Things do not always go as planned. Our ascent of Sallows and Sour Howes was to be at the end of the walk, instead it became the beginning; in fact, it became the walk itself.
It is a couple of weeks since we climbed the surprisingly steep Ullock Pike. Hannah, in a moment of revelation, said, “This is steep.” An understatement, if ever. I thought it was a ridge walk, it is, but with hills on top, bit like a saw.
Now I was itching to get some more peaks under our belt; to keep up the tally from our hard work over the Easter holidays. We need a head start before summer sets in – we have a lot planned for the months of bliss and warmth, and many more miles to travel, and still loads of hills – 169 to be exact. The days are ticking by towards December. But let’s be positive and take each day as it comes, don’t worry about tomorrow, they’ll take care of themselves, enjoy the hills.
On we go. A walk over Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick would do the job, so I thought. Then, if time and energy evade us, we can leave out Thornthwaite Beacon – we’ve done it already on the day it was almost impossible to walk against the high winds and the icy paths on High Street.
From Froswick we can slip-slide backwards down Park Fell, avoid mountain bikers, then go over Troutbeck Tongue; a little tongue-in-cheek hill, hardly noticed, but quaint. Finish off by returning over Sallows and Sour Howes. It would be a good day out. I am optimistic. It didn’t happen.
Today’s weather isn’t that appealing: a high ceiling of continuous cloud, sometimes dropping to 2,000 feet the forecast informed me. I almost didn’t pack my camera. Flat, grey, dull landscapes are not a photographers dream, but, after many years on the hill, I knew that I shouldn’t listen to that voice, and so into the rucksack it went. I could almost hear it say, you’re not leaving me behind. It has become our companion, a part of us, as much as my boots. Who would go walking without their boots?
Crab apples and Sour Howes
We leave Kentmere, early parking to avoid the 9am rush, a few quid in the church box – after all it is Sunday – then turn right off
Garburn Pass by a blink-and-you’ve-passed-it path into the crags above Crabtree Brow. Not sure where that name came from, there are not many crabs lurking under the rocks, but then it could be an apple tree. Crab apples give a nasty surprise, except in jam butties. We have some in our lunch box, along with other high energy, super speed foods to get us up the hill.
I soon found out, as we climbed, that all was not well. Hannah wasn’t in the mood. The usual thirty-minute warm up wasn’t happening. She had been having sleep-overs for two days. She wouldn’t confess to late nights, but I think that was the reason why her legs were dragging and the hills had become steeper.
Nailed to a cross
But it was not only Hannah that was suffering. Yesterday I had set out at 5am, after two days working into the early hours, to go to the Quickfire event organised by Christian Vision for Men – it was a fantastic day. So I must tell you a story about Mike Vickers, a man who carries a cross around Europe. He spoke at the event, and told of a time when a group of men, who were a little challenged by the cross, threatened to nail him to it. He thought they were joking, as one would, until one of them came back with a hammer and nails, then he knew they weren’t.
Just at the moment they laid him on the cross and were about to strike the first nail through his hand, they stood up and walked away. As Mike said, “It was a though someone had just pulled out a plug.”
Shortly afterwards, Mike phoned home to talk to his wife, and he learned something that amazed him.
His wife asked him what had happened at 5am a few days ago, because their daughter, who was sleeping, had suddenly come running to her room in the middle of the night, saying,
“An angel has just told me that we have to pray for daddy right away.”
Immediately, they both prayed. Mike understood, and told her of what had happened.
Their prayers were called at the exact time that the men were about to nail him to the cross.
As his wife and daughter prayed, hundreds of miles away, without any knowledge of what was happening, the men had turned and walked away.
In the Bible, in 1 Peter 5:7, God says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you.”
Anyway, back to our walk. We are both tired, and I know that Hannah is never going to make it. She told me so. Kids can be direct like that. It is time to improvise.
“What if we just pop over these two little hills?” I say, not wanting to give in too easily. “Then at least we’ll get a couple done, and be home in time for lunch.”
I waited to see if my specialist knowledge in child psychology had worked.
She agreed. Brilliant.
“Anyway,” I say. “It’s not such a nice day, so I don’t mind, really.” Trying to ease her pangs of guilt.
We track back to the Garburn Pass and head up to Sallows. I have the strange feeling that it is going to be a fun day – stay with me.
Photographers always keep looking at the lighting on the hills, that is why they keep falling over things. Hannah was happy, not because I fell over, but because I kept stopping. As I fell, she would lie down. There is a patch of sunshine on Sallows. The sun is coming out. The clouds are breaking. This shouldn’t be happening. Sometimes I am glad the forecasts are wrong.
The wind is coming from the east
Great black shadows glide over the fells, chased by, and chasing, patches of golden sunlight. It is the stuff poets write about. Blue sky peeps through black clouds. Heavy clouds gather on summits, dropping, resting before continuing their journey. “
It’s because the wind is coming from the east,” a passing walker tells me. Silly me, I should have known that! Is it? I didn’t care which way the wind was coming from, as long as it kept blowing the clouds around. I took pictures. Hannah lay on the ground, basking in the sunshine.
I saw a picture, and ran across the fell like a youngster in a sweetie shop. The mountains are black, shadowy, but the Langdale
Pikes are in sunlight, lit by a spotlight, making their appearance on stage. The perfect shot is from a small hillock. I run to it. Throw myself on the ground, rest the lens, and click, a lovely picture. Seconds later the lighting is gone. Phew! Hannah is still asleep under the warmth of the sun. It is just great to be out on the hill. I sit down beside her and we have a snack, away from the easterly wind, which was definitely north-ish.
We run it into the sunshine on Sallows. It disappears. We stand in gloom. It grows chilly. The summit doesn’t exist. It is somewhere on the top of the hill. We find what looks like the highest point: a group of rocks sticking out of the ground, and have some more lunch. Wainwright number 46 ticked off. I think. Perhaps I need a GPS for this job.
Trampolining on the fell
Onwards towards Sour Howes, not sure why it’s sour, I’ll find out later, probably something to do with those crab apples on the Garburn Pass. Hannah has found a trampoline on the fell. Children need to be entertained. The fells are all about fun. So why shouldn’t she trampoline. I watch her bouncing up and down on a patch of ground that is bouncing. I think of quicksand. She doesn’t. “
This is really cool,” she says. After a few minutes of bouncing I am beginning to get worried. I see her bounce once more then disappear into the ground as the top soil gives way.
“Come on,” let’s carry on,” I say, trying to sound unconcerned, in an effort to prise her away from being sucked under. In my mind I quickly rehearse my rope techniques for getting someone out of quicksand. Oops! No rope.
Someone has made a new wall. It looks fantastic. New-blue slate winds along the hill towards Sour Howes, like the tail of a scaly crocodile. Must have taken days to build. Wonder how they got all the slate up here? Wonder how much it has cost? Questions. It makes the fells look really beautiful.
Sour Howes is a plethora of summits. We can’t find the right one. The map indicates a spot height at the end of the hill. That must be it. We stop on one, but the next looks higher. Eventually we decide on one, and, sheltered from the easterly wind, we sit facing east, warm and snug, and have another snack.
Where’s the summit
It is 10.30, not time for lunch. We British can be like this: a time for lunch, a time for snacks. Tea at 11. Hannah demolishes a Scotch Egg, her favourite at the moment, along with cashew nuts, and everything else apart from chicken sandwiches. I don’t think chicken sandwiches are boring. Maybe she has gone off chicken this week. “
Is this Sour Howes?” A line of walkers pass by. I thumb over my shoulder to the hill we are sat by. They all turn and walk over the top.
“Take your pick,” I reply. “Or it may be one of the others. I don’t think it really matters though, unless you’re intending to plant a flag on it.”
I’m not sure that went down well. “
Time to get back then?” Hannah is quite happy to stay. So am I. We stay. The lighting is fantastic. Shadows and sunlight paint mountains. Sunbeams chase shadows. Black turns to green, darkness to light. This is an amazing spot, great views. Don’t see why it should be called Sour. I would call it Happy Howes. We didn’t get home for lunch.