Walking from home
Posted on 25th May 2020
The last time I journeyed more than a few miles from home is now almost two months in the past. On the 19th March, I pulled in to London Waterloo on my usually rammed commuter train. Just six of us stepped onto the platform. That was the point at which I realised I probably shouldn’t even be there. I travelled on to Greenwich and had my meeting. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to grab a spare webcam and a few other necessities. I watered my lovely ferns and went straight home. That was it, and the last eight weeks have been a strange mix of anxiety and comfort.
In December 2019, I was planning my mountain walks for the 2020 season. Having completed my first Wainwright 214 round in July, I was excited about trying something new.
It has become a custom to plan a walking trip soon after the end of teaching. This, I have found, helps to maintain an even keel when transitioning from the relatively frenetic teaching period to the more reflective process of assessments and planning for the next academic year.
Avoiding the Easter bank holiday, I booked a week at YHA Ambleside, starting on the 19th April, with the objective of completing the Fellranger fells. I had 17 to do and although some are located at opposite ends of the national park, I reckoned a week of fine weather would be enough to bag them all.
I planned a second trip for May. During the winter I’d been looking for another objective. Something achievable in a single season but somewhere different (i.e. not the Lake District). I decided the Welsh 3,000ers was a worthy challenge and nice because it would mean revisiting another landscape I had been familiar with as a child. Snowdonia, being close to Liverpool, was one of the three “wilderness” areas where we took our family holidays. I’d become reacquainted with the Lake District in recent years but it’s some time since I last visited the North Yorkshire Moors.
I booked four nights at YHA Idwal Cottage, starting on the 10th May. Given good weather, I figured I might be able to complete the set but didn’t mind if I didn’t manage it in a single trip. There would be plenty of other opportunities in 2020 for a second Snowdonia trip.
I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but those two trips became imaginary adventures. In the early days of lockdown, things didn’t seem too serious and YHA planned to keep hostels open. That hope lasted around a week because, all of a sudden, everything had closed and refunds were being offered.
Somewhere, in a non-lockdown parallel universe I’ve completed the Fellranger fells and the Welsh 3,000ers and I’m sitting down to write up my experiences and show my amazing photographs. In this universe I’m still dreaming of those planned adventures.
So walking has been restricted to what can be done from home and, in some ways, that has been no bad thing. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world and in a rural setting and the lockdown has meant turning my focus on a landscape I normally take for granted.
That’s not to say I wasn’t peeved when the week I had planned to visit the Lakes turned out to the most perfect walking weather I’d known in April. I still remember the miserable week of April weather I spent in the Northern fells when I seemed to be constantly in mist.
Nonetheless, I’d booked the week off and I determined to make the most of it. Some of the week had to be spent upgrading our home Wi-Fi. We’d been hobbling along with a flaky system linking the studio with the house for several years and the necessity for a robust and reliable link during Teams meetings had now become imperative. The final straw came when I dropped out of a particularly important meeting and had to rush up into the loft to reset the access point!
So we now have a super-duper, strong and stable wireless network to go with our new-ish fibre broadband. It feels like living in a new house and if it hadn’t been for the fact that this was the week our home server chose to die, I’d have been happily marching up and down the North Hampshire Downs all week. In the end, after sorting that emergency out, I managed just two days of walking.
The first was a full-day walk from home to Ladle Hill and back, a round-trip of 25km. Tilda joined me for the walk. It was a beautiful day and not many people about – we almost had Ladle Hill to ourselves and spent a lazy hour there for lunch. The walk back was slow as the distance took its toll on Tilda’s feet. When we got home, she removed her socks to reveal large blisters on heels and toes.
The second walk was solo and another beautiful day. A roundabout stroll down to the Bourne Valley and back. Not a long way but I purposely chose some footpaths I have rarely used. It was proof, if I needed it, of how beautiful our local landscape is and how lucky we are to live where we do when others are confined to garden-less flats in city centres with little or no access to local greenery. I have nothing to complain about.∗