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About A Week: Those Northern Hills

Boots on - and up we go, onto Bleaklow. Peter Hinchliffe loves to hike on those northern hills.

A bright morning in March, with a hint of frost in the air. Hiking boots laced tight. Corned-beef sandwiches and four cans of lemonade in the rucksack.We are striding along the lane between the stone cottages of Edale village, Derbyshire. Ahead of us, Kinder Scout, and a long day's walk in the high hills.

Bliss! Perfect bliss!

Up there, on top of Kinder, it's like being back in the days when the world was young. There's miles and miles of emptiness. Never a car to be heard. Only the cries of curlew and grouse.

The wind and the weather have carved mysterious, enticing alleyways through the peat.

Follow the path through this natural maze and you arrive at Kinder Gates, where a stream runs between shoals of golden sand. Then Kinder Downfall, which is more a cascade of rocks than of water.

Time for the first corned-beef sandwich..

Next, Featherbed Moss, and the challenge of getting through it without mud coming over your boot tops.

On to Bleaklow, Black Hill, then you are within site of Huddersfield, well launched along the Pennine Way.

I love these moors. The primitive landscapes. The chance to step from central-heated civilisation straight out into wilderness.

Not everyone shares this enthusiasm for bleak moorland. Britain's most famous walker, A Wainwright, hated our local moors. In his book On The Pennine Way he said: "My own experiences on Bleaklow were dreadful, one on a day of sluicing rain and another of drifting mist.

"When I wrote some years ago that nobody loved Bleaklow and that those who got on it were glad to get off it, my words brought a stinging rebuke from a Huddersfield man who told me that he and his companions often walked over Bleaklow and were very fond of it, that it was quite wrong of me to malign it and that I should apologise. I did so without changing my opinion ... Well, I suppose everything, however unattractive, is loved by somebody."

Funny chap, Wainwright. And not just because of his bad opinion of one of my favourite hills. AW was a loner. A people-hater. A professional curmudgeon who seemed to enjoy being grumpy.

Wainwright's idea of a perfect day was to see rain on the window-panes of his Kendal home. He knew then that trippers would stay indoors, so that he could have the fells to himself.

Often, he would announce that he preferred animals to humans "particularly humans walking in groups."

When he moved from his native Lancashire to Kendal, where he became borough treasurer, he thought he had entered heaven. He explored every Lakeland fell. Alone, of course. Then he wrote about them.

"I wrote about my walks so I could live them again."

He wrote in a distinctive hand, the sort of thing an extraordinarily-neat child would produce before learning how to do joined-up writing.

The words were accompanied by detailed hand-drawn maps, and meticulous pen-and-ink sketches of hills and buildings. For a man who didn't much like talking to folk, he must have had an amazingly persuasive tongue. He got a local publisher to print the guides as presented in his own hand, rather than the usual type. These guides, handily sized for the pocket of a pair of hiking breeches, sell by the thousands.

Climb Helvellyn, Blencathra, Coniston Old Man, venture on the Pennine Way or the Coast to Coast Walk, and you are sure to encounter bemused hikers, pausing to consult the precise way-finding instructions of the Master.

The A, incidentally, stood for Alfred. I bet nobody, in all his life, ever called him Alf.

Wainwright's guides encourage you to go where you have never been. They vividly remind you of past delights.

Few knew Wainwright the man. He took all measures possible to discourage casual acquaintance. But many love him because of his books. The irony is that someone so attached to solitude should have encouraged so many to tramp into his "private" territory.

Wainwright's own favourite spot in the Lake District was Haystacks.

"No traffic. No crowds. No litter. Wonderful place. For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure."


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