From out of the Past (Part One)

Post:    This item, From out of the Past, is in three unconnected parts, and actually appears in Charlie’s Book Four on Page 131, but for me it summarises beautifully the love of cycling that both Charlie and I were able to enjoy earlier in the last century !

It makes it sound as though I am very old, and in some ways I suppose I am, but at heart I am still an adolescent enjoying life awheel and exploring everywhere. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the next two weeks.


We humans are creatures of moods.  They pass across our life like some stray wisps of mist that foretell the coming of night on the mountain tops.  Sometimes we brush them aside like the wind disperses the mist; sometimes we cause them to stay a little-while until the next mood captures our fancy.  Our moods are mists on the mountains.  We cannot capture a mist, bringing it to our mountain from afar; we must push our heads into the sky and wait.  We have stormy days, when the mists of our mood drive past in quick succession, the one pushing the other off till night comes down.  We have clear days too, when the blue of our skies is faultless and barren, as the brazen weariness of an Indian summer sky.  But sometimes we have English days of summer breezes and straying wisps that we can hold.

I am hold of a mood, a mist obscuring the present, and bringing up the past.  The past, that is always better than the future or the present because it is distorted like the mist distorts the mountains.  Grandeur is assumed by little things, and big things loom in a high horizon.  I have much to draw upon, though my road-mind can only swing about in ten years of time.  Much can happen in a less space of time than that.

Those things that happened came marching out in the order of their happening like a long procession, but they are now memories, and are held in ordered sequence no more.  They wander back and forth at will, bumping about in their fat circlet of ten years like a small boat on a long anchor-rope.  The past works like that in the mind, and after all, the future is only a procession waiting to be released in the same way.  The present is in process of release, but the present lacks the cohesion of the future and the freedom of the past.  It is an everlasting Now that crawls a second at a time, leaves nothing behind and reaches no finality.  It is really immovable, in that it never had a start and has no journey’s end.  I don’t like it; I want to feel something more tangible.  In the future there lies something that now seems reachable amongst lots of unreachable things, so the future has the merit of clean, undamaged prospects.  We can dream ahead.

But the past has a concrete base.  What lies there belongs to me, to ransack and play about with at will.  Some shattered unreachable from the one-time future lies there, but there are a lot of things I did reach.  I can’t destroy the past, neither can I hide it away, except from you.  It is not a region of regrets like many pasts are, neither is it a land of never-never, bloated, puffed into magnificence by constant incursions into it.  They are assumptive, these memories of mine, but they have at least the merit of a grain of truth.


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There was an Easter spent at Nant Gwynant.  I remember one of the chaps who’s misfortune compels him to spend a third of his life in semi-somnolence at a bank.  On Easter Saturday morning the office desk chained him, so he must needs ‘sprint the rapid miles’ to make Gwynant that night.  In one of those very occasional bursts of fellow-feeling, I had promised to guide him to our camp-site, which he did not know, so we arranged to meet at Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30pm.

The day was lovely.  I got away alone that afternoon; there are times when you feel like being alone for a while, and this was one of them.  I was on the bike; I think I had tea Rhyd Ddu, near the Snowdon Ranger; I know I crossed that magnificent little pass called Bwlch Gylfyn or Gyfelin.  There is a lake on the summit with an island in the middle that tradition asserts posesses moveable qualities, hence the name ‘Llyn Rywarchen’ which means ‘Lake of the Floating Sod’.  The lake isn’t striking, but there is a striking view of Snowdon from there, a finely contoured peak, and worthy of its title ‘Y Wyddfa’.  From that lake, looking in the other direction – down the pass – there  is a line of crags called Craig-y-Bere on the north side and overlooking the road.  They cannot be above 1500 ft high, but they hang over the pass as if tottering.

Strangely enough, you hardly descend ten feet before they seem suddenly to have flopped back and lost all their grandeur.  The bottom of Bwlch Gylfyn is marred woefully by quarrying; the first village is a long, dismal, stone-built place called Nanttle, and when I went through, the road to Caernarvon had no attraction to speak of, except a rare following wind and a gently contoured highway.  That is the fault of taking the Bwlch Gylfyn road; you come from a fine bit of Snowdonia and immediately descend into a country that is neither mountain or plain or even hilly.  It falls flat when you have just bloated yourself, so to speak, on beauty.  About two miles short of Caernarvon I turned along a lane to get to the Caernarvon-Beddgelert road about one and a half miles out of the first named place.  The wind, coming from the south-east, brought rain, real Welsh rain, and turning towards Beddgelert, I came up against it, rain and wind and those swinging contours that make you ‘flog it’ up-wind.  Night didn’t creep up, it jumped down as though it had been waiting on the mountains.  The loveliness of a Spring day had changed into a wild night as in Winter, February, or early March.

It was just then, on the first mile with that trying foursome that so often links together against the cyclist, that my mood changed suddenly enough to startle me.  Though I have really set out with the intention of describing it, I find that I can’t do it proper justice.  Maybe it’s a relic of primitive animalism in me that the conditions awoke.  Put it down as an absolute carelessness of anything, and couple it with savage joy; the savage joy of a wild thing.  That wind smote me hard with its needle-stings of rain, till my face might have smarted had I been capable of feeling.  I was incapable of feeling even the tough tug when the black road bent upwards; just stamping the pedals down as they came up.  Bettus Garmon, stretched in a long line of dim lights along each side of the road, crept back till an upward tilt and a tearing of the wind at my cape forced me to dismount. On that walk a noise came through the wind like an incessant chatter, and only some distance beyond where the wind had itself alone and whistled across a vast blank, did I realise the chattering sound had been the stream where it crosses under the road at Bettus Garmon.  Then I became conscious of a kind of dark spaciousness on the right, and I found it was Llyn Cwellyn.  There was a space of interior satisfaction at that, though why, I don’t know, because I didn’t much care if I never made my destination so long as the wind whipped me hard all the time.

I had got over that long start up which preludes a longer slant down into Beddgelert when a motor-car shot a pair of dragon’s eyes at me, and kept me fascinated till I could have run full tilt into them, but the instinct of human safety in me is stronger than the foolish fascination that lures ‘daddy-long-legs’ to the cruel candle flame, and I curved aside, inches clear of the purring shape that passed.  That brought me down to the bed-rock fact that my lamp was out.  How long I had travelled lightless I didn’t know: I couldn’t even be sure I’d lit the lamp at all !        In Beddgelert a few cyclists slouched under the porch of a hotel; a light or two shone without attraction; I crossed the bridge and made up Nant Gwynant.  The wind had lulled in the sheltered village, but in Gwynant it came up dead behind, and I soon passed Llyn-y-Dinas and climbed the little lane to the camp-site.  The boys were at supper, dry and comfortable, and pulled wry faces when I peeped in, drenched.  “Gimme a drink”, I said, asked the time (11pm) and bidding a “goodnight”, received a groan of sympathy in return as I turned back down the lane to keep my tryst.

Perhaps you have travelled up a deep valley in the black depth of a cloud-capped night, when the rain is falling and a cold breeze shakes the unseen trees above you.  You feel chilly little shivers at the gusts that come on the open places till the gradual, relentless gradient warms you up.  Down below, at the valley bottom you had arched trees over your head, not seen, but rather felt – a suggestion of inclosure and vague scents that come off the wet leaves, and rustlings in the dark mingled with the even fall of rain.  As you ascend you sense a change – you have become aware that the trees arch one side only, and a freer play of rainy wind, has come from the other side.  The valley is below you now; you are climbing higher above it all the time, and you try to remember what lies below and across, lake and rocks and  mountainside, as you have seen it by day.  Then you cast away a memory half-formed; the lake, the rocks, the wild farther slope have no immediate existence; they are of an age you have passed or have yet to meet.  Below you is the wind and nothing more.  You get back from your thoughts of Day, back to your rightful place in Night.  To your ears comes a sound – a noise – a clamour – and then the dying of it.  You have passed a stream that shouts, deep in its own ravine.  The trees have gone; the streams go rushing by more frequently; the road takes on a steeper tilt; the wind comes up stronger, colder, and the rain has a drive with it.  The sound of water that came and went at frequent intervals dies with the last thin trickle, and you have the wind and the rain, and a leveller road…… you reach the summit.

Thus I came to Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30 on a wild Easter Saturday night.  At Pen-y-Gwryd there is a vastness around; the threshold of things great…… a little plateau below the great bulk of Snowdonia, where three roads branch their various ways; where man has set a small hotel and a few contemptible sheds.  I was sheltered, but far above on Lliwedd and Crib Goch the everlasting roar of the wind sounded like ceaseless breakers on a distant shore, pounding, pounding, in a timeless existence.  Nothing more – not even the faintest silhouette of a peak, not the stir of life nor the flicker of a lamp other than my own sulky glimmer too weak to reach the floor.  Staring into Night, and with thoughts such as attune themselves to a mood borne in Night, I passed the midnight hour unnoticed.  Then came the realisation that my friend had not appeared; I went back into the drizzle and pushed against the wind down the open emptiness of Cwm Pen-y-Gwryd, venturing further towards Capel Curig.  That way he must come.  Then a light wavering ahead, drawing closer – a faint, bulky silhouette, and a shout of welcome.  My friend was with me……… the spell was broken.

In the Highest Pennine – Part Two

The farmer led us to a position of vantage, the better to give us directions which, delivered in broad Lowland Scots, were difficult to understand.  However, we had two excellent allies, a wind due west which we must keep to our faces, and clear weather in spite of the stormy skies.

The first cairn called Moss Shop was in full view.  We gained it easily, afterwards bearing right on rising ground to cut out the great loop of Maize Beck, which we would have to cross later.  By this means we also avoided the deeper peat hags or runnels, which are a problem to cross, often many feet deep with sheer yielding sides and water in them.  They are a trap, sometimes almost impossible to get out of.  The going was better than we had expected, rather wet and heavy, and slow with the loaded bikes.  In truth our luck was in, for the hills were sharp and clear in spite of great banks of black cloud sailing like stately galleons, too high to be effective.  In half an hour we passed between two small cairns our guide had called “herricks”, and farther along another cairn surrounded by thistles confirmed our direction.  Now Maize Beck appeared, bearing across our line of vision from its headwaters on Rasp Hill.

Gazing round, we realised the force behind the Birkdale shepherd’s warning.  This is not a land for the street lover.  Vast waves of brown and black moorland rose to black shoulders with black peaks beyond, the very heart of Cross Fell, the highest Pennine (2,902 feet), the wildest moorland in England.  Not a tree nor a building, nor the track of man or beast lay within sight.  The silence of it, the weird broodiness lay like a hand on us, for here we saw the primeval world, unchanging through the ages.  It was all so magnificent; it entered into our innermost selves as we stared at the three-thousand feet altitudes so utterly desolate and forsaken.

Cross Fell is feared in the North country.  It is the cradling place of the Helm Wind, that terrible local tornado so utterly foreign to these islands.  This gale begins in a kind of south-easterly whirlwind and devastates everything in its path, throwing huge boulders into the air and even lifting the roofs off building made to withstand the the fierce winter gales of the district.  Coming with the roar of an express train, it gives anyone caught in its trail a poor change indeed.  Happily, the Helm-Wind is a rare occurrence, and is entirely local and short-lived.  The fell itself covers a great area of entirely trackless moorland, largely bog which is in many  places capable of swallowing a man without leaving any traces of his existence.  Nicholas Size, the Lakeland author, makes use of the Helmwind in his book “The Secret Valley”.  He says:

“The phenomenon of the Helmwind, which sometimes lasts for three days, is caused by a collision of two weather systems among the mountains.  It generally originates in the long valley running North and South near Cross Fell, and it is said that the clouds coming up from the East do not mingle with those coming from the West, but form long lines with a lane of clear sky between them; and the wind beneath forms an acute disturbance over a curiously localised area, which is sometimes in one valley, sometimes in another”.

I underline the ‘sometime lasts for three days’ because other authorities on this phenomenon do not agree with this.  Maize Beck was our guide.  Gradually we descended to it, traversed the bank for a likely crossing.  The fording was knee-deep, icy cold, and not very comfortable to bare feet.  Fortune again favoured us; we had no difficulty in finding a promised cairn from where a soft turfy track the width of a main road led us up the brown slope – the ‘green band’ of the Birkdale Prophet.  With a last sharp climb we were in the Pass, rejoicing that without a falter we had crossed a corner of the dreaded wastes of Cross Fell.

With breathless suddenness, in the middle of the Pass, we came upon High Cup Nick.  This is a tremendous ravine, 500 feet deep, scooped from the solid bed of the pass in some unremembered convulsion, some ice-age never known.  The two sides, viewed from the head, are as identical as if they had been neatly clipped by some unimaginable scoop wielded by some impossible hand.  One might call it a monstrous cup laid on its side, so the name of it is extremely apt.  Far beyond, framed in the inverted arc of High Cup Nick, lay the Vale of Eden, rumpled and very green.  Our track was now distinct, an arduous scramble along the northern lip, suggesting danger in misty weather.  At the highest point we topped 2,000 feet.

Dusk came; we were ready to camp, but where water ran the chaotic rocks prohibited a pitch, and where green turf sprang beautifully underfoot water was entirely absent.  The darkening Vale lay in a huge sweep far below; towards Lakeland the mountains were already gathering the indistinctness of nightfall about them, and the foothills ahead of us rose in shapely billows of barren greenery.  Now encountering rock and loose scree, now on tangly heather, we hurried down to a gate, through a sheep pen, and reached a track we could ride, down, down, into the fold of the foothills a thousand feet below, where we found water and the most comfortable campsite.  Supper was a lazy period of supreme content, when Jo, at least, was happy in the retrospect of another conquest.  Came the steady drumming of the rain, and with it the muffled blackness of the Styx fell upon the fells.

The morning was clear and breezy.  Two full days ahead of us amongst the tempting scenery of the Dales; behind us – towering above us, in fact, Cross Fell and High Cup Nick.  There was desire for hurry.

Appleby is a venerable little town, very quiet, very clean, and the river Eden which flows serenely through the heart of the town is also very clean.  Its lovely situation in the middle of the valley has no doubt been many times cursed by its citizens of the Middle Ages when, constantly harassed by the fierce Border raiders, it was often sacked and burned, and the people massacred.  There are relics of those very uncertain days in the fine old church which dates its first rector from the year 1070.  And on the tablets lining the walls one may read names familiar in the bloody pages of English history.

From Appleby to Kirkby Stephen are ten miles of crinkly lanes and old world village drenched with the turbulent history of the North.  A happier relic is the village maypole at Warcop, still, I believe, the centre of the May Day festivities.  A gossiping woman at a restaurant in Kirkby Stephen kept us until dirty weather came rolling down the Dales.  Up the long depression of Mallerstang we were at times beaten to a standstill by wind and rain until the turn to Hawes at the Moorcock junction gave us the favour of Boreas, down to Hardraw.

In the Highest Pennine013

At the head of a ravine which is effectively barred by the property of the ‘Green Man’ Inn is the famous Hardraw Force.  A notice board invites people to view the fall and ‘enquire at the hotel’.  As much from principle as from motives of economy, we opened the gate, passed through some henpens, and, quite aware that we were being watched, we boldly (or brazenly) walked to the fall.  In full spate, it presented a magnificent picture, pouring over a lip and falling eighty feet sheer onto an islet of rock which smashed the smooth glass of it into a million flying spraylets.  A path passing behind the Force enabled us to look through the wall of water, ourselves guarded from the remotest splash.  This peculiarity is shared to some degree by Thornton Force near Ingleton.  The once beautiful vicinity is ruined by a bandstand, an artificial shrubbery, and some refreshment huts, empty and rotting in the damp atmosphere.  I shudder to think of it during the height of a holiday weekend.  As we walked back a man locked the gate, approached us, and quietly diverted us to the hotel.  Still bold (or brazen) we walked through the building, out at a side door, and were well awheel before the astonished innkeeper could challenge us.

Wensleydale was lovely in a light drizzle like a half revealing veil, heightened by evening tranquillity as we passed down the east side on a road that lifted and fell as gently as a breath.  From old Askrigg we crossed the swollen Ure by a wooden bridge to Aysgarth, then a quiet lane into Bishopdale, a minor Dale that always seems to impart a rich atmosphere of settled prosperity (a rare thing to capture in these days).

Still raining, dusk creeping down, and a hard face-wind, the road gradually ascending by the river.  Jo remembered a sheltered nook above Cray Gill, but that is overlooking Wharfedale and we had little stomach to struggle another thousand feet, wet and hungry.  The hedged roadside offered no camping spaces.

Bishopdale narrowed; the misty fells closed and loomed ahead; the road tilted, bringing us from the saddle.  Where we might have snatched a campsite the wind, now awake again, howled defiance.  The summit of Kidstones Pass, grey, cold, unreal in a shifting half-night.  We began to descend; a swing left, a swing right, a straight drop, till, where a small aspiring Hardraw Force breasted a diminutive cliff we pulled up, and behind a wall we found all the space and shelter we wanted.  A sanctuary there, where was cooked the simplest of orchard fare, and superlative smells floated out of  a dry tent door to mingle with the rain-mists wandering on Kidstones Fell.

Now the last, easy day, with home a bare fifty miles away.  At breakfast we had the roar of the little Hardraw for accompaniment.  A hundred yards away a copious streamlet showed in half a dozen gleaming places half a dozen white cascades.  A mist cut the fell tops into ridges of perfect evenness; Wharfedale, below, was faintly green through the everlasting drizzle.

There was no hurry.  We kept as close as may be to the brimming Wharfe, on the road that hugs the east bank from Kettlewell.  At Kilnsey, across the river, great activity prevailed, for this was Showday, and Kilnsey Show, any Dalesman will tell you, brings forth magnificent stock.  Wharfedale is always very beautiful, easily reached, but no less pleasant for that, and at monolith-crowned Rylstone, where we branched west for Ribblesdale, the bonnie heather gleamed a warm purple.  The crinkly plain by Gargrave, the unsteady lanes of the Pendle country, and with Pendle itself looming high in the borrowed grandeur of mists, and final familiar roads homewards – always a reluctant way.

While plotting another ‘dotted line’ route, Jo keeps an eye on High Cup Nick, and the further possibilities of the Highest Pennines.

In the Highest Pennine – Part One



In the Highest Pennine011Jo’s enthusiasm runs high on the unexplored.  When she is prospecting the possibilities of forgotten passes and ancient pathways she could not be happier, unless it be upon the actual exploration.  Every dotted line across the hill-shading of our maps is sure to receive attention sooner or later.  The fascination of the ‘dotted line’ dates from the first time she cast eyes on an Ordnance Survey in her earliest cycling days.  Someone had informed her that all dotted lines are tracks, and Jo implicitly believing, set her heart upon a certain wavering, heavily emphasised line that passed from peak to peak in the rough regions of Shap, regardless of the laws of natural contour.  The route lacked any track, but Jo’s boundless enthusiasm carried her over a long series of disheartening obstacles before she discovered that she had been attempting to trace a county boundary !

In the course of time one learns to understand maps more thoroughly.  Experience is a hard teacher, and in the case of exploring alleged tracks encumbered with a bicycle the lessons are sure to be remembered.  Difficulties crop up which people who never leave the roads cannot imagine.  It is generally believed that Britain is a settled country where Nature is well tamed, but that is far from the truth.  A man may yet get lost and never be seen again, or may wander for days in desolate land without habitation of any sort.  Paths over the mountains are often too faint to be traced with certainty; climatic conditions may be such as to make a moderately difficult passage impossible, even in summer.  The person who frequents the solitudes faces, at times, pitiless conditions which call for determination and much careful thought.  That is half the pleasure of it.  He alone has the right to say if it is worthwhile.

High Cup Nick is a natural phenomena in the limestone of Cross Fell, and is reached by a track of sorts [now part of the Pennine Way] between Teesdale and the Vale of Eden.  The name, High Cup Nick, is very expressive.  It fascinates.  Jo had talked of it for months, a prelude to certain action at the first opportunity, for High Cup Nick is just beyond the range of an ordinary weekend.  The chance came when the Cotton strike of 1932 took place.  Jo works in the mill, I was unemployed.  As it was desirable to cover much ground by Saturday evening, we arranged that Jo should leave Preston soon after noon, and I should follow with all speed from Bolton.  By thus minimising delay we hoped to make camp on the high ground between Brough and Middleton-in-Teesdale, a hundred miles from home.

After a long dry spell, the weather had broken.  A night or two of heavy rain and drenching showers during the day with strong westerly winds told too plainly of the best we could hope for.  I started late, riding hard across the paths of many a fierce downpour until the turn for Quernmore valley put the wind dead behind.  After tea I entered Lunesdale.  The river was a swirl of spate; at Caton by Lancaster it flowed brown and full-lipped, encroaching the low fields; at Kirkby Lonsdale 12 miles higher the river boiled over the rocks in mad endeavour.  All the twentysix miles of the Dale to Sedbergh were changing panoramas of threatening clouds in a windy sky, brown fells reflecting the sky in moods from sullen to gay, and always chattering waters within sound.  Dusk in Rawtheydale, a gradually rising road, the noisy stream at hand, shapely mountains between which the road pursued a winding way.  Cautley Spout was a white flake in a ravine already filled with night.  Jo was still ahead; I lit my lamp and rode harder along the lonely highway, over its final steeper pitches to the black, windy summit from which the dim lights of Kirkby Stephen lay scattered below.  At 9.30pm in that highland railway town the silence of sleep had already settled.  Under an inky canopy I crossed the Vale of Eden to Brough, that ancient, stone-built village clustered below the ruins of its castle.  Brough lives in less fearful days now – Brough was abed and secure, with only the wind wandering abroad.

Jo was riding well.  I had seen nothing of her, and felt the cold hand of doubt.  Was she really ahead?  I could only go on.  The wild road that crawls over the fells to Middleton-in-Teesdale pulled me up, and I faced a long walk uphill.  High above me a light flashed, and hopefully I signalled back.  The light remained stationary, so I hurried until I came within hail.  “Thank Heaven it is you!”, came the response, “I’m tired out”.

Jo had waited until after the usual time, then fearing I had got away early, she had hurried.  For eighty miles we had chased each other with no more than a few minutes between us!  Below the summit there was a bridge over a peaty burn; gratefully we camped in the lee of it.

The morrow began cold and stormy.  A passing shepherd peeped in to congratulate us on the choice of a comfortable place on the rain-sodden fells and held our attention with tales of winter storms and inky mists when even these weathered old hill-men had lost themselves for hours at once.

Our journey eastwards crossed a high ridge at 1,574 feet and took us over miles of purple moorlands swept in turn by sun and rain, till Teesdale lay below, and we swooped down into Middleton.  The main road up the dale gave us a hard struggle in the teeth of the wind.  We saw the distant fleck and heard the roar of High Force a quarter of a mile away heading the steep ravine.  The next half hour yielded three miles of hard pedalling to Langdon Beck, where we abandoned the highway.  This road, on its way to Alston, becomes the highest main road in England at 1,942 feet.  This is a land of high roads threading their difficult ways over the highest Pennine – the bleakest country below the Cheviot.

Behind a wall we shivered through lunch, a meal which terminated abruptly in a rush of rain.  We tramped along a stony track for four desolate miles of successive summits, wind and rain raking us all the time, and ahead on Cross Fell, such a grey swirl of cloud as might dishearten less enthusiastic travellers.  The track, in a shocking condition, tumbled us down to Cauldron Snout, that waterfall with the expressive name which must surely bring many people enquiring ‘what’s in a name?’  Normally the Tees descends a series of great steps; this day it was a raging slide of white water, fearful to look upon, and shaking the very earth about it.  At the foot of Cauldron Snout, Maize Beck pours in, forming the angles of three counties, Durham, Cumberland and the North Riding of Yorkshire.  A decrepit hut close by saved us from a terrific storm that swept down from Cross Fell with an awful show of cloud.  By a small bridge above the falls we gained access to Cumberland, and following the course of Maize Beck, through several fields – hardly won intake from the predominant moors – crossed stiles and gates to Birkdale, reputed the loneliest farm in England.  We had tea there.

No modern complications disturb life at Birkdale.  The nearest neighbour lives two miles away, the nearest village is eight, and the nearest railway station eleven and a half.  From the first of May until the end of September the postman comes twice a week (if necessary), but for the remaining seven months not at all, the reason for which is plain to see when one looks round at the vast wilderness of black fells and their intersecting maze of peat hags with brown becks, so often unfordable.  The old farmer spoke of long weeks of isolation when the snow makes the whole region inaccessible, the search for buried sheep, the relief when all are safely penned and the stock warmly stabled.  All life marks time, waiting patiently for the release of Spring.  Four people and a tiny baby, then only ten weeks old, shut away from the outer world, provisioned already against the Autumn floods.  The young woman with the baby turned to Jo and said with deep fervour, “Oh, if I could only go to the warm south for a few weeks!”  Even then, so early in September, the great shoulders of the Pennine had the stamp of winter upon them.  She feared the winter with her baby in mind, but the old farmer thought more of the big thaws that change the clean, far-stretching snow into wild torrents of water.

Our host displayed interest when we announced our intention to cross the fells to Dufton in Edendale, eight miles away.  Came questions.  Were we used to fell country?  Did we know of the hundred traps set by nature and the weather-demon?  They were manifold on Cross Fell.  Unwary travellers are better away, initiating themselves on the more gentle hills of the south, not causing trouble and inconvenience to the shepherd folks at the busiest season.  His tone softened at our reply.  We were no plains-people out on a day trip.  Not strangers to the hills.  Our whole beings were wrapped up in them.  They were our life, and our experience was nothing light or shadowy.

The discouragement was not unjust.  People often come to Birkdale for the purpose of crossing High Cup Head, usually day-trippers woefully unprepared in the matter of clothing and equipment, expecting to find a kind of mild moorland footpath.  As a rule they come back hours later, baffled.  One party set off at noon in high summer, wandered through the day and night, and regained Birkdale by a mere chance at 4am, utterly worn out.  There was recalled the rare pluck of a girl who had twisted off the heels of both shoes, had limped through the night with a large nail drilling her foot, whilst both feet were badly cut and bleeding.  She had suffered agonies, but had the spirit to smile and cheer the rest of the party.  Commonly people came back to Birkdale later than midnight, begging for accommodation.  The shepherd vigorously denied the existence of any track for the first two and a half miles, though the Ordnance Survey show one.  He said he was willing to post the whole route if approached on the matter by the authorities, an offer that must be  regarded as very generous.  If there is mist about he advised nobody to cross.

[To be continued on Christmas Eve]


Sunday, 10 December 2017 – Website Update !

Now it is time for the unpalatable news, we have run out of material – well not quite – to publish on the website.  All of Charlie’s stories and journal entries have now been published, either on this website or in the four volumes of Charlie’s books.

However, what has not been published are the odd jottings and poems and occasional MSS that pop up out of his many records.  There are also many small photographs stuck into his photo albums which can be scanned, although I fear we will lose some detail in the black and white reproduction.  But I am going to have a go.  So all is not yet lost.  In order to preserve continuity and keep our readers interest, I am reverting to Sunday only posts and thus making what we have left last a few months longer.  I truly hope you will find this proposal acceptable.

I do have a problem with the material in Charlie’s four volumes already published.  To serialise them on this website will undermine those followers who have invested in the published books, and I do not think that is fair.  So unless I am inundated with requests to carry on regardless and serialise the books on this website we could be looking at the end of this website in the fullness of time.  I will do my utmost to keep things going as long as possible.

Finally, with regard to the engaging story of Charlie’s travels in the Caucasus mountains, published last week, it was all fiction.  But you must admit he did have the descriptive gift of writing to paint a picture !  In fact, one of our RSF members, Steve Gregson, who has worked all over the world as an oil pipeline engineer, and who has at least knowledge of the Caucasus, was given this story to review by me, and his comments sought.  Steve said it all rang true, although he did not know it was fiction at the time of reading, as I needed him not to know that it was written as fiction.

Charlie’s original manuscript relating his travels in the Caucasus – or so we thought, buried somewhere in the mountains of material I have, was signed and dated, and that date was the day before he took off for a fortnight’s cycle camping in the Scottish Highlands.  Game set and match to Charlie I think?

Somewhere in Caucasus

 This fascinating account of an extended trip by Charlie and his wife Peg, (her nickname changes several times during their lives !) detailing their travels in the Caucasus mountains one summer in the late 1930’s was a real tour de force. 


         by Charlie Chadwick

        I am writing perched on a slab of rock that commands a breath-taking view down a tremendous gorge that must be a quarter of a mile deep.  We are nine thousand feet by the altimeter, sheltered by a cliff from the sun, and we command a view across a ravine of great waves or rock and earth rising to profiled peaks of snow.  The scene is quite common to travellers in the higher Caucasus, but of a beauty and spaciousness unimaginable to people whose misfortune is permanent imprisonment in England.  They cannot possibly comprehend the startling brilliance of these tapering spires of snow against the blue of a sky utterly unlike the blue of English skies any more than they can visualise the wild ruthlessness of these regions when swept by storm fiends.  In the Caucasus you live like that and mould your fancies to the fanciful caprices of the Alps.  They are tender sometimes and sometimes they are terrible; they give shelter and a precarious existence to a host of little human races that reflect their surroundings in their many moods.  We are in love with the Caucasus, but sometimes I feel our love is not reciprocated, and then I wonder why we love them, but love them still.

Peggy (his wife’s other nickname is Jo) is just now engaged in patient barter with a leather skinned old Lesghian for a trinket which he is unwilling to lose.  She will get it, and my pack will be the heavier for it.  Fully a fifth of the hard-pressed rucksack is taken up by the kind of ornamental souvenir dear to the feminine heart, and if we travel these ranges much longer they will become a problem in transport.  I have repeated many times that I do not mind how many times she tries her wiles on the natives, but I do mind carrying cargo of this description up and down about twenty thousand feet a day for weeks on end, until we reach a ‘postie’.  There is a small ebony box exquisitely carved which she wrested from a filthy old brigand in the Kutai country.  She says she would not part with that box for all the world, as she considers she risked her life for it.  She risked mine too, for his cronies set envious eyes on our packs all the time she was wrangling, and I was glad to get away.

Life is very hard here, and is lived to the limit sometimes.  For three weeks now the weather has been gorgeous, the day temperature on the exposed ranges often exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and for three weeks we have not pitched our tent at night, being too tired.  Without supper we have just rolled up in our sleeping bags and slept like logs till the sun has scorched our faces, or the morning dew, falling like heavy rain, has roused us.  Often we have the opportunity to sleep in the huts of the village or mountain people, or in the occasional rude farm shelters, but we rarely do so for very good reasons.  Though usually hospitable to their last crumb, these people don’t seem to know the meaning of cleanliness.  Godliness is not a strong trait with them, but if cleanliness comes next it lags a long way behind.  The places crawl with insects to which they appear marvellously invulnerable, but we are, on the other hand, marvellously vulnerable, and a night spent thus takes days to get us back to our original comparative comfort.  Coupled with this plague is usually a stench which is only exceeded by the next door neighbour !

Sometimes the food we are able to obtain is hardly enough for one, let alone two healthy travellers, but we share it out and if we are short we simply have to go without until we strike kindly peasants or can gather fruit for ourselves.  Hospitality in this poverty-stricken country is a matter of common courtesy, and scarcity, even famine, is not new to these people.  More than once the inhabitants of remote regions have waxed ecstatic at our arrival, and for Peggy (who is always treated with great respect and often with deference) the very best is only good enough.  The very best used to seem very bad, but now the common black bread we used to abhor, the awful treacly liquid they call coffee, and a greenish abomination known as cheese go down quite well.  Indeed it is a treat to get this cheese and black bread at the same time, and if we are on the European side, we may even get a nasty kind of vodka instead of coffee.  The peasants seem very sorry when we leave them, especially the children, for Peggy is always a favourite among the kiddies.  We called at one hamlet stuck on a ledge half-way down a precipice, and when we asked for food the place was ransacked, each house contributing some small item.  At another place an escort volunteered to take us through several versts of forests which were infested with unpleasant things such as bears, bandits and wolves, though wolves are hardly dangerous in August, and bears prefer more rocky regions.  Ghouls and spirits seemed to be denizens of these particular parts according to the headman of the hamlet, so we submitted to the escort.  Two mules were brought along for us to ride, but two versts sufficed for us to decide that mules were never intended to give bodily comfort to English people, and after that we walked.

Each day our way has been up mountain sides for thousands of feet or down precipitous slopes along tracks often painfully steep and dangerous, often as faint as the tiny wisps of cloud across a Caucasus sunset.  Once we traversed through a bed of cactus-like plants that differed from its American prototypes only by its superior prickliness.  These grow in little patches of desert land in low places such as plateau’s in the foothills, where the sun beats down on the dust called earth till it literally burns through the shoes.  It is better in the gorges, though at the bottom the heat produces a heavy, deadening atmosphere and travel is much more laborious through bog, marsh, or amongst great masses of boulders thrown down by the towering crags above.

Peggy surprises me.  She has the endurance of two men and ten times the enthusiasm.  It is she who makes the trail along this wilderness – she who faces up to natural barriers as bravely as one would do if no dangers exist – who faces terrifying passes as though she were merely crossing the little Larig Ghru of Scotland !  And when trifling dangers are present she shrinks to me with little shudders that are admirably well acted !

Last Tuesday we reached a spur of the ridge east of Elbrus (Elbrus is the highest peak of the Caucasus, 18,526 ft ) from where, at 7,500 ft we obtained a magnificent prospect of the ‘foothills’.  These foothills are about the general height of the Scottish Highlands, and as wild as Inverness-shire.  Amongst them was the town of Tabu nestling in a green fold, and besides a population of 25,000 boasts some fair-sized buildings and a railway termini, a branch of the Baku Railway of Cis-Caucasus (European Caucasus).  Civilisation – a bath, a change of clothing and a square meal of white bread and real butter was within two days walk, but Peg was unmoved, unyielding to persuasion, and led the way back into the brutishly inhuman regions of the Elbrus system.  After five months wandering between peaks and gorges, from glaciers to sweltering forests where you can get the icy blast of winds from the snows and breezes as hot as the breath from a furnace-tuyer in the same day, this turning away from a spell of comfort and plenty required some strength of will !

But we will have to make contact with civilisation soon.  Our packs contain a pile of MSS we have not had the remotest chance to post for six weeks, a growing pile of ornaments belonging to Peg (to which I have referred) a dozen rolls of exposed films and only two rolls unused, and some fine species of the flora of this latitude carefully pressed in a linguistic book on Russian that is as much use in this cosmopolitan land as a guide book to Abyssinia in the Antarctic.  Our boots, repaired time after time in a cruder way each time, have broken, letting water in like a sieve, our clothing is patched in places and in places beyond patching, our rucksacks have at last bursted [sic] here and there where the bumps they have received have been too much for the Manchester spun yarn they are made of; our camera has had far rougher use than it was made for, and is patched up, and my razor has gone past the sharpening stage.  It is a week since I shaved.  Yesterday I caught Peg cutting a notch in her stick with it to celebrate seeing a grizzly bear.  Five notches represent five bears.  It is a great joke when we see a bear.  Peg flies in one direction and grizzly ambles off in the other !  Although harmless enough in summer if they are left alone, the brown bears of the Caucasus are an abiding terror to Peg.  Snakes, toads, and bears are her bogeys.  She would go miles to avoid seeing a snake although they are not common and usually sneak away on our approach.  The same with toads or frogs.  Once the sight of two of these harmless creatures made such an impression on her that she lay awake all night and had breakfast ready just after dawn, the sooner to get away.

The most important reason for our evacuation of these provinces is the approach of winter.  Although the sun shines so strongly now, by the end of the month the autumn storms will close the passes and all the heights over four thousand feet in deep drifts of snow for the next seven months.  The gorges will be flooded with torrents, and the upland farmers will have come down to the more kindly lowland country with their flocks and cattle.  We shall perhaps return then to civilisation, to that bath, to a change of clothing, to a square meal – and to cigarettes.  I haven’t had a smoke for ten days !  It will feel great to roll in luxury in a railway carriage along the hot coasts of the Caspian Sea, across to the Mediterranean – to sail for home – unless Peg gets it into her head to drag me off in search of the sun and the warmth that she loves as much as travel itself – to some other outlandish country in the Tropics.

Peg has won the trinket; the leather-faced old Lesghian has tucked a knife into the recesses of his clothing.  That penknife looks like mine.

Yes, it was my knife.  She says we can manage with the razor………

We are to cross the Zakatel Pass onto the Asiatic side before the snows come down.  Peg says so.  Fourteen thousand feet up, across the Neo glacier, and as rough a track as she can find.  That means another week before I can post these notes.  Never again will I entrust Peg to make the route.  Weird and wonderful are the workings of a woman’s mind, though I have ceased to trouble.  She will have her way.

The sun is going down and twilight is unknown here.  We must go lower yet – the night winds are cold at nine thousand feet.   Au revoir !