I have already mentioned in an earlier Bagmag that to counter a rather depressing prognosis of my future life span, I had set myself a hill-walking task. There are some people who can do things just for the sake of it, but I am not of that ilk. To satisfy me there has to be some outcome, some achievement that can be recognised as accomplished, some Ichabod of my own making. The decided plan was to climb all the remaining Marilyns in the North of England with a back-up, if that turned out to be over-ambitious, of climbing for the first time 50 similarly rated hills from anywhere in Britain. To the average hill-walker such a target would scarcely merit the epithet “ambitious”, but as my general state of health required a week’s rest between each spike of exertion (not to mention the cost of a three-day minibreak per person per peak), it was about all my heart and purse stretched to.
Amongst the bits and bobs of real estate owned by the Duke of Westminster there are three Marilyns perched on or about his grouse moors in the Forest of Bowland. I had already reached the top of the two worth climbing but an undistinguished outlier had escaped my attention. In the normal course of things, I wouldn’t have given this particular blot on the landscape a second glance but Mr Dawson had decreed that at 1786 feet White Hill had sufficient prominence to merit inclusion in Region 36 of the Relative Hills of Britain and there’s no point in having a target if you make exceptions on a whim.
At this juncture, I think I ought to say that I don’t like to fail and it could be argued that in the past I have pushed on when the more prudent might have called it a day. There are, of course, exceptions to ths gung-ho attitude. It took me three attempts to reach the top of An Teallach but on the first occasion the river I had to cross was approaching chest deep and on the other the accompanying blizzard made Scott of the Antarctic look like one of those glass balls you invert to create a cheery winter scene. But there are limits to prudence. It is one thing to turn back at Camp IV but quite another to retreat from an 1800 foot lump in Lancashire.
As always, I could give good reasons (the honest might say lame excuses). We started out too late. It took longer to drive to the starting point than I anticipated and the heavy rain of the previous week made for hard or rather very soft going. But whichever way you look at it, to cover under five miles in half a day takes some explaining. The walk didn’t start well. My original plan was to follow the line of the boundary fence as I assumed there would be some sort of path that would facilitate our passage through the usual combination of heather, moss and mud. The more we looked the worse the said combination got so after half an hour of fruitless effort, I decided the best bet was to return to the road and start again.
Sure enough a few yards further up the road was a gate and once through it you could discern, if not a path, at least some vestiges of a track and a line of white sticks that marked the feeder boxes that have something to do with rearing then wantonly destroying a substantial number of gamebirds. Reasonable progress was being made until the tracks of the all-terrain vehicle suddenly veered off in the wrong direction (no doubt to the comforts of hearth and home) which left us with little alternative but to tramp back up to the boundary fence. If I remember rightly it was about at this time it started to rain in earnest. To be fair once the watershed was reached matters initially improved. A series of gates and stiles over a short distance seemed to suggest this was far from untrodden ground and it looked as if, at last, reasonable progress might be made.
Not for long. We went through the first gate heading for the second. All went well until the ground fell away into what was clearly a pit of liquid mud. Tentative probings with a trekking pole proved the absence of terra firma and provoked memories of an earlier crossing of the Durham Moors. On that occasion a boot had stuck in the bog and attempts at extrication brought the Newtonian principle of equal and opposite forces into play – the more I had tried to pull out the right boot, the deeper the left sank into the mud. Eventually the whole affair ended in an undignified scrabble with one boot off and the other slowly sinking into the ooze. Wishing to avoid a repeat performance we returned to the gate, climbed over the stile and began to inspect what the neighbouring parish had to offer.
If anything matters were worse and the incessant rain didn’t help. The only solution was to circumnavigate the morass. At what seemed halfway back to Slaidburn the swamp began to relent and we were able to regain the watershed, go through the second gate and continue uphill. It didn’t take many slithers and slides for me to reassess the situation. The late start at the lag end of Autumn plus our various excursions into the Great Unknown meant that there was only an hour of daylight to get up and down again, outflank the bog, then find the white posts that would shepherd us back to the car. We didn’t know what was ahead. Another bog like the last would cause further delay and the rain, if that were possible, seemed to be getting wetter. No choice really, so we beat a Falstaffian retreat to the Waddington Arms to repair the damage as best we could.
Our successful return after a passage of good weather with the bog, sun-beaten into submission, could hardly be described as a Triumph, but at least it prevented an unmitigated Disaster.