Three years ago when I got back from the Pyrenees I couldn’t bear the prospect of walking under grey British skies and gloom. I found magazines extolling the wonders of Britain rather pathetic, illustrated with cloudy photographs of Wales or even Scotland. And when I start walking again in this rain sodden isle the dream of the Pyrenees will vanish: I’m back in goddamn Blighty and it’s goddamn raining again. Again.
My experience of the Pyrenees was not so enthralling, and then my first home walk was at Edale. I’ve been there numerous times and it’s not exactly a thrilling place, but a gentle and modest respite from Manchester just forty five minutes away. A colleague recently conveyed to me that either she received her proposal at Edale or it was her first date with her now husband. I forget which, but it was a special place for her.
I’ve always sought the climbing paths at Edale leading up onto the moors and if you so wish, eventually to Kinder Scout. I’ve driven up and down the valley but not particularly explored it on foot. It’s really very modest with nothing obvious to attract if your primary pleasures come from big mountains.
But at this point – a week ago – I’d had enough of big mountains. Every mile in the Pyrenees was hard work under a hot searing sun and with fifteen kilos on my back. British hills are modest. Even Scotland, most dramatic, is paltry compared to the French and Spanish chain running from Atlantic to Mediterranean. Edale is nothing more than a stroll. And I rather enjoyed it.
It was no effort. My heart rate didn’t especially increase, and I wasn’t dripping and sticky with sweat; it was pleasantly mild but not hot. Grey skies not burning blue. Nothing on my back except my tee shirt. And I reflected on this mildness: this British mildness. The Lake District, Scotland and Wales are my real loves, where you find relatively big hills. But for mile after mile, county after county, what you more characteristically find in Britain is a landscape of soft undulation over farmland and field. I went up an Edale path where I’d been before but took – this time – the valley walk rather than the moorland ascent. Dog walkers went past me then a family of husband, wife, two girls and a boy and a dog. I spoke with them briefly and enjoyed the “baaa! baaa! baaa!” fun of the older girl as she mimicked the sheep.
I thought of Ravilious. I thought of Dame Vera Lynne, love for British countryside, and how wet and green and grey sky pleasant land has been one of the yearning poignant memories of soldiers abroad.
Photographically, I was interested in green tapestry moments and their subdued attractions. Green-grey, rather than vivid green with bright blue above. This too is lovely. This too has its own aesthetic. This, too, is more characteristic of maritime Britain than sunny skies!
I felt, strolling the path, I’d happily lie in a field and just enjoy being there. It wasn’t about effort or even walking as such but rather a quality of being which green natural peace facilitates. Relaxing not panting. Soothed rather than excited. Strolling, ambling, perambulating, not the hard work walking I usually undertake. I compare this to the Pyrenees because I’d just returned from my annual trip. Perhaps in the final analysis what we achieve with walking is relaxation and peace, and I found that at Edale.