This entry is dedicated to…
Corgee, who was the last person to naively invite me on a walk
Randy, who suggested I take a map

Walla Crag
Randy's just heading out to work and Helen's already gone when I wake up; I spend the morning relaxing. Towards lunch, Matthew pokes in and offers me one of Helen's sandwiches. Satiated, I put on my long pants, the mac and sweatshirt they've lent me, grab the GPS, a map of the central lake district, and head out feeling a bit over-prepared for what should be a short climb up Walla Crag.
Looking back to Keswick

I head out the front gate and down the Road by the field. Passing a strolling couple, I ask where to go and am provided directions in a beautiful musical accent - which is an oddity as I haven't really been hearing the accent here. The road leads me up to a farm. Gray slate - the local building material - out-buildings have been converted to guest cottages - this being a more profitable enterprise - but the farm lives on with the smell of manure and the sound of cows somewhere.

I walk past a dilapidated old barn and up a trail into the woods. The trail wends itself along the top of an escarpement dropping to a quick-running stream below. Shortly thereafter, it shoots up and out of the woods to follow the edge of a much-slanted field. I continue to follow it, watching some horses running by the pine trees following the far edge. The day is a little cold, and quite gray-cloudy, but the wind-driven rain of the morning (which I watched from safety of my room's bay windows) has given way.
As I approach an age-worn sign directing the wayward to the Crag I hear behind me the ominous sounds of other hikers. The sheep here are tie-dyed, presumably some means of identification, ownership, or for tracking mating.
I follow the trail along the ridge top, which is flat now, and rocky. I've left the pursuing hikers behind because I can do something they cannot - climb and not be weary. (At least in these condtions.)

Keswick from Walla Crag

The top of Walla Crag affords me a dramatic overlook of both Keswick and Durrentwater. It's been said that those who love the lake district are in exile when away from it, and you understand that from this vantage. As I relax, I hear the pursuers again and simultaneously, in the distance, I see Bleaberry rising quite a bit higher across a brown firth. It's not that far… I head off.
I'm alone again, following the rocky path towards Bleaberry. Out of the silence, a fellrunner zips past me in shorts, and muddy shoes. These people train to run a fifty-or-so-mile race around Derentwater over most of the peaks. Shortly, I realize that I should have found an upward trail by this time; turning, I find it just minutes back disguised as a run-off gully. As I start up it, my pursuers take the other fork, and I watch them disappear out of sight for the last time.
I continue up Bleaberry along a trail of loose rocks. There are fewer sheep up here. Reaching the summit, I rest myself, taking shelter from a ripping wind in a little circle of stones erected over the aeons by my predecessors. In the distance now, I see High Seat and I think of my fourteen-hour sojourn in Alaska. I think of how just a few days before I pulled more devil's club from my legs, though it's been a year now since that night. I think of how I decided that night that it would never ever happen again.

But this time is different. This time I have a map…

I take out the map and I ask, "How far is it?", and the map, obligingly, tells me, "Not far. Not far at all.".

I ponder, visions of climbing down waterfalls coming vividly to mind. I sigh, zip up my mac and start downhill… to High Seat.

High Seat rises in the distance, maybe a mile or so away, across a broad saddle dropping steeply on either side to the lowlands. On top, through thickening mist, I can see a dark blob that might be the seat itself. As I continue downards I learn that the map hasn't told me everything; for instance, it didn't mention that the trail would disappear into inches-deep mud and standing water. No problem, I think, as I jump from grass-clump to grass-clump. Then, the grass-clumps run out and I make the first of many standing long jumps. Over time, the accumulation of small splashes soaks through my shoes. The trail peters out and buries itself amid the muck and I'm left wandering with only a single, distant companion.

After intermeniable puddle-jumping, the trail reappears suddenly, giving me a look as if to ask, "Did you miss me?". As I feel the water in my shoes and socks go squish, I after to admit that I did. I continue upwards, my feet sliding with each step because the muck, discontent to stay in the saddle, is following me up the hillside reminding me, again, of Alaska's vertical swamps. But no. This time, I have a map…

It's taken longer to get here than I had anticipated (and my shoes are muddier!), but I'm finally at the top of High Seat. After a few quick pictures, I notice the wind has picked up from its already ridiculous pace and that thick, dark clouds are blowing in from across the lake. Time to go, and quickly too!

As I descend, the trail becomes confused, twisting and splitting. Nonetheless, I follow it true until it reaches an overlook. One trail curves forward and out of sight as it descends and the other heads down a more gentle slope to the quickly-flowing Ashness river. Both immediately wind out of view, so there's no way of knowing where they really lead. Again, unbiden memories of inching my way along rock ledges above chasms come to mind and I choose the trail that curves around the front.

Almost immediately this turns out to be an interesting choice as the trail goes from being somewhat level to literally vertical as it drops off the edge of a rock face. But what are one's rock climbing skills for, if not this exact situation? With agonising slowness, I seek out and, one by one, find cracks and breaks in the rock - at times lowering myself so that my whole body is hanging in space before finding the next one. The last part turns out to be the trickiest, transitioning from vertical to the muddy trail. I land the jump, though, and even avoid squishing a very black, shiney slug in the process.

Having descended the cliffs (the picture really doesn't do them justice), I continue on down the steeply slanting hillside. Of all the directions that can be walked, and insofar as I dislike any of them, I dislike walking downhill the most.
Far below me, I can make out a barn and head towards it. Along the way, I pass another black "slug-a-pillar" and think to myself how tragic it would be if these were the only two left in the world. How could they find each other - so small, so slow - on this slope? It would be the end of the slug-a-pillars!

I leave them to their plight.

Shortly I come to the edge of a walled in meadow and, passing therein, follow this downward. Encountering some sheep, I tell them of how they have never gone up high and how I have only recently accomplished great feats; looking back up, I see three of them idly munching on random ledges of the cliffs I've so recently climbed down. I am silent - sheep can't open gates, but they can go places.

Crossing the Ashness Bridge and some ancient pine trees, I discover that the trail does its best to avoid the road, preventing me from hitchhiking the rest of the way home. My energy had been ebbing, but, having encountered a stretch of flat ground, I'm rejuvinated and continue on. Climbing up and over Castle Head I make it home just in time to catch the tail-end of dinner - it's only been an eight-'n'-change mile walk.

Keswick by Night
Sarah, who is somehow related to me (I don't often encounter, or know the full extent, of my ultra-extended family in the states, so suddenly having to cope with all the intricacies is fun), and a few of my second-cousins have joined us for dinner (Chinese food & brownies). And, of course, no evening would be complete without a post-dinner climb!

Check if this is a private message just for Richard:

Mom - Friday, July 17, 2009 at 12:21:31 (PDT)
I understand about muddy shoes--I once climbed the mountain behind cousin Jean's house and lost the trail coming down. Kind Aunty Bee washed my unrecognizable leather shoes and stuffed them with newspaper so they would hopefully dry in their previous shape and size.

Richard - Sunday, August 02, 2009 at 16:15:08 (PDT)
The sort of thing I do with my niece!