Climb Walla Crag … (21st March 2020)

I needed a distraction. I needed to be out and away from the confines of the four walls I’d been suffocating in. Almost two weeks of self isolation. Don’t get me wrong. I love to read, to write, to do nothing whilst listening to the melodies coming from the wireless, but there’s only so much a man can take before he needs the smell of a pine tree, a flower, or the sound of the ocean, a waterfall, a plethora of birds tweeting. Sounds of nature that simply aren’t available amongst the inner city concrete dwellings of Newcastle-upon-tyne.
I turned to Michael, my self isolating compadre. Surely he felt the same?
“Michael, I’m going to the mountains. You can come with me or you can stay in this insufferable hovel.”
“Really? You want to chance it?”
“Chance it? Chance what? We’ll be in the open air. Who’s going to breath on us there?”
“Well it’s not just that, there’ll be farm gates to open. What if there is only a narrow trail where you have to get close to somebody?”
I gesticulated my response, waving my hand as if to an invisible fly whilst shaking my head slightly.
“You are right though, would be good to get out into nature.”
“Great,” I smiled, “I’ll be leaving at 8.30am tomorrow. Make sure you’re up.”

The house was silent. I looked in every room but his. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘he’s obviously still asleep.’
Being the kind hearted soul that I am I didn’t bother waking him. Was it my kind heart? I think it was more to do with not liking to be woken up myself. Instead I prepared us a packed lunch. Peanut butter and honey butty’s, crisps, and some other snacks, cereal bars and nuts. Nothing detrimental to the old immune system.
Michael appeared at the doorway. “Oh, there you are. Good morning.” I smiled. He looked disheveled but mildly excited. Like a child on christmas morning.
“Sorry, I slept in. The alarm sounded but I turned it off in my sleep.”
“No worries,” I told him, “How long before you’ll be sorted?”
“Twenty minutes?”
“Perfect.”
We packed some, ‘essentials,’ that were the opposite of essential. Hand sanitizer. Sunglasses. Toilet paper of all things. “What you bringing toilet paper for?” I asked.
“What if we need a poo somewhere and there isn’t any?”
“Ok.”
We should have brought a flask of something hot. For an early spring day it was a pleasant fifteen degrees but a coffee on the peak would have been a nice treat. It’s the little things.
It was the first road trip I’d taken in the new car. A convertible. She drove beautifully. Much more power than my last. It took less than ninety minutes to get there. Ninety minutes to go from the east coast to west. I made a mental note to cycle it sometime.
After arriving in the small town of Keswick I parked up to transform the car so we got some rays on our faces as we traveled between the mountains. A driving experience is wonderfully amplified by a sunny day and zero roof.
I turned to Michael, “I’ve got something to show you.”
“Yeah? Is that why we’re driving away from Skiddaw?”
Skiddaw was the mountain we had intended to climb. “Yes, but it won’t take long and I think you’ll like it.”
We drove along by derwentwater lakeside. The scenery was striking. Other-worldly in comparison to Newcastle. After a mile or so I swung a fast and hard left. Michael jumped a little. I’d gathered speed before turning because I knew how steep the ascent up the narrow country lane would be.
“Did you mean to turn up here?” He asked.
“Of course,” I answered, “wait until you see whats up here.”
We kept going up the hill until the trees and houses beside the lake became smaller and smaller.
“I know where this place is because I used to camp in this farmer’s field when I was a teenager.” I told him.
“You used to come hiking here then too?”
“Pffft, fuck no, I used to come here with friends to get pissed and swim in the lake.”
“Oh.” He blinked.
Finally we reached the destination. I parked the car up, reversing in the space of the cramped little carpark amongst the trees. Michael looked around expectantly and a little confused, “Is this it?” He asked, “what did you want to show me?”
“You’ll see.” I smiled.
We got out from the automobile and I told him to follow me, walking him over the carpark towards some wild bluebells where just adjacent was a cliff edge bringing into view the whole of the lake and the surrounding area. We must have been about two hundred metres up.

“Whaaa this is amazing. How did I not know about this, I’ve been to Keswick tons of times before.”
“Well if you’ve never been up this road I guess you wouldn’t know at all.”
There was one solitary daffodil growing there. Somehow it looked happy.
Michael spoke, “Ok so we have a choice, we can stick with plan a) and go climb Skiddaw mountain, or, looking at this map there should be a waterfall around here somewhere. There’s also these mountains if you want to climb one those instead?”
“Well shiiit, let’s find the waterfall.”
So we walked. I followed, Michael navigated. Neither of us knew if we were going the right way. We reached a picturesque stream. There were people there. A family by the looks of it. Playing around in the water. Other hikers walked by. Everybody seemed oblivious to there being a deadly disease ravaging the planet.
“Are you sure it’s around here? Maybe we should ask someone?”
“Yeah, we probably should.”
A fell runner came by, it seemed rude to stop her but we asked anyway. “Oh,” she said, “Lodore falls is much further that way,” she pointed in the exact opposite direction, “good luck.” Then she ran off.
“Fuck it, let’s drive to Ashness bridge, there is another car park there and by the sounds of it it’s close to there.”
We were back in the car coasting down the the winding country road.
The carpark next to be bridge was almost empty except for one lonely National Trust volunteer sat in his van waiting to give help to any nature lovers. He looked sad and bored. He had the glare of a man just woken up by a bad dream. We gave him some polite conversation.
“We’re looking for Lodore falls, could you point us in the right direction?”
He jumped a little to attention. Happy to finally be of service. His face reminded me of a child stretching his cheeks back to look like a fish. The fish mouth responded, “Well if you go up that way you’ll come to it. It’s a pleasant walk. It depends what you’re hoping to see today.”
“A nice view from mountain top.” I chirped in.
“Well for that I’d recommend you Walla Crag. You just follow this trail here and it’ll take you up there. It’s the best view you’ll get around here.”
“Great. Thanks.”
Walla Crag it is then. We slowly started our climb, first over the bridge, then through a small gate to keep the sheep in. I thought of the hand sanitizer, but being to lazy to go rummaging around for it used my sleeve to push the gate instead.
The sun was beaming now. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Step after step we went up. The view becoming larger and wider with each stride. Another fell runner ran past in a pair of skimpy shorts and vest. “Look at that guy,” I said, “why do it, surely the risk isn’t worth the reward.”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked.
“What I mean is, why choose to go running here on all these rocks. One mistake and your ankle is screwed. Then you’re stuck up here. Or worse you could fall and hit your head and then your brown bread.”
“Must be great to be so fit to run up mountains though.”
“Yeah. I suppose.”
We kept climbing.
The view becoming ever more panoramic was truly something special. By the time we reached the top you had a full three sixty of the lake the town and other lakes and towns in the distance. ‘This,’ I thought, ‘this is spectacular. Imagine living here and having it on your doorstep, I’d come up every evening and wait for the sky to catch up with my mood. It would be the perfect respite away from the hustle of life.’
“Wow! What a jolly nice view this is Margaret, wouldn’t you say so!” There was somebody else up there with us. Your typical English toff. They were keeping the recommended two metres distance away from us and wore paisley bandanas turned into facemasks. Their image didn’t suit their accent.
“Well, we made it.” I said to Michael.
“Yeah, pretty amazing.” He answered.
I felt a tiny buzz of accomplishment reaching the summit. The view was overwhelming but I wouldn’t say the actual sense of achievement was more felicitous than say, having a good turd.
“Well, you want to head straight back down?” I asked.
“How about doing the bigger peak over there too? According to the map it’s called High Seat.”
“Well we’ve come this far, let’s do it.”
So we marched onward.
It wasn’t that much further really. Along the way we found an old confinement pen for small sheep up there, which seemed odd at the time. “You know, this would be a good place to camp,” said Michael, “it’s really enclosed. No wind.”
He lay down in the thing. Just laid there staring up at the clouds.
“I’m going for a piss.” I told him. I left him there and relieved myself in front of a whole town of people. To far for their eyes to see obviously. “Right. Well the sun’s got about an hour left in the sky!” I shouted.
Another fell runner went past. Where the hell did they all appear from. He didn’t look, just gave a four fingered wave and kept on going.
“So let’s not waste any time then!” Michael shouted back.
Going down was worse than going up. The shins, the hips. Even the toes ached a little. We ignored the grumblings as a darkness shrouded the landscape turning the horizon a beautiful deep orange. We still managed to find our way alright. The car was there just as we’d left it. Sitting back down had never felt so good.