Tuesday 12 February 2008

Unsustainable, unlucky and rather unimpressed

14st 6lb; 3.0 units of alcohol; 1,452; Coquet (thinking ahead to the effect on sea levels of global warming).

I seem to be losing weight at the rate of a pound a day, which is clearly unsustainable. On the other hand, I don’t see how a regime which yesterday included a pint of real ale and a huge plateful of fish and chips in a Wooler pub could be classified by anyone as a “crash diet”.

Today I decided on more healthy exercise in the hills, taking advantage of the good (ooh, short-sighted value judgement there: I mean “unseasonal”) weather. I therefore drove to Rothbury to collect a picnic lunch before another long walk. I was much gratified by my reception at Barclays Bank, to whose staff I gave some well-deserved compliments in my newspaper column a few weeks ago. Unfortunately this did not have the ultimately desired result of a small wad of notes being passed across the counter with a sly wink, in the style perfected by the butcher George Jones in Dad’s Army.

I then walked up to the Home Bakery to pick up a delicious steak and onion pie and a caramel slice. Such is my luck that I realized too late that the vaguely familiar Bloke standing next to me at the counter, waiting while they assembled his healthy wholemeal salad roll, was none other than my doctor. I fear that he will now treat my claims to have adopted a vastly improved lifestyle with severe scepticism.

The dog and I did a circular walk from Lordenshaws to Spylaw and Coquet Cairn, then back over the summits of the Simonside Hills. I last did it in August 1995, and had stored fond memories of it for 12½ years. In fact, I’ve been thinking during these last few days of revisiting walks that the things which have stuck most firmly in my memory during the last couple of decades are walks and travel. Work is a hazy memory, along with books and films. Perhaps physical activity helps to fix things in the ageing brain? In which case, maybe I should try doing my reading on a treadmill?

Of course, if physicality is the key, I should also be consoled by some wonderful memories of sex. The fact that I’m not is a bit discouraging on all sorts of levels.

Anyway, perhaps like sex (if I ever experience it again) the walk proved nothing like as marvellous as I had expected it to be. There were wonderful if smokily hazy views across to the Cheviots from Simonside and the other summits, but I could have benefited from those just by climbing straight to the top, thereby saving myself three hours trudging across heather moors, peat bogs and ankle-turning, felled conifer plantations.

Intrepid expedition leader reaches the top of Simonside; his Sherpa collapses

They’ve assembled all the materials to build one of those granite paths right across the top of the Simonsides, and the initial scramble up from the car park towards The Beacon has already been replaced by a stone staircase. I’m not a purist about this; I’d rather walk across the top of Cheviot on stone setts than experience the previous, lovingly accurate re-creation of the Battle of the Somme. Even so, it can’t be long before they get around to supplementing the paving with Stannah stair lifts to promote disabled access.

Hikers' highway under construction across Dove Crag, Simonside Hills

Give it another 12½ years, and I’ll probably need one. Oh no, I’ve just remembered, I’ll have been dead for some time.

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