The Lake District – Langdale valley, April, inclement

3pm said the forecast for the weather to go downhill. It’s 1.30 and we’re sheltering in the Sticklebarn pub in the Langdale valley. Only sheep and walkers and rain, or hail and snow and rain, happen in the Langdales. The seasons arrive late, but the weather arrives early.

Climbing up to Crinkle Crag – all hail and snow and gales, all hail Macbeth, and it’s rocky, and I’m wet, but there’s something bizarrely joyful about it all. What – in weather like this – the hell am I doing here?

Lichen, extravagant orange, marks marks grey stone – as if the farmer had thought a stone to be sheep, but his palette, equally extravagant (poor multi-coloured beasts) is red and blue. (And not just the sheep – for tractors his palette is red, yellow and green.)

A line of trees marking the road heading away down the valley appears to be a natural extension of our mountain path – but we must allow for a 1000ft drop down to….

a drowned landscape – every field waterlogged, patterning the land, picking out the rain sky, and the cloud sky, and the fleeting sunlight.

Screes emerge out of rock valleys and spill down the sheer side of Pike o’Stickle – once fifty years I ran the screes but could I have run these screes as once I thought and if I did how come I’m now alive?  Memory playing false. 

We met two other walkers, one having left at 7 and now wet and joyful and talkative and springing done the mountain, and another on the way up, gloomy, a grunt returns a greeting, a plague on other walkers – dealing with inner demons.

We have no inner demons, but it’s our fear of outer demons, interlacing the gale and hail, that drive us off the summit ridge. You can see the lines of hail on a photo of me, bedraggled, smiling – slow exposure (photo not me) in the gloom.

(Four years ago we were here, and walking down to Three Tarns we met someone who’d climbed Everest the previous year – and all four of us took a wrong path down. It was summer, and a 10-minute mistake. But I’ve always felt reassured that we shared our error with an Everest mountaineer.)

We’re back in the hostel. Once a Victorian baronial pile. Silence and you hear the wind in the high-vaulted roof. Talk and words resound – you hear life stories, and they echo round. Hotels are for privacy, hostels are for sharing histories and exploits.

Youth hostels – almost fifty years on, and we’re all ages, and school-holiday children are belting around, making noise, and no-one cares. Who needs hush inside, when all is gale outside. Or in the morning after the gale, when all is still.

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