On the clear morning of the 11th, drunk on whisky and high, we started a walk up the Struggle. It was 2:30 am. This road, also known as the Kirkstone Pass, is the highest mountain pass in the Lake District. It picked up it’s nickname for fairly obvious reasons. Walking it is a bitch. Cycling, I imagine, is worse.
There are almost no lights on the Struggle, no buildings or houses and after a ten minute walk you’re in pitch blackness, only a few distant town lights and the dark outlines of the hills around. The stars create a sense of awe at home but when they’re thick in the night sky and it feels as if you can see the distances between them and the curve of the earth in their positions, they are breathtaking. That isn’t something you get when you’re looking at the stars from the backstreets of a satellite town.
We veered off the lane and into some of the surrounding farm fields through a stiff rusted gate. Ben bounded up hill but I slowed him down, ‘We don’t know what animals are in here, be chill. Don’t want to startle a cow in the dark.’
Our torches suggested we were alone. The only other animals here were probably a few sheep far uphill. A little further and we turned our attention from the muddy ground to the sky. It was an incredible spot. Constellations were so many that the familiar ones were hard to distinguish. Lines of dotted stars seemed to overlap the Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter had more details; freckles you’d never noticed before.
We’d been smoking and staring at the sky for about fifteen minutes when I heard a loud exhalation nearby. It definitely wasn’t Ben. On instinct, I took up the ready-to-sprint position and froze on the spot, waiting.
Whatever animal it was, it sounded large.
Ben noticed the sound too and he sensed my shifted stance and decided, without hesitation, to flee the area, to charge down hill at top speed, toward the invisible gate somewhere in the bottom wall.
At this point, I’d pretty much settled on the idea it was probably a sheep or a ram but given that Ben had started running, I figured it were a bigger, more dangerous, more pissed off animal—a bull, say—Ben’s sudden flight could have sent it into a dash in my direction. When one thing runs, it seems a natural reaction for the other to chase. So I ran too, little care for my trainers in the mud, worrying only for foot placement in the grass and crud. Nothing was pursuing us. There may have been a surprised and amused sheep watching nearby.
I slowed as I reached the gate—in view more as a break in the wall than anything else—but Ben didn’t, instead he slammed into and through it, barely breaking his stride, and slicing his palm in the process.
We walked back under the same blinking stars, Ben ahead of me, keeping his bloody hand elevated, leaving drops like breadcrumbs to the stars behind us. I felt bad for Ben but I also couldn’t help but laugh, so while he padded back to the apartment with his injured hand, I hung ten or so paces behind and chuckled quietly until the feeling the past.