“Did you see the red stag?” the chap with the rucksack asked us.
I swung round to look at Graham, baffled.
“No,” replied Graham, “where was it?”
“Down the slope, near the wall,” rucksack man explained.
We both shook our heads. Graham was disappointed. He’d had the binoculars out for a while and had scanned Riggindale for red deer regularly on our walk along the ridge above. We had seen none and now we were hearing of one we had missed that had been nearer than he had dared dream of.
“Is it time for coffee?” rucksack man’s partner asked as she swung by, handbag across her shoulder. She looked like she was going shopping.
“Yes, and I should think you’re hungry too,” he replied, “come on, we’ll find somewhere to sit and we can eat.”
They wandered off and Graham and I pondered the deer sighting
“Maybe we’ll see something from Kidsty?” I suggested hopefully. I’m not the greatest of red deer fans as I have unpleasant memories of the damage they used to do in my garden many years ago on the shores of Windermere. An idyllic spot, the herd used to clear every single piece of vegetation regularly until we persuaded the landlord to install a deer fence around the boundary. Our country cottage patch became more horticulturally secure than Kew gardens along with a perimeter that just needed a watch tower or two to protect my permanently pruned roses. The thought now still saddens me. But Graham wanted to see deer so I put on my ‘let’s see if we can find them’ face as we headed off High Street.
We had parked at the end of a full Haweswater in a slippery car park after a slithery drive along the icy lane that serves it. The path onto the ridge above Riggindale Crag had already sunbathed so walking was easier but we still needed to concentrate on where we put our feet. We met two gentlemen coming off Long Stile.
“What’s the going like up there?” I asked, “is it particularly icy?”
“Well, I’d say it’s 90% OK,” the grey salopetted man replied. “but you need to watch out for the other 10%”
He grimaced at his walking companion who nodded,
“Yes,” he agreed, “the 90% is fine, but the 10% will catch you out”
I got the impression they were speaking from experience. They continued down the slope as Graham and I followed their advice closely. The walk along the ridge is a pleasant one. Lovely views and the option of easy short scrambling sections along the path. These were the 10% problems where water had frozen in clear sheets on the rock surface; it was only the sun glinting on the shiny surface that alerted us to their hidden treachery. White crispy grass on the shallow banks made for more reliable going.
Having got used to the mixed terrain we then managed to take note of the outstanding views that stretched for miles, and the weather conditions. We had stayed low for snacks and coffee to start with, in the belief that, higher up, we would be in the high winds that had been forecast. Graham had filled his rucksack with enough thermals and hot drinks to withstand an arctic blast on High Street and I wasn’t far behind. The winds, however, never materialised. Our extra layers stayed in the bags.
We walked in stillness and silence throughout the whole route. It was surreal and very slightly unnerving.
There is invariably a breeze on any summit, especially in winter, but not today. You could have heard a pin drop. Lower down we had been accompanied by the distance rush of valley streams. On the top there was nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just quietness. Complete silence. Without wind chill, the sun had some semblance of warmth about it and we sat in relative comfort on High Street immersed in a world on pause.
The only sound was that of the blood gently pulsing in my ears. And the occasional voice of a walker. There weren’t many of those either.
Until Graham chose to follow the path over icy patches. The crack as his boots punctured the surface was nothing less than explosive. His feet left a trail of grenade and mortar echoes invading the peace and I was relieved when ice turned to quiet bog.
We returned to the car via Kidsty Pike, outpacing the sun to the valley floor as it dropped behind the fells. We too were quiet, companiably tramping downhill as the sky began to pack up her bags in our wake leaving the fell colours to deepen under a setting sun.
This had been a rare day in the hills. Uninterrupted blue-sky sunshine under a heavens that had held their breath. It had been another realm.
We passed a couple near the reservoir with two rough haired terriers. The younger one, not much more than a puppy, had been AWOL for a while and they had eventually found him. Retethered on a lead, the couple were clearly relieved. Graham tried to strike up a conversation, but their answers didn’t appear to match his questions.
“I think they had other things to tell me,” he offered as he drew up beside me, “rather than what I wanted to know.”
We walked on.
“They did seem a little other worldly though,” he pondered.
After our day, I wondered if that was more our problem.