By Susie Curtin
AS much as I love the gentle rolling hills of the Dorset countryside, there are times when I yearn for the mountains, and the way they make you look up, and look up again, allowing your eyes to linger on the shape-shifting horizon between the clouds, the rocks and the sky.
Whether you just like looking at them from afar, or climbing them, mountains have a strange magnetic allure. When life seems tedious or overwhelming, I long2 to be amidst them so that I can experience that profound sense of being insignificant. It affords me some perspective. As John Muir (1838-1914), one of the most important early conservationists and nature writers of his time, proposed, when ‘the mountains are calling, I must go’.
And so they were for my son and I as we drove up to the Lake District in order to scale the heights of these romantic and culturally significant mountains. There is a joint sigh of relief as we eventually leave behind the last of the northern cities. The motorway clears and the land opens up before our eyes. It is like coming home.
By the time we begin our first climb, it is late afternoon. From the still waters of Buttermere, we begin our ascent of Red Pike, through the fresh-smelling pine forest and up to Bleaberry Tarn, where we pause for a while to watch a shoal of young trout glistening and leaping on the surface. It is hard to imagine that any life could exist in this tiny, dark pool that is shadowed from the sun by the towering Chapel Craggs. Above the tarn, the summit of Red Pike beckons, its red syenite scree flanks giving rise to its name. At 2,476 ft, it is a steep and strenuous climb as the stone path suddenly turns to shifting scree. For the last 200 metres, my feet have struggled for purchase, and an energising medley of fear and excitement spur me to the summit from where the wild, verdant green of the Ennerdale valley suddenly springs into view. As my mind, lungs and legs recover, I stop for a moment to gather my thoughts. To the right of me I can see the coast and to the left the fells and valleys of the Lakes unfold. Up here, I feel strong and invincible as though I can deal with whatever obstacles stand in my way.
We then follow the classic route along the Buttermere Ridge, up to High Stile, along to High Crag and down the Scarth Gap between Gamlin End and Haystacks. By the time we reach the peak of High Crag, the day is drawing to its close, the pressure has dropped and clouds are forming in the valleys, bubbling up the mountains’ flanks only to be rebuffed by the rugged cliffs that send them skywards.
And this is why the Lake District is so remarkable. It is a land of constant change. Light, weather and atmosphere shift continuously making it an ethereal and unknowable landscape with no two experiences ever being the same. We watch as the clouds close in and it begins to drizzle. If I was nervous on the ascent of Red Pike, the descent of High Crag’s scree slope down Gamlin End instils greater fear as a slippery, rough scree path zig-zags into the mist. As we stop for a rest halfway down, the clouds begin to part, and the sky turns crimson and yellow. Suddenly, a beam of orange light shines on the moraines of the Ennerdale Valley. The sun’s last hurrah for the day.
By the time we return to Buttermere, it is dark and the rain has settled in. We say goodbye to the Daubenton’s bats who are still swooping past our faces to capture the moths attracted by our head torches. This has been a remarkable adventure, no wonder the mountains call us here.