Risks in high places – 2 – The District




It seems to be a universal. The locals here have about as much interest in the fells and lakes as you do in your local heritage museum. The best tips come from people that have moved to the area. Locals describe the place as, ‘like anywhere,’ which isn’t strictly true, but I think what they mean is that the place is boring, same as everywhere else.

Boredom is what we pay for civilisation and comfort with.

Personally, I’d be at least willing to consider a trade back. Comfort is barely worth the eye socket aching pain of a dull work day.

The tourists here dress in two ways generally. First, they look like they want to protect themselves from the hills. Bright waterproofs and carbon fibre walking sticks, a look of sullen perseverance and multiple hats and hoodies for each possible eventuality. Not just here but in all parallel futures. The second type dress to let the lakes know their status. Those are concentrated in town, the further out the more blue and red rain macs you see. It’s quite possible that these two groups are populated by the same people.

The District has a less dramatic charm than either Snowdonia or the Highlands, in Ambleside you don’t feel as far from the civilised world. You aren’t as far.

Good walking routes are all around. As always, pick a direction, a peak or a river and follow. Leave the trails behind, light a joint, let that primate energy back in, play some Dylan and try not to think about your legs. Let meeting someone be a genuine surprise. Be daring and celebrate your life and your heart rate with adrenaline spikes. Improvise.

I try my best to follow my own advice. Let me describe two scenes.

The first thing we did on arrival was head to Ambleside waterfall and start up the trail next to it. At the end of the trail, the river goes on but is cut off by a tall wire mesh fence. We couldn’t stop following it, so we had to find a way around.

There was an eight or ten foot drop to the river bed below. The fence itself was unclimbable but there was a barbed wire protected and flimsy looking fence pole at the river edge. We tested it’s stability. It spun in the earth precariously. A few pieces of mud crumbled and fell into the water below. Still, there was no other way to pass the fence and so we swung ourselves around the pole to the other side where our nervous feet felt for solid ground. For about two seconds we were suspended over the river. We made it there and back with minimal issues, only a little clothing wire tangle. I tried this same technique once over a Highland river and ended up wet.

All this stops your heart flatlining.

That’s the goal, right?

Keep going.

The second scene is better though. In numerous parallel worlds we didn’t make it.

I say make choices that shave off your alternate selves, be the last you left in the cosmos, the only you in the entire multi-verse. The only you that reaches the finish line.

I think we shed a few of our counterparts the day after the fence pole incident. We were descending a fell to the west of Ambleside, when we stumbled upon a large, empty quarry. We’d come out above the sheer walls of the place, the granite floor was maybe 40 or 50 feet below with a small shelf breaking the fall about ten feet down. Stumbling here could have been very final. Extremely final. Met with a decisive full stop.

We wanted to explore the quarry. They’re stark and brutal places, gashes in the fells and mountains and the centre points for human interaction and exploitation of the world. There was a stone wall around the grounds too high to climb down, which left only a steep, wet slice of rock that we could use to cross from the ledge we were on to a descending hillside that would lead to the quarry floor. It was angled and had the appearance of a slide leading to a fifty foot deathdrop. A slip would have sent us skidding or rolling off and by the time we realised what was happening, our hands would be grabbing at empty space and our hearts would have jumped into our mouths and be trying to fight past our teeth to escape the fall.

There were no pieces of rock or thick tufts of grass to clasp onto to halt your descent. The exposed rock was slick with running water and lime moss made parts of it more slippy than ice. It was almost a water slide. Very carefully and with slow, deliberate breaths, we made it over in a low crouch, fingers in the wet and slimy moss for balance, boots wedged in a crack for purchase and when we made it across, we rested, looked at the death slide and figured our way into the quarry.

Sometimes it’s good to be a footstep away from death. It is a powerful reminder, one we often try to disguise in our bored and comfortable daily routines.

About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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3 Responses to Risks in high places – 2 – The District

  1. Lana says:

    Glad you still here to tell the tale!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Isabelle says:

    These were real risks Luke. What you went through is beyond the kind of adventure that I’m capable of handling. I resonate with your thoughts at the end of the post. What a powerful reminder it is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Luke Smith says:

      The truth of it is, it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t mention it but there was another guy we bumped into (first for a good couple hours) who was taking photos and took the same route. That’s what drew our attention to the spot. When we saw it, we were a bit like…wtf… but it probably wasn’t as bad as it looked. All three of us made it anyway…! Thanks for stopping by, always appreciate your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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