‘Race you to the top!’ I shouted to my sister as my legs started at a run up to the summit of the hill.
‘See you up there girls. We’ll take our time and enjoy the scenery,’ my Dad said with a smile of pride and perhaps a hint of envy at our boundless energy.
Those were the days when energy flowed quickly through our veins, as though we were connected to the very core of the Earth. Bubbling springs in virgin green land.
We could almost reach out and touch the energy around us; see it in the air as vividly as the rays of sun spotlighting the rolling hills. The oxygen filled our lungs and made us feel giddy.
We fell to the ground, panting with delight at reaching the top and watched the steady progress of our parents below. We could never imagine being ‘that old’!
But, like the tortoise and the hare, as the day progressed it was our parents leading the way with their sure, steady pace. The clouds cast shadows on the hills.
‘Come on girls, you can do it!’
‘But my legs hurt. I’m hungry. How much further? I think I’m getting a blister.’
How patiently they listened and calmly motivated us to step on, one foot in front of the other.
I looked down at my laced boots and tried not to think of how much further we had to go. I watched my feet and focused on the ground passing beneath each step, rather than looking ahead at the onward march. Flies buzzed annoyingly around me. I hadn’t noticed them before when we were racing to the top. I tried to keep my mouth shut and silence my grumbles, for fear of swallowing a fly. We followed the stream, the sun hidden under a canopy of trees.
Finally, we emerged out in the open again. A huge field beckoned us into its folds. No pathway marked the way. No signs directed us.
‘Oh no! Which way now? We’ll never finish this walk!’
That’s the way it was. Highs and lows, just like the undulating countryside. The land with a mood of its own, comprised of the emotional imprints of those that had crossed the earth before us. Thousands of years of history beneath our feet, with occasional clues left by way of ancient ruins.
The hand built dry-stone walls towered around the field, too high to clamber over. Like the walls of a maze, we were blind without a map.
But, my father was always organised and aware of the wilds. The ever present risk of a sudden change in the weather was very real and heightened our senses. This was just a field, with civilisation and a hearty pub meal not far away, but we’d felt close to danger in the past.
When the elements change for the worse, mind and body are forced to operate at peak performance, or risk fatality. Compass and map the only way to see forward when entombed in thick cloud on a knife-edge.
This time round we were fine and any fear of being ‘lost’ was soon trodden down with some artful map reading. I remember thinking, in admiration, that without my Dad I would really be lost.
In later years, around the age of 16, I did get lost – though thankfully with friends. We walked towards the light of a farm, but were met by a pack of farm dogs, unleashed and clearly not happy. There was no sign of a farmer. The dogs were making an ear chilling sound and my only thought was, ‘We need to get away from here quickly.’
‘Keep calm,’ I said, more to myself than my companions. ‘Keep your hands down by your sides, turn around slowly and walk away’. Never had I been more aware of my breath than at that moment. My senses were alert and heightened, but I knew the dogs would be able to smell my fear if I let it get the better of me. As we walked slowly away the dogs retreated, clearly trained to not leave the boundary of the farm yard. The sense of relief was overwhelming and then the realisation that we were still lost and darkness was fast approaching dawned.
We focussed on the next lights we could see on the horizon and stumbled on, knowing we’d be able to get help eventually and secure in the thought that we weren’t totally alone – we were on a D of E expedition and my Dad was helping out with checking we made it to the rendezvous points – which of course we hadn’t. Thankfully, the drama ended when my Dad spotted us on the road – he’d gone searching for us when we’d failed to turn up.
We got back to the camp site and cooked up our baked-beans under torch light, whist my Dad and the other adults helping out dinned in the pub over the road.
Having found the right direction to head across the field, we trudged on until we finally spotted a stile – its wooden construction lifting us up like a beacon in the dark.
‘But you went first last time.’
‘Okaaaaay then, you go first.’
Crossing the stiles always held some level of excitement and there was always competition to be the first over. Each one was different to the last and some required quite careful climbing and even confused us at times.
Stepping over we looked eagerly on at the new scene in front of us and found a new surge of energy in our legs.
‘Not too far now,’ my Dad said with reassuring honesty.
‘I’ve heard that before!’ my dear Mum said, giving us an exasperated smile and commenting on Dad’s version of ‘not too far’.
My sister and I looked at one another and giggled. Every walk ended like this and looking back I think the friendly banter between Mum and Dad helped us to forget how tired we were and helped us focus on the end goal – which was almost always a good ‘ole country pub.
A bottle of coke-a-cola (the glass, twisted ones in those days and not a ‘diet’ or a ‘coke-zero’ in sight), drunk through a straw, ice-cold and accompanied by a bag of Walker’s Salt ‘n’ Viganer crisps (I never could say ‘Vinegar’). And there were no electronic games to amuse us either – we would make origami creations out of napkins, play cards with matchsticks as currency and doodle on the beer mats. Ah, sweet memories indeed.
As a child I spent many happy holidays and weekends walking the beautiful British countryside. Reflecting back as a child I can remember highs and lows of walking. The lows were character building and the highs taught me a love of nature and the countryside. Above all, walking with my family as a child, has left me with a happy imprint on my mind. Being in the countryside together, through easy pastures and over challenging terrain, brought us together in a way nothing else could. I’ve been reminiscing a lot on our family walking trips recently, what with my sister having just walked The Pennine Way, with my folks as her support crew. I really hope that our girls will grow to love nature and walking in the wilds in the same way – but I also hope I can find the same level of patience and the skill of clever motivation to guide my children on.
This post was inspired by a writing prompt at…
Writing prompt (4):
Share a powerful memory, or memories, from your childhood.
– Inspired by Slummy Single Mummy who has been using writing exercises to remember.