stretched and bent with the satisfaction that I had no particular place to go. A day of ambling through historic streets filled with desirable scents. A smooth sea breeze brought in by the dawn meandered through the delicate cotton drapes that softened the pale-yellow rising sun. Crisp hotel sheets supplied a perfect amount of heat and my head remained sunk in deep, thick pillows, muffling the sound of locals beginning their day. On the other side of the room, steam and perfectly sung notes from a female voice drifted out of the bathroom from the running shower and the gurgling kettle clicked under the switched off television. I lay, eyes closed, allowing my other senses to take control. After a few moments a warm faint hand ran its fingers through my hair and the sweetest of lips kissed my
I awoke coughing after choking on phlegm. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to compose my breathing. I looked at my throbbing arm smeared in yoghurt and tightly wrapped in clingfilm. I wondered how long it’d take to become infected if I didn’t get it seen to. I had barely slept a wink all night. My head pounded, my mouth was horrendously dry, and my breath could’ve knocked flies off a bucket of shit. I had parked in a carpark across the road from Waterhead at Ambleside after successfully avoiding the police. I’d arrived shortly after midnight after hours of driving through the lanes. It was now half-eight and people were arriving for work. I cautiously left the pickup and put on the jacket I’d used as a blanket and walked over to the side of the lake. I splashed cold refreshing water onto my face, resisting the urge to rinse my mouth. I wanted to phone my parents so much but knew such a risk would prove costly. Instead I drowned my phone (that had been switched off since I saw the police arrive at the caravan) keeping hold of it, before smashing it against a rock and throwing it into a bin.
I parked down a side street in the heart of Ambleside town centre, grabbed a parking disc clock from an art gallery, added an extra ten minutes to the time, placed it on my dash and headed for some breakfast. The day was significantly cooler than the previous with the sun crowded out by bullish cloud cover. But the forecast suggested a dry day with sunny intervals later. Every time I lifted my head scuttling through the streets it felt like people were firing glances. That everyone knew who I was and what I’d done. I began regretting my decision not to drive out of the county and head south, attempting to start a new life elsewhere. Instead I had decided on escaping up into the mountains. That way I could also carry on with my quest to protect the Lake District. The plan was to hide out in the fells until I ran out of food, climb down, restock and climb back up – simple and effective. Until the winter months anyway. Once I had bought some essentials, I was to drive up Wrynose Pass which would lead me high onto the fells, so I would have an easier ascent onto the mountains than if I had to climb from the foot of the valleys.
I chomped down on a sausage and egg barm with such rashness that I only remembered I was now vegetarian as the indigestion kicked in. The instant the closed sign on the door was flipped I darted out the shadows of the side street I’d been waiting in and into the outdoor shop, desperately belching in an attempt to ease the heartburn. I made my way to the camping section of the shop, keen to avoid contact with anyone. ‘Hi, I’m Mark. Is there anything I can help you with today?’ Stood some prick in his early twenties with a questionably safe haircut, large teeth, wearing a polo shirt tucked into a pair of grey Regatta trousers pulled up so high they had a thirty-two-inch chest size. ‘No, I’m good.’ ‘What you looking for?’ For you to fuck off, I thought. ‘I said I’m good.’ I replied. ‘Getting a tent?’ ‘It certainly would appear so.’ ‘Well, what about this one. It’s Duke of Edinburgh recommended.’ ‘That means nothing to me.’ ‘Are you needing other camping appliances too? Or just the tent?’ He continued, his protruding teeth almost splitting his lips. ‘Do you go to the University here Matt?’ ‘It’s Mark.’ ‘I don’t care.’ ‘I do. I’m studying Forest Management.’ He announced proudly. ‘Thought so.’ ‘What gave me away?’ He laughed adding a snort at the end. ‘You’ve just got that total bell-end aura about you that most agricultural student types have.’ I smiled. Mark’s pleasantness turned to offense by way of confusion. He stared at me frowning as I stood watching back at him with a lack of expression until he finally skulked off. I looked at the Duke of Edinburgh recommended tent Mark had pointed out. ‘Actually, that looks pretty good.’ I said to myself, ‘Great job Mark.’
I arrived at the checkout with a tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mat and a small cooking stove with a canister. ‘You know we have all these things in brighter colours.’ Said the multicoloured haired young woman with bloodshot eyes behind the counter. ‘It’s recommended you have bright colours for the mountains, you know, in case you become stuck or whatever and need rescuing.’ ‘Dark colours are fine. Thanks.’ ‘Ok, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Anything else?’ ‘What are these camping stoves like?’ They’re ok.’ ‘Just ok?’ ‘Just ok.’ ‘How long do they take to cook things.’ ‘For coffee say? Probably ten minutes.’ ‘Cooking coffee? It’s now become abundantly clear why you have this job. How long to fry an egg?’ ‘Dunno.’ ‘Have you got anything with a little more kick?’ ‘You could take our oven in the staff kitchen.’ ‘I’m sorry your comedown’s snowballing.’ ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ‘No course not. You usually take chunks out your cheeks like that so early in the morning do ya?’ She looked at me and rung the items through. ‘You want the camping stove then?’ She asked. ‘Fuck it, why not?’ ‘That’ll be £186.00 please.’ I paid, grabbed the bag. ‘Wait,’ I asked, ‘where do I get the gas canister refilled?’ ‘Who gives a shit?’ I deserved the reply she gave, so nodded politely and left.
Hurriedly walking into Tesco, I was accosted by a small group of Greenpeace activists telling me that the supermarket chain was still doing deals with companies that are torching precious forests. Deals they didn’t want their customers knowing about. As they huddled around me, I saw two police officers walking down the street. I turned my back on them and pretended to listen intently as I broke into a nervous sweat. ‘Here take one of these leaflets and read it thoroughly before you shop here. If you care about the planet, you’ll shop elsewhere.’ The police walked past, ignoring the group and me. ‘Look, I do care about the planet, I really do. But I’m in a rush and I don’t know where else around here that is going to sell ready to eat veggie sausages, tortillas, camping cheese and other shit that won’t go off straight away without refrigeration.’ ‘What’s camping cheese?’ Asked one of the activists puzzled.’ ‘I won’t shop here again once I’ve been in this last time.’ I continued, ignoring the question and becoming increasingly uneasy after seeing the police.
I entered the shop, and grabbed as much food that I thought would last without refrigeration as possible, along with a couple of litres of water, a bottle of whiskey and plenty of painkillers for my wound. The weight of the food, along with the camping gear and clothing I would have to pack into my backpack and carry would now be at a maximum. I left Tesco and brushed past the activists who had now surrounded another customer. ‘You know these corporate giants will always win if “we” the people can’t fight our convenient urges.’ Shouted out one of them to me. ‘Burn every corporation to the ground then.’ I replied rushing away. ‘We’re a non-violent peaceful movement.’ ‘Then you’re fucked.’
Twenty metres from the pickup I saw the same two police officers peering through the windows. They were deep in conversation. I quickly hid down a ginnel, looking back whilst crouching. One of the officers began talking into her radio whilst the other continued peering, using his hands as a makeshift shield from the reflection. They looked around, scouring the area and began walking up the street in my direction. I backed further down the ginnel until I came to a small rickety gate leading into an overgrown backyard. I walked through, crouching under a kitchen window and hid behind some bins. I could hear the police officers talking to each other as they neared, but the conversation was inaudible from where I was. My knees began aching from crouching in such an uncomfortable position and cramp quickly followed. Unbelievably the officers had stopped walking after passing the gate. I slowly slid into a sitting position to relieve the cramp. Straight away I could feel damp seeping through my pants soaking my boxers, pinning themselves to my arse cheeks. Finally, the two officers continued on their way. I waited about minute until I decided it was safe to make my move.
I threw the shopping into the cab of the pickup and started the engine. Nerves started to rise up as it dawned on me that I was going to have to drive around the one-way system. I couldn’t decide on whether speeding or driving slowly unnoticed through the town, so did a little of both, drawing an unnecessary amount of attention to myself in the process. At the Junction leading off Kelsick Road leading onto the A591, I spotted the two police officers who were now joined by a third. I tried to turn right but was blocked by a dustbin truck. My head screamed inside; my exterior remained as cool as it could, but for a slight shaking of my hands. The police neared, deep in conversation. I crept out slowly, hoping I could drive around the outside of the truck. I didn’t dare look back in the direction of the police, focusing solely on driving forward. To my left a Range Rover blasted its horn as I pulled out in front of it unknowingly. I ignored the driver of the Range Rover and averted my eyes directly at the police, who were now looking straight at me. I blasted my horn at the dustbin truck and began driving around it. The Range Rover crept forward trying to prove a point, unaware of the desperation that had now taken hold of me. I ran into the side of the 4×4 bouncing off its front bumper and into the back of the dustbin truck. I then drove onto the pavement across the street as people began running and screaming. I quickly glanced into my wingmirror to see the three officers running towards me. The angle I had attempted to turn had been too tight as the left side of my bumper hit a building. I quickly reversed smashing into the Range Rover, hit first gear and drove, half on the pavement, half on the road until I was past the dustbin truck. I drove frantically up the one-way street, avoiding cars that had stopped due to the chaos, until I came to the BP garage, skidded to the right and sped down Wansfell Road. At the junction I turned left, overtaking some fucking slow moronic tourist, causing a driver in the oncoming traffic to smash into a road sign in an attempt to avoid me. Just before the rugby club I took a right, drove over the Rothay Bridge and onto the A593. In the distance I could hear sirens but couldn’t tell what direction they were coming from. Driving to Skelwith Bridge my shaking hands and pounding heart eased as I bizarrely began thinking about John, the estate agent photographer, and the house we photographed before I walked up Pike ‘O Blisco all those months ago. Even when swerving in and out of oncoming traffic to get around campervans, I couldn’t shake that afternoon from my mind. A strange smile came across my face as I deliberated the absurdity of how significantly my life had changed since then.
Once past Sklewith Bridge and on the road to Coniston, I sped past some construction site on the side of the road and through the temporary lights on red, clipping a wheelbarrow filled with concrete that knocked over a hod carrier. Shortly after I veered suddenly onto the narrow road to Little Langdale, making my way to Wrynose Pass. Cyclists, training for the Fred Whitton, struggled on the adverse route as I came speeding through, swerving past them, managing to avoid running them down. The sound of the sirens had ceased now. In fact, I couldn’t remember when I last heard them. The narrow road grew narrower as I approached Fell Foot Farm at the foot of Wrynose. Predictably, the weather became unpredictable as it always does around this neck of the woods. As I began creeping up the mountain pass rain drops sporadically landed on the windscreen and black clouds rolled in.
As always when travelling up the single-track Wrynose Pass, that I hadn’t travelled for years, I prayed I wouldn’t meet anyone coming in the opposite direction. No matter what side of the road one travels on, whenever they see another car they hurriedly aim for a layby on the opposite side to the sheer drop; happy to let the other driver take all the risks. The rain began falling harder. All I could hear was the juddering of the worn windscreen wipers smearing rather than wiping away the drops. Half-way up, or maybe a little further, a stone bridge signals the end of the treacherous drop meaning you’re close to the summit of the pass.
I abandoned the pickup in a layby, near a footpath that leads off between Black Crag and Cold Pike, past Red Tarn and up towards Crinkle Crags. Frantically, I changed into my hiking gear, including donning a black fisherman’s rolled beanie, aiding my disguise from a distance, and stuffed all the items I had bought into my backpack. Everything fit apart from the inflatable camping mat, that I reluctantly decided to leave behind. As soon as the backpack weighed down on my shoulders, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I looked down at the valley below and saw multiple tiny blue flashing lights heading up towards Wrynose. I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t shaken off the police getting here, I hadn’t intended to. But knew I could from this point on.
It became clear early on I wouldn’t be able to ascend at a pace I’d grown accustomed to. The weight of the backpack and uneven ground made sure of it. A stone in my left boot stabbed away at the sole of my foot. I scuffed and shook hoping it would roll and land where I couldn’t feel it but had no such joy. I knew deep down I had plenty of time to remove the boot and tip the stone out, but nerves wouldn’t allow for such level-headedness.
Luckily there were a few hikers dotted around, making it extremely difficult for the police to know who to follow. Just past Red Tarn the path splits into three directions. I veered left over a stream and onto the ascent to the right of Great and Gladstone Knott. Low wet fog began falling rapidly over the landscape. I looked up towards Crinkle Crags that was shrouded in cloud. The glowing red footpath from years of mining high grade iron ore pulled and dropped and pulled once more. My shoulders ached and burned so I pushed the straps of the backpack off them in an attempt to offer some momentary relief. Before long I came to a beck, throwing the backpack off and scraping one of the straps down my burnt arm causing me to yelp. After gingerly holding the arm helplessly, I splashed water onto my neck and down my back. I crept over the edge of the passage I’d just walked, watching a group of luminous ants approach Red Tarn. I decided to wait and see what path they took, praying to God they would continue straight ahead. There was one particular police officer who seemed to be bounding in great strides. Nothing like the fat coppers you see waddling around town on a Saturday night with their chests puffed out. I prayed and prayed for the leader to continue straight ahead. They stopped, waiting for the others to catch up. After some deliberating, they infuriatingly chose my route. ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?’ I shouted and threw my backpack back over my shoulders and carried on, not particularly surprised that a God who once idly watched on whilst his only child, the saviour of mankind, bled to death nailed to a cross, wouldn’t answer my prayer.
The rain hammered down harder than ever and the fog fell heavier and thicker as I panted and grunted approaching the summit. I was tiring quickly; my clothes were drenched, and I couldn’t feel my fingers. This was supposed to be the beginning of the warmer months. I’d had warmer days on the fells in December. As the final part of the ascent to the summit began, scrambling was needed. I dragged, slipped and struggled. I looked behind and saw the leader of the luminous pack gaining on me. ‘Who the fuck is that?’ I cried out wiping stinging rain from my eyes. The wind picked up and grabbed hold of my backpack, swinging me side to side. Clouds shot down sending chills through my bones. At this point I could barely make out my hands in front of me. Walking over the top of Crinkle Crags in torrential weather is like walking over the back of a moving Stegosaurus. On the last scramble before the summit I slipped and sliced my ankle open on a jagged rock. I winced and screamed through a closed mouth. I squeezed the wound with my hand as blood quickly stained my sock, but knew I had to keep moving. I was nearly there. Once I was passed the summit, I could move more freely toward Bow Fell and take shelter somewhere.
Finally, I reached the cairn signalling the top. The wind and rain ceased momentarily. It was calm. The low cloud lifted ever so slightly enough to reveal the mountain range ahead; I’d made it. At that point I could no longer feel the cut on my ankle, my wounded arm or my burning shoulders. I felt as if God had answered my prayer after all. Perhaps the weather had been on my side all along, cloaking me from the chasing police. No helicopters could fly in this weather, no one could see me from below. I was being rewarded for all the good I had done. Suddenly, the wind and rain picked up again once more and the thickening low cloud swooped. I stood staring into the smokescreen knowing freedom was beyond it and stepped through.