The hills are alive…..

“Now run, as fast as you can. Just run,” the instructor advised. The lad headed off down the hill, dog at his heels

“Go on. Keep running, don’t stop. Keep going. RUN,” the instructor yelled at his back.

The parachute unfurled into life behind him as wind filled and lifted the silk skywards. It wasn’t enough to lift the lad beneath, despite his efforts. Further down the hill he stopped, the chute barrelling softly groundwards in his wake. A few minutes later he reclimbed the slope, brightly coloured silk gathered in his arms, and stood near us.

“What made you stop running?” I asked gently, “you were nearly airborne.”

“Not sure,” he replied, “there’s so much to think about.”

This was a novice paraglider on his second flight of a first day of training. I could empathise. The whole idea of running fast headfirst downhill goes against most survival instincts. He had a few things to overcome. His instructor went across to reset the parachute on the grass and offer more reassurance and advice.

Apparently, after just 10 days of training he could be capable of joining paragliding colleagues riding the thermals from Blencathra. Whether he would go on to make long distance records and fly to Hull from Cumbria or Scarborough from Somerset would remain to be seen. I’m not quite sure if this kind of airborne is my thing but I made a note to self to bring my kite along on another suitable fell day. I adore kite flying and can lose many an hour on a quiet hillside when the wind is favourable.

Back of Skiddaw

I wandered on along the well defined track by Carrock Beck in the bright sunshine, making my way to its namesake fell above it. New Year’s Eve had dawned blue sky glorious and, in an attempt to avoid the expected busyness of the Lakes, I had decided to revisit the Caldbeck Fells which lie north west of Penrith. Slightly lower lying than their bigger mountain siblings, they still gained Wainwright’s attention; he placed Carrock Fell alongside Blencathra for excitement, interest and beauty of surroundings.

And the views.

I didn’t go for the geology, history, archeology or rockclimbing. I went for the big sky space and easy walking that these hills afford. The Solway, Pennines and Lakeland fells set a distant boundary fence encircling the winterlands beneath and beyond my feet. Southwards lay mountain silhouettes glazed white gold in the sun. Northwards the blues had it. A hazy soft wash blending sea, meadow and dwelling into a subtle mosaic of aquamarine, turquoise and emerald. Even in December there is colour abundant.

Criffel and the Solway in the distance

There were a few others in on this well-kept secret. Some families and couples with dogs, all in quiet pilgrimage to each top on the ridge.

I arrived at my car at the same time as the chap parked next to me. I recognised him from the Carrock Fell summit earlier as he had three dogs, all chocolate brown but different varieties; a spaniel, a terrier mix and a Labrador.

“Good walk?” I asked, busy with my boots

“Well, I’m not sure,” he replied, “I don’t exactly know where I’ve been.”

He did look a little unsettled.

“Why, what happened?” I replied. “Where did you walk?”

From the summit I had retraced my steps, gone on to High Pike and then enjoyed a very pleasurable tramp down West Fell to my start point. I’d had no one following me yet this chap and dog trio had arrived along the road, finishing at the same time as my longer route. My mind was putting 2 and 2 together and wondering what on earth he’d been doing. A memory bell rang.

High Pike from Miton Hill

“Ah, did you come off the east side of Carrock then,” I went on.

“Yes, that’s it,” he took off his hat to reveal a bald head that needed scratching, “I don’t think I went the right way. It was very difficult and I lost the path.”

He rummaged in his rucksack for a map.

“I’m doing some route finding. There’s a group of us men in Carlisle who like to walk, but they’ve got used to flat paths. Thought I’d find something with a view that we could do instead….” he tailed off, “but I’m not sure if I’ve got it right today.”

We studied the map.

“Did you come down a steep stream gully and then follow a rake northwards?” I asked.

“Mmm, I don’t think I found the rake bit. The path disappeared and then it was a really long walk back along the road. I kept thinking the car would appear anytime but it didn’t.”

I’ve not climbed this particular path yet and need to give it a try next time. Wainwright suggests that it’s a good short way onto the fell but doesn’t offer the easiest of descents. I suggested that he maybe reversed the route with his mates.

“I’m not sure. They do cry and whine when any hill is involved.” More head scratching ensued.

I didn’t envy him. It’s hard work walking with misery on legs.

We pondered the map some more and I shared some other walk ideas that would have a low Moan Index.

“I’ll just tell them to ‘man up and get on with it’” he said as the hat went back on and the dogs were loaded into the truck.

I watched a well known film the following day. There’s a line in the title track that goes

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely

I know I will hear what I’ve heard before

My heart will be blessed with the sound of music

And I’ll sing once more

The Sound of Music

Carlisle chap and dogs came to mind. I hope he can encourage his grumpy friends into the hills to twine their way into song.

If nothing else, at least their wives will get a break.

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