The Present and Times Past

August 4, 2018

Taking to the fells of Britain today is very different to what it was 30 years ago, neither better or worse but very different.

The best things do not change, most people who are out and about are thoroughly enjoying themselves (even in bad weather once the decision is made to go out the day is rarely a disappointment), particularly the views, the achievement of ‘peaking’ and  that difficult to define element of simply feeling good during and after exercise in the outdoors. However some things do change; gear being one, what is considered risky being another, conservation being a third….

Abandoned in the Langdales and Helvellyn
Adultless in Langdale and approaching Striding Edge. Good kit!

My Younger Days

Being the youngest of 3 sons and my dad becoming weaker in the knees (and older) its true to say I was abandoned to my walking at a fairly early age. That is not to say that I was ever allowed not to walk, my dad just dropped me off somewhere and said he would meet me somewhere else. As an example he dropped me (and a friend aged roughly 10 to 14) at Wasdale Head and said he would meet me in x hours at Seathwaite in Borrowdale. Oh yes and take the dog.What we did between was up to us (ie: was Gable included, actually no on this occasion but for some reason we did go via Windy Gap!)

Cold swim anyone
When not on the fells this gave an afternoon, cool swim

Other instructions included climbing Helvellyn (not from Patterdale but from Thirlspot – dull dull dull), take your even younger cousin up Blencathra via Halls Fell, Langdales but not via Jack’s Rake (Easy Gully was not mentioned so we did that) and a very wet walk over the High Stile range in Buttermere where our (my) route finding did go sadly astray and we ended up in Ennerdale.

My dad near Blencathra
My dad near Blencathra. Yes this was his walking gear


I do not remember all the gear we wore but I remember clearly wearing green flash gym shoes (we were posh) on all my walks, a blue kagool and jeans. My mother put together a processed cheese sandwich in white bread which kept us going all day. The only other thing in my pack (pocket, no pack) was a Wainwright guide book, which was a bit of a godsend, but no maps and I had never heard of a compass.

Marginally better kitted
Views down Buttermere

Walking Today

Today this would have been simply unacceptable for many good reasons and some bad ones. I particularly believe the green flash trainers were bad, no map even worse and the jeans simply daft. However there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my early walking days gave me the platform of complete confidence in the fells of Lakeland and thereafter in the Highlands of Scotland to cope with pretty much anything that was thrown at me. I had developed a mountain sense and confidence that only needed experience and a bit of navigation skills to make a self sufficient walker.

My only companion on many Scottish mountains
Alone with Mist on the Moffat hills


Today there are a few things that I would certainly do different. I have mentioned good and most importantly comfortable shoes. I was guiding on the 3 Peaks in Yorkshire and one of the lads had bought a new pair of new, very expensive walking boots – the problem was they were a size too small and he had never used them. It took him 3 1/2 hours to get down Ingleborough at the end of the day (its 2 normally) in absolute agony, he had guts but not sense!

Ingleborough from Simon Fell

You do need a good waterproof as getting wet can lead to bigger problems, having plenty of snacks to keep you going (I still revert to 2 or 3 Mars Bars a walk) and plenty of water. Finally learning to read a map is, in my humble opinion, absolutely vital. Never take a guide book up the hill and expect to follow it, learn to read a map, plan the walk and go. Having a compass is handy and useful in bad weather.

Navigation Long Preston
Learning navigation techniques at Long Preston


I have also taken more of an interest in conservation in recent years. I am particularly keen on keeping to paths where there is a danger of serious erosion and am always grateful for the work of Fix the Fells. I should be embarrassed by my younger obsession with scree running, as this has damaged much of the great scree slopes in the Lakes and Scotland, but I cannot bring myself to be. It was fun.

Scree on Langdale
A classic old scree run in Langdale

A Playground?

Which brings me to a major rant on walking today. Someone wrote to me recently and said that the mountains are not a’playground’ and are a serious business. Anyone who knows me would know that would be red rag to a bull. Of course it is a playground, the mountains are great fun and everyone should be out there enjoying themselves. But like the ‘playground’ in a town centre you have to just be sensible.

Red Tarn from Helvellyn
Age 7 Lucy on the final pull up Helvellyn

Just like a 3 year old should not be fired off a swing before going on a slide then an inexperienced walker should not be heading for Striding Edge on their first visit to the Lake District. It’s common sense. However anyone can be out and enjoying themselves but, either go with someone more experienced, or better still learn to use a map and plan your own day. Playing safe is not going to cut it and there is no doubt that today’s society preaches a ‘risk adverse’ approach in all situations.

The tricky bit striding edge
The tricky bit on Striding Edge

Sensible risk taking

However sensible risk taking will only leave wonderful memories and an urge to do more. I have taken my then 6 year old daughter up Halls Fell on Blencathra and because of the scrambling it was her best day on the mountain, I have had notes from people who have taken some advice from the website on walks which have pushed them beyond what they have done before and simply loved the thrill and satisfaction and finally I have seen my friend Debbie North battle over the Coast to Coast in a wheelchair and relive the wild outdoors.

Things may have changed but walking up hills or through the countryside is still massively enjoyable.


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