What better way to start the New Year than by taking a good long walk in a known area of beauty – no maps required?
That was what was on the cards for my afternoon on New Year’s Day 2017. Jen was heading out on a run and fair play she was going to accompany me up to the top of Winder (at walking/wheezing pace) before disappearing into the middle distance once we reached the summit. Her plan was to head up Arant Haw and then descend one of the shoulders back down to the country road which would lead her home. I, on the other hand, would head up Winder, stroll up another 150 metres to the cairn at Arant Haw, and then take my pulse to see how much of my Christmas cheer had been converted into post-Christmas sneer before deciding what to do next…
You see, contrary to popular belief I do fight for my fitness. I have a guilty secret… or two! On entering a local establishment to tuck into a hearty English carvery, before I even make my way to the bar I am searching for the chalk board with the puddings of the day written on it. Indeed, if sticky toffee pudding doesn’t feature, in my eyes the meal has already failed. If sticky toffee pudding does feature, with custard, I will order a drink. If sticky toffee pudding with custard and at least one variety of cream is advertised, I might even agree to return one day! My other ‘new-found’ guilty pleasure – which I might add others inform me I am very good at – is making fudge. Sadly, out of the six (yes six) kilos of fudge I made for others this Christmas, only four kilos survived as far as the wrapping paper…
Oh, did I say two guilty secrets? Ermmm… I meant three. But hey, the final one is so well publicised that it’s hardly a secret: I do enjoy smoking a pipe and thanks to my ex-smoking, now very anti-smoking brother I now have a fourth pipe in my arsenal this Christmas! A gift that surprised me greatly; who would have thought it!?
So, yes at the top of Arant Haw I had to have a pulse check, indeed I do believe there were two pulse checks on the way up Winder, which took a harrowing 40 minutes to climb from Sedbergh Spar – my record being 25 minutes in the summer of 2016! But I do believe I will regain my fitness and perhaps even promote my stomach back to a two-pack before summer arrives (a six-pack is possibly too much to ask on the wrong side of forty!).
Standing on top of Arant Haw I could see a little pink figure doing star jumps in the middle distance; it was Jen, well on her way down the fell, so I waved back and then looked around at the scenery.
January 1st was a bright, clear day but the wind left one in no doubt that winter has well and truly arrived. Snow had fallen the previous evening but nothing too major, just a light sprinkling. It had already melted away from the peaks wherever the sun and wind touched them, leaving small white pockets here and there. The wind was quite piercing and there was no point waiting to reach Calders before breaking open the flask and refreshing myself with caffeine! The wind howls across the peak on the best of days, but there is of course the boundary fence almost equidistant between Arant Haw and Calders summits, which makes for a good viewing platform and is generally sheltered from the elements.
In days past I might have run down to this point, rucksack and all, but not today. Today was also the first of my #walk1000miles challenge for the year, but that didn’t sway my lethargy either. I opted to walk down to the fence, have a coffee, soak up the views and re-evaluate once more. What I found in the later months of last year was that, whilst my fitness may have taken a downturn, after about 5 km my body seems to wake up and what seemed impossible a few kilometres earlier suddenly seems like a doddle. I just wish those first few kilometres could be a smidgen easier… but then again I actually don’t, because so many more people would then be around and I tend to be kind of selfish about the freedom that comes with being out on the peaks alone.
Having downed two cups of coffee I heard a familiar voice coming from my pocket. ‘Janet the GPS’ had woken up and was desperately trying to tell me I had covered 5 kilometres. Perhaps I should have asked if she had been doing her ritual dance in circles around me whilst I was busy absorbing the views and slurping down piping hot coffee. I guess we’ll never know but what I do know is that two multiplied by five is ten, and a ten-kilometre walk is ok by me! Before Janet had chance to correct herself the flask was packed and I had done a 180 degree turn to face homeward!
As I started walking upwards the wind changed direction and became full-on against me. I noted very dark cloud blowing across from the North, and checked my watch to work out how much light there was left. An hour and a half seemed good to me, but the wind did not!
For who may hike in this area of the Howgills it might be useful to know that if you’re walking the Dales High Way, several areas are sheltered from the wind in most conditions. Walking around, rather than over, the summit of Arant Haw allows you to take advantage of one of them. I didn’t see this as cheating on my return leg as I had already visited the top cairn on the way out, and when I was about half way back round the hill the wind vanished completely. I entered an area so silent that aside from my tinnitus I might have heard a pin drop. In fact I stopped and sat on the hillside this time, enjoying views stretching in the opposite direction to those at the boundary fence. This time I was looking back to Crook and beyond. Had dusk not been quickly approaching I might have sat there for some time. But I forced myself up and continued on, homeward bound, looking forward to an evening pudding somewhat deserved…
Here endeth walk one of 2017!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…