“There were only two pieces there,” he said, “and they weren’t very big.”
He held out his hands, fisherman style, to suggest something about 18 inches long.
“There’s some stuff on the top though,” he added after a pause, “the landing gear is on the summit. I just thought there would be more”
He tailed off. Disappointment hung in the air.
“I suppose, after all these years, the weather and trophy hunters will have had an effect?” I suggested.
“Mmm, maybe, pity though,” he pondered as he set to, removing his boots.
We were at Three Shires stone on Wrynose Pass on Remembrance Sunday and walking man and I were trading route notes at the end of the day. He and his companions had intended on Wetherlam but icy conditions had sent them along an alternative path to Great Carrs. He was referring to the Halifax crash on October 22nd 1944 where 8 airmen lost their lives on the slopes of the mountain after a navigation exercise that went heartbreakingly wrong due to low cloud. Despite being lost, the crew ignored flight control instructions. Had they ascended to 4000 ft as advised, they would have met the Mosquito sent to find and escort them safely home to Topcliffe. Instead, the Mosquito crew witnessed the crash and the subsequent fire. The remains are now scattered around Broad Slack and various national museums after the weapons and armaments were cleared by the RAF.
“Did you see the memorial plaque near the top,” I asked.
Walking man shook his head.
“No,” he said, “there’s nothing there.”
I was puzzled but chose to leave the questioning at that point. There was a newly restored plaque and cross near the summit in memory of the Canadians and Scot who died on Great Carrs. I’m not quite sure how he missed it.
I had experienced the two minute silence at Red Tarn earlier. I’m a fan of Big Ben’s bongs and attending a church service on Remembrance Sunday but today I chose the mountains as a place to recall and be grateful. I had unfinished business with the Crinkles after Tuesday’s walk earlier this week, the weather forecast was outstanding for a season of wet and windy and, well, for 2019, it just felt the right thing to do.
At the lake there was a silence beyond measure at 11am. Nothing spoke or moved. The breeze dropped. Even the sky was still, uninterrupted blueness canopying the hills for miles. With Bowfell and the Crinkles reflected in the clear water before me, I pondered on the relationship between war and peace. Are they as two sides of the same coin; one fighting for justice and the other resting in it? If so, how should I use that money in my own world if others have died in minting this particular currency?
I walked on and up onto Pike of Blisco. Snow sprinkled the summit rocks and ice sat stubbornly in shady corners on the path. This was new mountaineering land for me, as it was for Vodafone who had managed to sneak into the no signal zone with a text informing me that I was now in one of their Roam-free destinations; I wouldn’t have to pay roaming charges when contacting friends and family back in the UK. I gazed over at the sunlit Irish Sea and wondered about Brexit backstops and whether it too had crept in under the radar to sit somewhere in Langdale.
The Pike’s summit was a perfect spot to view the Crinkles in all their glory and I bathed in the view, seeing the routes of my previous walks over their summits for the first time. It was a moment to savour for as long as I could in the freezing sunshine, before joining the hop, skip and jump brigade navigating the icy rock on the way down.
I had no time or intention to walk the one mile ridge along Crinkle Crags; the icy conditions weren’t brilliant and my legs were still recalling Tuesday’s adventure. It could wait for another day. My focus was Long Top. It sits on the second (from the south) and highest Crinkle and is a navigation headache in bad weather. Without judicious use of a compass, the unsuspecting rambler can be sent off for red herrings over crags into Lingcove behind Bowfell. It isn’t the kind of deviation you need on a bad day.
On this blue sky day though, I finally got to see Long Top properly. The Bad Step had a queue at the bottom so I slunk round the side and headed up a grass rake onto the southern end of the top where I finally saw Wainwright’s ‘beautiful and dramatic views’. Walking solo, I usually only hear my own voice when talking with passers by on the fells. However, there are unbidden moments when I find myself in conversation with no-one. This was one of them.
“Wow, well, would you look at that,” I exclaimed. I had the summit to myself. A raven rose in reply, its gargling caw caw waiting on the breeze.
“Amazing, just amazing,” I hurled back.
I visually tracked along the skyline, noting familiar hills with newly unfamiliar profiles from this perspective. Scafell, Scafell Pike, Great End, Esk Pike and Bowfell arrayed themselves before me, snow sprinkled under the increasing lunchtime cloud. It was a sight to behold and worth every minute’s effort of previous unseeing ascents.
The temperature was beginning to drop as a result of a now regularly hiding sun and, poles out, I headed carefully back along the three mile route to the car. The path is well made and clear to follow but the icy patches made for thoughtful going at times. I stopped to talk with a couple who had paused to let me past.
“It’s hard work, this ice,” I muttered as I drew level.
“Yes,” the chap replied, “you’re glued to your feet then realise ten minutes have passed and you haven’t seen any of the view!”
“And that’s why we’re up here!” his partner added as she pushed hands into fleece arms that were gathered around her shoulders. She shrugged herself into the new layer and, bending over, clicked the straps together on the rucksack at her feet.
I wandered on, brain, eyes and feet in constant communication.
“Can I put my foot there? Can I put my foot there? Can I put my foot there?”
Despite maintaining a quick pace downhill, every step is subconsciously analysed before a boot is placed firmly down. A slip, even on ostensibly safe paths, can be unpleasant or even problematic. I wasn’t taking any chances and it was mentally tiring work until I moved onto ground that was ice-free.
Back at the car, I sat, perched under the open tailgate, with peppermint tea and banana loaf, admiring the view along Wrynose bottom and Hardknott to Harter Fell in the last of the afternoon sunshine. Wainwright quite rightly suggests that the Crinkles offer a ‘walk to remember’ although, again, it wasn’t quite as I envisaged. With Tuesday’s storm still fresh in my mind, today’s blue sky stillness and clarity had been a beautifully profound and glorious counterpoint.
On Remembrance Sunday, I considered that the reality of peace too is brought into sharp relief by the memory of war. In these pre-election days in the UK, maybe politicians and voters would do well to walk the hills for a while before deciding on which peace to pursue and battles to fight?