Two minutes silence
That damn scree
At long last Mark had started to move in at Heath. The main bonus for the rest of us was that we wouldn’t have to treck across to Leeds and waste a good half an hour travelling time. Mark had been chatting with his new next door neighbour Steve (who coincidentally is the father of a lad who swims with Megan) and invited him along. As well as Steve, John had invited his next door neighbour Bob. This was no problem at all as we would’ve required two cars anyway. So with a plan hatched to attend the Remembrance Day service on the summit of Great Gable we travelled up via the A66 and rolled into Keswick under cloudy skies. Progress was made as far as possible down the cul-de-sac that led to Seathwaite. With a great number of cars abandoned on either verge we were left with at least half a mile to walk to reach the farm. Last year we had heard that there had been between 500 and 1,000 people at the service. I’d thought this was a load of tripe, but one look at all the abandoned cars confirmed that these numbers wouldn’t be too far out.
Given that we had an eleven o’clock deadline to meet we pushed on at a decent pace passing one group of walkers after another. Although the weather was pretty poor our mood was fine as we chatted away whilst walking up Grains Ghyll. It’s a pretty sociable affair when the group is a decent size. You’ll walk along and natter with someone. When one or the other needs to stretch their legs or has got fed up of talking a load of tripe the conversation will end and one party will wander off to bore someone else silly. It may sound a little harsh, but after a few changes it adds a great variety to the day’s conversation. It may also sound strange, but it’s an accepted part of a day out and one of the features of a good days hill walking. There were all manner of people making their way uphill and just as we reached the waterfall at Taylorforce Ghyll we passed an old bloke who was making real slow progress. Surely he wasn’t heading for the remembrance service?
Just prior to reaching Styhead Tarn Mark had the brainwave that we should climb Aaron Slack and take an alternative route to the summit of GG. He wasn’t the only one to have this idea. As we made our way up this congested route our lungs started to feel the gradient. All in all I didn’t do too bad, and just for a change I couldn’t keep up with Mark. Over the next few minutes we all reached Windy Gap with John as expected bringing up the rear. I’d never seen anything like it. There were hoards of walkers everywhere, especially coming along the ridge from Green Gable. Clearly this mob had saved themselves a great deal of effort by starting at the highest access point at the summit of Honister Pass. After literally filtering into the queue that was slowly snaking its way up the final few hundred feet of Great Gable we set off in single file at a dawdle of a pace. Everyone seemed as though they were part of a big event and all were in a cheery mood as they scrambled up the final rocks and rubble.
We needn’t have worried about the time as we arrive on the summit for half ten. There was nothing for it, we found a few boulders sat down, took an early morning snack and generally took in everything that was going on. Hill walkers are obviously not shy retiring types as looking around everyone was decked out in bright multicoloured gear. There weren’t that many that were camouflaged with the scenery. Paul also made a comment that out of the hundreds of people up there everyone was white. There were no Africans, Asians or anyone else who seemed to have originated outside the traditional first world. Perhaps hill walking as a hobby appeals to a particular type of Brit. As the half hour wait came to an end the summit crowded even more and just short of eleven, right by the summit cairn a lone hiker addressed the service. I missed a little of his introduction, but managed to pick up enough to realise that this gathering had its origins in the First World War. It transpired that several local climbers had perished in the trenches and in their memory two wealthy landowners gave a substantial area of mountain land (including Great gable) to a local fell walking association so that walkers could experience the freedom of the hills forever. In 1923 this land passed to the ownership of the National Trust and since then the remembrance service has been held in ever increasing numbers. Bang on eleven this short sermon came to an end and with everyone stood we were all asked to witness two minutes of silence. In my case my thoughts were specifically with my grandfather, who survived WW2, my great grandfather who was injured and captured in WW1 and my great uncle who was lost at Dunkirk. During this period of silence the only sound to be heard was the odd yap of one of the many dogs that had made the trip with their masters. There was no doubt that proper respect was shown by all.
Leaving behind the crowds.
With the service behind us, it was time to descend back towards Styhead. It was one way traffic with hundreds of walkers streaming down the eroded path. I am sure the National Park wardens who have carefully laid the erosion control stone staircase would have been pretty dismayed by the sight of the hoards ploughing down half a dozen wide and generally widening the already broad scar. I said one way traffic. It wasn’t quite that, as there was just the one exception. The old chap we’d passed much earlier on who was slowly making his way towards Taylorforce Waterfall was now plodding on at his own pace no doubt running a little late for the service. You could just imagine that he’d been up for the remembrance service for many years and that it was his own way of saying hello to old friends. In one way this may sound a little sad, but you’ve got to give him credit for sticking at it. A little further down I caught sight of John taking a tumble on the scree. For some reason he seamed to take a while to get up and going again. Five minutes later as we reached Styhead he was rolling around in agony with cramp in his thighs. After a minute or two of winging it became clear to me that he’d not be making the full trip up Scafell Pike. Sure enough as we took a turning on to the Corridor route John threw the towel in and set off back for a bit of a kip. I reckon that that tumble must have taken more out of him than he let on.
Heading for Scafell Pike.
Ten minutes later having found some reasonable shelter we stopped for our snap. It was quite a miserable affair, sitting there hunkered up against the wind with a fair amount of rain in the air and nominal views through the clag. The plod then continued through a squall and apart from the odd disagreement with Mark over our route finding the remainder of the climb to Scafell Pike’s summit passed without anything of note. We clambered up through ever worsening rubble all the time in the clag and gradually strung ourselves out as we made our own pace. The summit cairn was used to provide shelter from the wind and allowed us a few minutes to take a breather before our decent back towards Seathwaite.
You would think that the descent would be just that. How wrong can you be? The way off towards Great End involves a couple of short sharp ascents and it was on one of these that the old stomach cramps started. Yep, you’ve guessed it, a short while later I reappeared from around the back of a great rock with the score now at 48!! Having caught up with the rest whilst on the way over Great End our route took us back down towards Esk Hause. For the first time in several hours we now descended below the clag and had our fist views of this dull November day. It was clear to see that Bob was now starting to slow down, but to be honest both Steve and Bob had done pretty well for their first walk. Ok, both were already fit, but hill walking uses different muscles to football on a five a side pitch or road/mountain bike running and riding. Seathwaite could be seen in the distance and slowly our goal was reached. It was en route that I realised I needed some new boots, as once more I took a tumble on some greasy rocks.
On reaching the cars, there were just another half dozen or so left abandoned on the grassy verges. Just for a change we were about the last back. A quick change followed and rather surprisingly the Scafell Pike Inn was open for bar meals and ready to serve at five o’clock. Better still they had a roaring log fire, great beer and the Cumberland sausage was spot on. Even though the weather had been disappointing it was still a damn good day in the hills. Roll on December.
A final thought should go to the words of the chap who gave the speech on the summit. “Let us be thankful for our freedom of access to roam the hills”. Where would we be if the hills didn’t exist, or we couldn’t clamber amongst them? With this in mind, the old chap who was persevering in his somewhat delayed personal climb to the summit sums up the spirit of the hills.