The man was drenched in sweat. “You’ve got quite a climb ahead of you,” he told us with a grin and an Eastern European accent. We looked at the high, rolling hills behind him. “Does the path go up there?” we asked. “Yeah, it’s pretty steep.”
On the summit, though, we turned again to take the wind on the broadside. We leaned into it as we walked through a torrent of cloud and sideways rain. There were no features discernible but a lonely line of fence posts.
My time trapped in bed or in my wheelchair seemed to drag on interminably. People who visited me remarked on how quickly I seemed to be getting better, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I was constantly frustrated.
My feet were in their worst state yet, so I obsessively looked for any patches made softer by a thin layer of mud or gravel to tread on. Often the grass on the verge was long and wet, which would be awkward and annoying to stamp my way through, but there was a strip about four inches wide next to the tarmac where it didn’t grow so thickly, and I followed this, one foot in front of the other like a tightrope walker. Anything that gave my feet fractional relief was worth doing.
My route was not a good one. I did not flow smoothly northwards.
There were no shortcuts or easy ways out; no way of reducing the hardship. The hardship would end when I had been through all of it and not before.
“See you on Ben Nevis in two weeks, then.” In my mind’s eye, a gauntlet thudded heavily to the ground at my feet.
We reached the summit cairn and waited for our turn to pose on top of it, with Steve and Hugo loudly saying things along the lines of “Walked all the way from Snowdon, eh? Nice going!” then looking round to see if anyone reacted. Steve produced some celebratory whiskey, which we all knocked back a sip of.
Looking along the valley, I could see the smooth shoulder of Bowfell climbing into the clouds. That was my route up onto the horseshoe where the highest summits were to be found.
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.