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.

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