A couple of friends and I went hiking for a week, and covered quite a bit of the Lake District. We were 6th-formers, me at a school in Cumbria, the others friends from my old school in Jedburgh. We stayed in Youth Hostels, mucking in with the cooking, washing-up, cleaning, and general communal duties. As teenagers, we all hated these chores, but there was a good social spirit that saw everyone do their bit. We were young and naively carefree, completely inexperienced in hiking, never mind fell walking, but full of enough energy and zeal (or pep and ginger, as Wodehouse would say) to be all for the whole venture. About 5 days, 4 or 5 hostels.

     One thing we learnt early on was that you go your own speed. I strode out with the others, but soon found myself having to wait for them. Their pace was slower, they enjoyed not being in a hurry, each other’s company, and presumably stopping to take in any interesting sights, views, flora and fauna along the way. I had only one speed, which was fast forward. A brisk tramp with map and compass, rucksack and boots from one hostel to the next, a good day-long march, even at my speed. I didn’t imagine it was a race, it was great, outdoorsy fun, only faster. I wasn’t exactly head down, but there could have been hordes of golden eagles overhead, soaring and swooping between the fell tops and I missed them. It seemed a pace I was stuck in, to wait or slow down felt hugely unnatural and restricting, so I strode on. This meant I always arrived at the hostels first, and as it wouldn’t have occurred to me to go off and find a pub at that age, I just waited, probably unpacked a bit, ate cold beans and biscuits, or watched TV with other tramps.

     One evening we played Cheat. This is a card game where you can be as dishonest as possible, and consequently it was an exhilarating freedom, and very funny. I’ve done a lot of laughing but that evening stands out in my entire life. This whole adventure was an exhilarating freedom in fact, after being rather an obedient boy at school.

     Mostly it was just good, healthy walking, and I don’t remember a lot about where we went, but that age and energy took us fair distances. I enjoyed it enormously, and wasn’t at all trying to get it over with by walking fast. Young and strong without being aware of either. As I say, everyone has their own pace. I stopped to eat sandwiches and drink tea, and the views all around were far-reaching and spectacular. Mostly hikers trails, high up in the fells, often clambering over rocks and shale to the tops of mountains, loping across pikes and crags and taking in the fresh, sweeping Cumbrian air as if I was part of the wind itself. And there were lower moors too, open stretches of grass in the warm sun, with tussocks to stumble over. I remember a wide forestry path, made for big trucks, going on for a long time, an avenue between the trees. And I even paused for a moment, coming down the path at Patterdale to gaze out at vast Ullswater, largest lake in the District after Windermere.

     But the view that inspires this short tale was unexpected. One day there was nothing far-reaching at all, as I plodded along, a lot slower than usual because a thick, blinding mist completely enveloped me. Or perhaps I was walking among damp, low clouds made of air-shreds of wool. Although I was treading on grass, not over rock, I was well aware that a step too far could take me off the edge of a cliff. It was literally one wary foot in front of the other. In the mist everything was white, or sepia. And silent, other than the steady crunch of my boots on the dewy grass and heather. For some time there was just me in the world. Then suddenly I stopped. Right in front of me were ripples of water. They were almost silent, gently lapping at the reeds and the shallow ground in front of me. It was magical. There was nothing but me, enshrouded in the mist, and this almost caressing movement of the tiny waves. I’d obviously come to the edge of a tarn, high up on a moor somewhere, and time stopped. I could only see a few feet of water, stretching out in the cloud as I looked out. It could just be a pool, or it could be a mile wide. The gentle tiny tides were peaceful, the effect was not one of shock but of calm, ease.

     Though forty years ago, it remains a clear picture, and moment in my head. I re-consulted my map and compass and set off round the water’s edge. Lost in the mist, I made my way alone in the whole world, ghostly and wonderful.

     I was going to call this The Magic Tarn, but that would have given things away too soon. But it was magical.

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