The choice lay before me: heaven or the underworld?
The path along the lochside was easy, pleasant, and scenic. It did occasionally see fit to climb over a low hill, but I couldn’t begrudge it this flightiness.
The last few kilometres were a haze of pain, weariness, wariness, pinpricks of drizzle under orange street lights, and bright advertisements on bus shelters. At long last, I arrived at the hostel.
It was strange – through that pain and monotony we quite suddenly found ourselves in a place of exquisite natural beauty. It was like arriving in Rivendell.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.