As a teenager, despite being a thoroughbred city-dweller, I loved mountains and the British countryside, and always wanted to be walking in the hills or running gaily through fields of wheat like Theresa May. I appreciate (but still don’t fully understand) that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I believe everybody should at least give it a try and immerse oneself in the outdoors at some point in their lifetime.
When it came to persuading my younger brother of this, I’m sure crawling up the M6 to the Lake District on my tongue would’ve been easier. The school summer holidays were waning, as was my parents’ tolerance for Rob leading an increasingly vampiric existence in the house all day. It was my task to take him outside. In the future, once I have a mountain leader qualification, I’ll get paid to do this sort of thing with troubled youths, with their chronic stabbing issues or morbid obesity. But for now it was just a not-quite-all-expenses-paid trip to the Lakes with a reluctant relative.
After a coordinated strike (a combination of guilt-tripping, pleading, and a well-timed call from our grandfather), I got him to agree to come to the Lake District with me. Making sure he didn’t go back on his tenuous promise was like a real-life game of KerPlunk. Pull the wrong stick and I go on my own.
I gave him little opportunity to renege. I bought train tickets only a few days in advance based on a weather window. Weather is an incredibly important factor to consider when taking a novice out walking. Rain is a solid fact of British hillwalking, but let the newbie dream that maybe it’s always sunny and dry, otherwise they’ll be perpetually miserable before they inevitably decide to never go again. When you embark on a new romantic relationship, in the early stages you don’t show your true colours, the farting and whinging that is undeniably going to become part of your conjoined lives eventually. Wait until they’re captive and only then unleash all of your disgusting habits.
Planning is another important consideration. I’ve been on trips that have been militarily planned and I’ve been on ones where organisation didn’t really feature. The former is most definitely the correct course of action here. Hence, my knowledge of Cumbria’s bus routes was exemplar for those four days. Although, funnily enough, Rob sustains a love of public transport rooted in childhood, so would have been perfectly willing and capable to relieve me of that responsibility.
After a disconcerting ride down Honister Pass on a bus with questionable brakes, we set off up Red Pike from the beautiful Buttermere. Flat tracks led up through forest, into open fell that leads to Bleaberry Tarn where we took our first rest. For someone that does no discernible exercise, he was able to talk seemingly without taking a breath from Buttermere to here; a feat I was not able to achieve.
The top of Red Pike was suitably red and, despite the clouds, we had commanding views over the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and Southwest Scotland. There are many reasons why people climb hills, from fitness to “because it is there”, but good views are one of the more tangible qualities of hillwalking that can even appeal to the person without a modicum of interest in the outdoors.
We traversed the lumps and bumps towards Haystacks, Alfred Wainwright’s most cherished Lakeland peak. The map indicated a preferable wild camping spot near Brandreth, a name that gave me and Rob endless pleasure in impersonating Gyles Brandreth.
We arrived at our desired spot where a large group had already set up somewhat of a shanty town. They had adorned their camp with the kind of things one doesn’t see wild campers carrying: 8-man tents, a clothesline, a large barbecue and a swingball set. I was surprised not to see a washing machine, a clapped-out Ford Escort and an eviction notice from the local authorities. They looked pretty set.
They were friendly enough but we hadn’t travelled several hundred miles and walked for the last four hours to experience what we could at a caravan park in Essex. We pressed on in the warm August evening sunshine and had one of the most pleasurable wild camping experiences I can remember. The clouds had dissipated, the view to the Great Gable was spectacular and my boil-in-the-bag meal was edible.
The next morning saw us take in the Green Gable and the Great Gable and descend towards Seatoller, a location that has the disquieting title of “rainiest place in England”, a designation that was lost on us on this beautiful morning. We continued to hop buses (an open-top one with commentary from Seathwaite to Keswick) and after some time arrived at a campsite in Glenridding.
It is not advisable, if wanting to engender a friendly and pleasant atmosphere, to wake up a teenager at the butt-crack of dawn to go and walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge. I did it anyway, because I wanted to. With every opportunity to say, “Get stuffed, I’m staying in the tent,” he still (reluctantly) got up with me with a quantity of coercion, so on some level must have wanted to go.
Like taking a tired five year old to the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick, for the next few hours I endured about as much bitching and moaning as any person can (apart from my father, with 25 years experience of driving 14 hours to and from Northwest Scotland with hungry/fighting/vomiting/whingy rugrats in tow). He complained so much that he barely noticed the precipitous drops either side of striding edge which killed 14 people that year. With much anger, and I have to admit fearlessness and innate hillwalking ability, he stomped over the easy scramble to the top.
He stuffed a sizeable pasty into his face at the trig point and I quickly realised he had been hangry. Once he had smothered his misery with pastry, he was the model of happiness and satisfaction. He offered no resistance to carrying the bag on the way down Swirral Edge and revelled in being called a mountain goat by some passing walkers.
Did he catch the bug and go outdoors at every opportunity after this? No. I didn’t set out with the aim of getting him hooked on the hills, he’d only steal all of my kit anyway. Did we enjoy ourselves? Absolutely. Despite my complaints about his complaining, we bonded in a way we never had before and heartily enjoyed each other’s company. I’d also like to point out that he isn’t the hermit/anorak I may have made him out to be. If he was willing, as he is certainly able, I would gladly go multi-day walking with him again. Just maybe give him a pasty beforehand next time.