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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Wednesday, 5 February 2014

WALK 9. Eskdale - Oblivion

You've read modern novels so you know the anti-hero: a character who goes to the lavatory a lot, hates Mozart (Sir Kingsley's conceit outlives him), steals the widow's mite, and - mostly in foreign novels - tops his girlfriend.

These ten posts are devoted mainly to the anti-walk. Walks that fail, that pass through towns (and therefore don't qualify), that are undertaken for unhealthy reasons, that offend Kraft durch Freude. Since Walk 10 deals with walking as opposed to a walk, I thought I'd make Walk 9 upbeat. A hero's walk that matched the exploits of Sir Hugh and the Blondes.

There's a problem. I am not cut from heroic fabric; an ex-journo, very low in the social order. Thus I  tell this tale unheroically; readers shouldn’t be invited to worship false gods.

The itinerary was linear. I started at the western end of Eskdale in the Lake District, walked east over Wrynose Pass into the Duddon valley, over Hardknotts Pass into Langdale, turned left and up Stake Pass, walking as if comatose I took a brief bus ride, crossed Honister Pass towards Buttermere. Slept in a barn.

It rained and misted, there was nothing to see and soon I hardly differed from the beasts of the field. When I sat down, my legs - like those amputated from a frog - continued to walk. Hoping I’d covered 25 miles (that's how it felt) I consulted a map and was disappointed. Sixteen miles seems to stick although the four passes added grief. The bus (no more than two miles) and the modest mileage precluded boasting. The walk was heroic in the sense that ditch-digging* can be considered heroic. Thus, ultimately, an anti-walk. So I lied.
* See second thoughts on this in comments


  1. Acts more heroic than ditch digging require the saving of lives, including the lives of beasts of the field.

  2. MikeM: You may have misread me (it often happens). Since ditch-digging can't be considered heroic, then neither can my walk. With the implication that my walk was pure drudgery. I have modified the text to make this clearer.

  3. No, no! Not the amputated frog legs!

  4. I didn't misread, I'm simply generous enough to let myself feel heroic when I dig ditches (hand dug and involving septic issues have earned near mythical ratings). Heroism to me entails easing the strife of others, preferably through dogged use of any skill or talent. I would say your writing easily qualifies. I liked the original. More protracted as I recall.

  5. twitch...twitch twitch...spa-a-AASMMMM!...TWItch-twitch-twitch.

    Been there, done that, often on the drill field in boot camp, and one other time climbing the mountain to Tumbling Run Falls.

    While I've many a fried frog leg, having twitching from legs is no fun.

  6. Beth: In future all my posts will carry a health warning. Directed towards those whose natural resistance is weakened by interminable Canadian winters.

    MikeM: I think the definition of heroism requires mutual agreement. Otherwise Tom Lehrer's The Old Dope Pedlar might qualify:

    He gives free samples to the kiddies,
    Because he knows full well,
    That today's young innocent faces,
    Are tomorrow's clientele.

    The Crow: I was rather alarmed when it happened. I mean, who wants to be attached to a pair of legs which may decide to take off for the nearest precipice. Since then I've discovered others have shared the experience.

    Would have hated a walk to Tumbling Run Falls. Don't care how beautiful; it's got acccident written into its DNA.

  7. There are degrees of heroism, certainly, and I'm not sure a drug dealer employed at his trade would often qualify. Not sure Lehrer's verse qualifies either, though it might have had a positive impact on a few people. We all seek heroism, as you did on your walk, and in your writing. I simply maintain that we should accord merit to those small acts of heroism that we so often recognize in ourselves. Take the time to remove a spider from your house, instead of squashing it. I set the bar very low.

  8. m: I fear heroism is getting lost in the wash. Whereas the outcome of MikeM's ditch-digging was admirable ("easing the strife of others") it hardly involved the courage and risk-taking that is implicit in heroism. Saving the life of a spider may be heroic if the rescuer fears spiders but not in my case; I save 'em without worrying myself a jot. In fact your phrase "accord merit" puts it succinctly; I accord merit to someone who buys Big Issue but it would take special circumstances for that small act to be regarded as heroic (possibly if it were the donor's last quid).

    Which of course raises the question of whether my walk ever deserved to be considered as heroic. Probably not. The word can be used as a synonym for large-scale but again that would depend on what it was compared with. I am base, in all conscience, but I am not trying to wriggle out on that score. Journalistic sloppiness is the best explanation; shame the best admission. The only thing that can be said in my defence is that I was keen to avoid setting myself up as a false go

  9. I think Mike's climbing the bell tower was heroic, regardless of the purpose. He very definitely put his life and safety at risk doing that.

    Every year, one reads of ditch diggers being buried by ditch walls caving in on them. To me, a ditch digger is not the person who drives a ditch-digging machine; rather, is the person down there in the trench.

    In the end, heroism depends on the hero's act and on how his/her act is perceived by others. Millions of us engage in heroic acts every day and don't realize we are being heroic.

    Does it really matter whether the hero is acting in accordance with his/her job, as a means of earning a living, or is thrust into a situation by circumstance?

    Living is heroic. All the rest is gravy.

  10. Seldom could our path have crossed in The Lake District. But once during a couple of weeks in the Duddon valley where I was a regular visitor, I suggested to a friend that we attempt a rash if romantic gesture of little if any point. We had been walking in the opposite direction to Hardknott Pass - rather in the Coniston direction in fact. Why not I said see if we can watch the sun set from the top of the Old Man of Coniston - a mountain which stand more or less between the town and lake of Coniston Water and Hardknott Pass. It turned out to be one of the worst of many daft urges I have in my life. We were soon lost as darkness quickly fell. For hours it seemed we wandered about those desolate tops while sheep coughed and becks tinkled among bogs, bracken and scree. No moon lit our way. The only sensible thing we did was to follow the streams down hill. On one occasion I can remember falling long enough to realize that I was falling only to land on a bed of moss. Eventually we arrived at a road, the very road I believe which you show in your photograph. We were about 9 miles off course, at least a two hour walk back to our cottage.

  11. I do have a harness and ropes,Crow, so climbing the tower without them borders on craziness. Hillary type heroism on a much smaller scale. I'm daft enough to think the SPIDER, in some small spider way, at least realizes I've given it a few exciting moments. Heroism, as I said in my first comment, seems to involve a weighing of life and death, or at least quality of life, and I suppose that now borders on kinship in preferred publications. So be it. I will try to determine what Big Issue is.

  12. Crow/Joe/MikeM: OK. OK. Big transatlantic misunderstandings. Let's all move off our butts, hire planes, convene in the Azores and talk face to face about words that have different meanings and how certain scary events deserve to be designated.

    Crow: The Bell Tower. First I don't want to be invidious; don't want to cast aspersions on MikeM's mental state. He had a job to do, he wasn't going up there for fun, quite rightly he ensured his own safety with harness and ropes. However although he may have been safe there is a mort of difference (I'm proud of that one) between that state and "feeling safe". This is due to what rock climbers call "exposure" - a sense of uncertainty that increases the higher up you go and the more airy your circumstances become. I know. I used to go rock climbing. I too used a rope and if someone else had climbed ahead of me I was technically safe. Despite this, falling off - even though you are subsequently "held" - is an unpleasant, non-intuitive experience.

    Thus I look at what MikeM did in a slightly different light from you, Crow. MikeM was, in effect, climbing a ladder a device that is intended to make climbing easier and safer. It has purpose-designed handholds and footholds. Whereas rock climbers use whatever the rock face presents. I worry about using "heroism" in either case but if I have to I'd say that MikeM was more "heroic" (in this modified sense) than I was. A job had to be done and he took it upon himself to do it. Had his harness/rope unaccountably broken people would have rightly identified his fall as tragic. Had my rope broken people would have shrugged.

    Ditch digging. This one's my fault. Ditches appear to grow in size as one travels west. I imagined something about a foot deep. Two or three feet deeper and you're into really heroic territory because of the risks most of which cannot be guarded against. I'm sorry if I pooh-poohed. If that's what MikeM did then that's heroic.

    Living is heroic. This only becomes true if the liver regards suicide as a genuine option. Most people don't. The question for most is: what's the option? Enduring unpleasantness may be regarded as heroic but only if the endurer doesn't complain.

    Joe: A tale well told, and much more horrifying than you - in true Brit fashion - let on. But you'll forgive me if I summarise it as fecklessness. The horror grew out of lack of preparation; merely experiencing horror is not in itself heroic.

    MikeM: You put the case correctly: heroism grows out of a situation in which life vs. death is weighed. Let's take that one step further; "HAS to be weighed." I'm deeply sorry I may have misinterpreted your ditch digging: I was thinking gardens, you apparently may have been talking about infrastructure projects. As a result I won't tell you to Google Big Issue but explain that it's a magazine, founded by a man with charitable instincts, that the impoverished sell in the street and get to keep the proceeds.