I’m stood on the summit of Silver How in the Lake District. It’s early March, still technically Winter, and I’m learning the hard way that my woolly beret and favourite patterned mac are not appropriate fellwalking gear. The wind’s icy tail whips my exposed neck, I can’t feel my hands, and the clouds have gathered into a threatening grey blanket, suffocating the surrounding peaks and advancing in my direction.
But I love it.
I love feeling the intense blast of the wind on my face; watching it ruffle each blade of grass carpeting the uneven, boggy ground; hearing it howl through the hollow of the valley below.
I love the sound of the singing birds; the baas of grazing sheep; and the throaty cackle of a faraway pheasant.
But most of all, I love that we’re the only ones here to experience this.
Only we are watching the dry stone walls etch the hills, a grey scribble on an auburn canvas.
Only we notice how the white and grey cottages are scattered like pebbles, or how a forest litters the shore like charred crumbs of burn toast.
Only we notice how Grasmere lake has been reduced to a small puddle, trembling as if awaiting the stomp of a child’s welly.
The footsteps of thousands scar the ground we stand on, but today it’s just us; the only witnesses to Silver How’s descent into the valley of Grasmere.
I’ve got to be honest; the outdoors hasn’t always had this effect on me. Far from it. Several bad camping experiences in my teens quashed any outdoor love I’d felt as a child, limiting my outdoor activities to barbecues in the park and lounging on foreign beaches.
But then I met Rob. A country-bumpkin born and bred, Rob’s enthusiasm for the outdoors was infectious, and slowly, he coaxed the love of the outdoors back out of me. It started with visits to the beautiful East Yorkshire farm he grew up on, progressed to camping trips in North Yorkshire, and finally reached the dizzy heights (literally) of high altitude hikes during our round the world trip in 2011-12.
And this was when it really clicked. I remember we’d signed up to do The Tongariro Crossing, a 19km trek labelled by many as the greatest one day walk in the world. I’ll be honest, I was mainly excited about the fact that Tongariro was also the film location for Sauron and Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. (I know, MOUNT DOOM!) But that excitement soon faded as the reality of the walk unfolded. I remember reaching the 6188ft high point of the trek and beginning our descent. It was NOT good. A steep, scree slope that swallowed every step I took like quicksand, staying upright was virtually impossible and I slid most of the way down, scraping my hands as I tried to regain some element of control. At least it didn’t hurt; the temperatures had plummeted so much by that point that all feeling in my hands, fingers and nose had disappeared. But the cold didn’t numb that feeling of utter despair and I remember feeling completely sorry for myself, cursing Rob for subjecting me to such torture.
But then I looked up.
Thousands of feet above sea level, in the most hostile of environments, there were three lakes; brilliant emerald greens appearing like a mirage amidst the lifeless grey hues of the volcanic surface. It was an amazing moment, and one that I never would have experienced had I not endured the pain it took to reach it.
And standing on Silver How’s summit last week, all those feelings came flooding back. Yes, Silver How is only 1296ft and the surface is firm, green grass rather than perilous scree, but it still presents a magnificent view that you won’t find unless you make the effort to get up there. We often think that to experience something truly amazing, we need to travel to far-flung corners of the World. But we don’t. Us British folks are some of the luckiest lot in the world, gifted with spectacular destinations right on our doorstep. And there are few more spectacular than the Lake District.
Rob and I spent one night in the Lake District last week, staying in The Langdale Hotel after enjoying our Christmas present to each other – a stunning five course tasting menu at Michelin-starred The Samling (more on that later this week). Walking off our lunch the next day, we followed a route suggested to us by the hotel and climbed Silver How from Langdale, dropping down through Grasmere and back over to Langdale again. No words could ever do such scenery justice, (and my amateur photography skills don’t really either…), but I’ll leave you with a few snapshots that capture just some of the visual feasts we were treated to along the way (and the locals we met, too!)
Inspired? Have a go yourself by following the same route we took as recommended by The Langdale Hotel.