.....at about 6.30am, I stumbled about in the half-dark wishing I had prepared my outdoor stuff last night for today's ' away-day'( like a proper grown-up would)....Manage to blindly stuff assorted gear into rucsac, throw boots and various 'just-in-case' items onto back seat of car, and trundle off towards 'The Lakes' with a vague intention, but no particular plan, to partake of a day's walking amongst the beloved hills of Cumbria.
The first half hour of urban-cautious gloomy driving serves as a progressive wake-up for me as I leave the familiar home patch.
I sharpen up as I join the main carriageway that heads determinedly across country.
The morning light starts to slowly strengthen and exposes the smeary dirt that filters the brightening day through my screenwash-droughted car window.
Heater on, radio tuned-in to early morning d.j. inanity, cardboard-tasting "energy-packed-cereal-bar" between my teeth, I realise I have mis-matching socks on....not important. The fact that I have a moccasin on my left foot and a similar, but definitely different, bedroom slipper on my right is more sartorially challenging. Still.....once I get to where I'm going they will be replaced with walking boots.....so all is well. Stopping for petrol may raise an eyebrow or two however.
About an hour and a bit later, I pull into a particular roadside rest stop. I am still 45 mins or so from my un-planned destination, (it being un-planned, how do I know?) but it has become a firm tradition of mine to take ones breakfast at this one particular establishment without fail, each and every time I traipse across the Pennines to the District.
I boldly sport my characterful footwear with impunity into the eatery and of course, order 'the works'. Cholesterol city with knobs on......but it not 'arf hits the spot..... Every time.
Suitably refreshed and at least a couple of pounds heavier, I accept the complimentary comments from the checkout girl regarding my choice of shoe style, rejoin my car and continue my journey onwards.....onwards towards the horizon-glimpsed mountain skyline.
(As this is purportedly a natural history blog, perhaps I should maybe mention the sightings sighted upon my journey so far....
Well......I sighted baa-sheeps, horsies, moo-cows, some birdies and a very flat Brock the Badger who was resting by the side of the road).
I make a snap decision a little later, and head towards a less visited area that promises a less than strenuous walk of promised interest that I had had in mind for a while.......so why not today.
After threading the car up a very interesting "Back-Road of Steepness", I eventually park the car in a splendidly situated "Lay-by of Tranquillity" overlooking an attractive vista of Lakeland 'foothills', and get out to stretch my legs in crisp, cold, but sunny morning air.
An appealing old stone-built Church sits quietly within it's girdle of Yew and Holly next to where I'm standing, and after sorting out my pack and apparel, I wander along the shaded path to take a quick, quiet look inside the cool, silent building.
As ever, there is something about the interior of an ancient church that I always find incredibly peaceful.
The architecture, atmosphere, aroma and 'mood' of these places always evokes a feeling of subtle calm and pleasure......and despite not having any discernible religious convictions, I really soak up the historic and I suppose, spiritual aspect of these places.....
Anyway......I sit for a short while and then, on my way out, read some of the Parish notices posted in the low, slate-roofed entrance porch. The appeal for donations towards the cost of replacing the vestry window frame is still current and appears to have some way to go before reaching it's modest target, and Mrs Pargeter is still welcoming volunteers to help with the floral arrangements for the church. I notice a birds nest moulded into the eaves over the door.
I make my way back along the path to the old Wych gate, and turning the corner round the weather worn dry-stone boundary wall, head out and up the grassy slopes behind that lead me away out onto the fell....
The route I am taking quickly and steeply rises up onto a ridge that runs centrally down the length of a quiet, beautiful valley, itself brooded over on both sides by ranges of much more impressive hills. The ridge I follow steadily lifts me above the wooded and pastured low lands. A broad and sparkling river in the valley down to my left is glimpsed through it's leaf-laden course, and down to my right, steeply brackened hillsides fall away to flatten out into the green-soaked vale below.
The way ahead emerges as I rise up and over the first shoulder, and gifts me, as I walk, with a constant and magical view of the length of the valley and even further beyond.....the distant higher hills forming a hazy but definite skyline of mountain slopes and peaks.
The ridge I walk undulates with rocky outcrops and the occasional still mountain pool. My way weaves it's tread between marshy areas and tussocky plots, but always offering a wide expanse of view all around. My altitude may not be great, but is enough to give me elevated sight of my hill-bound surroundings. With the higher hills around me, and my lofted route above the valley below, I feel enveloped in this mountain scene.
The day has steadily woken up around me, and by late- morning, I am walking in bright, clear cold-sharpened conditions, a thin sun in an open sky trying to touch the landscape with the coolness of the air still gently breezing through.
Distant patches of glistening snow still remain on the shoulders of higher ground, making pleasing contrast to the rock and green-hued contours of the surrounding fells.....
I amble along.....enjoying the views...the sights, sounds and feel of this favoured environment. The familiar physical insistence of walking on uneven ground, rising and falling along the back of this featureful ridge...
A pair of what I think are Ravens swoop and dive mid- distance in front of a small fortress of crag.
A little further, I reach a spot that makes me halt and sit awhile. A small spinney of weathered pine pictorially frame the mountain scenery ahead, and I munch on a few crumbling bits of shortbread that have somehow survived my early morning preparations. A slurp of flask- warm tea and a crunch of apple as I gaze fondly over the scene of hill and valley before me......and am content.
I gradually start to drop down to the lower slopes at the end of the ridge through the gently increasing stand of pines, and then oaks and ashes, to eventually emerge and sweep back alongside the valley's resident river. A slightly elevated path leads me through the light-dappled birch and beech which line the banks of the water..and I lope along back the way I came, but this time enveloped in beautiful woodland scenery.
A couple of figures, heard before they are seen, work on a broken section of the dry stone wall, replacing the stones that have fallen....a timeless skill.....the occasional comment in strongly accented voice floating over the steady clink and clatter of stone meeting stone....all the time being observed by the posse of un- concerned sheep gathered around who themselves periodically pass comment...
I pass further along the valley and the way leads me through the splattered yard of a farmstead that offers beverage refreshment and home- baked cake to passers-by......no-one is about, but a hand-drawn notice written in orange crayon invites me to help myself to what is on offer in the tins laid out on the trestle table in the porch.....and to leave a financial donation in the milk churn by the door.......thank you.
So I do.
A flock of blustering geese honk me on my way as I leave.
I gradually make my way back towards my starting point along a few miles of earth-packed track guided by weaving dry-stone walls. The fellsides rising steeply either side of me enclose the lushly greened valley in protective custody.
Apart from the occasional herdwickian bleat, and the hardly noticed, but steady chirp of ...whatever was chirping..my guess is tit, finch and blackbird......I stroll along in gentle, quiet solitude.
I appear to have acquired a stick somewhere along the way, and I wield this splendid adornment rhythmically as a time-honoured rustic walking aid. A rod of weathered ash, the ends of which in the near future, would be spliced and bound in sturdy sisal string to improve longevity and performance. He would be named John, and would join the stick called Brian in the umbrella stand at home.
I reach the car mid afternoon in warm sunshine and a cloud of irritating flying insects, I feel quite tired as I realize I must have walked a fair distance over fairly rough terrain with a lot of up and down...I de-boot quickly and donning my mistakenly selected footwear of earlier, I jump into the car to sit in escape from the flies.....and to ease my slightly aching muscles before the drive home. I feel a familiar welcome weariness that comes from the pleasure of outdoor exertion.
Another vehicle, I notice, has parked in the other corner of the small space allotted, and it's elderly occupants are similarly engaged in sitting....a plastic cup of something being held by each. They clearly have not ventured beyond. They smile, nod in my direction and raise their cups in gentle greeting........acknowledging our shared experience of enjoying a nice day out in the country.