I started walking many, many years ago as a teenager growing up in the small country of Lesotho in Southern Africa. There,I decided to do the Duke Of Edinburgh Award. Not because I had a great interest in walking but because all my friends were joining up and we got to have holidays in some different places. The walking was just something we had to do alongside it.
I slept in a cave in the snow and drank from a mountain stream. Went pony trekking in the mountains. Had a fantastic week in Swaziland, sleeping in a tent and a memorable night in a sleeping bag under the stars. Then I discovered beer and women and the walking went out the window for many, many years.
The years passed and I settled down, got married, did the career thing and never really thought I was missing out on anything. Going for a walk would be for just a mile or two at the most every now and again. Maybe, when on holiday we’d go for a bit of a wander but never too far and never really venturing much distance from the car or civilisation.
Then one day, many years down the line, I was doing my normal Friday evening of drinking a beer and watching TV when a program came on about the Pennine Way and this particular one mentioned Stoodley Pike, this was only a few miles down the road from me and I’d never heard of it before. I watched the whole show and started to feel an excitement grow in me, I wanted to go there. I wanted to walk there. I wanted to experience this iconic West Yorkshire monument for myself
I’d recently purchased a newer car which was much more reliable than the beautiful rust bucket I’d been driving for the last 15 years, so I could now go places without worrying about whether I’d be able to get home or not. The urge to get outside again was suddenly nibbling at me.
The next day was a free Saturday for me, my lovely wife was off out for the afternoon so my only plans were to listen to the football. Maybe I could try a wander up to this Stoodley Pike place, I could always listen to the football while I was up there walking (to my eternal shame this is what I actually did). I signed up to a walking website, Walking World, which provided walking routes around the country and found one called “Stoodley Pike through the back door”. A 7 mile wander across the moors from Cragg Vale. That was the one for me. I downloaded the route to my phone and decided tomorrow was the day, but first more beer! This really was the extent of my planning!
If I saw that person today stepping out of his front door for a day on the West Yorkshire Moors I’d shake my head and say “There’s a Mountain Rescue stat waiting to happen”. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying one bottle of water and no snacks to eat, no map except for my mobile phone and an online cycle map. If I lost phone signal or my battery died I was done as I also hadn’t told anyone else where I was going and I had no way of navigating off the moors. No idea of how to contact Mountain Rescue if I needed them, no experience of ever having walked on the pathless Moors. No clue about navigation, no experience of the vagaries of Moorland weather. The only thing I did have in my favour was I did own a pair of walking boots and I had a waterproof jacket, but if it rained I was wearing jeans anyway so that wasn’t going to be pleasant. The boots were a cheap pair of Hi-Tecs mind but at least I had walking boots. I was the person who, if I met him out on the hills today, I’d feel obliged to offer advice and and advise him of the quickest route down to safety.
Surprisingly, it all went well. Yes, the pathless route over the Moors was a right old pain and I did take a few wrong turns. Yes I did curse a few times looking at Stoodley Pike miles away in the distance and not getting any closer. Yes, it was cold in the wind and yes I did get slightly lost trying to find my way across the Moors. But I had fun, I really had a lot of fun. I was finally re-awakening to how beautiful it can be to be out in nature.
The route over the moors seemed to go on for ever. A number of times I thought about retracing my steps and the only thing that stopped me was the thought of doing it all over again to get back to my car. The thought of that did not fill me with joy Then, all of a sudden, I hit the Pennine Way. A path, a real path, my prayers had been answered. Here was a lovely path, a path I could follow, a path that was clearly taking me towards my destination. A path that meant I just had to put one foot in front of the other rather than worry about if I was heading in the right direction or not, bouncing over heather, bog and stream. Superb, this walking lark is simple. Views were opening out below me and Stoodley Pike was getting nearer and nearer. I wasn’t going to die out here after all.
The slog across the Moors had been really hard work, a right old struggle. Most of it completely pathless, constantly checking the map on my phone to ensure I was walking in the right direction. The views down into the valley now though made it all worth it. This is why people do this crazy stuff. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was well and truly hooked and days out in the hills were about to become my life.
I eventually reached Stoodley Pike and was greeted by the ferocious wind which seems to be ever present up there, I tried to move around to the front of the monument but the wind had other ideas and told me to be bugger off back into hiding. I explored for a bit, enjoyed the view with the biggest grin on my face ever and then it was time to head for home. Of course being my first walk in the hills I went slightly wrong at first, taking the path to Hebden Bridge until a glance at my phone told me I was heading in completely the wrong direction. Corrected myself, then had the enjoyable time of hopping through some bog before finally finding dry land again and an easy stroll back to the car.
From a seasoned hillwalkers perspective that day was a whole catalogue of disasters that could have gone really, really wrong but I was hooked. Seriously hooked, I’d had such a fun day and I wanted more and more. Little did I realise that this was about to become my life. When I wasn’t walking I’d be staring at maps planning my next walks. When I was walking I’d be revelling in the freedom of being out in nature on my own timetable, just enjoying myself, everything I needed on my back (plus a few things I hoped I would never need) . Life was about to change for me, and it was about to get oh so much better !