Monday, 18 April 2011

Hare Appletree Fell

My heartrate is approaching its resting rate of lazy.bpm, my breathing has returned to normal; my vision is a little off, the scenery I'm trying to gaze at is still trying to snap itself into focus, and I am just trying to concentrate on keeping the remaining contents of my stomach where they should be.

I have just walked up what I thought was Clougha Pike, but now that I look to my right I know that I was mistaken; I know what Clougha Pike looks like, and it's just over there, about half a mile North-West from where I am sitting on this comfortable big rock.

This is what it's like being me, and I love it.  Most things I try end up going just a little bit wrong, but I am used to it after thirty-four years of being me, and it's fine.

View of Morecambe Bay, from Hare Appletree Fell car park.

 Last week I decided that I wanted to start a new blog, to encourage me to be more outdoorsy - particularly with my children, whom I have allowed to become a little too indoorsy this year.  Spring is always a good time to get out and about, so I decided that instead of just sitting and writing about my plans to be outside, I would actually go and be outside first.  Sounds obvious now, but I have this tendency to tell lots of people what my plans are but then forget to carry them out.

I haven't brought the children with me this time, because I wanted to take the first steps on my own.

I will tell you about my morning by listing it as a series of mistakes.

Mistake #1: Directions.

I set off for Jubilee Tower, close to Clougha Pike, knowing that a walk was very accessible from the car park there.  Did I remember to check that I knew the way to Jubilee Tower?  No, I did not.  I headed for Quernmore, because I knew it was somewhere beyond that little hamlet.  But Quernmore has a crossroads, and I had no idea (because of my very poor memory, and hence useless sense of direction) which road to take.  I took the wrong one.  There were only really two to choose from because I couldn't very well choose the one I had just driven along, and obviously the one heading back down into Lancaster was not right.  Any sensible person would have chosen the top road, that very obviously headed up towards Clougha, and not the fourth road, which very obviously headed away from Clougha - but I have already told you that I'm a bit thick when it comes to these things.  I chose the wrong road.  Fortunately, I realised my mistake immediately, and was able to turn back just a little way down the road; no major hassle, but this perfectly illustrates the way I do things.

This is how bad my memory is: I have been to and past Jubilee Tower many times in my life, but as I was driving along this road I felt a very familiar sense of foreboding that always accompanies the dawning realisation that I am lost.  However, over two rises, Jubilee Tower soon came into view.  None of that road had been familiar, but it should have been because it was the right one.  Will I remember next time that the road going up is the one that leads to Jubilee Tower?  It's not very likely.

That dark line at the top of the hill is where I am headed.

Mistake #2: Shoes.

You will start to see a pattern emerge already, when I tell you that I had forgotten what sort of terrain had to be crossed on the Jubilee Tower walk up Hare Appletree Fell.  This morning when I got dressed, knowing that I would be coming here, I put on the worst pair of shoes that I own because they are comfortable.  They are a very shabby pair of pumps that are made of now loosely held together canvas, torn in several places down the side, and sporting actual holes in the soles.

I came to this place for a very short tramp across a bit of field, so I thought - I actually only wanted a very little bit of fresh air.  Within one minute of stepping through the kissing gate I remembered why I should have heeded that little voice at home that had urged me to put on my very sturdy and very waterproof boots: this hill is a peat bog.  How could I forget this?  No other person in the whole world would forget this.

Well, not to worry.  I tramped on regardless, since I had come here to tramp.  I would just walk a little way up and then come back down for some lunch.  If I made sure to step on the tussocks  I would be alright.  And indeed I was, and would have continued to be, if I had not been in such a rush (more about that later).  I crossed a stream, leaping over it like an elderly salmon, and after skirting round some particularly boggy patches felt pretty pleased with myself.  Then I approached a particularly verdant piece of ground, and stupidly forgetting everything I know about nature/biology/logic, and even basic principles of observation, I stepped onto what I thought was nice firm ground covered in very bright green grass.  Upon closer inspection I realised that the grass was moss (sphagnum moss in fact, pretty star-shaped structures - sphagnum moss is what peat is made of, and it's very precious, and we must protect it - I knew all of this, but I forgot it at exactly the wrong moment).  I also realised that whilst moss does grow fat on a rolling stone, it also grows particularly densely across very sodden patches of peat.  You will find, as I did, just about half an hour ago, that if you step onto moss that grows atop a peat bog, your foot will sink very squishily up to the ankle before you even realise it's happened.

But this is absolutely alright.  The shoes that I chose to wear today may not exactly be waterproof, but at least they can go in the washer when I get home.  Once one foot was soaked there wasn't much point in giving up and going back to the car without having achieved anything.  And now that I had wet feet there was no longer any need to worry about getting wet feet.  Onwards and upwards.

Just give minutes into my climb, and look how small the Tower is already.  This is the only photo I took of the Tower - my appalling memory made me forget that it might be of interest to the reader.

Mistake #3: I am not a seasoned walker.

Just before I stepped in the bog, I looked back to see how far I had climbed.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that my car was now just a speck.  But something hideous and vain inside me was  unpleasantly surprised to see two walkers following, as I saw it, in hot pursuit of me.  I could not allow proper walkers to see me with dripping wet flared jeans and shoes that were not even distant cousins to the noble walking boot.  So I turned back up towards my goal (my summit; I knew full well that it wasn't the summit, but it was my goal that I could see from the car park - I'm stupid, but I'm not a complete moron*), and I quickened my pace, stepping in many more wet patches than I would have done had I kept to a more sustainable speed.  Why I decided, in my tiny little brain, to try to beat these people wearing lycra and carrying walking poles I do not know, since I knew that they would be heading for the actual summit (you don't wear lycra just to climb halfway up a hill, do you?) and would have to pass me at some point when I eventually gave in and turned back.  If I had been really so concerned about being seen in my ridiculous shoes (and do consider that there are worse shoes to go walking in - at least I did not wear heels) I could have hidden my feet behind a longer patch of grass and exchanged pleasantries with the walkers as I paused to catch my breath.  But that would have been too easy; if you know me at all from my writing, you will be aware that I have stubbornness as one of the major strands of my DNA, and another strand, equally as predominant, of childishness.  Particularly when I'm alone I will do things that I know are stupid, because I just cannot help it.

So I charged up the hill, getting wetter and wetter in the feet and shins, getting more and more out of breath until I was almost wheezing, getting a pain in the chest that told me how unfit I was, but feeling a very satisfying ache in the legs that told me I was getting some badly needed exercise.

And then before I realised it was upon me, I had reached my goal: a rocky outcropping, with perfectly flat and huge pieces of granite (I think), just right for sitting on with a notebook and pen.  Gasping with relief, and grinning all over my face, I sat down heavily on the stone and immediately began to write with a shaking hand.  Did it matter that I had given myself chest pains, and restricted my breathing to get here?  No, it did not.  Wonderful sense of achievement!

* I have sinced learned that I am a complete moron - the actual summit of this particular little fell is apparently just a few hundred yards further on from the point at which I stopped.  Oh.  Well, next time.
Looking Southish, to another fell (which I have searched for on Google Maps, but cannot find the name of - oh dear).

Mistake #4: Shoes again.

I learned a valuable lesson today, and it is that one should not climb down a hill at the same pace as one climbed up it, particularly when one is wearing very slippy and wet shoes, because one might end up sitting on one's bottom in a bog.

Haha!  Now.  This did not happen to me, though I know you were hoping it had!  No, it did not, because the first two slips that almost whipped my legs out from under me taught me to slow down and step carefully where I could not be sure of my footing.

Nowhere near the top.

Some granite, apparently.  I tried to get a photo to show you the sparkliness of this stone, but my phone camera is not so good.

The Tower has now disappeared from view.

In fact, almost everything has disappeared from view, besides grass, sphagnum moss, heather, and the occasional grouse and/or pheasant.

A precious jewel, nestled in a patch of grass.  I almost stepped on this tiny bud, it was so small and well hidden.  I have no idea what it is - anyone?

I was, here, trying to show you the ridiculous shoes that I chose to wear for hiking, and to allow you to see the soddenness of my jeans - again, my phone camera has been found wanting.

Going back down the fell, after narrowly escaping a comedy slip onto my bottom.
The sun has just come out as I am halfway down the fell, and it has brought with it the realisation that my life is a good one.  I already knew that, of course, but this view at this moment served to remind me.  To stand still, and be at peace within oneself is a precious thing - and I have it at this moment.  Birds calling, grouse and pheasant, and so many others that I don't know the names of, and just this spectacular hum of nature doing its thing all around me.  This was a very little walk, I know that it was.  But it was a walk that I hadn't really meant to take at all - I was just seized by the impulse to leg it up this fell, because it looked so beautiful.  How could I possibly have just sat in the car and looked at it?  I couldn't.  A little achievement by normal walking standards, but a big one for me - oh, I didn't mean to sound like Neil Armstrong there, sorry!

One of the brooks that I had to cross - there were three: one I crossed with a hop, another with a jump,
and the third by magic.

My lunch: the best lunch any walker ever ate.
To eat lunch that has been earned: ooooh, heavenly.  A lunch of cheese and tomato sandwiches and a salad (with a teeny jar of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil - how posh?) that ordinarily would make me think, 'oh no, not cheese sandwiches and salad again'.  This is one of the best lunches I have ever eaten, truly, because I was ravenous.

My pathetic shoes, drying on the dashboard.


Mistake #5: Listening to the car radio whilst writing about today's walk.

If you decide to sit in the car and admire the view for a couple of hours, do it without the radio on.  Maybe charge your iPod beforehand, and take that with you if you need music.  Otherwise you may find yourself with a dead car battery, stuck in the middle of nowhere.  These things do not only happen to me, but they do tend to happen to me more frequently than most people.  Like I said, everything I do tends to go a little bit wrong.  Suits me just fine though, and possibly makes for a more interesting read...