Role reversals, mountain egos – and walking with Mum
‘‘Sharing my passion for the hills with the people I love needs to be on terms acceptable to them.”
My mother is scowling. At me. She doesn’t swear, but if she did, I suspect I’d be on the receiving end of some choice nuggets.
We both gaze up at the hillside in front of us – Mount Famine, near Edale. It’s not that steep, it’s not that long, but it’s been a tiring day and this, as they say, is the straw breaking the maternal camel’s back.
Five minutes ago I’d kind of said that we’d done all the ascent, and it’d be downhill to the pub. Ale, a hot dinner and dessert with extra ice cream. Maybe custard. Turns out, partly from slapdash map-reading, and partly from wishful thinking, I’d lied. We’d have to go up and over to get to Beer o’ Clock in Chinley.
“When you’re my age you’ll realise that not everyone wants to walk a marathon,” she mutters. “Always pushing people a bit too far, that’s your problem…”
Now I’m scowling. “You’re not 80! You’re in your fifties! It’s not far, and we can stop as much as we like! You underestimate what you can do, that’s your problem.”
We stand huffing and puffing. Then we eat flapjacks and sip some thermos tea and the warmth of the sun and bleating of chubby lambs breaks the standoff.
I don’t quite know when the role reversal began, from my mother coaxing me and my brother out on mountain adventures, to me being the one jollying people up hills, but it’s happened.
When we finally get to the pub, I manage to swallow my huffy pride enough to apologise. I’ve been slow to appreciate the impact sore knees, heavy rucksacks and not-quite-as-sharp eyesight can have on the enjoyability of a day out in the mountains. If my goal is to share my passion for the hills with the people I love, it needs to be on terms acceptable to them. So if the distance and pace is modest, so be it. The summit might not be reached, but the goal – which is to get outside and enjoy each other’s company – will.
We’ve all seen those miserable walkers where one (inevitably better equipped) person is dragging some unfortunate companion up a fellside, metaphorically if not literally. I reckon more people have been put off hillwalking because of those experiences than in any other way. I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t enjoy their day because they hadn’t walked far enough and their feet weren’t hurting. I suspect the rules of engagement apply to any of us heading out with youngsters, oldsters, the sore-kneed and folks who aren’t hill fit: don’t let your ego sabotage their day out. Make sure the people least familiar with the environment are the best dressed and most comfortable. Give them control over route, distance and pace.
My mum and I have made a deal. She’s going to get good with reading the maps, so she can vet our route in advance, or take the lead in planning from scratch. Bed, breakfast and a hot shower are nonnegotiable. On a longer route, we’ll use a holiday company who’ll transport our bags each day. St Cuthbert’s Way, 62 miles from Melrose to Lindisfarne, is the current front runner – we’ll do a knee-friendly nine miles a day, and have plenty of time to stop for photos, chatting and flapjacks. Turns out Mother still knows best.