Every New Year’s day Marjorie walked up the hill which rose above her village. It had become a thing, a sort of commitment she made to herself as she ambled through the valley between Christmas and New Year, snacking.
There was only one year that she’d missed her annual pilgrimage
when the hill was blanketed in thick icy mist, it would have been foolish.
Of course, Marjorie walked up the hill many times during the year, at least once a month, on cold crisp days and sweltering t-shirt days, and she often wondered about the thousands of people who lived in the valley below who had never felt compelled to climb it. But then, she would recall that for many years she was one of them.
But now Marjorie was slipping her gaiters under her boots, hooking them into her boot laces, smoothing the Velcro, pushing the press studs down. Now she was striding away from the car as it beeped to let her know it had self-locked.
Now she was stepping from tarmac onto mud and grass and moss, feeling the grain of the wooden walking stick in her palm, the pull of the muscles in her calves as she picked her way across the uneven moorland. Now the wind was whipping her hair across her cheek and into her mouth and she was squinting across the glorious miles of greens and browns. Now she was alive.
When Marjorie tries to recall the ‘before’, it is difficult, so used to the ‘now’ has she become. She thinks she must have looked at the hill every day as she drove to work, to trains, taxied kids, raced to her Mum’s, but she can’t recall it. She knows the seasons will have clothed it in grey mists, white snows, Spring greens, the mulberry of Autumn, but she had her head down working, worrying, racing.
And it’s a fucking big hill. Almost 2000 feet. A big hulk of a thing with massive boulders along the ridge. It’s not like you can miss it. But Marjorie had, for all those years.
Marjorie is thinking all of this as she gets into her stride along the old miners path, so called because about 70 years ago, someone came prospecting for oil and built a track that ends in the middle of nowhere. The views are stupendous, North to Pendle Hill and the Dales, East West and South, nothing but rolling moorland and huge boulders left stranded as glaciers melted. Best of all, she’s entirely alone on the track, which Marjorie loves.
30 minutes in, at the end of the track, the work starts; the ground is very wet, so she’s picking her way from tussock to tussock, using her stick for balance. She can only think of this, now. Where to place her boot next. Never scanning more than a couple of meters ahead, choosing the middle of the path one minute then the right edge, then the left edge. Looking for the scrubby longer grass, avoiding the moss which hides deep bog. The path is rising now past granite boulders; history in still life. The wind buffeting up the hillside, her rucksack straps flapping. She pulls her hood over her woolen hat, zips the zip higher, tightens her sleeves over her gloves. She’s breathing hard now, cursing the bout of Covid 18 months ago that reduced her lung capacity. But she paces herself, turns to look at the path climbed, slows her breathing for a while.
And then, there is the stile, slick with winter green, so she’s careful. She twisted her ankle falling from this same stile 3 years before and it took months to build the strength back in it. Now the huge expanse of the hilltop, the hulking grey boulder shaped like an anvil which appears to balance on the edge of the moor, twice as tall as she is, where she scrambles and sits in the summer, musing. And now the trig, this trig she loves, this hill she loves, this feeling she loves. When she sees the trig, she forgets that her back is pulling low down, that her knee is twinging, that her shoulder burns. All forgotten in the glory of placing her hand on the trig.
She stands. How many more New Year’s will she make this climb. Realistically ten? Fifteen? Who knows. For now, she’s here again.
Turning to look back at her ascent, she is shocked to see the sky. In the space of 15 minutes it has changed from blue to thunder-grey and immediately the first spots of rain fall. Marjorie pulls on her waterproofs and doesn’t hang about. She needs to descend, fast. She’s only just past the stile and 50’ down when the hail arrives, stinging her lips like glass beads. She holds her gloved hand across her face and concentrates on her footing. Her pace is slow and steady, a slip now could be disastrous. She knows she has phone signal up here, a hot drink in her flask, an emergency kit in her back-pack, but even so it’s slightly scary and really exhilarating all rolled into one. She can’t look up, the hail and rain are lashing, the wind is gusting. She thinks of people in hurricanes, tsunamis, how weak the human is against the force of nature. Down, down, choosing grass over mud, stone over grass. Only ten minutes to the lower hillside, but it seems longer. Each breath is the taste of leather and water, the suck of freezing air in her mouth and, if she moves her hand, stinging chips of ice on her lips. Rain is blurring her vision, her eyes screwed up against the hail. She counts one, two, three, four, over and over to keep her pushing forwards into the wind.
The stream at the bottom, which 40 minutes earlier was gentle and burbling, is now a torrent of peat black rage, roaring and swirling between muddy banks. She sploshes through. At least here she is out of the wind for a few minutes brief respite. Back on the miners track now, she’s really exposed. The wind is literally shifting her and she shouts into rain “Go on, throw it all at me, I’ll just keep going.” Knowing this is more than a reaction to her present circumstance, knowing it is in fact a statement about her life.
One, two, three, four. Each four steps taking her nearer the car. Her waterproofs failing now. Feeling the water on her thighs, shins, running into her boots. Wondering how travellers of old on these moors kept dry when the weather turned. The miners track seems to have quadrupled in length since she left the car, so hard is the going. Marjorie suddenly laughs and pulling her phone from her inner pocket, she films herself, water dripping from her face, in the middle of this wildness and she sends it off to her family saying ‘Happy New Year kiddies from your crazy mother’. Then, the car is there and she is peeling off the soaking clothes and pulling on a dry fleece. She is turning on the radio and singing out loud and feeling cold and warm and amazing.
Later that day, Marjorie’s husband shows the video to his Mum who says. “What on earth is Marjorie doing? She’s too old to be doing that, she needs to calm down.”
When her husband reports this back, Marjorie laughs. “Never”, she says. “I’m only 62 and I’ve got so much left to do.”
That night, as she sinks into sleep, Marjorie thinks of her mother in law’s comment. She thinks of all the people who see hills and don’t climb them and all the people who never even see the hills and she thanks the Universe that she has finally lifted her eyes up unto them.
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353