The rugged looking sales man promised me my one hundred pounds would be money well spent. The walking boots were completely waterproof, as light as feathers and, he turned them over with a flourish, “look at that aggressive tread.” I tried not to visibly wince at the thought of all those slow growing, delicate mountain plants being pulverised under my feet, but I bought them anyway. I didn’t have much choice, I’d left home for two weeks in Cumbria with only the flimsy sandals I stood up in.
And so to test these once in a life time walking boots I persuaded the children to walk to the top of Black Crag with me. I reached the top with dry comfortable feet for the first time in my life. It really was money well spent.
Coming back down a different way and lagging behind the others, I suddenly became acutely aware of my surroundings. I was walking along the top of a wavy edge of gigantic regular folds of earth. They were like the ridges left in sand left by an out going tide, but on a mammoth scale and only clothed in the thinnest veil of wispy grass. Gashed in places, revealing dull red sores. I felt as if I was looking at them moments after their creation. Suddenly there was no distance between me and the last ice age.
With no signs of humanity and hardly any plant life there was nothing to anchor me to my accustomed place in time. No sign of all those generations of people who have left their mark on this landscape with buildings, fields and walls. No trees, to mark time through their size, and through the seasons. Nothing but giant folds of earth. It was as if the protective skin of time hardly existed here. It was transparently thin. Then ,now, tomorrow, it didn’t matter, it was all the same.
It was a feeling like vertigo. A glimpse into the unimaginable vastness of the universe. It was exhilarating and terrifying……. and then I remembered the aggressive tread on my boots, and froze. I was one false step away from piercing time!
So I descended more carefully, slowly reacclimatizing myself to the certainties of a time scale I understood. Past old stone walls, patched and furred with moss and lichen. Past the farm, dogs barking. Past huge sycamores, sprouting ferns along their branches. Across the main tourist path, busy with intrepid walkers, maps round their necks, poles in each hand and rucksacks containing, goodness knows what, on their backs. And finally, to the lake where I found my children shrieking with delight (or was it agony?) in the icy water.