Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Favourite Recipes

You know how it is. Sometimes you do everything just right. The best ingredients, plenty of preparation, loads of time. What you make should be great - and, now and again, it is. But most of the time, you'll probably end up underwhelmed with the result.

Other times, it's different. Rushing from one of life's dramas to the the next, you don't stop to think. You bung a few things together, mix them up and the end result is something ace. That, my friend, was the weekend. A tasty treat. A little nibble of something so good, it fills you up for ages. Another delight for my Little Book of Favourite Recipes.

You might want to try it:

1. one old friend
2. one new friend
3. a 20 year-old Ford Transit camper van

4. a generous sprinkling of Lakeland fells
5. a monumental low-pressure weather front
6. near-zero visibility

Finally, sprinkle with:
7. a month's average rainfall in 24 hours

And season with:
8. jelly babies
9. cold pizza, and
10. beer.

What you'll make will be amazing. I promise.

It'd been a busy week at work. Although the trip to the Lakes with Leon had been planned for a couple of weeks, I'd barely had time to really think about it. The phone-call on Thursday, though, had focused my attention nicely. Leon's original plan for a lift up to Cumbria had fallen through, but he'd managed to sort something else out at short notice. Rory, his brother-in-law, would take us.

'Does he live round here?' I'd asked.

'No,' Leon had replied, 'He'll drive up from Brighton in his old camper. Reckons he'll be able to do a bit of work on it while he's waiting for us to come off the hills.'

Brighton to Cumbria - the length of England in an old camper van. Some journey.

'You'll like Rory,' Leon had continued, and I'd had the feeling, straight away, that he could be right.

The drive up had been a good one. We'd rattled along in the old bus, made good time, and dropped the odd comment like, 'The weather doesn't look as bad as the forecast.'

Now we're sat at Dunmail, looking up towards the top of Steel Fell. It's raining steadily, but the summit's clear. A fierce wind blows cloud down the valley, and the Helvelyn ridge alternates between being buried in dark, foreboding clag, and being exposed in half-hearted sunshine.

Rory makes a roll-up and shakes his head, smiling, as Leon and myself get geared up. A long haul over Leg 3 to Wasdale beckons. We have, however, pre-prepared a bail-out. Rory's had his instructions to drive round to Langdale's Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and wait for a while before heading round to Wasdale. If the weather really comes in, we could drop down from the Langdale Pikes or take the Rossett Ghyll path down to the pub. I hate hedging my bets - not having a wimp-out option means you've no choice but to finish what you've started. However, experience has taught me that it's always the best idea, especially if the conditions are forecast so foul.

Waterproofs on and backpack straps pulled tight, we bid our fareweels to a bemused Rory and head over the stile to start the slog up Steel Fell. It's a short, steep climb - usually a killer when attempting it fresh from 4 hours of sitting down - but, today, it seems kinder. The weather looks likely to clear. Grasmere opens up to the left of us, and, before long, we're at the top and slopping across the boggy path to Calf Crag.

It's turning into a great day. We're making good progress and looking forward to ticking off the tops. By the time we hit High Raise though, things are looking more serious. The cloud we're in now is in for the day, visibility's gone, and the heavens have opened. Thurnacar Knott ('at least it's not cold!'), Harrison Stickle ('I wish the clag would lift a bit!') and Pike O'Stickle ('I'm glad I packed my winter gloves!') pass at a good rate, and now we're onto the long trek towards Rossett Pike. We stick to the path in an effort to avoid the inevitable bogs that Martcrag Moor will offer us, but it's a long way round and it feels it. When we eventually bag the summit, the minutes we'd saved early on are gone and we've added some. It's grim out there. Visibility's next to nothing and as soon as I stop, I'm immediately cold. Leon doesn't say a lot, but I guess he's thinking the same as me. If we drop down here, we'll be sat in the pub in an hour, dry, warm and supping a pint. It's a game of nerves. Who will crack first? Who-ever does, it won't take anything for the other to agree. Who is strong? Who is weak?

Of course, the words are left unsaid by both of us. We run down, across the path that could deliver us from our ordeal, and on in the direction of Bowfell and Billy Bland's Rake. This diagonal traverse is straight-forward enough in good weather, but a different matter in clag. Today's easily the worst conditions in which I've attempted it. We make tentative progress, trying to locate the rough cairns that mark the indistinct path. Before long, however, that feeling rears its head - this doesn't feel right. We're off the path and heading for Type 2 fun. I've picked a line that's climbed too quickly, rather than traversing further round, and soon we're on the summit plateau but a little disorientated. My GPS tells me we're close to the main path between Bowfell and Ore Gap, but, try as we will, we can't find it. At the time, it seems as though we were searching blindly for an eternity. In reality, it was probably 10 minutes. But the weather's got us. The wild wind. Unrelenting rain. Terrible visibility. I'm shivering, pissed off, and can't help but crack first.

'Leon - how about we get down to Angle Tarn - it's down there somewhere - and run down to the ODG?'

He doesn't argue.

We head down a steep gulley, unsure really of exactly we're going except down. Once I'm moving, the shivering soon stops, but the rocky steps are treacherous. I clamber down like an upside down spider, trying to keep as low to the ground as possible. A fall here might not be pleasant.

I'm concentrating - carefully does it - but, in a fraction of a second, I lose my footing and I'm off. Careering uncontrollably down a wet, rocky gulley on your arse isn't fun, especially when you're not sure what's below. I rattle down, thrown this way and that, my pack protecting my back, and desperately try to dig a foot in to stop my unwanted progress.

Funny things go through your mind at times like this. It wasn't my life that flashed before me, it was an old plastic Coke bottle with its label removed and a tiny sticker of a strawberry put in its place. On a footpath run months ago, Whirlwind had stuck this on a bottle I'd tucked into my pack. It had been a good day, and, for no real reason, I'd taken it on every long run I'd done with a pack since then. My lucky strawberry bottle. As it comes out of the side pocket and bounces down the gulley in front of me, all I can think is - If I lose my lucky bottle, I'm fucked.

The bottle bounces on. So do I. Then it stops, lodged between two slabs of rock. Before I know it, I stop too, lodged between the same two slabs. I reach out for the bottle, open it and take a drink. My lucky strawberry bottle. After a bit, I get up and try and pick out Leon further up the hill. He catches up, smiling. 'That was close mate!' he says, as we both start laughing in relief.

Our luck's turned. In a few minutes, we're greeted to the sight of choppy water through the mist, like Avalon in a Hollywood King Arthur movie. Angle Tarn. Thank God.

Half-an-hour later, we're splashing along the Cumbria Way, discussing the next possible disaster. The rain's killed Leon's mobile and mine's got no signal - all attempts to phone Rory and tell him to hang on before heading into Wasdale have been scuppered. We face an expensive taxi ride or a long wait for him to get back round to us. Of course, if he's already in Wasdale - a notorious mobile signal blackspot - there's no chance we'll get hold of him. We're still upbeat, but only just.

'Rory's always late!' says Leon as we open the gate and walk round the bend to the ODG carpark. As we scan the scene, more in hope than realistic expectation, we know we're onto a long shot. He should have left a good hour ago. We spot a white Transit at the top end of the carpark, but quickly realise it's not the one we want. Dejected, we traipse on. And then - there! - in a spot by the road, we're blessed with a sight that immediately dispels the misery of the last 2 hours. Rory's old Transit van. Tatty. A little rust on the sills. A roof that leaks a bit. Our salvation.

There's a voice behind us. Rory walks out of the pub. 'Alright guys! Sorry - I'm a bit late getting off. Got caught up doing a bit of work on the van.'

I want to run up and hug him, but hugging folks you've only met hours previously is frowned upon, so I don't. Instead, we fall into the back of the van, put on dry clothes and tell tales from the day that are already becoming exagerated, in the manner that all tall tales should. Leon finds a couple of cold pizzas that he'd ordered the night before and brought along, especially for a moment like this, and Rory digs into the fridge and pulls out a couple of bottles of Stella. An old friend. A new friend. An old Transit camper van. Together in a pub carpark at the end of a dead-end road. We watch the rain lash the Langdale Valley, eat our cold pizza, drink our cold beer. Life doesn't get much sweeter.

I think of words that Yiannis Tridimas once said. I can't remember whether I heard him say them, had someone relate them to me, or simply read it on the Forum. 'Sitting on a fold-up chair at Dunmail Raise - drinking tea and eating a bacon sandwich - having just completed a long run over the Bob Graham Round, is better than dining in the finest restaurant.'

I'm smiling as I remember this. If tea and a butty at Dunmail is the perfect breakfast, then beer and cold pizza in the shadow of the Langdale Pikes has to be the perfect lunch?

I look around. At my two buddies. At the pile of dirty wet clothes on the floor of the van. At the two pairs of trashed fell shoes by the sliding side door.

And surely this recipe for a weekend - if this is what it's made - surely this recipe is as near as perfect too?

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