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Going Solo

Image for article Going Solo

So, exactly what is the best number for a group walk?

I was recently invited by a friend to attend a group walk up Helvellyn, with the promise of freshly prepared bacon butties on the summit. What’s not to like? Furthermore, another five of my friends would be going along too. In addition to them there'd also be somewhere in the region of twenty friends of friends. So quite a large group. 

My friendship with these half dozen individuals dates back about eight or nine years to the days when the ‘Live for the Outdoors’ forum was the place to be. With fellow walkers not only sharing words and pictures, but also arranging incredibly successful meetups. A number of walking groups grew out of the forum including The Rocktarts and NETTY (North Easterners Trudge To Yonder). Today over a dozen of my friends on social media date back to that time before we all made the shift over to Facebook and the various other social media channels. I’ve met each of them, either on the hill, in the pub, usually one leads to the other, or when they’ve come to visit George Fisher. Some have become very close friends.  The sharing of words and pictures and arranging meetups continued on Facebook and so the circle of friends grew. Incidentally, I’ve made some really good friends with individuals I first met as George Fisher customers, either on the shop floor or through social media. I first met my good friend Jeffrey as a customer and social media contributor, and now we find ourselves drinking coffee and putting the world to right.

Anyway back to the group walk. I’m afraid my writing style is about as disciplined as my navigation in poor conditions. Hence yesterday in thick cloud I left Green Gable and followed the cairns down to Base Brown instead of the cairns along to Brandreth and ultimately Honister where my car was parked. I eventually recognised my error and got myself back on track, and I should probably do that with this article.

A nine o’clock start from Swirls car park was agreed upon and the various groups of individuals, pairs and small parties in this eclectic Zen Diagram would head up to the summit shelter and enjoy a warm bacon buttie before deciding if they’d like to extend proceedings by walking the edges. New friendships would be made and beer would be drank at the end of it. All very sociable.

On the matter of beer and my inability to arrange a function in a readily available function room, I arrived late. That didn’t overly concern me. Walking solo I’d soon catch them up. Besides with folk travelling from as far as the midlands I was pretty sure it would be a staggered start. Incidentally, I had the previous evening invited a friend to join me. Their response amused me, "Nothing like a bit of notice, and that was nothing like a bit of notice."

I enjoyed the walk up, chatting happily with strangers I passed until just short of the summit cairn I finally caught up with my friend who’d invited me. We chatted briefly and I said a few hello’s to one or two others. The shelter was crowded with all four quarters full to capacity and beyond, the air was noisy with the sound of happy chat and flavoured with the sweet smell of cooking.

I stood back for a time, chatting with a walker from Penrith I’d met on the way up. We took in the views over to the far eastern fells, as I prepared myself to mix with the larger group and join them for an afternoon of walking. Despite some of these people being my friends and I’m sure their friends being equally as nice as them, the thought of joining in was becoming less appealing by the second. Groups are not really my thing. You’re perhaps asking why I went in the first place.  In six years at George Fisher I’ve yet to attend the Christmas Party. Actually that should read in six years at George Fisher I’ve never attended the Christmas party, as ‘yet’ suggests I might one day do so. My walker from Penrith asked me if I was going to join my friends for a bacon buttie. I smiled and said, “Do you know what, I don’t think I will”, and I quietly slipped off down Swirral Edge. Not in a tumbling head first sort of way you understand.

I chatted briefly with a bunch of lads from Manchester, the red side of Manchester, as we passed each other on the pinnacles on Swirral Edge. It was their first time going up that way and they were loving it. Onto Catstycam where a small group and myself exchanged our mutual appreciation of the view before taking myself off and settling down in a little sun trapped hollow just off the summit looking over Red Tarn to Striding Edge. I enjoyed my cheese and pickle sandwich.

Striding Edge was busy and again friendly chat was exchanged as I made my way along and back up to onto the summit of Helvellyn. The sky was blue and the inversion that was holding everyone's attention was moving up through the valley so I took myself along to Nethermost Pike for a closer look. The air was warm, almost tee shirt weather, and I chatted with a solo walker for a time. He had no real plan for the day and was happily wandering the Helvellyn range at a leisurely pace, stopping as and when he felt like, and for as long as he felt like. He seemed very content with this simple approach to walking. I wished him well and made my way to Dollywagon Pike where I sat down and soaked up the heavenly view in front of me.

Eventually, it was time to head back down and I passed several fragmented bacon buttie walkers and we shared brief exchanges. All agreeing we’d been blessed to be out walking on such a glorious day. Arriving back at my car I concluded I’d had a very enjoyable, a very sociable in fact, solo group walk.  My only regret being I could have said a few more hello’s at the summit.

So do I think the best number for a walk is one? No I don’t, I think it’s two, closely followed by one, but that’s a story for another day.

24 January 2017 by Mark Wright

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