August 8th, 2013
One morning I woke early, ecstatically happy. I whispered to my friend Eleanor as she slept, “I’m going for a walk”. I did not know where I was going, or when I would be back.
27th July 2013
Awake early, bright eyed with excitement that we’ve made it here, to THIS place. The bottom of a valley filled with red deer! And thanks to the kindness of strangers, a belly filled with cheese & wine and a perfect wild camp on an inlet in the beck, under a large alder – trifurcate (or three trees?) like three sisters joined at birth. She will cast shade when the sun gets up but that’s not what woke me. Perhaps it was the light, but it felt more like the startling awareness of the kindness I’ve received, and an irrepressible urge to walk up the hill – made light by it.
Up the track still in morning shadow, the heads of red deer grazing in the long rushes. On the track straight in front of me is a large creature – solid and squat. Its long ears rotate towards my footsteps. I get quite close, at which point it bounds off – so large that for a moment I wonder if it is a fawn. No, the ears again. It’s a hare.
Onto the last stretch of tarmac, I pass some ancient barns flanked by foxglove spears and watched over by a half moon wishing to linger here. It is still cool enough to keep my jumper on, but to my right the mountain is bright and sun-lit and the sky is a pure blue. Down in the valley the deer bark their herd calls – the hundredfold sound of a heavy oak door creaking shut – and the sun shows signs of peeking above the opposite ridge.
A hay barn at Dale End is open sided and the first rays cascade through the portal as a swift skits out. And it’s up. Immediately I peel off my jumper. Up now; up a grassy track which hugs the dew glittered, sun bathed slope. The rhythm of my breath is foregrounded until the sudden swarming of flies from a glistening sheep’s carcass. The stench follows me for a while.
I pass a haphazard cairn and add a stone. The path proceeds higher in front of me but I cannot resist going up and over the brow to my right to see the valley on the other side: A breathtaking and breath giving view. The perfections of form carved and sanded by the glacier’s tool kit. Silvery ribbons of water finding the path of least resistance to the lake.
A spot of admin…
Taking a photo on the Penguin sponsored iPad, I realise I have network for the first time in two days. There have been thunderstorms recently (thankfully I was in a house at the time) and it seems to have created a communications black spot. Now I can publish yesterday’s blog post – a weight off my shoulders. A few emails to answer and minutes later I realise that I am frozen in my stance to review the photo – boots on, standing up, bent over a screen – totally inappropriate and awkward for being on top of a mountain. I feel self conscious about being one of those people with an iPad, staring at the screen rather than the wonder in front of me, when another early rising walker passes unexpectedly. I consider giving him a Wayfarer business card, as if to justify my sins, but that feels more inappropriate still.
I am hot now, and it is not yet eight o’clock. I am very ready to find Angle Tarn. Around the next bend there she is, a dawn reflection. A mica like flake cradled in the halfway-up-a-mountain. Their are islands trimmed with wildflower banks and dotted with rowan trees. I descend to its edge and strip off, my insect-acres of bare flesh immediately detected by a hungry mosquito. It is shallow and warm. Flat slabs of rock border the shoreline underfoot, then further out, the rich squidge of decomposition presses between my toes. I push off onto my back and wash off my yesterdays, looking at the ever bluing sky. Turning on my front I see the sky still – the surface a perfect mirror. Piercing the perfection are stubs of a water weed, doubled and hovering in the mirrored sky. A damselfly lands on one of them. I am totally enrapt by the twofold beauty.
I swim silently towards the island, not wanting to disturb the glassy surface. The edges of it are a festival of colour – deep pinks, yellows, whites. It is a hanging garden. I am naked and spy some wild campers on the far shore. I crouch down low, suddenly aware that I am not alone. A self conscious Eve in her Eden. I wonder about coming back here with a sleeping bag to camp on the island, and returning to the shore I walk on the boggy bed to measure how deep it is.
I’m aware now that Eleanor might be getting concerned and decide to take the more ‘direct’ route back to my alder camp via The Nab. I have been gone for four hours but know she will have been asleep for most if them, thankfully. Like many ‘direct’ routes crossing the landscape without a pathway to follow it turns out to be less than straightforward. Parts of it steep, parts tufty and uneven. I am fine until I have passed the peat hags – dark blemishes in the smooth green curve of the Nab from a distance; deep, springy wadis that I descend into and clamber out of once upon them. The course of my boots through the air as my heels peel off the cushiony moss – left, right, left, right – flicks splashes of bog water on the backs of my ankles; an unexpected pleasure.
The only semblance of a path I spy heads upwards, and I want to go down. So I start down the flank of the Nab. It is steep but my knees are still fresh. I follow the miniature terraces made by the sheep and the deer. Some deer raise their heads above the long grass. I cannot resist taking their photograph, and the light in that moment is beyond the sublime. The river wiggles down the bowl of the river valley – a mercury snake that will lead, at some point downstream, to my camp.
I am aware of ticks in the bracken having acquired one last week, burrowing just above my navel, so I make out a route that seems to avoid it. But the rushes are even taller, and whip at my bare legs. I resist covering them. It is too warm and at least this way I shall spot a tick straight away.
The descent seems endless and my knees are starting to tire. Sometimes there are small streams just below the meshwork of vegetation. Once, my foot plunges blindly into it, the grass hiding it like a boobie trap. I must not twist my ankle; that would be bad. Nobody knows where I am and I am not on a path, in a valley where apparently not many people come. Stupid on two counts, though only if something goes wrong. It’s also known as ‘just going for a wander’.
Finally I make it to a friendly grove of alders and lean on the topmost for some shade. Oh, another carcass. Strong stench. Continue descending. I find another alder. This one has a rowan growing from within its gnarly hollowed trunk. I take off my boots and enjoy the grass for a while. There is nowhere approaching horizontal to sit, so I stand propped against the tree.
At last I reach the dry stone wall at the valley bottom where, apparently just for me, a section has collapsed to ease my passage to the river. I consider wading to the camp in the river but I feel I should not linger. Parts of the way I can walk by the bank. Parts sheep have grazed low leaving only thistles to navigate. Again I find myself wading through spiky rushes.
I cross the river twice, eventually getting close to a place where it feels close to home. The trees bend over the stream making a hollow of green and small pools are churned by a miniature cascade. Up ahead I see a flash of Toby on his way to his lunch date. I want to shout “I’m OK!” but he was never aware that I might not have been. There is a sudden lift from my right. An eagle! I follow and he plays catch-me-up all the way downstream: landing, waiting, I catch up, he takes flight. That’s how it goes, until on the home stretch of the track nearing my camp, he lets me get within ten metres then disappears under a tree, not to be seen again.
I see El and get ready to apologise. I have been gone for seven hours. She is suitably unconcerned, as she has been awake for three. Her day is still new, and mine is already filled to brimming with adventure.
One Response to “A walk as the morning awoke”
Leave a Reply
Sarah Thomas is Penguin's Wayfarer and she'll be walking and writing for us all summer. Follow her journey here!