For 2.5 weeks of the year, my husband is 4 years younger than me, something that he enjoys reminding me of, at least daily, throughout the 2.5 weeks. Thankfully he has now returned to being a mere 3 years younger than me, and in celebration of this we decided to give climbing Haystacks another go.
The day started off cold, with blue skies and only a slight breeze, a perfect day for walking. From the off, the boy surprised me; he only really dragged his heel through the first farmyard, and then he obviously decided the climb looked rugged enough and involving enough ‘tricky bits’ (as he likes to call them) for him to be interested. The girl on the other hand, was far less impressed. One day I am sure that we will do something that both of the children enjoy AT THE SAME TIME; on that day, I have no doubt, I will hate whatever we are doing (let’s face it, it will be soft play).
As we got higher the girl made it very clear she no longer wanted to walk, and so into the carrier she went – daddy gallantly carried her (probably because he can’t stand my whinging / whining / near to tears state when carrying her uphill) and I walked with the boy. The boy was not pleased. The boy thought I was an ‘idiot’ (thanks Cruella de Ville) and horrible and not a nice mummy. Aah, children, they certainly know how to warm the cockles of your heart. And this was just because he had to hold my hand, rather than daddy’s.
Fortunately a shepherd on the fell started to gather his Herdwick sheep, and so the distraction put an end to the name calling and we all stood, amazed at the people who work the beautiful yet hostile lands of the Lakeland Fells. This seemed to cheer the boy up and we continued walking – him forgetting he was holding hands with the mothering equivalent of Attila the Hun. The promise of hot chocolate further on might also have had something to do with that.
The climb up gave us amazing views across to surrounding fells, many of them already having a covering of snow, and across Buttermere and Crummock Water. The pains of climbing fells quickly fall away when you stop and look around, the views really are breathtaking and day to day worries become small fry. After a lot of scrambling up the ‘tricky bits’, we finally reached the summit, and what a view.
The actual joy of walking up fells with small people is that you have to walk quite slowly, and so you don’t feel like you are exerting yourself too ridiculously and don’t need quite so many stops, but obviously one of the side effects of this is it takes FOREVER.
So we didn’t stop for long to enjoy the views, on we went. The promise of a picnic which had kept the boy going through thick and thin became a quickly grabbed sandwich, breadstick and some chocolate to get the sugar levels back up next to Innominate Tarn – one of two beautiful mountain lakes at the top of Haystacks.
After food the boy wanted to go into the carrier for the way down – fair enough, as his little legs had done a lot of walking, and it meant we could up the pace. But this obviously meant I had to carry the girl. This probably adds about 19kgs to my walking weight. As I trudged down I wondered what weight soldiers had to carry when they were training… I have now googled and it turns out it’s less. This information will now justify my future moans.
For me, descending a fell is always far less enjoyable, the joints start complaining and as the walk continues the leg muscles turn into something more akin to jelly than muscle. We’d chosen to take a route down which was supposed to be a smoother path, but there was a lot of loose rock under foot. Jelly legs and loose rocks (and weak ankles from too many drunken tumbles in my youth) are not a good mix. Add to this the fact we were starting to panic as the day was drawing on and the light was starting to fade (a downside of walking in the later months) – afterwards both J and I admitted we were worried we’d end up having to call Mountain Rescue, something we would both have been very shamefaced about.
Probably unsurprisingly, I took a tumble, I don’t really know what happened, I think I may have turned an ankle as it’s still sore today – whether I did it on a loose rock or just a misstep I don’t know. On the way up I’d made up a walking rule for the boy “Fellside, not outside” (meaning walk next to the fell, not the edge) and fortunately I was sticking fast to my rule so I ended up on my back in the middle of the path, with my poor girl in her backpack – though she seemed nonplussed by it all (although I did hear her muttering “careful mummy” a few times afterwards). Fortunately we were both ok, it could have been SO much worse, but it added to the jellyness in my legs as I was now nervous to boot. I have never fallen with the carrier before, but normally we have longer to stop for a picnic and refuel, and normally we’re not battling the light. Anyway, we were on the side of a fell, in failing light, so J helped pick me up (try getting up from a prone position with 19kg on your back – not easy). We stopped for a coffee and cereal bar to compose ourselves, and then we pushed on, carefully. The climb down felt like it went on forever. At one point I suggested we just gave up and became mountain folk, stealing picnics off passing walkers like a Lakeland Yogi Bear – the only downside was we’d seen no one else on our route down (something else which added to our nerves). At one point I just wanted to stop and cry, as my legs hurt so much I didn’t think I could walk anymore. We do this for fun.
But I could walk. And we did get down to a wide, flat footpath. We got the kids out of the backpacks, hugely lightening our loads and lifting our spirits immeasurably. And we walked back to the car all holding hands, in the twilight, singing Old Macdonald. It was beautiful. It was worth it. It made me realise how much I love this place and the people I was with.
Walking with small children is difficult, it is dangerous even for relatively experienced walkers and can be very scary at times – but it also gives you an opportunity to face and (fortunately) survive challenges together, as a family. To look back and say “we did that”. To create happy memories together. Surely, that’s what it’s all about.