“Aren’t you cold?”, the serious young Dutchman eyed Noel’s bare legs through the small gap in his all-over waterproofs. We were just 50 metres short of the 763m summit of Wetherlam, in the Lakeland fells and being whipped by the wind. “No,” he replied truthfully, “Aren’t you too warm?”
We’d seen the laboured progress of him and his companion as they picked their way down the shattered rock, walking poles flailing, rucksack covers inflating like giant lungs. It was our first attempt at a serious fell run, we were travelling light, running where we could, scrambling and walking the rest. It felt good.
“Will you be OK in those?” He looked down, his stout boots indicating Noel’s Gore Tex trail shoes and my water-bearing Salomons. “It’s slippy up there.” His hood tilted backwards as he pointed to the summit. He looked suspiciously at our small rucksacks as we thanked him for his concern and carried on unencumbered, while they continued their slow descent. Clearly he thought we were a little short of brain cells, scampering around the fells, half naked and at our age.
He wasn’t to know that I was carrying a goosedown jacket that squashed into a small thimble and weighed no more than a raisin, the Fell Runners’ Association regulation map, compass and whistle and emergency supplies, even if they were leftover marzipan balls from three weeks ago. Chewy, but serviceable. Noel had the same, plus waterproof trousers and a packet of McVities chocolate digestives. He didn’t have a compass when we set out, but we found one on the summit, crag booty!
We’ve done a lot of rambling, walking and trekking over the years, carrying huge loads with flasks of tea, coffee and vin chaud, not to mention enough food to feed the entire mountain. Great fun, but slow going, especially with all those changes of clothing. Not to mention cameras, multiple lenses and a tripod.
So setting out for the fells in little more than gym kit with mini rucksacks felt both liberating and scary. Liberating because we could move fast, obviously when I say fast it’s all relative. And scary because no matter how lovely the fells are, they can change quickly into a brooding storm, whatever the weather forecast may say.
We skipped past snakes of walkers tap tap tapping with their poles as we headed down and across to the higher Swirl How, heads turned and eyebrows arched. Then came the descent over grass, peat, bogs and streams, with only one mishap as I fell into a small bog. Noel said I made a fuss and could be heard as far away as Ambleside. I maintained I was practicing my actress voice and needed to project. Still, all part of of the fun, and they say bog water is great for the complexion.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. There may have been swearing and a little whingeing as the muscles burned going up and down the steep slopes and the map refused to resemble the terrain. But next time, it will be easier. Yes, I like travelling light.