Expectations

We went for a walk yesterday. Scout and I. The two of us, are now we. That I like.

It wasn’t a walk I was particularly looking forward to. It started with ascent, lots of it, and added more later, and somehow my back just didn’t want that. But, I had to do the walk, deadlines awaited and the most pressing was one I couldn’t see. Would the virus shut us down again before I got my work finished and could wrap the book up. Trying to beat an unknown, uncertain shut down, had turned finishing the book into a slog of constantly checking weather reports for those sunny days, or half days, organising other aspects of our life in such a way to enable us to not be tied down should the sun shine, and grinding out the miles when we managed to get out. The days were drawing in too and that meant earlier starts to catch the most of the daylight. Somehow, my days had become pressured.

But, here’s the thing. It’s often times like this, when I am feeling the pressure of things to be done, of feeling that something of joy is drudgery, that I get a lesson in expectations.

The first part was the ascent, straight in to the hardest bit of the walk. I have developed a format now in getting up there without becoming a plastic bag filled with heat and sweat. Walk a hundred paces, then rest for a minute. Repeat. Scout gets attached to my waist harness and that gives him some resistance training, or so I tell myself. The top is always a surprise. After spending 30 minutes or so looking directly at rock and grass and soil, suddenly there is nothing, the top is just sky, and it always surprises me. We had it to ourselves, so we could take the by now obligatory trig pose photo of Scout. He has become so used to this that when he sees a trig pillar he goes and sits beside it, waiting to be lifted on. A haze hung in the air misting over the hills beyond. When lockdown happened the haze went and we had crystal clear air, you could see detail for miles. Now the country had returned to almost a normal way of life, the haze was back. It seemed to be a symbol of how stupid we were, how self destructive we were. A few people joined us on top so we packed up and set off down, working our way west into a forest.

Forest walks are lovely in autumn, the smell of leaf litter, the sound of it crunching underfoot. The leaf had not turned yet, so there was still greenery all around, but the warm air was lifting the scent tones and making a pleasant walk through a quite woodland. What was missing was water. Scout kept heading over to gullies and stream beds, only to find them dry, which meant the moors above would be dry too.

Coming out of the forest we turned for the moor and the section of the walk I was least confident about. I still hadn’t worked out where I was heading here. The old road and pub, or the unknown moor. Scout found a stream in the valley full of rushing water and raced up and down, enjoying the splashing. We passed an old farm, the ruins now almost gone, but a small flight of steps lead to what would have been a doorway and the grain or hay store. Beautiful winding tracks, now a green sward that was lined with grey stone walls that curved into what would have been the yard, came from the fields. I stopped and traced the outline of everything, picturing in my mind how people would have lived and worked and used the space. The view from the farmstead was beautiful, hills that rose into the sky, a stream in the valley floor, pasture land nearby. Across the valley was a deep cut clough, that cleaved its way up to the high point of the land and the old pub. The pub or the hill that rose into the sky was our next objective and still my mind was not made up.

As we moved up through the clough, we neared lunchtime, two hours of walking meant a break, and the eastern side of the clough had shade for Scout. The map showed that concession paths met a third of the way up, and as we approached I saw a gate, with the open access sign leading up on to the high moor. That was our way, the pub would have to be part of another walk. We crossed the brook and found a shady spot to lunch. Scout first, then my boots and socks off, lunch box out and sit back and relax. I like this little ritual, the process of settling down, time slowing, my body merging into the landscape for a brief moment. Scout was soon snoozing and I was studying a beautiful old sheepfold tucked into the clough bottom. The stones were from the land here, probably where we now sat in this shady hollow, and being local they helped the fold to sit in the landscape and be part of rather than some addition. Generations of craft had produced a work that stood against the elements and looked beautiful, natural, fitting. I laid back in the bilberry and moss watching Scout snooze, content, comfortable, in the moment.

We walked up the steep hillside onto the moor. It was dry today, but the carpet sphagnum moss that laid as far as the eye could see told of a wet land, one to be picked over in wetter times. There was no discernible path across the moor, no signs of tracks, just moss and grass. I realised this place was little walked on, access being out of the way. It was a beautiful place. The views across to the hill we had climbed earlier in the day were wide and expansive. All that could be seen was moor, pasture and drystone wall. We worked our way south, crossing tumbled down drystone walls, Scout mooched around, investigating smells, setting off in big arcs of the moor, catching scents and following them up. The ground was easy to walk, the vegetation short, no tussocky grass heads to dance around. To the north a ridge ran eastward and at points rocky outcrops protruded out in to the moor. Above these soared buzzards, quartering the land their movement kept in check by two crows who constantly heckled them. In the centre of the moor hovered a kestrel, its eyes fixed firmly on a pinpoint on the ground. I felt that sense of happiness that always happens at some point on a walk. A feeling of contentment.

Eventually, I reached the old bridleway, crossing it took me down a narrow high sided clough and onto the final leg of the walk. We passed a shooting cabin, cottage it was called on the map, but it hadn’t seen residence for many years. The basic kitchen, a sink and stove, had plastic bottles filled with purple fuel and cartons of paper towels. In the next room was a table and chairs and shelving along the walls. Adjoining the cabin was an open shed, plastic chairs were piled up a plank stretched across two piles of stones making a rudimentary seat. This was the beaters cabin, open to the elements and no niceties to relive a bad weather day.

We finished the walk along a green sward of a track, unused by vehicles, that was a delight to walk along. This walk, so unloved at the beginning had transformed into a diamond of the Peak District. The fact that it is hidden from view, surrounded as it is by high hills and deep valleys, adds to its special qualities of solitude and beauty. Scout and I were happy.