, “Fool’s Quest” (appropriately enough) by Robin Hobb. I was having a lovely day wandering through the Lakeland foothills.
Leaves hung green and gold in the low afternoon sun. Moorhens and swans meandered among the tangled water weeds. I startled a kingfisher and sent it peeping down the canal ahead, then ran into it again and again as it retreated, refusing to bite the bullet and fly back past me. Several stone bridges arched over the water. I passed a few families and dog walkers.
We stood aside to let a flock of sheep pass us as we climbed up to the point where the hill turned from green fields to brown grouse moors. From our high point we could see all the way to the coast, to the mouth of the Wyre, to Blackpool tower, and, most excitingly, to the distant, cloudy fells of Cumbria. This milestone made the ascent worth it. Adrian told me grim police stories of murder and deceit as we made our way down through hillside farms.
We altered course, and more and more frequently had to dodge round large puddles and soaked earth, which then turned into entire sections of path that were submerged. Our route-finding involved some creative clambering and fence-hopping, until eventually we were checkmated. Caught on a track between two walls in an abandoned farmstead, with no way round and twenty metres of water between us and the road, we gave up and sprinted through it.
It was harvest season, and several of the farm houses we passed had tables set up on the roadside with honesty boxes, and great piles of apples for sale, along with chicken and even duck eggs. After passing a few of these we could no longer resist and got an apple each. We couldn’t guess what variety they were, but they were crisp and sweet. Duncan declared his the most delicious apple he had ever eaten.
They were the iron figures of Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation, of which there are a hundred dotted along Crosby Beach. Each of them gazes out to the horizon. They seemed wistful. I identified with them hard. I was also wet, stiff, and aspiring to something far away.
Maybe we should all just have “Sorry” printed on our passports.
In one day I had walked through thousands of years, from the Bronze Age into the Age of Steel.
“I just really want some chips. I’ve been walking for four days.”