After a summer of knee problems (Nigel’s) he and I have returned to the fells. Fell walking is something we both love and there are lots of excellent opportunities within reach. The Lake District is our favourite place and we’ve managed to fit in three trips in recent weeks.
Of course, out came the Roger pen, on its first fell walking trial. At first I had a bit of a panic. We were putting our boots on at the car – Nigel at the back and me at the front passenger side – when I heard this really loud breathing. I mean REALLY loud breathing – haaargh, haargh, haargh. Had he been taken ill? “Are you OK?” I called out, hopping (one boot on, one boot off) round to the back of the car.
“Yeah, fine” a surprised voice said, but I could see the problem. In bending over to lace his boots the Roger microphone, which was on a lanyard round Nigel’s neck, had swung so that it was right in front of his lips.
That’s all right then. I hopped back.
Boots on, we set off on our walk. We’ve never been people to spend all day on the fells talking to each other – sometimes the peace, the rhythm of the walking and the views are just things to enjoy quietly. But it’s good, on a walk, to be able to say something whenever you want to. Both of us have missed that since my hearing deteriorated to the point that made it impossible. Hill walking rarely involves walking along in lip reading contact. The paths are narrow so you walk in single file, you need to be constantly looking at your feet because of the very rough terrain, and being northern England it’s often windy (which plays havoc with your hearing aids). For a lip reader, conversation in the hills is a trial so our walks have become much more silent than they used to be.
But with Roger conversation was a little easier. As I’ve explained in previous posts, we’ve discovered that the device doesn’t help significantly in situations when I can’t lip read as well, but it DOES help when I can. Given all the watching your feet that I’ve just described you would think that Roger would therefore be redundant on a fell walking day but it was helpful when we paused (frequently) to get our breath back, and could look at each other, and it was helpful for deciphering snatches of conversation for which possible responses are limited. “How’s your knee?” “Yeah, good, fine”. It was helpful when we settled down to a packed lunch on a windy hillside.
Back on the move, I could hear Nigel shouting at our exuberant, irrepressible dog (on a lead because of sheep). “Steady, steady……STEADY Izzy”
I could also hear him swearing when he got stuck in a forestry plantation. I should explain. The walks we are doing at the moment are part of a list of fells in the Lake District over 1,000 feet high. Nigel loves to achieve a list and has already completed the Wainwrights (214 Lakeland fells most beloved by the late Arthur Wainwright, who published a set of brilliant, illustrated walking guides in the 1950s and 60s) and the Nuttalls (all English summits over 2,000 feet, in a book by John and Anne Nuttall). The guide book detailing the 1,000 footers is written by Bill Birkett so the list is, inevitably, referred to as the Birketts. Walkers exchange notes on the fell tops. “This is my hundredth Birkett” or “I’m not doing the Birketts but I’ve done the Wainwrights”.
The Birketts guide book gives routes for walking between several 1,000 foot summits on the same outing (to maximise the efficiency of list-achievers) but, inevitably, this means that there is not always a path. The book will say, enigmatically, “traverse the hillside in a rough easterly direction” or “ascend by the stone wall, climbing the hillside”. (Note for non-UK readers: this is perfectly lawful. The land in question is access land, which means it is privately owned but walkers have the right to cross it so long as they cause no damage).
On the walk in question the book said “descend to the left of the pond, picking up a path through trees to a gate”. We could see the pond. We could see the trees (a forestry plantation). But there was no hint of a path through the forestry (the book was published in 1997 so plenty of time for a path to be overgrown) and no other obvious way to get beyond it. So we pressed on, bent double and sometimes almost on our knees, pushing through low lying branches. I could hear Nigel grumbling at the dog. She was having no trouble at all making progress so she passed the time whilst she was waiting for us by getting her lead entangled in the trees. Then I heard “Can you help? I’m completely stuck.” Eventually we stopped laughing (me) and cursing (Nigel) and worked out a way to unstick Nigel and get to the other side.
Happy days and another success for the pen.
Most of all, Roger is continuing to prove its worth in the car. When I’m in the passenger seat I can see the side of Nigel’s face. I get a lot of lip reading cues from that, and I can hear him much better over the traffic noise because of the Roger pen, so conversation is a lot easier. Put more honestly, we can actually HAVE conversations, which we couldn’t before. It’s hard to put a price on that, especially if you are spending four hours in a car (round trip) and trying to have a good time.
PS Another note for non-UK readers. Someone asked me what a fell is (thank you, Di). “Fell” is a northern English word (from the original Norse!) referring to a hill, mountain or stretch of high moorland. So fell walking means the same as hill walking, really, but the Lake District and Pennine hills are usually referred to as fells.