The lovely Challenge Sophie recently asked me a very simple question. “What makes you feel alive?” Very simple because we all intuitively know the answer to that question. It’s an easy one. It’s those things we do that make us excited, make us smile, make us satisfied, make us feel good. It may or may not be something we do regularly. But it is always something that makes us happy.
When she asked I had only just come back from my big Wild West motorcycle tour (I’ve started blogging about it – read part one and part two) and that trip was an easy way to answer her. Riding that Harley through some of the best scenery I have ever seen in my life definitely made me feel alive. The heat, the views, the road, the bike, the company – all of it. I relaxed and smiled more than I have done for a long time. I loved it.
Her question got me thinking more than the very immediate. Thanks to my inability to choose anything on which to concentrate, I have had the pleasure of doing so many different things that have made me feel alive. Those crazy adrenaline fuelled activities are an obvious observation here – the jet skiing, sky diving, bungee jumping. But thinking back there was one thing that came to mind very quickly, one thing that I have not really done for a while. Hiking.
I have done a number of challenge hikes over the last few years, including Spires and Steeples and the Yorkshire Three Peaks, but those were planned events that involved training and preparation. The hiking I used to do was just for the sake of it – to go and see what was there. My parents are definitely to blame here. On holiday and in fact lots of random weekends we would head out into the countryside for a long walk. We would pack a rucksack and go across Dartmoor, along a coastal path, and if it was a Sunday, up a massive hill. I must find some old photographs. I had a proper walking stick with loads of stick pins nailed on, and was proud of it. I remember the “sweetie stops” which encouraged my sister and I to make it to the next bench. I remember reaching our destination on all of those hikes and the feeling of happiness and satisfaction that it brought. Hiking for no reason other than to get out into the countryside made me feel alive. I’d actually promised myself much earlier in the year that I would rekindle that feeling by climbing a big hill at some point this year, and there is no time like the present to so I got on with it.
I chose Kinder Scout as the perfect place, mainly because it was easily doable in one day but also because I knew I should get a pretty good view from the top. It is a couple of hours drive away, and at eight miles would be three to four hours hiking. It was like old times. I got my OS map, compass, whistle, jelly babies, waterproofs, sun cream and other bits and bobs organised. I filled three SIGG bottles with water and popped some glucose tablets in my bag as the forecast was hot and humid. I tried on my old walking trousers to make sure they still fitted and searched out my dual layer 1000 mile socks. I then got up at the usual time for work on Friday but instead of heading to the office, I drove across country to Edale.
I parked in the large pay and display car park marked on the OS map by the village hall – it cost £5 for all day, where there were also public toilets. From there it was a short walk up to the Moorland Centre, the local information centre where if you haven’t already got organised you can buy a map and the helpful chap on the desk will talk you through the best routes. Then it as past the church up to the Nags Head pub, where the Pennine Way officially starts and finishes.
I chose to start on the Pennine Way, heading towards Upper Booth Farm. There are lots of gates and lots of sheep, but it’s a nice easy path up a slight incline. Even at 9.30am it was very hot and I had to create my own shade by wearing my old Adidas cap, I’m glad I remembered that. Once at the farm I continued along the Penine Way towards Jacob’s Ladder, where the ascent really started. An old packhorse route, this route up Kinder Scout has recently been vastly improved by the National Trust who flew in boulders by helicopter to remake the path and try to stop further erosion of the peat. It’s quite a climb up – no need for your hands or anything, but the steps get taller and taller. There is a bridleway if you prefer, less steep but a longer ascent.
The route I’d chosen to take would have bypassed the trig point so I took a small there-and-back detour to make sure I saw it – I wanted to get to the top of a big hill, after all. I climbed over Noe Stool (to remind myself of clambering over various tors on Dartmoor) and from there I could see it, just a little further up and over the Kinder Plateau towards Kinder Low. It was like the beach up there – lots of soft sand on top of the peat that is degrading so much, with a few boulders scattered about. The top is really flat – not a ridge or point or anything like that, just a vast space and thanks to the beautiful day I could see for miles all around. I spent a good few minutes up there, taking in that feeling of being alive.
I made my way back to the other side of Noe Stool, and then headed east towards Pym Chair and Crowden Tower. The path was easy along this part; fairly flat and even thanks to more work done by the National Trust. I sat on top of Crowden Tower to have a snack, and once again enjoyed the views I had wanted to see. The path from there to the top of Grinds Brook continued to be easy to walk and navigate, along which I began to see other people doing the same route the other way around. I was soon about to find out why they’d chosen that way!
I stood at the crossroads at the top of Grinds Brook and looked around. I needed to go “straight on” here, which the map suggested would be quite a steep descent down into the valley. Those contour lines weren’t kidding! The hill dropped away in front of me very quickly. But more than that, it was just a mountain of uneven boulders of all sizes that I didn’t really believe was my way down. I double checked my location using the GPS app on my phone and I was absolutely correct, I had to commit to the scramble off the hill. If you don’t have it you should download OutDoors Great Britain, an incredibly useful GPS and Ordnance Survey app that can point out exactly where you are on an OS map, making using your physical map and compass a little easier (please don’t be tempted to use the app instead of a physical map, always as well as!). I made my way down the stream, using my hands a lot of the time and my bum on occasion too. Less of a hike, more of a bouldering expedition. I stopped after a short while and sat to one side watching other people make their way up. Yes, up would have been much easier, I should have done this hike the other way around. But I was having fun – it was hard work but I had a smile on my face as I continued to descend, following the brook as it got wider, deeper and faster. I had to cross the water a few times, made easy thanks to the large rocks all over the place acting as stepping stones, but eventually settled on the left side as the brook widened and the banks became higher.
The final mile or so of my hike was another well kept and even path back into Edale, and I came back into the village the other side of the Nag’s Head pub to complete the circle before heading back down to the car park.
The nine miles took just a little over four hours including stops, and it certainly did the job. The memories of hikes gone by all came flooding back and I smiled all the way home – I’m still smiling. I felt so alive; the climb up Jacob’s Ladder, the act of reaching the trig point on Kinder Scout, the scrambling down the boulders into the valley – every aspect made me work hard, made me concentrate on the moment, and was very satisfying.
What makes you feel alive? When are you doing it next?
PS: I am chasing my next adventure in the hope that it will open even more doors to help me kindle that feeling of being alive (and help me tick some more things off my bucket list!). I’d love it if you could vote for me to win one of the places available in the Big Blog Exchange. Thank you!