After waving goodbye to a minibus full of hungover men, I reached down to pick up my pack. My head thumped and my stomach churned. Rob’s stag weekend had been a little too good.
I was tired and would have loved to sit back and find some home comforts, but I needed to get moving. The day was getting on.
My plan was to hitch from Leeds to The Lake District and then go for a walk. I’d given myself three weeks and packed enough food to keep me going for quite a few days before I’d need to restock. I hadn’t had a proper look at the old Lake District maps I’d rounded up. I would plan it day by day, trying to ignore the multiple blue crayon and pen marks made by previous users. My knowledge of these mountains was almost non-existent, that’s partly why I was going.
I grew up in the south of England and spent very little time in Cumbria, but my mum was brought up in Kentmere, a small farming village in the eastern fells. I decided to head there first.
She told stories of snow fall so heavy they’d have to walk on top of the stone walls to get around the village; her tiny primary school of 8 children; skimming fresh cream from neighbouring farmers milk pots; candle rations that dictated bed time; the overwhelming excitement at any sign of a vehicle driving up the valley; the freedom and ability to roam free but also the remoteness and isolation. This was all alien to my upbringing in West Berkshire 30 odd years later.
The valley running between Staveley and Kentmere is long and my hitching luck had run out. By the time I arrived it was late. I had just enough time to visit the village church graveyard where my grandparents, two uncles and other relations are buried, or at least have gravestones (My uncle’s body is still somewhere on Mount Everest, that’s another story). Standing amongst a cluster of resting family members I could look up and see my mum’s childhood family home, Low Bridge.
Before it got too dark I hurried up the valley, finding a quiet patch of woodland and set up my tent.
The next day I started walking. The beginning of a twisting route that circumnavigated The Lake District.
I slept in bluebell woods, by mountain tarns, behind stone walls and on mountain summits. I rested in caves and slept in the open air under the stars. I got soaked in torrential rains, chased off a mountain by a lightning storm and got burnt and dehydrated by the sun. I watched skylarks, meadow pipits, wheatears and Ravens and kneeled in bogs to get a closer look at carnivorous plants, animal tracks and wildflowers. I swam in rivers, lakes and tarns. I got my water from streams and ate lots and lots of muesli and nuts (probably more than was healthy). With my massive pack, I crossed many of the most notorious summits in the fells including Helvellyn, Bow Fell, Scafel Pike and Fairfield. I descended in to valleys world famous for their beauty, such as Buttermere, Grassmere and Langdale.
I imagined the possibility that I was retracing steps that my grandpa may well have made some sixty odd years ago. I pictured him standing where I was, seeing the sun setting beyond the Isle of Man, or rising over Helvellyn.
My final descent was in to Ambleside on Lake Windermere. When I reached the road I stuck my thumb out. Within ten seconds I had the first of nine lifts that took me to the foot of Mount Snowdon, North Wales.
I’ve been in mountains all over the world and been on long journeys by foot and on bike, this one was particularly important to me. It opened up the lakes to me, the home of my mum’s side of the family. After this I found myself returning several times before eventually driving up to Great Langdale with all my belongings.
Written by Tom White