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England

Terror Firma

Husband and I are sitting on a hill outside the Wainwright Inn, a pint of Wainwright ale and a packet of scampi fries (seafood flavoured “cereal snacks”—so British, so processed, so good) in hand. Husband has also just produced two packages of sandwiches from his backpack that he has squirreled away in case of a mountain top emergency (nevermind we are both are packing “natural” calorie stores I’d estimate conservatively at 1 week+). He is laughing now, but a short hour ago he was on the brink of a full-fledged panic attack.

As we headed back over the crag following our soothing paddle around Lake Grasmere, I was impressed by my newly adventurous husband. Rocky brooks were crossed with nimble bounds as we made our ascent, no sign of the panic-stricken shell of a muttering man wondering around a dried stream bed in Topanga Canyon who had made an appearance during my one and only mountain hiking experience with him years earlier. As we “summitted” the crag, the tone shifted. He consulted other walkers for advice on which of the three forks to pursue (admittedly the map only showed one). The sheer drop in front of us was ruled out and after a few minutes following another couple along a ledge, the path to the right was also abandoned. We headed left, which wasn’t exactly a trail but given the bright sun, a multi-network bar displaying BlackBerry, and legions of other walkers, including small children, in sight, I felt confident.

Husband on the other hand was starting to flap. Literally. He interrupted an elderly couple mid-sandwich to enquire, with a noticeable vibrato and pitch-elevation in his voice, if they knew a gentle way down. I hung back, hoping not to be associated with my high-strung husband, as the country gent advised him with the non-chalance of a seasoned fell-walker to continue left. No, elderly country gent did not need to consult husband’s map (yes, husband asked him, wanting to be very sure about the advice so casually dispensed). Elderly gent informed husband that he did not have his glasses and so could not read a map. I thought it unwise to point out to my husband that this man was so unworried about “getting down” he didn’t even bring his glasses.

To be fair, husband did not like me spend childhood summers at Camp Merrie Wood in North Carolina’s Sapphire Valley where opening day included a camp-wide romp up Old Bald with Guinevere the Saint Bernard, followed swiftly by a week of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Neither did husband have a grandfather who took him around the foothills of San Bernardino on a neighbor’s Palomino horses or hiking in Forest Falls. Instead, the quintessential summer outing for my husband and his brother was a car trip to Parbold Hill (forever parboiled hill in my head), culminating in a thermos of luke-warm coffee (yes, coffee for kids) and a Cadbury Club bar. While still sitting in the car.
Husband’s early outdoor life is summed up in a snapshot of him outside his childhood home, Seaview Terrace. He is grim faced, in full scout regalia, and holding a duffel bag as big as him, packed by a fretting mother for his one and only Boy Scout camping trip. He describes it as four days of certain ridicule and an introduction to alpha male posturing. His entire scouting career was over in six months.

In this context, our successful descent along our makeshift mountain goat path is somewhat miraculous. Following elderly gent’s advice we were safely to the Wainwright Inn within an hour, which takes its name from a famous Lake District fell walker. If you complete a Wainwright hike, it’s called “bagging a Wainwright.” Suffice it to say I do not think I will be bagging any Wainwrights with husband in tow. The gentle undulations of the Cotswolds hills are infinitely more suitable for this lady-man of mine.

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