Postcard One from Coniston

Beech Tree House to the Copper Mines and a bit of excitement.

Twelve men and true set off like a gaggle of school kids. Out heads are teenage but bodies are in their seventies so there are clicking hips, the odd new knee and policeman’s heel amongst us but no lack of enthusiasm as we make our way out of Coniston on an ‘up’ that becomes ‘the up’. It’s a non-stop ascent for a couple of miles that gets our heart rates up but without stress.

Lifetime friendships and understanding enable outrageous banter without abrasion or offence and today the gloves are off. We are walking with tears in our eyes due to the cutting wit covering ‘size’ or lack of it, ‘prowess’ or lack of it and first ‘engagements’ (or lack thereof). Nothing is off limits and some of the anecdotes repeat but the added embellishments make them new and laughter echoes around the valley as we complain about the next false horizon or the promised flat bit. Seventeen to nineteen appears to be the first engagement with my contribution received with laughter as I tell them it was seventeen but I couldn’t tell anyone because I’d been lying for two years.

All of the above could be a part of an evening out in the local pub, but combined with the Cumbrian mountain air and the challenge of a thousand feet of incline with views to die for it gets even better.

The stream that the track is running parallel to is in full flow due to the torrential rain that they’ve had in these parts for the last few weeks. Our cameras are at the ready as the flow that’s usually labelled a waterfall become a cataract and the plunge pools below are pounded by the flow.

We arrive at the old copper mine workings in good form and find a log cabin that’s been licensed for weddings. The location is idyllic but quite remote although there does seem to be accommodation at the old owner’s or management building.

The track follows the stream and there is a loop walk over the tops which we choose not to do but still take the opportunity to walk up the ghyll for another twenty minutes and this very nearly becomes my undoing.

It’s worth the extra effort and there are some fabulous views. The stream that we follow has multiple tributaries all with an invisible source. They are dancing over ancient rocks that create spouts of water cascading into plunge pools twenty or thirty feet below. It’s dizzying at times and walking along the edge becomes a balancing test until we reach a plateau that’s serviced by an easy track that we could have taken but hadn’t seen. There are numerous rude comments and not a little banter as the realisation of this easy route becomes clear. We stop at this point and decide to return to the mine area via our new route.

This part of the walk has been rather more challenging so a short break is called for and more photos are taken to record our endeavour.

Our heart rates are back to normal so we begin our descent along the track, it’s easygoing until we reach a fairly lively stream that’s coursing its way down the rocky ghyll. I’m in the lead so I analyse the gap which is well over a metre but should be an easy enough jump. There’s a huge stone on my side as the launch pad and an equally large rock on the other side as the torrent of water beneath mocks me just by being there. There’s a drop to the right that would take me thirty or forty feet down a rocky valley to another troubled stream gushing from a dark crevice that is covered in moss and bracken. I decide on a running jump slightly to the left and rehearse it in my head. The distance is easily doable and the launch and landing sites huge rocks so they’re not going anywhere so I set off.

The launch is good, the arc I describe is perfect and the landing is good. I also get the angle right as I make a deliberate attempt to land to the left thereby ensuring I don’t end up in the stream forty feet below. The latter becomes my saviour as I haven’t taken into consideration the mass of my rucksack and contents. I land safely and begin the mental process of turning around to guide my companions who are still on the top side of the torrent watching the process with no more than a passing interest. It isn’t particularly wide so what could possibly go wrong?

The answer to that is ‘The Rucksack’. I land and am recovering my balance. My legs are now stationary; however, the rucksack is still intent on travelling in the same direction and at the same velocity pushing my upper body forward and unbalancing me such that I’m now horizontal and heading towards a rock that looks quite unforgiving. It’s strange what speed your brain can work when the chips are down and my chips are currently at rock bottom.

My brain is still working at the speed of light and gives me a compromise solution that might still hurt but will avoid real damage so I stretch out my right arm and tuck in my legs so that I bridge the projecting rock and protect my torso but my elbows and knees are in the lap of the gods.

I hit the ground and realise that the moss is soft and yielding. There is no sound of snapping bones or bruising to soft tissue so any pain is due to damaged pride and the strategy my brain had generously donated has worked.

The boys are ready to deliver first aid and shouting their concern over the sound of the water rushing below. I pause to make a final assessment of my state of health then get up and reassure them I’m OK and deliver it with a smile to emphasise how ‘alright’ I am.

As they make their assessments and become sure that I really am OK then the concern is replaced by banter and I’m bombarded with piss-taking and general abuse. This is not an act of nastiness, it’s what sixty-five years of friendship is like. Where any one of these wonderful friends would have given their all to ensure that I returned home come hell or high water but now is the time to extract the maximum amount of humour from a situation that was tense but is now safe.

…I love them all and I love this avalanche of abuse…

We descend to the mine area and regroup to return to the house. It’s been a wonderful day – yes, all of it.

Enjoy the snaps. Love G x

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