Twenty Years On: Fallow Years

For twenty years after leaving Otley, I was busy doing the things most of us do: studying, establishing a career, paying a mortgage, raising a family. From 1965 I spent three years at university, and then I worked for the Welland & Nene River Authority at Oundle in Northamptonshire. I transferred into the employment of the Anglian Water Authority on its formation in 1974, and in 1989 I transferred again into Anglian Water plc, the privatised water and sewage company.

In 1970 I married Anne, a Derbyshire lass who I met while at Nottingham. We lived most of our married life in Peterborough, moving to Derbyshire in 1999, three years before her death at the age of fifty-five. Our son David was born in 1975, and after he graduated in Politics and American Studies in 1996 he went to seek his fortune. He’s still seeking it, but he has found a wife, Helen, and they live in her native Australia, except when travelling the world.

I often wondered why we stayed in Peterborough, rather than moving to the Yorkshire Dales. Whenever I went back to Otley and stood on top of the Chevin, I kicked myself for living in England’s flattest, lowest county. One day in 1972 when Anne and I were staying with my Mum and Dad, we took Mum for a run in the car. Isn’t that quaint? Nowadays there’s virtually no pleasure in driving, but then it was what people did for fun. We stopped on the moors above Nidderdale, and as I stepped out of the car I smelt the moist, peaty air, flowing around me in a chill breeze, and I just wanted to get my boots on and tramp across the hills.

I stayed in the lowlands because the money was good, but I was guilty of settling into a rut. I left Anglian Water in 1997 at the age of fifty, when the voluntary severance scheme looked too good to ignore, and I’ve never regretted it. Three days after walking away from the office I caught the train to Ilkley and set off with my tent along the Dales Way.

But there are a few gaps to fill in between 1965 and 1997, so I’ll backtrack.

I took up hiking again during weekend visits to my in-laws in Derbyshire, when David was a little lad. Sometimes, when he and Anne visited relatives and friends or went shopping with his Granny, I drove to the upper reaches of the River Derwent and headed for the moors and the gritstone edges. With map and compass in hand, I taught myself a lot about hiking in North Derbyshire that would have been useful on Kinder Scout in August 1963.

As David reached the age I was when Dad took me to the Washburn valley, we bought him a pair of hiking boots and made sure he got plenty of wear out of them. Most noteworthy amongst our adventures was a family ascent of Ben Nevis from our campsite in Glen Nevis during the summer half-term break of 1986. Both David and Anne felt that was enough for the week, so I spent a couple of days on my own and scaled all the Munros of the Mamores Ridge on the opposite side of the glen.

That was when I discovered I needed something to take the discomfort of descent away from my knees. I found myself 2500 feet above the glen, wondering how I was going to get down, so excruciating was the pain of descent. After several rests and much hopping about, I made it to the bottom, and then by chance I read an ad for Sorbothane insoles. More than twenty years later I am happy to report that I can run down the hills, thanks to Sorbothane, though more frequently I descend sedately with the help of trekking poles.

In the mid-eighties, I began repaying a little of the benefit I’d drawn from Scouting. I was collecting David from the weekly meeting when I said to the leader that I’d be pleased to help with outdoor activities. He asked if I’d be prepared to go into uniform.

‘No,’ I answered.

A few weeks later, in the company of newly appointed Scout Leader Owen Roberts, I was wearing my regulation shirt and tie as we unveiled to the lads our ideas for Youth Hostelling weekends in the Peak District. We ran a couple of those events, in which we drove up to a Derbyshire Youth Hostel on Friday evening, walked next day to another Hostel, trying to instil navigational skills as we went along, and then returned to the cars by a different route. The next year we took six boys to Pen-y-Pass Youth Hostel for Easter, completing the Snowdon Horseshoe on a warm and sunny Good Friday, followed on Easter Sunday by a traverse of Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach in freezing fog. I’m sure I wouldn’t take them on the Horseshoe if I were to repeat the event in the present decade.

The summer and autumn of 1987 were dominated by the failure of Dad’s health. He felt unwell in June and was diagnosed with cancer of the liver in August. He died at home in Whiteley Croft, Otley, at the end of October, on an evening of such stormy ferocity that it might have challenged even his powers of description. In the serenity of next morning, there was a fly-past by Concorde on a rare visit to Leeds-Bradford Airport. It seemed like a fitting tribute.

Once all the arrangements had been made, I excused myself for half a day and drove to the Cavendish Pavilion at Bolton Abbey for a breath of fresh air and a period of reflection. At the entrance to Strid Wood I paid my dues to the taciturn estate worker.

‘Lovely day,’ I said.
‘Aye,’ he replied, ‘It’s grand to be wick.’

Which just about says it all.

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