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Alison preparing to go walking in the Lake District during the wettest summer for 100 years

It’s the end of August 2012. The big news is that this summer has been the worst for rain, lack of sun and cold, for 100 years. No news to those who have been out and about walking and climbing. As I write this on the last day the sun is shining and there is a coolness in the air, the heather is in full glorious purple bloom and I am starting to think about purchases of winter walking clothing. All of which portents autumn just around the corner. Looking at my walking log I see that I have completed just short of 150km of walks with 5100 meters of ascent. I’m quite pleased with this, and how my body is starting to respond to all this exercise. Following my little mishap in February whilst descending Levers Hause in the Lake District National Park, (you can read about that here), my body has slowly and sometimes painfully rehabilitated itself to its new way of walking. More importantly my mind also seems to be growing stronger as there was a time when I was very apprehensive about where my feet went and probably made things harder for myself mentally. With lengthening and ever more adventurous walks this mental attitude seems to be receeding, replaced by a more robust “can do” attitude which is more useful out on the hills.

I have had the good fortune to be assisted in my recovery by my wife Alison who has been a tower of strength and superb support and by friends who have accompanied me sometimes on walks. The Peak District National Park Ranger Service of which I am a volunteer has also been crucial in helping me along the road to recovery.

Preparing to start the Derwent Valley Heritage Way in The Peak District National Park

I started the month wanting to put together a series of walks that were both challenging in length and terrain, not necessarily within the same walk, but certainly extending the boundaries on a progressive basis. I looked at some of the National Trails and was enticed by the Yorkshire Wolds Way & Cleveland Way as both are reasonably near where I lived, but time was a constraint so I looked around for a trail that offered distance along with the ability to do it in sections on a come and go basis. I settled on the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which is much nearer my home and is reasonably flat, meaning I could put in some mileage to strengthen my muscles, whilst at the same time not have to worry about ascents and descents. I have now completed the first 2 sections totalling 30km and have to say I have enjoyed the route tremendously so far. I will post a more comprehensive account of the walk when it is completed. Following the injuries there was a great deal of muscle wastage in my ankle, knee, leg and lower back as a result of being laid up, coupled with a refusal of the NHS to provide physio, due to cut backs and the fact that I was active before the accident and therefore capabale of getting myself active again in recovery. So walking distances over reasonably level ground is fine but doesn’t stretch the joints to produce strong ligaments and tendons. The answer for this is moorland walking over rough paths and across moors with no descernable route other than through tussocks of grass, heather, bracken and bog. Add a good ascent and descent and you have enough ankle, and knee turning opportunities, thigh building and hamstring stretching movements to strengthen any wastrel.

My walking log says that there have been several Peak District National Park Ranger Service patrols across moorland and up narrow cloughs, crossing streams, swearing profusely and generally regretting my choice of route. But it is having a beneficial effect with muscle build up, strengthening of ligaments and tendons and a reduction in body fat which built up over the period of incapacity. There is still plenty of room for improvement and muscle tone is still seriously lacking but confidence is increasing and this has been a serious issue, especially on descents, down rough paths and tracks. The walking has brought with it it’s own issues especially pain in the knee joint and lower back, this has lessened over the weeks with ongoing use but still flares up if I extend a walk beyond the limits my body has become used to. A day or two after is then required for recooperation. I am fine with these bouts of pain, they are nothing compared to the weeks of inactivity and I have learnt about vitamin (I) or Ibruprofen.

On a recent walk along Derwent Edge in the Upper Derwent Valley I was showing a walking friend the trig point at Back Tor. You have to climb up on to the top of a gritstone rock to get close, which I managed to do with a little grunting. I noted that my body was not helping the climb by being out of balance and instead of leaning into the rock which sloped upwards, it seemed to over balance backwards. I managed to correct this but it was a tense moment and a little fear reared its ugly head. On the descent there was a greater problem. How to get down? The rock seemed to move in my eyes and my mind could not grasp where to put my feet, there being no real handholds a very real panic started to gnaw at me and I could visualise myself falling. My friend asked if I needed help, that’s how bad I was. I ended up sitting myself down and shimmying across the gritstone until I reached a ledge I could use for a descent to ground level. It was disturbing to note how my mind had very quickly built up a doomsday scenario.

My body was responding to exercise and progressing well with good ascents being made in reasonable time. Descents were a little more precarious, both poles being in use and a heel pronounced gait very active in evidence. I needed to add a little more toughness to the walks and was finding it hard to achieve that in the Peak District, so we booked a few nights over the bank holiday weekend in the Lake District. Opting for Langdale as a base I prepared two routes, Coniston Old Man and Pavey Ark. I use OS maps and compass to plan out each leg of the route, noting times, distance and ascent. All this then goes on to a route card which also carries contact information, start time and most importantly when we would expect to return. Preparing the card helps me focus on the area and highlights any problems we may encounter. The card would be left with the National Trust campsite manager so should anything untoward happen help would be at hand. Monday came and brought rain, wind and a flat battery, so a walk up onto Pavey Ark was in order. It proved to be quite a testing walk in more ways than one, and was both good for the soul, mind and body. I will write it up later, but suffice to say the experience had all the elements of a thriller. Due to the flat battery we did not continue our holiday and so did not get to Coniston, something I have to put right.

So that has been August 2012 and the rehabilitation programme is in full swing. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are building strength, perhaps next is to increase the range of movement. What is more important or worrying depending on your point of view is my mental strength. I am still hesitant, not entirely trusting my body to stay upright, something I think will recede with time and effort. But there is also a degree of fear that was not there before, it can show itself when crossing the top of the stairs and I look down, the image of what could be flashing through my minds eye. There are also the dreams, which wake me up in a sweat, heart racing as I look around to find I am in the safety of my bedroom.