Saturday, 2 November 2013

On Harrison Stickle I lifted up mine eyes

A couple of weeks ago, we sat on Harrison Stickle and looked out across the Langdale valley towards the south. Beyond the fells of the Lake District we could see a glimmer of sea at Morecambe. It was my birthday, my fiftieth birthday, and it was the right place to be.

I've been climbing the Langdale Pikes since I was a teenager with my parents and brother. I returned with university friends the week after our finals.  My husband and I have climbed them many times, before and after we were married, and then we brought our children.

So here we were again, sitting in a gap in the clouds, without children for the first time in 20 years, eating egg sandwiches, and feeling the wind on our backs, full of rain that would, wonderfully, twist past us and on to the heights of Bow Fell, leaving us in warm October sunshine.

Nothing has changed, though of course much has changed. The same something pulls me back to the fells time and again, and I'm not sure what it is. The getting up a hill is all sweat and aching muscles. There's no way round it. Why do I keep on climbing?

A few years ago we went pony-trekking in the Welsh borders. Just over the road from the stables was a chapel, and inside we found a beautiful window through which we could see a green hillside, and inscribed on it words from Psalm 121: I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills whence cometh my salvation. We had stumbled upon Capel-y-Ffin, where Eric Gill had lived and worked, and on his celebration of the power of the hills to restore.

Gill and God had a complicated relationship, and God and I don't have one, but I know what he meant.