Bobby finally made the jump from the big smoke to back home. Eighteen years away. He’d been full of the joys of spring leading up to the move but fell flat once he’d landed. I told him he’d be alright. It’d just take a few days. Turns out I was right; well maybe it was longer than a few days, but as near as dammit. He got himself a car- his grandma’s saloon. She didn’t need it anymore on account of her cataracts and constantly being shitfaced. The back window needed replacing after one of Bobby’s brothers’ friends freaked out falling down a ‘K-Hole’ and kicked it through a few weeks back. Other than it was good to go.
He’d got himself a job in Kendal, something in sales. His new co-workers weren’t the hustle and bustle type; parts of their souls were dropping off and they moved at the pace of a stagnant river during a hosepipe ban. But it was a regular income and half days on a Friday, so he sucked it up like a big boy.
I promised I’d go for a walk with him on the Saturday. ‘I wanna do a big eight-mile bastard.’ He insisted. ‘fine.’ I told him. I’d been tempted to cancel on Bobby for Faye but was growing wary of rushing things and overdosing in the honeymoon period. You’ve got to be careful when you first start seeing someone you like. You need discipline. You’ve got to know when to pull on the reins a little. It’s a lot like a hot mug of coffee and a packet of chocolate digestives on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon; too good to be true in the beginning, but before you know it there’s nothing left but a bloated gut and feelings of regret and nausea. On top of that, friends become suspiciously watchful when you start a new relationship. They act as if they’re happy for you, but in darkened corners, away from the rainbows and candy canes there’s a lot of marking down and tallying up absent social events. You know they’re right but risk their wrath all the same as the excuses pile up. A tricky balancing act.
Saturday rolled through pretty quick, which was fine by me. Although I was now one of the many millions who wished seventy-one percent of their life away, which wasn’t alright with me. What also didn’t sit right was waking up on a Saturday, the same time I would on a weekday. I would’ve thought a body clock would go by average hours sleep per night rather than time of day.
Bobby arrived in a fluster around ten-thirty; more adequately dressed than when we walked up Latterbarrow. He’d bought himself a pair of hiking boots and was donning a pair of extremely tight electric blue tracksuit bottoms and a racing green wax jacket. I felt like I’d already had a day despite idling the time away. He’d wanted to meet on Saturday because the weather app on our phones had predicted sun throughout. So far, it had stayed true to its word. It transpired that Bobby wanted a fine day because the driver’s side window wiper on his windscreen had died the day before. ‘You’re taking a risk driving through the Lakes in November with no wipers, aren’t you?’ I asked. ‘It’s not meant to rain until Monday pal.’ He replied. ‘I would feel better taking one car though.’ He continued, a little sheepishly. ‘I don’t feel comfortable reversing out of this driveway, let alone driving on these small country lanes. I’ve been having nightmares about it all week.’ ‘I would, but I promised my parents that we’d take two. They’re nervous about this worsening second wave. Besides, some practice will do you good. Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.’ ‘Who said that?’ ‘I think it was that woman, Marie something…started that fashion magazine.’ ‘What the fuck does she know?’
I told Bobby I had to fill up my car. That meant going back on ourselves for quarter of a mile. ‘Can I not just stay here until you’ve filled up?’ Asked Bobby, ‘I want a smoke. I’ve not had one all week.’ ‘I’m not leaving you here smoking on my parents drive. Anyway, why you wanting a cigarette now? An hour before walking up a mountain?’ ‘It’s the weekend, I want to enjoy myself.’ ‘Come on, we’re leaving.’ Bobby set off first. A quarter of a mile later he indicated right whilst turning left into the petrol station. I filled up while Bobby parked around the back, rolled and smoked. ‘You indicated the opposite way turning in before.’ I called out, pulling up alongside moments later. ‘It’s this fucking car. The indicator’s on the wrong side. It’s very confusing.’ ‘Where’d you buy it? Crazy Vaclav’s?’ I laughed. Bobby didn’t get the reference, which I took as a personal insult. I got the map out and showed Bobby the mountain and route we were taking. ‘So, I thought we could park here at Wythburn on the south-west bank of Thirl…what are you doing?’ I looked at Bobby who was dancing from one foot to the other. ‘I knew this would happen.’ ‘What?’ ‘I always need a poo after my first smoke of the day.’ ‘Go for one then.’ ‘The toilets won’t be open here. Covid.’ ‘I don’t know what to suggest.’ ‘Can I poo at your mum and dad’s?’ ‘Yeah sure, that’ll be fine. They’re only nervous about me driving in another car with someone else, but someone strolling through their front door to take a dump won’t be a problem.’ ‘I detect sarcasm.’ ‘Attaboy Lennie.’
We set off with the ‘shit’ matter unresolved. I led the way. I had to slow down constantly to wait for a nervous Bobby to catch up. This left me mildly irritated until I found my inner zen, convincing myself that it’d be pleasant driving slow for a change; better for the environment and an opportunity to take in more scenery. However, this calming thought process quickly made way for embarrassment, as it looked like all the flashing lights and pipping horns behind Bobby were being held up by yours truly.
We drove up the A592, along “Millionaire’s Row” between Storrs Hall and Bowness, where another mansion had been given the green light to be built on the shores of Windermere, when the rest of us under a certain paygrade are told by the Planning Board to immediately think unsexy thoughts if our dicks become erect. Driving through Bowness and Windermere, non-essential shops, cafes and pubs sat despondent in the dark, while supermarkets shone bright, alluring hypnotised minds with ultraviolet rays above sliding doors, selling essentials such a milk, bread, boardgames, dressing gowns and baubles.
We arrived at Wythburn carpark forty minutes later than estimated. There were two spaces left. I grabbed one. Bobby hesitated with the other. ‘Is this going to be too muddy for my tyres?’ He shouted out of his wound down window. ‘No Bob it’s fine.’ ‘You sure? It’s not on too much of a slant is it?’ What if my handbrake fails and rolls into the front of the Merc?’ ‘Why would the handbrake fail?’ ‘Cos this saloon resembles a western boozer more than a car, that’s why.’ ‘Please just park the fucking thing.’ I replied curtly.
At the top end of the car park, a small gate leads into a wooded area with a ghyll running through. After a few hundred metres the trees clear and the ascent onto the exposed mountainside begins and doesn’t let up until you reach Swallow Scarth at 2849ft.
The route we took can also lead you to Helvellyn, but instead of heading north at Swallow Scarth, we would veer south.
The mountain path winds, pushing you down at its most arduous. Those Fell top assessors who hike this trail once a week must have the lungs of a sheepdog. And the knees of Stephen Hawking.
Bobby began stopping more regularly to catch his breath, disguising it as chitchat. Not that I blame him, the burn was also affecting me. ‘You enjoying your new job?’ He asked between gasps. ‘Its alright. Just finished my first week on my own. It seemed to go relatively smoothly.’ ‘That’s good. You had to work with that guy training you up again?’ ‘Not since I’ve been on my own thankfully. What about you? You enjoying your new job?’ ‘It’s alright. Don’t think I’ll do it for long though, but it’ll do for the time being.’ ‘What is it you’re selling?’ ‘Lies.’ ‘I see.’ Bobby turned, resting the palms of his hands on his knees as he bent over. ‘What’s that mountain over there?’ He asked pointing quickly before dropping his hand back onto his knee. ‘Dunmill Raise.’ I answered. ‘Legend has it that’s where the last king of Cumbria died in battle against the combined forces of Edmund, King of the Saxons and King Malcolm of Scotland. They say his spirit will rise again one day when Cumbria needs him most.’ ‘I’ll use that in my sales pitch on Monday.’
The higher we climbed, the more of a distance stretched between myself and Bobby. I knew that if I stayed with him, he’d keep stopping for conversation and inevitably we’d struggle to make it before dusk.
Above Comb Gill the temperature plummeted, and the wind rose. Gusts shook me violently, making my teeth rattle. I pushed my snood up around my ears and forehead in an attempt to ease the brain freeze. I puffed and panted past a group of girls in their early twenties taking photographs, who looked so fresh it was as if they’d been dropped off by helicopter. I grunted a ‘Hi’ walking past, trying not to look as exhausted as I felt. The look of pity behind their smiles revealed my failure. ‘In fifteen years, they’ll be in same boat as you old sport. Take solace in that.’ I told myself. Bobby trudged past them five minutes later. He couldn’t even muster a ‘Hi’. Their looks of pity turned to genuine horror and concern.
At Swallow Scarth the terrain levels out and the steep climb ceases. The mountain range had begun to pull in thick, charcoal clouds; its temperamental mood changing. Fragments of sunlight able to break through lasered pockets of land unmercifully.
Once Bobby caught up, I called out ‘Look at that for a view.’ ‘I can taste blood. All I can taste is blood.’ He cried; angst written all over his face. ‘We’re on easy street now mate, we’ve done the hard part. Well done.’ ‘I need a smoke.’ Bobby tried in vain to roll, but the cold biting down hard on his reddening fingers made them redundant. Giving up, he threw the tobacco and paper down. ‘Fucking thing.’ He shouted. He looked at the surrounding landscape that seemed to provide some composure, ‘Wow.’ He gasped, ‘That’s why I moved home. This time last week I was lying in bed hungover in a sardine can in London. Now look. Incredible.’ He soaked up every inch of the views. ‘What’s that over there?’ He asked puzzled. ‘Where?’ ‘Over there. Those weird streaks.’ ‘Rain.’ ‘Fuck off.’ ‘What?’ ‘My fucking window wipers. What do I do?’ ‘Relax, it’ll probably pass over.’ ‘It wasn’t given. I can’t believe it.’
We continued along the ridge to Nethermost Pike. Bobby didn’t take his eyes off the streaks, hovering as if they were openly goading him. The North-Western Fells would have looked right at home in the Mesozoic era. To walk amongst them feels like you’re on some virtual tour. One peak clasps hands with the next, daisy-chaining along this crooked spine. Loose stones and rocks make the terrain uneven underfoot. We crept cautiously to the edge to peer over the sharp drop; retreating whenever the wind howled. We high-fived once we reached Dollywaggon Pike. ‘It was worth climbing it for the name alone.’ Called out Bobby; each word blowing away before completion. It was hard to argue. We ventured onto the unravelling Tongue, enabling us to garner greater views of Striding Edge, Helvellyn and Ullswater in the distance.
It was too windy and too cold frankly to sit on the summit and eat lunch, so we dropped down the south side of Dollwaggon toward Grizedale Tarn. The path follows the outside of the tarn, but naively we followed a family of three on the near side, resulting in us lumbering through marsh and bog, soaking our boots. The streaks had been edging their way closer and by the time we were on the banks of the tarn they threw down on us with all they had. A solitary figure sat alone, drowning in what appeared to be a dark green cloak, sat staring across the water, almost as if they were waiting for someone, or something. A golden shimmer briefly caught my eye in the water. I looked skyward, expecting to see the sun breaking through once more, but the clouds had sewn tighter together. Looking back at the water once more, the shimmer had vanished. It was the strangest thing.
We walked past the family of three. A boy of nine, wearing trainers that lit up on the heel was lagging behind. By the way his shoulders sloped, and arms hung, you could tell he wasn’t having a good time. ‘A perfect day of walking ruined because your ex-wife decided last minute, she couldn’t have him.’ Snarled a very attractive brunette in her early thirties, at her partner, who must have ten years her senior. ‘What do you want me to do? Leave him homeless for the weekend?’ Pleaded the boy’s father. ‘Hurry up Jason!’ Screamed the very attractive brunette. I turned and looked at Bobby who had a very similar posture to poor Jason. As I squelched past the couple, the very attractive brunette gave me a devilish smile that remained imprinted at the forefront of my mind for the rest of the weekend.
The descent took us down Seat Saddle. The precipitous path clung to Raise Beck all the way until we reached the main road. Walking down I could hear Bobby crying out ‘Oh God’ and ‘Jesus fucking Christ’ with every step and slip he made. It’s amazing the names atheists call out when genuinely fearful.
At the bottom of the of the mountain, the path follows the road until it moves to the right, stopping dead back at the fifteen-foot-wide Raise Beck, only for it to begin again on the other side. ‘Was there a bridge here once?’ Asked Bobby. ‘I have no idea.’ ‘What do we do?’ I looked down at the water. It wasn’t flowing too fiercely and there were some flat, solid looking rocks that looked accessible. I went for it, making it across with relative ease apart from slipping on the last step and drenching one of my boots. ‘Did you just soak your boot?’ Shouted Bobby, still on the other side. ‘Nope.’ I called back. Next up was Bobby. He prowled up and down the side of the beck, looking for a narrower, shallower crossing, but to no avail. ‘I don’t like this.’ He shouted. ‘I don’t like this one bit.’ ‘Come on, you’ll be fine. Follow my route.’ Bobby took a different route. A more difficult route. One can never account for fear. He made it half-way and became stuck. ‘Oh Jesus. What do I do now?’ He shouted, both feet perched on a small, uneven rock. I couldn’t contain my laughter. I laughed until I choked due to a lack of air. ‘I need advice! I need it this instant! Jack! Jack! JACK! Stop fucking laughing’ He screamed. The angrier his voice became, the more I laughed. Finally, after receiving no advice and his feet beginning to hurt from standing like a Cormorant on a pile, Bobby’s get up and go, got up and went. He sighed and stepped into the knee-high water and waded to the other side.
The remaining mile was sombre and quiet, until the image of Bobby screaming on that rock came hurtling back into my mind and I burst out laughing once more.
Back in the carpark Bobby’s spirits lifted. The rain had continued north, leaving blue skies in its wake. Once changed, we hugged it out, decided to skip our belated lunch and head back straight away, vowing to do this again soon. I led, Bobby followed.
At Troutbeck Bridge I got a call from Bobby. I looked in my rear-view mirror but could see no sign. ‘Hello?’ ‘Mate, I’ve had to pull over. The rain! What should I do?’ I hadn’t even noticed the rain. I’d been oblivious to it, daydreaming about the smile from the very attractive brunette. ‘Where are you?’ I asked. ‘Some layby. Come find me.’ ‘Ok don’t worry, I’m coming back.’ I pulled a U-turn and sped back. Three-quarters of a mile back I saw Bobby frantically waving by the side of his car. I pulled in. ‘It’s fucking pissing it down, did you not notice?’ ‘No, I was erm…got distracted talking to Faye on the phone. Sorry.’ ‘I’ve been driving the last mile with my head out the window, fucking Ace Ventura style. And to make matters worse, the other window wiper, the one that worked, broke off and flew into some bushes back there somewhere.’ Once again, I burst out laughing. I tried not to but had no control over it. ‘Please don’t laugh pal, I’m at my wits end.’ He said, half a smile creeping behind his anguish. ‘Sorry man. Do you want a lift back to your Dad’s?’ ‘What do I do about my car? It’s going to the garage in the morning before I start work.’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe we…’ Bobby cut me off, ‘Check your phone. See what time it’s meant to stop raining.’ I checked. ‘Bob, my phone is adamant it’s not raining.’ ‘FUCK SAKE.’ He shouted to the heavens. ‘Listen’ I continued, ‘why don’t you jus…what’s that on your jumper?’ Bobby looked down and smelt a brown stain down his front. ‘It’s pear. IT’S SMEARED PEAR! I DIDN’T EVEN PACK A FUCKING PEAR! It’s all going wrong. Even my baccy pouch is waterlogged.’ In the end, with the rain gradually pouring harder, we decided to leave a note on Bobby’s dash and I drove him home so his brother could drive him back later once the weather had cleared. I made him take the pear stained jumper off and dump it in my boot. On the way home the conversation was minimal, both of us feeling the miles we’d put in. Finally, after twenty minutes of silence, a contemplating Bobby piped up, ‘That Cruella De Vil step-mum gave you the filthiest smile.’ ‘You noticed that too huh?’ I grinned. ‘You know…’ he said once more after a few more minutes of contemplation, ‘Isn’t it weird that the first walk we go on after I move home after eighteen years away, is within touching distance of where the last King of Cumbria was killed and vowed to rise again one day.’ ‘What you getting at?’ ‘Well, maybe it’s no coincidence. Maybe I am the incarnation of the last King of Cumbria?’ ‘I’m not utterly convinced the last King of Cumbria’s first act after patiently waiting in the afterlife and rising a thousand years later to rescue his beloved Cumberland in its hour of need would be smoking a fag, quickly followed by taking a shit.’ ‘Why not? It’d be mine.’