You are never alone on a mountain
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“Promise me,” said my father, “that
you will never walk the mountains alone.”
“Yes, Dad,” I nodded, knowing I was
fibbing, after we had spent an hour debating the dangers of mountaineering. It
is a sport I have long enjoyed, and despite my ageing, see no sign of the
obsession passing. Yet even something simple, perhaps a sprained ankle, can be
fatal when you are miles from company and your mobile battery is flat.
The pandemic lockdown, for all its difficulties,
has allowed me to take to the Lakeland hills daily - for that is where I live -
and walk routes that would normally be teeming with visitors. Each morning, I
don the tiniest of rucksacks, and wend my way through the streets of Ambleside
towards the surrounding fell tops.
I try to reach a summit by dawn, as
the Lake District does magical sunrises. The faint eastern glow, then the
orange, the purplish clouds, and the sparkling glint from the surface of a
distant Windermere. I am alone, disobeying my father, and always feeling guilty
for doing so.
It was when the first snows fell in
winter that I realised I may not have fibbed after all. I was panting upwards
in the half darkness, making heavy weather of the climb, with the normally grippy
rock underfoot feeling glassy. Ice filled the puddles, streams and waterfalls that
were usually sloshy. I was watching my step with care. If I stumbled, I would
not be rescued. Mobile signal? No chance.
It was then I saw the line of
tracks, which went right across my path. Each print was massive, at least half
the size of my hand. I stopped, peered and caught my breath. I had seen such
tracks before, although not in England. Africa and India for certain, Far
Eastern jungles maybe, and once in a remote Omani desert. The Lakeland animal that
had been there before me, looked to be fur-footed and had not long passed by.
There were no claws, no nearby human footprint to suggest domestication, and then
I saw the giveaway clue. The two humps at the front of the paw-pad were classic
of a feline. Cats show them the world over. This one just happened to be large.
The big cats of Cumbria were not imaginary, I thought. They existed, real, and
in the flesh. Puma-like animals have been seen on plenty of occasions, near
Ambleside, Langdale and Bowness. For some reason I was not frightened, but
actually relieved. No longer was I alone on the mountain. No one could say I
Pandemic Lakeland is a very
different place these days. Deer now come close and gaze me in the eye, while munching
Herdwick sheep inspect me as if I have escaped from an asylum. They could well
be right. The other day a field mouse nibbled at my boot before squeaking and
dashing into cover. On Nanny Lane above Troutbeck, a fox lay down before me, as
might a dog by the hearth. The animal was entirely unperturbed, waited a few
moments, as did I, until we both skulked on our way. One hour later, a buzzard
soared past, then circled barely a foot above my head before heading into the
distance. Astonished, I sat on a moss-covered fallen tree trunk to recover. It
was not long before a robin, singing gustily, hopped onto the back of my gloved
right hand before darting onward. Even hares stop and look these days, before
loping on their way. And the squirrels, red or grey? For some reason they must
still learn to trust me. The grey ones continue their alarm squawk from the
Most days, I come across the five
fell ponies, who now tolerate my arrival well. No longer are they suspicious. They
approach, occasionally nuzzle, and are never threatening. They have no owner,
just the open space. A local farmer sometimes feeds them and has certainly
given them names. He cares for them well, as I have never seen the ponies look
Although it is true that I walk
alone in Lakeland’s mountains, and there is no one to rescue me if I stumble, surrounding
Nature has made me happy that I did not fib to my father. After all, we never agreed
that company should be human. For every step of my daily journey, with the
visitors gone, I see that Lakeland wildlife has taken over. It is perhaps the
only good thing of the pandemic.
And who knows, one day I may even see a huge and massive feline. Then it is anyone’s guess what might happen.
If you go
Coronavirus – be sure to check each of these suggestions
before you go, in light of any pandemic restrictions in place on the day. These
Lake District National Park
If you fancy seeing these animals, and there are not too many other visitors around, try this route: www.andrewswalks.co.uk/wansfell-3.html
Total distance: 11 kilometres
Going underfoot: A mixture of track, road, rock and slippery fell. Bring spikes if you see ice or snow. Always carry a fully charged mobile telephone.
Time: Allow 2 to 3.5 hours
You can also do the whole thing from Troutbeck, as the route is circular.
Rail to Windermere (London: 3 hours 7 mins; Manchester: 1
hour 44 mins) with taxi from there.
Drive (283 miles from London; 89 miles from Manchester) to Ambleside.
Ambleside: There is a Pay and Display in central Ambleside.
Its postcode is LA22 9AY, with more details at Rydal
Road car park.
Troutbeck: There is plenty of free parking.
Look no further than High Fold Guest House, dead centre of Troutbeck (LA23 1PG). They call it a hidden gem. Brilliantly run by Jackie Cartigny.
You are spoiled for choice. My favourite is Zeffirellis
There is less choice, but this is a Lakeland village. Try the Mortal Man, an ale house since 1689.
Do not miss
gingerbread (Grid reference: NY334507; LA22 9SW)
cruise – departs from Ambleside (LA22 0EY), Bowness (LA23 3HQ), or Lakeside
See alsoWhat shall I wear on the mountain?
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