Alt: 1299 ft.
The text came through at 6:15 on the Friday evening, ‘Jack, please call me when you can. Cheers, John.’ I was staring up at Helm Crag aka ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ from the village of Grasmere walking back to my car after paying more than I like for a couple of hours parking. ‘Why couldn’t he just call me? This fucking guy on pay as you go?’ I mumbled to myself. I called, no answer. ‘Try again’ came a second text moments later. If I had an inkling John was going to be a prick, this confirmed it. He picked up the second time, ‘Hi Jack, John here. I believe you’re shadowing me on Monday for your trial week with the company.’ His voice had a dull monotone drawl. A Lancashire accent hung off the end of certain words as if he’d try to lose it but couldn’t completely. ‘I believe I am’ I replied. ‘Have you got any questions?’ ‘Like what?’ I caught myself being short with him, time was of the essence. The clock was ticking towards sunset and I desperately wanted to catch it from the summit and not have an hour’s drive wasted. ‘I mean, we already have a time and location that was sent in the email a couple of days ago.’ ‘Oh ok.’ He replied. Silence followed, leading to an unwanted crossroads; left, to end the conversation, right, to ask if there was anything he thought I might need and straight ahead for endless silence. Inexplicably, wanting to appear keen and impressionable, I turned right. ‘Is there anything you think I should bring?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I dunno, my camera?’ I replied, scrambling for anything to say, wishing I’d gone with my instinct and turned left. ‘Can do if you want, but the company’s supplying you with a camera and laptop.’ ‘Yeah, I know, but I won’t be receiving that until Wednesday or Thursday next week, so I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to bring my camera for a few practice shots?’ ‘You got any photography experience?’ ‘A bunch of it.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘Mainly fashion shoots and commercials.’ ‘Different kettle of fish estate agent photography.’ Fucking right it is I thought, the pay being the most prominent erm kettle? Fish? ‘What camera you got?’ He continued. ‘Mark iv’ ‘Lenses?’ ‘24-70, 50 and 100mm macro.’ ‘Not wide enough for this game.’ ‘Is that so?’ I answered, more interested in the trajectory of the sun, knowing the second golden hour of the day would soon be arriving. ‘You need something wider to photograph people’s houses.’ ‘Oh right, well like you said, the company’s providing me with all my kit so that’s that little bump in the road flattened.’ ‘We use 16mm’ he continued without prompting. ‘16mm? Don’t you get curvature in the photographs with that?’ ‘You can do yes, but only those with a trained eye can see it.’ ‘Come again?’ I asked, my attention turning briefly to the voice on the end of the line. ‘Only those who know what they’re looking at can spot the curves.’ ‘I’m pretty sure anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see a curve John.’ Silence. My voice began to sound out of breath as words began to fire out three of four times faster than the regular tempo; a familiar tell when I become apprehensive. ‘Anyway John, I’m going have to love you and leave you, I’m literally about to go walking to take some sunset shots.’ ‘I think I have the Mark iv. Or do I?’ ‘I have no idea John. It is however a few grands worth of kit, so I imagine you’d know if you had it or not.’ ‘I think I do have it. Not touched it though, I’ve got better cameras you see, mirrorless. They’re the future in photography.’ ‘John I’m going to have to go, I’m running very late now. I’ll see you Monday, bye.’ I hung up, dreading starting a new job that I had been forced into applying for due to the crumbling economy. I opened the boot of my car, threw my phone in and picked up my camera bag. My phone buzzed once again, sighing I picked it up “One photo sent by maybe John Holmes.” I opened up the photo, chuckling at the name, but soon stopped as he’d sent me a photo of a random terraced house with the caption ‘A typical house. Cheers, John.’ I locked my car and set off walking, attempting to push the dread of Monday to the back of my mind. Then horror after realising I’d said, “I’m going to have to love you and leave you.”
As I hurriedly walked, the days final sweet aromas of gingerbread wandering through the village gently rose into the stratosphere, leaving one unsure if the remaining scent was in fact muscle memory playing tricks on the senses. Situated on the corner of College Street and Broadgate is the quaint ‘Sam Read Bookseller’ shop that stirred fanciful ideas of one day owning my own charming independent bookstore (basically, picturing Meg Ryan’s life in ‘You’ve Got Mail’). (If you want to stop reading after that reference, I understand). From there I crossed the street and walked up Easedale Road with one of my lenses beginning to dig into my lower back through my rucksack. The more I attempted to fix the problem, the worse it gradually became. After three quarters of a mile I turned right onto Helm Close and took the second left onto the driveway of ‘The Lancrigg Hotel’, through the expansive grounds and past the ‘Poet’s Café and Bar’ that looked as poetic as Boris Johnson explaining a lockdown procedure. From here the gardens of the hotel form into woodland and it’s from here you feel like the walk truly begins. The falling sun scattering through the trees formed sharp shards of light skimming across the bed of pine needles that covered the path as two young deer scarpered up the banking with muted deftness.
Once out from under the tress, the ascent begins as the soft, spring-like terrain makes way for an obstinate rocky path that winds and pulls up the side of the mountain. The Herdwick sheep whose soft faces disguise their sturdy character well, briefly look up from grazing, resuming the position when they notice there’s no dog in tow. After roughly ten minutes of walking at a 45-degree angle, my jacket is tied around my waist, cushioning the camera lens chipping away at my spine and allowing my sweat soaked t-shirt to breathe. This mountain may not be the highest or most demanding of climbs, but it certainly doesn’t go easy on you. It knows its views from the summit are spectacular and makes you work for them. A perfect test for the more dominant mountains awaiting my arrival in the coming weeks. It doesn’t take long for the stunning views of the nestled Easedale Tarn and the gushing white water that falls from it to come into play. With each ascending bend a new picturesque scene presents itself; below me, to the sou’-sou’- east, the surreal sight of Grasmere, the thirteenth largest lake in the national park looking like the missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle assembled on top of a sky-blue table. Sou’-sou’-west is Silver How and Loughrigg. The adjoining ridge running from Nab Scar to Stone Arthur is to the east and finally in the distance to the west-sou’-west the ever menacing Pavey Ark leading onto the back of Harrison Stickle. As I scrambled to the cairn feeling like a modern-day Sir Edmund Hillary, I was blown back a couple of steps by the abrupt gusts charging up sheer drops and over unflinching jagged rocks that bore down upon amiable contours below, causing me to pull a face resembling Hans Gruber’s when he fell from the thirtieth floor of the Nakatomi building. Following on from this slight scare, I slid back down the cairn, petrified of slipping and slicing my arsehole to ribbons. Successfully managing not to do this, I tried to take shelter from the wind and set my tripod up and place the camera on top. The wind, however, unfortunately sought me out and unmercifully rattled my tripod, closing the curtains on any plans for long exposure photography. Instead I decided to grab a few handheld shots, but the camera wouldn’t switch on. No battery. How the hell did I ever make it as a photographer? Not being one to accept defeat graciously, historically deciding to blame anyone but myself, I cursed John for distracting me with his needless bullshit. It took a while to calm down, but once I did I sat a while and adsorbed the 360-degree views and made my way across to the second cairn known as ‘The Old Woman Playing the Organ’ (a silhouette I couldn’t make out as a kid, and still can’t). The summit of Helm Crag is full of contagious adventure, urging you to stride toward another peak, then another. I clambered down and began to carry on hiking north-west along a clear path. Every so often the wind ceased its howl, allowing the remainder of the sun to warm me through after I cooled significantly whilst motionless on the cairn. After another twenty minutes, I reached Gibson Knott. From there you can vividly see a clear route leading all the way to The Langdales. Cursing myself for not arriving in the morning, I turned back vowing that I would come again soon and spend the day walking from peak to peak. Half-way between Gibson Knott and Helm Crag, I made my way down off the mountain side along a grassy path that on second thoughts could have been a sheep trail. Either way, I eventually came across a stone footpath, that was loose underfoot and staggered and skidded until I finally reached the bottom and onto a much more horizontal path that ran alongside beautiful, inviting rockpools that were part of Easedale Beck. Down in the valley, the sun had bowed out in the west, leaving an autumnal chill in its place. Sheep dogs barked from various farms, their echoes spurring on other dogs further afield. Soon after, I arrived at a beautiful stonewall bridge, stood on the tip of the arch and admired the last of the day’s herculean views. Feeling somewhat profound, I tried to summarize the experience with a word capable of matching the landscape, but I was exhausted and in desperate need of a pint so settled for ‘nice’, except I pronounced it ‘noice’ for some reason.
Back at the car, I quickly got changed and was laughed at by some teenage girls walking past because I put my trainers on, forgetting I was only wearing my boxers on my bottom half. Teenage girls laughing at you aged 15, stings. Teenage girls laughing at you aged 36, also stings.
Once my attire had been corrected, I ambled whilst massaging the bottom of my back to the first pub I came across, hand sanitized and sat near or as close as I could get to the log burner that was penned in by a group of aging men who looked like they’d come out of an ugly mid-life crisis, sporting both ‘old men rule’ t-shirts and donning full cycling kits that read ‘this guy needs a beer’ printed across the chests, accompanied with two big thumbs up. I dumped my jacket at a table and made my way to the bar, only to be cut off by the clip-clopping of a cyclist still wearing his cycling shoes merely to draw attention to himself. ‘Ooooh what do I want to try this time’ he called out to no one in particular, scouring the grand selection of ales on view. ‘Can I try this one please my love?’ he continued, calling to the barmaid. The pipe hissed and spurted out a black stout. He swallowed the sample, pulled a face ‘Too rich for me that I’m afraid. I’ll try something a little lighter, how about that one.’ Is the same glass ok?’ asked the barmaid. ‘I’ll have a fresh one if you don’t mind. The pipe hissed and spurted out a golden ale, more white froth than colour. He swallowed the sample, pulled a face ‘Too hoppy. What about this one? Different glass.’ The barmaid doing well to keep her smile, grabbed another half-pint glass from the shelf and waited as the man scanned once more, his face almost touching the beer signs. ‘Let’s go for this one. Third time’s a charm.’ The pipe hissed and spurted out another golden ale. He swallowed the sample, stuck his tongue out and back in on rapid repeat, making a dry spitting noise. ‘Can I try that one again love?’ Unable to keep calm any longer I began to make an off coloured remark, but it was drowned out by the bellowing voice of a large gentleman queueing behind me ‘Just pick a fucking pint or fuck off, you uppity prick.’ A clop followed a clip as the man at the bar turned and saw the brooding giant, then delicately turned back again shrinking in size. ‘A pint of Fosters please.’ He whispered.
Sat with a refreshing pint of Loweswater Gold, I watched the men around the fire scuttle outside like dogs with muddy paws that had walked onto a freshly mopped kitchen floor. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, I made my move to the fire. ‘Me and my good lady are about to sit there.’ Exclaimed the brute, moving toward me like impending doom. The two pints he was holding, drowning in his turnip pickers. ‘Right you are mate.’ I answered a little croakily and sat back down in my original seat and picked a beer mat apart.
Once finished, I got up to leave, noticing a map of the Wainwright Fells wedged in between out of date newspapers and fitness magazines. I glanced around the bar making sure no one was looking and took the map, eager to tick off my first mountain of the Autumn when I got home.